Friday, 13 June 2014

Starting to feel slightly warm in the White House

Barack Obama arrived on the Normandy beeches last week, a few days after pushing through legislation that could clean up US energy. The White house has so far been slow to realise we are in a green house, but are the Americans going to rush in and save the day, just as they did back in 1944?

There is certainly going to be a fight. The President of the most powerful country in the world has some executive powers, as does the Environmental Protection Agency, formed by unsung hero Richard Nixon. So their plan doesn't have to go through the republican-led democratic chambers, but it may have to get past an army of lawyers. 

This building still as yet unaffected by climate change - must be well insulated. at least from science

The more interesting part of the political environment where this is playing out comes in the curious bedfellows of the right: Christian fundamentalists and oil barons. 

Politics is very difficult to understand, even when it's local, but the way it often works in big parties is that you get fringes that hold the balance of power. With the Republicans, the religious right hold a lot of votes. The oil industry hold a lot of the money.

I should also mention the tobacco industry.

For several years, tobacco was fighting to save it's reputation from allegations that it caused cancer. The strategy of the industry was two-fold. First, support scientific studies that disprove the links between smoking and cancer, also known as junk science. And second, attack the scientific basis that means it is possible to prove something random and probablistic like cancer comes from smoking. 

This same tactic became very useful in the global warming "debate". Money has been spent so effectively debunking the science behind climate change, that some people actually believe climate change itself is a conspiracy. They believe that secret organisations are funding the research to topple the western economies.

Again, there is a strong anti-science element to this. To some extent this comes down to epistemology. In hard sciences, like physics and chemistry, we can usually set up experiments that will pretty much prove or disprove our theories. We can't do this with the climate. There's no way to go back and stop the industrial revolution to see if that would make a cooler planet. We can certainly carry on experimenting by burning fossil fuels, but we don't have a control group, so there is nothing to compare our results against. 

But what does this have to do with religion? Why on earth would the religious right be jumping into bed with oil company executives? Doesn't the bible warn us of the rich and powerful? Isn't there something just un-christian about making money by selling poison to people? And wasn't the eleventh commandment, thou shalt not pollute they neighbour's groundwater supply?

The only possible link I can find is connected with this anti-science. Similar to the science of climate change, biology and geology have some elements that cannot simply be proved by experiments in the lab. For example it's impossible to go back in time, from generation to generation, to see whether evolution really did happen, and whether we have common ancestors among the apes, and going further back still throughout all life on earth.

There has certainly been a backlash against evolution among the religious fundamentalists, and I don't think this is a recent thing. At the Scopes Monkey Trial back in 1925 the State of Tennessee found John Scopes guilty of teaching evolution and fined him $100. In fact it probably goes back to the time of Darwin himself, when religious enclaves across the United States were shielded from the kind of debate that took place in more secular areas, and could see the theory of evolution for what it is: an affront to the very foundation of Christian belief. If only America had been colonised before Galileo, there may still be swathes of North America where people believe the earth revolves around the sun.

So basically this is how it works:
God hates science;
The oil industry hates science (except when they need it to get the oil out of the ground);
So the oil industry loves God (your enemy's enemy is your friend). 

I may, of course, be completely missing the point. 

Also, watch out Barack, what does that say on your badge? In God we trust?