For some time I've been concious of how lucky I am to live in Cambridge with its wealth of cultural opportunities, and dissatisfied with my own poor response: so often, its easier to follow routine. So last saturday, in the market square, amongst the poster for "Spem in Alium" and others I found this. And thought: I happen to be free on Monday. So along I went. Its one of a series, BTW, should you happen to be in Cambridge on the second Monday of the month.
I know I've read some of Mike Hulme's stuff before, and not really liked it, but couldn't remember exactly what. So that didn't much affect my reactions to his talk. Looking now with the all-seeing eye I find this, from 2009 wherein I analayse two of MH's texts, from whence I abstract the relatively polite this is excellent. How can one man write this, and then the tosh of the Beeb piece? Weird. That still largely fits.
Meta: audience, about 40, mostly older than me. In the lovely Wesley church on Christ's Pieces (don't you just love Cambridge names?). He's a good speaker, careful and deliberate; unhurried. Perhaps 45 mins of talk and half an hour of questions. This post is written from the notes I wrote on a paper napkin; they kindly provide decent pre-talk food and tea. Hulme, perhaps unsurprisingly, turns out to be Christian. This isn't entirely obvious straight away; he's fairly careful to speak in terms of "faith communities" and such like terms that avoid expressions of belief; and most of what he said could have been said by an atheist professor of sociology. But not all of it. At one point he explicitly said his viewpoint was Christian, and one of the questioners was gauche enough to ask him directly if he was; he seemed somewhat taken aback to be asked so directly, but did manage a direct "yes" in reply. In the following, my interpolations are in 's. Things in quotes are nearly-direct quotations from MH but I don't claim to be word-perfect; my napkin was quite small. In a couple of places my notes are so incomplete as to be confusing; I've done my best.
There was no science in what he said. And not much religion. It was essentially sociology, and politics.
Intro: the IPCC barely mentions religion. Naomi Klein, ditto [in retrospect, it seems weird to implicitly equate the two in this way.] Why not? Fear of divisiveness? But religion provides no magic solutions. For example, from Christianity, compare the Operation Noah with the cornwallalliance.org [typically, he provided no judgement between these two viewpoints. Later on he provided more examples, which would lead you to believe that "pro climate change", so to speak, was the popular or perhaps overwhelming viewpoint of religions.]
Somehow, he leaps to "religion is inescapably important". Religions are relevant because:
- they influence believers cosmology
- they can mobilise their followers
- they have resources
Slide (re: cosmologies): C. S. Lewis: the discarded image. Which I've not seen; it may well have been worth going to the lecture just to have that drawn to my attention.
Slides: the cute one of the guy sticking his head out (from here), and an IPCC-a-like flow diagram of the carbon cycle. Voiceover: the IPCC assumes a mechanistic world view with no place for religion. It does not recognise different cosmologies, e.g. Maori. But these have great power [we're now heading towards Beyond the Hoax territory]. Slide: Domain of the Gods: an editorial essay, Simon D. Donner.
Quotes misc people (Marshall Islanders, Bishops) talking nonsense about climate change, but takes them seriously: " a set of accounts being offered". [For which I think I'd refer you back to my fulminations in this post: exactly how we expect the public to evaluate / believe the scientific research on GW is an interesting question]. "We have to understand climate change through this kind of analysis".
Then, he actually speaks approvingly of Eco-Republic:What the Ancients Can Teach Us about Ethics, Virtue, and Sustainable Living by Melissa Lane: Eco-Republic draws on ancient Greek thought--and Plato's Republic in particular--to put forward a new vision of citizenship.... Fuck me, has he never read The Open Society and Its Enemies? Come to that, has he never read The Republic? Has Melissa Lane? What kind of Green Fascist fuckwittery is this?
Calm down William. Deep breaths. Keep going. I didn't, of course, have the full horror of Lane's book available to me during the lecture.
Virtues traditions, barriers to religions being of use [I may be slightly muddled here, my notes are unclear]:
- eschatology [that handles the Southern Baptists, I guess]
- competing issues, e.g. the poor
- inadequate social critique
- conviction or motivation to act - value / action gap, aka Sin.
Ignoring religion is short sighted.
