Anyone care for a burger?

I found the below article by Bret Stephens in the WSJ to be a neat statement of what I’ve been thinking for years — that global warming is just a fad, a trend, a hot topic for the noughts, and when all the doomsday scenarios didn’t play out, it would die out and be replaced by some other scare. This has happened before, of course — just as global warming replaced smoking in bars, which replaced acid rain, which replaced nuclear holocaust, which replaced “global cooling,” which replaced overpopulation, and on and on. An abridged portion appears below.

And I’ll put the ending of the article right up front and invite readers to join in the conversation — when global warming slides from the popular public agenda, what will take its place? Feel free to weigh in the comments.

What’s the Next ‘Global Warming’?

Thanks to Climategate and the Copenhagen fiasco, the media are now picking up the kinds of stories they previously thought it easier and wiser to ignore.

This is happening internationally. In France, a book titled “L’imposture climatique” is a runaway bestseller: Its author, Claude Allegre, is one of the country’s most acclaimed scientists and a former minister of education in a Socialist government. In Britain, environmentalist patron saint James Lovelock now tells the BBC he
suspects climate scientists have “[fudged] the data” and that if the planet is going to be saved, “it will save itself, as it always has done.” In Germany, the leftish Der Spiegel devotes 15 pages to a deliciously detailed account of “scientists who want to be politicians,” the “curious inconsistencies” in the temperature record, the “sloppy work” of the U.N.’s climate-change panel and sundry other sins of modern climatology.

As for the United States, Gallup reports that global warming now ranks sixth on the list of Americans’ top 10 environmental concerns. My wager is that within a few years “climate change” will exercise global nerves about as much as overpopulation, toxic tampons, nuclear winters, ozone holes, killer bees, low sperm counts, genetically modified foods and mad cows do today.

Something is going to have to take its place.

The world is now several decades into the era of environmental panic. The subject of the panic changes every few years, but the basic ingredients tend to remain fairly constant. A trend, a hypothesis, an invention or a discovery disturbs the sense of global equilibrium. Often the agent of distress is undetectable to the senses, like a malign spirit. A villain — invariably corporate and right-wing — is identified.

Then money begins to flow toward grant-seeking institutions and bureaucracies, which have an interest in raising the level of alarm. Environmentalists counsel their version of virtue, typically some quasi-totalitarian demands on the pattern of human behavior. Politicians assemble expert panels and propose sweeping and expensive legislation. Eventually, the problem vanishes. Few people stop to consider that perhaps it wasn’t such a crisis in the first place.

This is what’s called eschatology — a belief, or psychology, that we are approaching the End Time. Religions have always found a way to take account of those beliefs, but today’s secular panics are unmoored by spiritual consolations or valid moral injunctions. Instead, we have the modern-day equivalent of the old Catholic indulgence in the form of carbon credits. It’s how Al Gore justifies his utility bills.

What this decade requires is a new and better panic… Herewith, then, I propose a readers’ contest to invent the next panic. It must involve something ubiquitous, invisible to the naked eye, and preferably mass-produced. And the solution must require taxes, regulation, and other changes to civilization as we know it. The winner gets a beer and a burger, on me, at the 47th street Pig N’ Whistle in New York City. (Nachos for vegetarians.) Happy panicking!

About Curzon

Lord George Nathaniel Curzon (1859 - 1925) entered the British House of Commons as a Conservative MP in 1886, where he served as undersecretary of India and Foreign Affairs. He was appointed Viceroy of India at the turn of the 20th century where he delineated the North West Frontier Province, ordered a military expedition to Tibet, and unsuccessfully tried to partition the province of Bengal during his six-year tenure. Curzon served as Leader of the House of Lords in Prime Minister Lloyd George's War Cabinet and became Foreign Secretary in January 1919, where his most famous act was the drawing of the Curzon Line between a new Polish state and Russia. His publications include Russia in Central Asia (1889) and Persia and the Persian Question (1892). In real life, "Curzon" is a US citizen from the East Coast who has been a financial analyst, freelance translator, and university professor; he is currently on assignment in Tokyo.
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22 Responses to Anyone care for a burger?

  1. Wataru says:

    When Lovelock says that if the planet is going to be saved, “it will save itself, as it always has done,” he is not talking about saving humanity in the process. In the same interview, he suggests the cost will involve the death of around 7/8 of the world’s population. Quite different from what Stephens implies, isn’t it?

