I mentioned recently that ‘crisis’ is an overused and rather debauched term. My Shorter Oxford says that it comes from the Greek verb for ‘to decide’, and in pathology means ‘the point in the progress of a disease when a change takes place which is decisive of recovery or death’. In Astrology it refers to the conjunctions of planets that are thought to determine the course of a disease or course of events. It is now generalised to mean a turning point in the progress of anything. In current Australian political life, it usually means that someone wants you or the Government to do something, otherwise things will be very bad indeed. The assumption is that if you see the word ‘crisis’ you’ll respond ‘Wow! They’d better do something!’
Just for fun I used my ‘favourite search engine’ (careful ABC terminology to avoid apparently advertising anything) and got the following results for the numbers of hits coming from the phrase ‘crisis in Australian …’ Into the dots I inserted ‘education’ (and got 121 million hits), ‘economy’ (118 million), ‘environment’ (114m), ‘politics’ (86m), ‘health care’ (62m), ‘climate change’ (45m), ‘nursing’ (21m), ‘industrial relations’ (1m). What about the Australian beef industry? That got 324,000 hits. What fine, mild thing can you think of? Add the word ‘crisis’ to it and see what you get. What about Mother’s Day? The answer: 22 million hits. What is the Mother’s Day crisis? Oh, the first one is how to celebrate Mother’s Day if you’ve lost a child.
Let’s face it. Everything is in crisis. In dear old ‘climate change’, as you just read, everything is in crisis. If you Google ‘Australian climate crisis’ you’ll get 24 million hits. Australia21, a ‘progressive’ think tank, tells us that ‘The problems facing humanity are dire but soluble’. Think about it. Some of its problems are surely dire for some people — those in the path of ISIS, for example. Are they soluble? To some degree only. Does Australia have ‘dire’ problems? ‘Dire’ comes from Latin dirus meaning fierce, horrible, frightful. Can you summon up such a problem currently facing our society?
Well Australia21 can. Here is another passage from the same page:
For the last three decades, the world has done nothing effective to address human-induced climate change. As the science has become more definite, and the evidence of warming more obvious, real global leadership has been non-existent, nations being pre-occupied with narrow self-interest, refusing to face up to its broader implications.
But in Voltaire’s words: “Men argue, nature acts”. Climate change is happening faster and more extensively than officially anticipated. It presents risks that humanity has never previously experienced, as evidence mounts that extremely dangerous “tipping points” are being activated, probably irreversibly. To the point where emergency action will be required as procrastination is cutting off our ability to make the transition to a low-carbon world in a graduated manner.
I’m not into personalities, so I won’t mention the author, but how many exaggerations and errors can you see in those two paragraphs? Here’s a few.
* The science of ‘climate change’ has if anything become less certain, if not increasingly empty of support for the dangers of ‘human-induced climate change’.
* The evidence of warming has been most subdued in the last twenty years, compared to the twenty years before that.
* It is unclear that ‘climate change’ is happening faster and more extensively than officially anticipated. Certainly the IPCC’s SREX report a couple of years ago decided that it could find no link between greenhouse gas emissions and ‘extreme weather’ events. Tornadoes, storms and so on are less in evidence than in the past.
* There is no evidence of which I am aware that ‘extremely dangerous tipping points’ are being activated, let alone irreversibly. No one much has talked about tipping points for the past few years.
* As to the last clotted sentence, governments have, as I have writtten before, done a lot of talking about combatting climate change, but not a lot of walking, because modern Western societies rely above all on regular and reliable grid power, which mostly comes from burning fossil fuels. They are not going to abandon that practice.
Why do serious and apparently well-informed people put forward such easily countered propositions? I asked that about John Menadue and his website. The only answer I can provide is that they have become believers, not analysts. Or, if you like, they are only interested in how to counter such dire issues, not on whether or not there is any real need to try to do so.
So, as we see all the time, in default of decent argument and evidence, what they do is tell us that there is a ‘crisis’, that things are ‘dire’, that we must act, NOW! There is a nice little aphorism about successful barristers, to the effect that if they’re losing on the facts, they pound the law; if they’re losing on the law, they pound the facts; if they’re losing on both, they pound the table. In our politics today, there’s an awful lot of pounding the table.
Yet we are the best educated version of Australian society that there ever has been. I’ve been through all this in many previous essays, and won’t rehash it now. Maybe there has always been a lot of pounding the table. There certainly was in the 1950s, with the Cold War and the DLP split. There was in the 1960s, too, with respect to the war in Vietnam and conscription.
We may be better educated (meaning that more people have more years in formal education), but it is not obvious that we are more reasonable. There seems to be a willingness to believe, on the part of people who have their university education behind them yet have forgotten what ‘critical thinking’ is all about. I’ve written about this before on a few occasions, and think it has something to do with the decline of organised Christianity, the prevalence of disaster in our mass media, and a pervasive feeling of guilt that we Westerners are doing well when others, less fortunate, are doing badly. And that we are responsible for everything.
It doesn’t matter that we are not responsible for everyone, and it doesn’t matter that we can do nothing much for most of them anyway. What matters is the feeling of guilt, and the offering of expiation if we DO THE RIGHT THING – even if, as I argued recently, stopping burning coal will not reduce temperatures in a discernible way. We will feel better about it, and that is the important thing.
If I’m wrong in this assessment I’d be grateful for an alternative view which carried some plausibility.