At the end, he put up a slide with misc books on, and a link to mikehulme.org. That includes a link to Five Lessons of Climate Change: a personal statement. That statement is somewhat typical of the style of talk and answers he gave today; not to my taste.
My own summing up of what he said: a lot of people profess religious faith, they amount to a powerful political grouping, and so shouldn't be ignored. Implicitly (when he talked of different cosmologies) he asked for "the message" to be tailored to this grouping, and since he said this in the context of the IPCC he was, somewhat less implicitly, asking for the IPCC to "speak their message" in a framing that the religious would be comfortable with. I think this is bollocks.
There was a longish Q+A session afterwards, which I noted too:
Q1: the IPCC is a (fake) religion, sucking people in, leading people away from the core Christian duty of professing the gospels.
A: but the duty of ?explaining? climate change is entirely compatible with he gospels.
Q2: somewhat incoherent as a question - something like, there are lots of different religious groups, that don't always know what the othwrs are doing. The questionner mentioned Earth Bible and I've guessed the correct link.
A: [this was the only Q to which I thought he managed a useful and illuminating answer] Indeed, religious groups are diverse and have diverse readings, in contrast to the IPCC, which pushes a "universal" science [he almost sounded disappointed by this].
Q3: IPCC / Klein are trying to achieve authority / status, but religion is diverse, so is it fair to criticse them for excluding religion?
A: can understand that thinking, but IPCC is trying to bring in the best sociology knowledge, yet ignores religion [this seems a weird perspective to me, who concentrates on the WG I stuff, which of course ignores sociology. If you're off in the ghettoes of WG II or III, though, this might make sense.] NK is more polemical [oh good, he can tell the difference, when he tries.] But she ends by decrying the lack of a mass movement, so why not include religion?
Q4: Lovelock says, more Nukes. Do you agree?
A: yes, I agree he says that [you're a pol!] Wurble. Don't really want to go there.People will be influenced by their paradigms.
Q5a: does it bother you to be flying, despoiling the sky?
A: no problem with being a mobile academic.
Q6: as a species, we're good at solving problems. Why haven't we solved this one?
A: we're doing lots of research. But its not just tech, also attitudes / pol / social.
Q7: lots of conviction (on the issue of climate change being a problem) but not much energy on actually solving it. Why?
A: Not a good idea, see my book.
Q9: can you say more about faith... do people need faith that climate change will happen [unless we do something about it]?
A: many of my colleagues would say its a matter of evidence, not belief. But he says there are issues of belief, and trustowrthiness [this could have segued into an interesting discussion of exactly or roughly how the public, or non-experts, or even experts, some to accept-aka-believe the evidence, but didn't.]
A retiring collection. I gave them £5. Their egg sandwiches were good. You, by contrast, get this glorious picture free of charge, merely for having the patience to read to the end of my post.
[Update. Thinking about this, there's a possible bias in his thinking which I wish I thought of at the tie, and tried to ask him. Its this:
If you're a Christian - in any sense that matters - then your faith is important to you. And you want that faith to affect your worldview. And hence, you want that faith to affect important issues of the day - war, peace, GW. But if you're at all honest and a scientist, you're also perfectly aware that your faith doesn't affect the science at all - which is perhaps why MH steered so clear of it. But your faith can affect the interpretation and the communication - these are vague areas up for grabs by anyone.
So the question is something like:
Doesn't your need to make your faith relevant and important in your life bias your view of how the science should be communicated?]
* I’m Afraid This Changes Nothing - mt on Klein's latest.
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That is a fine photograph but surely there are better lectures in Cambridge; I know there are fine concerts.
as a denizen of the Other Place, i know all too well that feeling of low-level guilt at not making the most of the talks and cultural events that are always going on.
minor note: the first link (to Operation Noah) is broken. looks like you might have missed the http:// prefix.
[Thanks. Fixed -W]
Much appreciate the report and comments, and pointers, which in turn led me to http://www.necessaryprose.com/cslewis.htm
"... the medieval Model of the universe has one obvious disadvantage, namely that it is not true. But the meaning of this statement--"It is not true"--has a different weight for us now than it had in the overconfident 19th century...."