  2. Jesus Reyes says:

    If global warming doesn’t exist then somebody needs to quickly tell the US Navy because they are currently spending several billions with more slated to square off against the Russians over claiming and mining the ocean of the melting Arctic.

    Whether it is apocalyptic or not, the melting is visible, measurable and profitable. The US Geo Survey has big plans for the Arctic. They are already leasing the Chukchi and Beaufort Sea.

  3. zach wilson says:

    peak oil is the next crisis and the next bubble is green energy

  4. Balok says:

    “If global warming doesn’t exist then somebody needs to quickly tell the US Navy because they are currently spending several billions with more slated to square off against the Russians over claiming and mining the ocean of the melting Arctic.”

    Yes, us Canadians also don’t seem to have got the message that climate change is just a passing fad. New Arctic ports, new naval vessels planned, getting ready for an ice-free Northwest Passage, defence planning for climate-induced failed states, staking out our Arctic seabed claims for UNCLOS, an un-Canadian brusqueness with the Russians, etc. and all that from a Conservative government which seems ideologically opposed to climate change.

  5. von Kaufman-Turkestansky says:

    If any of the big geopolitical players are not appearing concerned about the effects of climate change (man made or not) their actions in the Arctic would belie that nonchalance. By now it should be clear that the smart money is on the Earth’s climate getting warmer as the century progresses. I guess the question is whether human activity causes or contributes to that change, and whether a change in behaviour can slow down the rate of change.

    The Stephens article kind of rambles, doesn’t it? It tries to mystify and I guess it accomplishes that to some extent. I don’t think that the real question is about eschatology at all. The awful “2012″ movie is eschatology. What is in the public sphere right now is a debate over the best policies.

    The article degenerates to nonsense as the list of past alarm fads appears. Toxic tampons were a problem, obviously on a different scale (40 deaths in 1980) than global climate change, but that was solved with a recall. It’s true that many are alarmed about slowing world population growth by late century but I would still say that most people consider overpopulation as we approach 9 billion earthlings would see this as a problem still. Nuclear winter is clearly still on someone’s mind as the current US administration seems intent on nuclear arms reduction. In general the only question that you can have on reading this article is “what is this guy going on about?”

  6. jim says:

    Environmentalism is just a quack religion. And most eco-fascists are watermelons (green on the outside, red on the inside). I’m enjoying watching them suffer.

    Ideas for next panics. Food paranoia is always good. The lefty women in my family are terribly afraid of plastics.

    Any new panic probably already exists at some level among certain sub-cultures. High Fructose corn syrup seems the latest demon food. I wouldn’t be surprised to see that banned at some point.

    The key is the response has to consists mainly of moral preening and not anything of actual substance. The women who whine about plastics still use them. They won’t give up the convenience, but they enjoy a good eco-whine.

    Gasoline additives are a good one. The solution can require a massive restructuring of our entire energy system, imposing huge costs on average people. I find the rich eco-left are fond of imposing huge costs on average people. Doubling the price of gas doesn’t hurt the eco Obama-left, so what do they care if that impoverishes the average American.

  7. Wataru says:

    “…global warming replaced smoking in bars, which replaced acid rain, which replaced nuclear holocaust, which replaced “global cooling,” which replaced overpopulation, and on and on.”
    None of these has been replaced. Overpopulation is still a threat, for example, one that has real consequences every day in real human suffering and that strains essential resources. If you don’t see these as real problems, you aren’t paying attention. Both your article and the one you quote from are little more than smartassism, devoid of any science. Sad, really.

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  9. Brand X says:

    Is this satire? Sadly, the author’s premise is utterly facile. Global warming isn’t a fadish panic. It’s a global crisis backed by hard science. If he’s looking for something to take its place, we’ll probably go from talking about ways of mitigating climate change to dealing with its effects. And that’s already happening.

  10. wren says: I thought Kevin Drum was direct in his criticism of the basic dishonesty of Stephens’ WSJ piece.

    Next fad? The catastrophic impact on Western civilization caused by the proposed end of Catholic priests’ celibacy.

    See you at the P&W but I prefer Riki’s on 45th for home style cooking.

  11. tdaxp says:

    Very good post Curzon.

    Most criticisms appear to be confusing potential local warming with actual global warming. Some others are just scientifically ignorant.

