Friday, January 23, 2009

Colonialism, climate change and religion

Now the ice has come... no one can sail by the old route without risking death
Those were the words of a fourteenth-century Norwegian monk, quoted by Fernand Braudel.

I'd never really thought about who my intellectual heroes are, before I answered the questions for my recent Normblog profile. To my surprise, the list of five names included two French historians, Marc Bloch and Braudel.

Bloch's analytical approach to the structures of mediaeval society resonated with me when I was a teenager, showing the importance of an approach to history that went beyond both Kings and battles on the one hand, and the minutiae of ordinary life on the other. His courage with the Resistance during WWII, courage that led finally to his capture, torture and execution just a fortnight before the liberation of Paris, deserves a different sort of admiration. But this post isn't about Bloch.

There's an interesting summary of Braudel's views in Wikipedia. It says he:
argued that capitalists have typically been monopolists, not, as is usually assumed, entrepreneurs operating in competitive markets. He argued that capitalists did not specialize and did not use free markets. He thus diverged from both liberal (Adam Smith) and Marxian interpretations. In Braudel's view, under capitalism, the state has served as a guarantor of monopolists rather than as the protector of competition usually portrayed. He said capitalists have had power and cunning on their side, and they have been arrayed against the majority of the population. Few historians have followed up this lead.
In fact, Braudel was not so isolated as this suggests: Smith, Marx, Galbraith and Friedman all made arguments that had common ground with him, and with each other, including, between them: that capitalists or some synonym for capitalists tend towards monopoly, that their individual interests are not served by a free market and that they seek to undermine free markets, that governments can create or reinforce privileged positions for them. When concentrations of capital meet government, the rest of us have a problem.

But what really strikes the reader of Braudel, especially of his three volume Civilisation and Capitalism, 15th-18th Century, is scale and detail. His mind soared above continents and swooped down to examine the metal bread ovens that travelled with European armies in the eighteenth century, or the habit of drinking hot water instead of tea, when tea could not be afforded, in rural China - and the Chinese disgust at the habit of European travellers of drinking cold liquids. It's a long time since I read it, so I started volume one again, a couple of days ago.

It begins, as it should, with a consideration of the nature of the available evidence and of some of the questions that a global approach might raise. After surveying it briefly, Braudel invites the reader to contemplate the colonialism of the eighteenth century - not European colonialism but the internal colonialism, the settling of previously unsettled internal spaces, in all of the world. This phenomenon had been identified locally by others. For example, Postan considered it in terms of the usage of primary, secondary and tertiary land before and after the Black Death of the fourteenth century and noted that some "tertiary" land was not resettled in England until the nineteenth century. But Braudel noticed it happened more broadly:
The real question is: why did these phenomena occur at the same time throughout the world when the space had always been available? The simultaneity is the problem. The international economy, effective but still so fragile, cannot assume sole responsibility for such a general and powerful movement. It too is as much consequence as cause.
His answer was one we are all more familiar with now than was his audience when he wrote:
One can only imagine one single general answer to this almost complete coincidence: changes in climate.
As a historian, Braudel's evidence was concentrated in certain regions of the world: the literate ones. Or perhaps that should be: those regions from which written records survived. This meant that outside Europe and the regions Europeans visited, and Asia generally and China in particular, there was and remains a scarcity of evidence.

The important point, though, is that for every region where there is evidence, there is evidence of simultaneous climate change at certain periods in the past. This directly falsifies some of the modelling on which the United Nations IPCC has relied in the past, especially Michael Mann's hockey stick graph. Today, there is evidence from other regions that some periods of cold and warmth were indeed global. There is no evidence, as opposed to modelling, to the contrary. And as another of my intellectual heroes, Richard Feynman, said:
It doesn't matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn't matter how smart you are. If it doesn't agree with experiment, it's wrong.
Mann's model does not agree with experiment.

Braudel concluded his brief exploration of climate change as follows:
It is amusing to think that men of former times would not have been put out by this climatic explanation, implicating as it does the heavens.
To them, climate came from God, or from conjunctions of the stars. There are contemporary echoes in that. Climate alarmism has been compared to a religion; does the absence of a God lead to a transference of blame to Man? Are climate sceptics reverting to an older form of explanation?

I think there's more to the first possibility than the second, but then I am a climate sceptic, and an atheist, so the second doesn't make sense to me. I mentioned it for balance.

But both would really just be forms of name-calling. The more rigorous conclusion would, surely, be that there have been changes in climate in the past and they have been global in scale as well as local, and therefore any climate models that suggest otherwise fail Feynman's test.

It could also be added that this has been known for decades.

1 comment:

Frank Segler said...

I was once a 'believer' in Al Gore's Vision of climate apocalypse. Something in the human mind cowers and buys into fears that others feed on. Weird.

Since then I have definitely become a skeptic. Over and over environmentalists are made laughingstock for having meetings in record cold temperatures. Tell me you haven't seen a dozen news stories about this in the last few years!

Since my recovery from Al Gore's nightmare, I have taken the time to read, to find out more factual information. And my conclusion like the author of the above article is that we have always had climate change, but I do not believe in any way that we are destined for global warming.

I was in the Maldives in the mid 1990's. They were predicted to be half under water by now. Yet a very comprehensive study was done (I think Stanford?), and they have found that the water level of the indian ocean has DROPPED! Not only that, but the Maldives has been continuously inhabited during water rises far in excess of those projected.

I have learned about the Milankovitch Cycles of the sun, and that there is in fact very little we know about the sun. For example, why have we had no sunspots for a full 30 day period last year. The Milankovitch cycles are something like 40,000 years- but thats a full cycle. it has to do with a slightly unstable elliptical orbit the earth makes around the sun. We get our seasons from just a small 23 degree axial tilt, and quite severe climate change during just one year from such a minor distance from our sun. Surely there are many more unknowns (thats why we are launching several satellites to observe the sun, because we need to know)

So while the science is still 'out', and the future of our global climate is truly UNKNOWN, why are we trying to take decisive action of assuming a warmer global climate? It just doesn't make sense! Is it just as simple as a power grab by those making the most noise?

Did everyone here know that the professor who set Al Gore on his environmentalist cause was originally one of the inventors of Global Warming. Near the end of his life he did a 180 degree turn on his opinions. Interesting isnt it.

Everyone needs to get involved to STOP these people before they ruin our lives, tell us how many kids we can have and all sorts of silly things. The threat is real to us because these people are true believers! To them its settled, "damnit, we are going to have global warming if you like it or not!"

Well sorry, more science must be done before such dramatic statements can be made.

Thanks John for bringing this point out for your readers. The more people who know the truth the better, because right now all of our leaders are lying to us!