Greg- your heart/mind is clearly in the right place. The number of people whose thinking is dominated by religion exceeds the number whose thinking is dominated by science, so obviously if we can figure out how to influence them we might be able to make some progress towards climate change mitigation. Of course a too critical attitude typified by your use of the word bollocks will prevent effective communication. Its a tough challenge, but we have to learn how to talk to people whose idea of correct epistemology is far different than our own. In fact I'm going to make a statement that I think that moralistic thinking is natural for humans, and analytic thinking is not. This is likely the result of social-cultural evolutionary pressures on humans. Being able to sympathetically put ourselves inside their heads is going to be required.
Interestingly I think the Vatican is doing a decent job here. They support an observatory, and retain scientific expertise within the organization. Public statements by the pope support climate change mitigation, although I fear many of his followers don't/won't act on it. But, especially in the USA, much religion is preached by relatively uneducated but charismatic retail preachers. Trying to reach them would seem to be a particular challenge.
Omega Centauri @ 4: Yes, what you said.
Agreed, IPCC should come to grips with the fact that religion is a major determinant of cultural attitudes, for better and for worse. For example, for better, Pope Francis; and for worse, the American religious right.
For those interested in studying the relevant beliefs, here are some keywords/phrases to search on Ixquick:
"stewardship": The Christian moral principle that humans are obligated to take good care of the Earth and all its life. This is a progressive religious basis for ecological activism. Climate activists of all sorts would do well to seek out alliances with churches that subscribe to this principle.
"dominionism": The central ideology of the US religious right, founded by Rousas Rushdoony (look up his name as well, he is not well known but he is the father of the movement).
"tribulation": In American fundamentalist Christianity, a period of violent death and destruction that either precedes or follows the Rapture of the righteous into heaven. There are substantial ideological differences between "pre-tribulation" and "post-tribulation" views of the Rapture. In any case, these views are a large factor in climate denialism, by way of the implicit (and sometimes explicit) desire to "bring it on" in order to usher in the Kingdom of God.
Understood that scientists sometimes have an awkward time discussing religion. This has become worse in recent years due to the polarization over theism vs. atheism. But the urgency of dealing with climate change is such that everyone concerned must overcome that issue and be willing to cooperate with those of different beliefs.
The bottom line is, we have no time to waste, and we must engage with every facet of culture that can be brought to bear on this. An emerging global consensus toward "stewardship" and its equivalents across the spectrum, would be a mighty force for rapid change.
There seem to be a group of people (Hulme being one of them) who seem to regularly criticise scientists/IPCC for how they're unable to properly engage with certain groups. What they never seem to explain, though, is if what scientists/IPCC say is scientifically correct, and if these others understand what is being said, but just don't like it, what else are scientists/IPCC meant to do. Say it differently? Not sure how that would work if the message is being understand. Say something different? Not sure how it is possible to do this while also being scientifically honest.
So, if people like Hulme wanted to help, maybe they could provide some advice as to how better to engage. My rather cynical guess is that their goal isn't actually to help. They enjoy pointing out where things are going wrong.
[Hulme didn't provide any examples of how to say or rephrase things. Indeed there was almost no specifics at all; the only specific bits were the quotes from people who clearly didn't have the language, concepts or understanding - a Marshall Islander; a Bishop - attempting to explain / express things they didn't understand.
I agree with you. As far as I'm concerned, the IPCC should synthesise the state of the science. Its up to others to popularise it, or message it, or whatever. I don't know what the IPCC's message, translated into Hulme's "cosmology"(though in truth he didn't pick his own cosmology; merely said that there were many) would be. Since there are multiple, and Hulme expressed no preference, it would be impossible for the IPCC to do this.
