I HAVE been working in climate and energy for nearly 15 years, and it’s fair to say that it’s not often I find something that makes me radically change the way I look at the domain. But a new book, by Andy A West, has done just that.
The Grip of Culture makes the case that climate catastrophism is cultural – akin to religion or one of the extreme political movements that have assailed the world from time to time. This is not an entirely new idea; lots of people have alluded to the possibility that a religion has formed around the belief that we are facing a weather wipeout. You can certainly see lots of behaviour among climate zealots that is identical to that of zealots from other, older religious systems. So opponents are demonised, and waverers are threatened with expulsion to keep them on the straight and narrow. They have a hallowed text that few have tried to read, and fewer can understand. There are prophets and prophetesses, and a dizzying and ever-changing narrative of fear and redemption which is impossible to escape.
Circumstantially then, climate catastrophism looks exactly like a religion. Intriguingly though, West argues that he can prove the point, and at the heart of the book is a set of measurements of public attitudes to global warming from around the world. At first these seem very strange – inexplicable even – with national publics apparently simultaneously greatly concerned by climate change and not at all keen to do anything about it. Bizarrely, the more religious a country is, the more worried the populace is about the issue, and the less inclined to prioritise addressing it.
West shows that these apparently schizophrenic attitudes can be explained as the interaction between traditional religion and a new faith of climate catastrophism. The measurement chapters are really rather remarkable, with extraordinarily strong statistical relationships emerging between national religiosity and climate change attitudes: correlations where questions invite virtue signalling responses (‘How worried are you about climate change’) and equally strong anti-correlations when hard reality gets involved (‘How much are you willing to spend each week to reduce climate change’). Opinion polling on the subject will never be the same again.
It’s deliciously counterintuitive, and very powerful. For example, West shows that you can use the results to predict real-world phenomena such as the spread of renewables across different nations. Remarkably, he gets a better result from using religiosity as a predictor than, say, GDP, political inclination. And if you think sunshine hours should be a great predictor of solar power usage, think again; not only is religiosity far better, but absurdly there turns out to be a much stronger commitment to solar in cloudy (European) nations than in sunny ones!
This is a lot of fun, but there is an extremely serious message to the book. Religions – cultures, that is – are powerful influences on humanity. They bind societies together, and enable us to work towards a common goal. In this way they have been central to the rise of every great civilisation. But they also function subconsciously, and therefore without any reference to rational thought. It’s as though the culture has a mind of its own. So the common goals that end up being pursued are as often self-destructive as they are beneficial. The book outlines appalling stories of societies which have been torn apart and even ruined themselves in this way.
We are therefore warned. If we are truly in the grip of a new culture, then we need to be very worried about where it is taking us, because it could be to the brink of disaster and beyond.
The Grip of Culture is published by the Global Warming Policy Foundation. You can buy the book here.