    Somewhere (maybe gnxp), I read that as a rule of thumb, “Human nature – theology = animism.” We’re hard-wired to believe in invisible forces that should be appeased. The ACGW cult is evidence of this.

  12. Adrian says:

    I assume anything printed in the WSJ editorial page is generally filled with lies. Turns out that my assumption is confirmed in this case. Stephens completely distorts Lovelock’s quotation. In context it’s clear that the quotation refers to Lovelock’s belief that the earth is so screwed that there’s nothing people can do about it.

  13. Jeff says:

    I see a wide variation in responses already, but I think I have a more pragmatist opinion.

    Conservation is not a new fad, it goes to Teddy Roosevelt and further back. I don’t think the basic ideas of conservation are a fad.The obsession with it that some people have, yes. That said, the basic science is sound. Exactly what shape, how fast, and how permanent the change is unknown. The exact extent of the change that is caused by humans is also unknown, but it is certain to be caused by both nature and humans.

    Unfortunately, the complexity of the science is hard to convey to the layman. So you get scientific papers and opinions polarized to either “We’re all gonna die!” or “Shut up you hippies!”

    Waters will likely rise. Richer coastal cities will likely become like New Orleans and the entirety of the Netherlands. Poorer coastal cities will likely gradually drift inland or disappear. Species will die. Ports will open in the arctic. Food production belts will shift drastically. The world isn’t going to end. But its going to change, and we should prepare for that.

  14. Wataru says:

    Adrian, it doesn’t matter to Curzon that the article is full of lies, because, as he says, it’s “a neat statement of what I’ve been thinking for years.” That’s all that counts. Nor will you see an apology from him for posting such a total distoration of Lovelock. The irony is that climate change denial is itself very much a fad.

  15. says:

    well said, jeff.

  16. Jay says:

    Point 1- Is climate change even debatable? Climategate only shows that scientists are capable of acting like mere mortals (or even worse, politicians), by attempting to control the narrative. When the stakes are so high, can you blame them?

    Point 2 – Overpopulation IS a problem. Especially in arid climates with little rainfall. The Sahel of Africa and Yemen are great examples of locations that would be better off with significantly fewer people. Long live Malthus!

  17. Peter says:

    Cf. “The Last Supper” (1995 film by Stacy Title)

    perverse incentives, burger, Greenhouse Effect, humanism

  18. Pingback: A busy chap « The World According to Me…

  19. Aceface says:

    I have to side with Wataru on this one.

    James Lovelock isn’t exactly “environmentalist patron saint” among the environmentalist.He’s a bit more earth centric and doomsday prophet like.
    In his thesis,human gets benefit from Gaia,aka The planet Earth,but not the other way around,so one of these days,Gaia would activate it’s selfdefence mechanism as human body does to viruses.
    Lovelock has also been saying that the global warming matters little to Gaia since the largest sum of life on Gaia has always been the bacteria and they will be more prosperous if the temperature arises at the cost of human extinction.

  20. Young Wilhelm says:

    Separatists. Get my vote for next. Not pseudo-separatists like the ‘terrorists’ or ‘tea-partiers’ who ultimately want to non-change the dominant political order via the whole were in charge vibe; vs. the we don’t want to participate in global civilization, in a political sense, but want to compete against global civ, without enlarging ourselves to the same scale as global civ. vibe. Resilient communities that trade and non-violently interact with global civ. but refuse to integrate. North Korea is an example of a top down separatist nation state that wants integration. Discipline is enforced top down. What if a homogeneous community had a bottom up resistance to integration? But still interacted? Same dangers as from a propaganda sense. Free nukes. Cyber-attacks. Blah blah blah. They trade but won’t participate in the ‘earth community’ good. Pseudo-corporations whose drive isn’t paper profit but resiliency profit. Curzon is right to question what’s next. But I wager it will be less existential than Global Warming. Reminder GW is not climate change, which is a historical and scientific fact.

  21. I believe Kaplan’s article Coming of Anarchy was one of those scares that sent chock waves through the west. The Malthusian scare keeps popping up through history

  22. David Franklin says:

    Wataru, Jesus Reyes, Balok and others have written excellent comments, to the point that the commentary is far more interesting and informative than the original article.

    Oh, and Curzon? You owe Zach Wilson a meal.