OTOH, the IPCC should perhaps be clear that it isn't doing PR -W]
I think that Hulme's heart is in the right place, but I don't think the IPCC needs to do the outreach specifically to religious groups - there are plenty of Christians (even here in the US!) who are grounded in science and scripture who could be conduits of information. The Roman Catholic Church, under Pope Benedict XVI and now Pope Francis, has been there but other faiths have been fighting the good fight. My own denomination, the Presbyterian Church (USA), has been highlighting climate change since 1990 and has ongoing programs. (http://www.presbyterianmission.org/ministries/environment/climate-chang…)
Obviously, we who are members of faith communities need to do more, but we are in a unique position to do so. Like civil rights, stewardship and maintaining a sustainable environment is a moral issue, and we can get pretty vocal about moral stuff. ;-)
[It may be worth pointing out that MH had nice things to say about some of the Catholic church's science work -W]
> [OTOH, the IPCC should perhaps be clear that it isn't doing PR -W]
Maybe you could expand on what you mean by this. A regular criticism of climate scientists/IPCC is that the say things that lead people to distrust them. Of course, if people's "skepticism" is based on their sense that they can't really trust those who are presenting the information, then it's not really skpeticism - at least, not in my book. However, if the IPCC (for example) responds in some way to this criticism, then that would seem that they are doing some form of PR. On the other hand, if their response was more like "stuff you, you don't have to like what we say and we aren't required to say things you like" then maybe not. I would prefer to see a little more of the latter, but it seems like a tricky balancing act. You're expected to respond to criticism but if the criticism is along the lines of "we don't like what you're saying, so don't trust you" then it's hard to see how to respond in some formal way to that, without either essentially doing some form of PR, or ignoring the criticism.
Having reread the above, I'm not sure that what I'm saying is all that coherent, but maybe you understand what I'm getting at.
[I think I know what you mean. You mean you don't know what I meant :-). OK, so firstly I agree that if the IPCC is attacked, then it ought to respond, and although this is inevitably PR to some extent, that's fair enough. Also, as a large organisation they just won't get away without having a PR office to publish press releases like "oh look here's our shiny new report".
But what I meant was that the IPCC should stick largely or entirely to presenting the facts. And not try to convince people those facts are true. So, can I find an example of them not doing that? Looking at their site, http://www.ipcc.ch/news_and_events/news_and_events.shtml seems to place to look. Well, all right, no I can't see any obvious good examples right now. But I'll keep it in mind -W]
Thanks, yes then I agree with you. Their role is, as you say, to simply inform, not to convince. Of course, if I was being particularly cynical (which is my norm at the moment) then when it becomes obvious that climate change presents a real risk, there will be those who will complain that climate scientists/IPCC didn't do enough to convince people of these risks (these will - of course - be the same people who are currently complaining that they're doing too much advocating) . I suspect, however, that there is little that could be done to avoid such criticism, so it would still be preferable to simply stick with presenting the facts and leave it up to everyone else to decide as to whether or not to actually take any notice.
I think this is Hulme's view of how to rephrase things:
[Aie! He's writing approvingly of Lane again! -W]
William: "asking for the IPCC to “speak their message” in a framing that the religious would be comfortable with. I think this is bollocks."
The message has arrived at Christians without any problem. There is an overwhelming consensus among Christians that climate change is a serious problem. (Maybe someone else could survey the other religions, but I expect a similar answer.)
What may give the impression that Christians did not get the message are the vocal political extremists in the USA calling themselves evangelic Christians, but rejecting most of Jesus teachings. They are not representative for normal Christians.
[Um. Well. If Christians *have* already go the message, then that would chop most of Hulme's legs out from under him. He could still stand on the Marshall Islanders (so to speak) I suppose -W]
I have not read Eco-Republic, but hope you have since you are describing it with words like "horror" and "fuckwittery". The free samples on Amazon make it appear that the author is more interested in Plato's virtue ethics than in trying to replicate anything comparable to the unworkable Utopia proposed in the Republic.
On p. 80 Lane notes Popper's hostility to Plato and acknowledges the appeal of portions of his work to totalitarians, but points out that liberals have in the past appropriated and can again appropriate what is useful from the work, while - it is explicitly said - "the elements within it that have nourished totalitarian uses ... must be rejected." We do something similar in reading all other classical philosophers, not one of whom shared all of today's desirable liberal beliefs and yet most of whom had useful things to say, just as we do in judging the work of all premodern scientists who were Western enough to get called scientists today.
