The icy grip of the politics of fear
The snow crisis of December 2010: what a striking snapshot of the chasm that separates the warming-obsessed elite from the rest of us.
You couldn’t have asked for a better snapshot of the chasm that divides today’s so-called expert classes from the mass of humanity than the snow crisis of Christmas 2010. They warn us endlessly about the warming of our planet; we struggle through knee-deep snow to visit loved ones. They host million-dollar conferences on how we’ll cope with our Mediterranean future; we sleep for days in airport lounges waiting for runways to be de-iced. They pester the authorities for more funding for global-warming research; we keep an eye on our elderly neighbours who don’t have enough cash to heat their homes.
This isn’t to say that the entire climate-change thesis is wrong. I’m not one of those people who believes snowfall necessarily disproves every claim made by warming-obsessed climatologists. Rather the snow crisis demonstrated, in high definition, the gap between the fear-fuelled thinking of the elite and the struggles of everyday people. It illuminated the million metaphorical miles that now separate the fantasy politics of our so-called betters from the concerns of the rest of us.
Not surprisingly, with snowstorms smothering Western Europe and the East Coast of America, many asked: ‘What happened to global warming?’ On the 20-hour bus-and-boat-and-train-and-car journey I took from London to Galway, surrounded by people forced to make a similar trek because their flights were also cancelled, there was much jocular banter along the lines of: ‘So this is the climate change we’ve been warned about…’ As people made new friends and arranged impromptu carpools for the final legs of their journeys, there was a palpable sense that the world we inhabit is not the same as that inhabited by greens.
That isn’t surprising when you consider that greens have been telling us for the past decade that snow will disappear from our lives. Literally. ‘Snow is starting to disappear from our lives’, reported the Independent in March 2000. It quoted an expert from the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia (of recent Climategate fame) who said ‘children just aren’t going to know what snow is’. In 2006, the US-based Union of Concerned Scientists said winters had become ‘warmer and less snowy’ thanks to global warming.
Other climate-change campaigners told us to prepare for Saharan weather. A book published as part of Al Gore’s ‘Inconvenient Truth’ jamboree in 2007 – The Global Warming Survival Handbook – said there would soon be ‘searing temperatures, killer storms, drought, plague and pestilence’. Award-winning green theorists told us to prepare for life on a ‘hotter planet’ in which ‘the traditional British winter [is] probably gone for good’. Newspapers provided us with a ‘hellish vision of life on a hotter planet’ where deserts would ‘reach into the heart of Europe’ and global warming would ‘reduce humanity to a few struggling groups of embattled survivors clinging to life near the poles’.
Dramatic stuff. And unadulterated nonsense. The thing that occupied people’s minds at the end of 2010 was not how to explain to their sweating children in the deserts of Hampshire why snow disappeared from our lives, but rather how to negotiate actual snow. Again, this isn’t to say that the snow proves there is no planetary warming at all: if it is mad to cite every change in the weather as proof that Earth is doomed, then it’s probably also unwise to dance around in the slushy white stuff in the belief that it proves that all environmental scientists are demented liars. But the world of difference between expert predictions (hot hell) and our real experiences (freezing nightmare) is a powerful symbol of the distance that now exists between the apocalypse-fantasising elites and the public.
What it really shows is the extent to which the politics of global warming is driven by an already existing culture of fear. It doesn’t matter what The Science (as greens always refer to it) does or doesn’t reveal: campaigners will still let their imaginations run riot, biblically fantasising about droughts and plagues, because theirs is a fundamentally moralistic outlook rather than a scientific one. It is their disdain for mankind’s planet-altering arrogance that fuels their global-warming fantasies – and they simply seek out The Science that best seems to back up their perverted thoughts. Those predictions of a snowless future, of a parched Earth, are better understood as elite moral porn rather than sedate risk analysis.
Indeed, The Global Warming Survival Handbook gave the game away when it encouraged people to see the future through ‘carefully crafted “what if?” stories’. Admitting that it is virtually impossible to predict our climatic future – ‘We can’t even forecast if it will rain next week’ – it advised us to host ‘scenario parties’ to ‘pool the imaginations and experiences of your friends’. It’s the closest we’ve had to an admission by the green movement that its warnings of future desert-spread are based on its own feverish teenage imaginings rather than on scientific forecasts. The snow crisis demonstrated this in Technicolor (well, in bright white): that the expert elites have taken leave of the realm of reality, preferring to seek meaning and momentum in the fantasy notion that they are fighting a hot apocalypse.
Anyone with a shred of self-respect who had predicted The End Of Snow would surely now admit that he was wrong. But no. Perhaps the most revealing thing about the snow crisis is that it was held up as evidence, not that the experts were mistaken, but that the public is stupid. Apparently it’s those who ask ‘Whatever happened to global warming?’, rather than those who predicted ‘no more traditional British winters’, who need to have their heads checked. Because what they don’t understand – ignoramuses that they are – is that heavy snow is also proof that our planet is getting hotter, and that industrialised society is to blame, just as surely as the absence of snow was proof of the same thing 10 years ago.
‘The snow outside is what global warming looks like’, said one headline, in a newspaper which 10 years ago said that the lack of snow outside is what global warming looks like. A commentator said that anyone who says ‘what happened to global warming?’ is an ‘idiot’ because nobody ever claimed that global warming would ‘make Britain hotter in the long run’. (Er, yes they did.) Apparently the reason people don’t understand the (new) global-warming-causes-snow thesis is because they are ‘simple, earthy creatures, governed by the senses’: ‘What we see and taste and feel overrides analysis. The cold has reason in a deathly grip.’
This reveals the stinging snobbery at the heart of the politics of global warming. Because what we have here is an updated version of the elitist idea that the better classes have access to a profound and complicated truth that the rest of us cannot grasp. Where we have merely sensory reactions (experience), they have reason and analysis (knowledge). Our critical reaction to the snow actually revealed our failure to understand The Truth, as unveiled by The Science, rather than revealing their wrongheadedness in predicting an ‘end to snow’. We are ‘simple’, they are ‘reasoned’. In 2011, we should take everything that is said by this new doom-mongering expert caste with a large pinch of salt – and then spread that salt on the snow which they claimed had disappeared from our lives.
Brendan O’Neill is editor of spiked. Visit his personal website here.
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