Stephen Hawking and the misanthropy of environmentalists

Stephen Hawking marked his 75th birthday last weekend by giving a talk at Cambridge University and being interviewed by the BBC. His huge media profile notwithstanding, Hawking, a theoretical cosmologist, is still well respected among the scientific community. Even where his theories, such as those on the Big Bang and the origins of the universe, are disputed, his research is taken seriously.

This was the perfect opportunity to look back on his life’s work. But, instead, Hawking took the opportunity to warn us about the catastrophe he thinks will ensue following Brexit and Trump’s rejection of the Paris climate agreement.

During the BBC interview, Hawking said Trump’s decision ‘will cause avoidable environmental damage’, and could ‘push Earth over the brink, to become like Venus, with a temperature of 250 degrees, and raining sulphuric acid’. According to Hawking, we are heading towards the apocalypse.

Hawking may be a great scientist, but there’s nothing rational about this kind of Biblical doom-mongering. The green hysteria that has greeted Trump’s rejection of the Paris accords has more to do with a commitment to environmentalism as a political ideology than to cold science: as Bjorn Lomborg has pointed out, the Paris agreement will barely make a dent in CO2 emissions, even in the unlikely event all the signatories fulfil their obligations.

The assumption among environmentalists is that the existence of climate change determines our response; that it means, in the case of the Paris accords, we must submit to costly, anti-growth measures. Invoking The Evidence just becomes a means of covering for a political argument. And this doesn’t just happen in relation to the environment. Recently, Brian Cox tweeted some data suggesting that Brexit would make the UK poorer. The implication was that the economic effect of Brexit is predetermined, and that political arguments are irrelevant in the face of the data.

Science pushes the boundaries of human knowledge and triumphs human endeavour. It is a reminder of what we are capable of achieving. That’s why it is so depressing that one of the world’s most renowned scientists can be so pessimistic about humanity and progress. ‘Evolution has inbuilt greed and aggression into the human genome’, said Hawking last week, as he made the argument for colonising space. This is scientific progress waged in the name of humanity’s fecklessness and selfishness. It’s not just anti-human, it’s kind of anti-science, too.

Emily Dinsmore is a writer and physics student.

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