On pp. 97 and 98 Lane explicitly rejects Plato's assumption that the only way to obtain beneficial change is to have an elite class dictating it to everyone else. However, she also questions whether the binary of elite rule or democratic anarchy covers Plato's real beliefs regarding political possibilities. John Michael Greer has noted that Plato's Utopian vision, which like all proposed Utopias (including technological and atheist Utopias) demands that humans not live according to usual human nature, directly contradicts Plato's much superior understanding of human nature expressed elsewhere in his works. When the writings of seminal early thinkers in a civilizational tradition display a mixture of useful wisdom (e.g., the parable of the cave, which Lane discusses at length relative to our own cultural situation) and embarrassing flops, throwing out the baby with the bathwater would leave no meaningful cultural heritage to provide a foundation for superior philosophy.
As for Lane, from the freely available samples, she doesn't sound like someone who wants to send us all to the ecogulags for re-education, but simply someone who can see that Western culture's current behavior is unsustainable and who recognizes, as philosophers in many civilizations have for millennia, that the cultivation of virtue in individuals can encourage behavior that is less destructive of their societies. Is your more sinister interpretation based on a full reading, or on Popperian beliefs?
[I haven't read her stuff; just the bit I quoted. If she's thrown all the trash out of The Republic, I find it hard to know what she thinks she's got left. ''Plato's Utopian vision... directly contradicts Plato's much superior understanding of human nature expressed elsewhere in his works'': at a guess, I'd say that the wisdom is from Socrates and the junk is Plato's own stuff. But I haven't studied closely enough to know; that is just a guess (or an insult, if you prefer). I retain my opinion that anyone *starting* from The Republic is starting from the wrong place and is misguided -W]
I'm with David Cassatt:
I'm an atheist, at least in the Laplacian sense, but I also agree with G that
I'm all too aware that I'm at a disadvantage when talking to the devout about AGW. That's why I've got high hopes for scientists who are religious, like Katharine Hayhoe:
Hayhoe and her husband have published A Climate for Change: Global Warming Facts for Faith-Based Decisions, an attempt to reach out to their co-religionists. I haven't read it, but I'm glad they wrote it. Unfortunately some people either don't want to hear the message no matter who delivers it, or are so hostile to religion that they won't listen to the messenger.
Fortunately, de-carbonising the U.S. economy doesn't require reaching everyone, only a sufficiently large majority to get a carbon tax through Congress. Hey, a guy can dream!
A second survey may be interesting. From my own limited sample, I have the feeling that those who are open whether they are religious or not at WUWT are mainly atheists. Which is rather remarkable given the reputation atheists have in the USA.
Watts was also not very amused when I wrote my post: The conservative family values of Christian man Anthony Watts. Kinda sounded like he was not a Christian, but did not want to admit it.
He could still stand on the Marshall Islanders (so to speak) I suppose -W
Why do native speakers always have to speak in riddles? Your language is hard enough as it is.
[I delight in them. In this case, the words expand to: "If Christianity is already solved, he could perhaps rely on other religions such as the Marshall Islanders (though for all I know they are a species of Christian) as someone who needs to be convinced." The use of "stand on" is a minor joke hence the "so to speak": the surface use is "base your arguments on", the secondary use is a reference either to sea level rise causing them problems, or Imperialism oppressing them; take your pick -W]
As far as I can remember, Plato did not credit Socrates either with the metaphor of the cave or with the very useful chariot metaphor of human nature, which of course doesn't mean it's not where he got them. If one's interest is in virtue ethics, a better starting point than Plato would be Aristotle's Nicomachaean Ethics, which everyone ought to read IMHO.
Even in the USA, religion does not seem to explain much.
Victor, thanks for the link. It shows that GW is highly politicized especially as compared with belief in natural selection. This is a hint that the political approach the AGW advocates have taken is failed. Do you deny this? ;^)
In politics, being right is only 20% of the battle.
When ATTP says "what else are scientists/IPCC meant to do." The answer is nothing, their job is done.
The mistakes are due to scientists/IPCC allowing themselves to be used by political opportunists. This is the whole vanity/pride trap when schoolboys arrogantly think they can play a man's game of PR and marketing.
And then their is real life and getting shit done in the public arena.
Hulme's only responsibility as a Christian scientist (lower case S) is to tell the truth about the data.
His responsibility as a Christian citizen is to weigh the evidence, examine the options, keep trade-offs firmly in mind, and then advocate a course of action.
The only place a wider worldview enters in is in deciding on the trade-offs.
I have found this about the possibilities for Christian churches “to demonstrate the value of the Christian faith to people who otherwise see no point in it and see no relevance in the spiritual message we want to bring”. How is this to be interpreted, especially in context with the discussion here?
Sir John Houghton (1996): The Christian Challenge of Caring for the Earth
A background is given in the text on the last page:
“This briefing was prepared for The John Ray Initiative by Sir John Houghton CBE FRS. It is based on a Drawbridge Lecture given in 1996 for the Christian Evidence Society. Thanks are due to the Trustees of the JRI and others for their helpful comments.
Sir John Houghton is co-chairman of the Scientific Assessment Working Group for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and a member of the Government Panel on Sustainable Development, and from 1991 to 1998 he was Chairman of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution. He is the author of several books including ‘Global Warming- the complete briefing’ and ‘The Search for God – can science help?’”
A summary is also given on the last page:
1. The world is facing environmental crises of unparalleled magnitude, including some on aglobal scale.
2. Looking after the Earth is a God-given responsibility. Not to look after the Earth is a sin.
3. Christians need to re-emphasise that the doctrines of creation, incarnation and resurrection belong together. The spiritual is not to be seen as separate from the material.A thoroughgoing theology of the environment needs to be developed.
4. Our stewardship of the Earth, as Christians,is to be pursued in dependence on and partnership with God.
5. The application of science and technology is an important component of stewardship. Humility is an essential ingredient in the pursuit and application of science and technology – and in the exercise of stewardship.
6. All of this provides an enormous opportunity for the church which has too much ignored the Earth and the environment and neglected the importance of creation and its place in the overall Christian message.
These themes could come over powerfully to modern people obsessed with the material and could help to demonstrate the value of the Christian faith to people who otherwise see no point in it and see no relevance in the spiritual message we want to bring. A strong challenge for today’s church is to include environmental concerns as part of its mission.”
"I know I’ve read some of Mike Hulme’s stuff before, and not really liked it, but couldn’t remember exactly what."
Exactly. Hulme likes to tell everyone else that they are communicating poorly, yet he himself is a failure in getting a memorable message across. I find his writings vacuous and evasive. But maybe that's just me being dense, since I'm an innocent when it comes to Christianity and sociology.
Perhaps someone here who understands and likes Hulme's stuff could explain his main original insights and practical recommendations. I know there are supposed to be some in his book (Why we disagree on climate change..), but I read it and couldn't find any.
Several years ago, he listed five lessons of climate change:
His last paragraph begins with the sentence "None of these five lessons should really be new to us."; with which we can all readily agree. But what does the rest of that paragraph mean?
Time being short, and the topic engrossing, this little offering on the subject.
"Getting things done can be so hard. Dreaming up what might be done is, in contrast, easy. T S Eliot put it thus: “Between the idea/And the reality/Between the motion/And the act/Falls the shadow.”"
TS Eliot was a bit of an Anglican mystic. Being a bit mystically inclined myself, though irreligious (avoiding that word atheist, though most deities seem made in the image of man rather than the reverse), I've always found that magical thinking stuff quite appealing. It's partly about listening, or observing with an open mind, unlike what we commonly identify as religion.
Living with contrasts, paradox, having hope in a time of despair, a penny here, a penny there, it all adds up.
Thanks for the writeup, provocative.
My very tentative reading would be that it's a super vague nod in the direction of disliking the idea of a "global government" taking over the management of the (climate change) problem.
But it is both vague and left unstated in a way that means Hulme, and others like him, could protest that that's not what he ~really~ means. Why can't he get specific? The easiest thing, the much better thing, is to say that we've managed huge threats before - Montreal Protocol, Y2K are good examples - and there's no good reason why people can't manage this problem as well.
Specific examples of successful action that either ameliorated (CFCs) or avoided (Y2K) known adverse effects are encouraging examples rather than doom mongering anyway. What's better than to say "we've done it before, we can do it this time, folks". Why he and all the others like him, whether they're religious or not, prefer to waffle about vague threats of intolerable interventionist governments rather than urging people to do their best is beyond me.