Mike Hulme is a former climate scientist at UEA who has consistently, with integrity and honesty, resisted the siren call of climate alarmism. Most especially, when the extinction fanatics and climate emergency cultists came to the fore and commandeered the climate change social narrative in 2019, he wrote this very sensible and enlightening piece on his blog, which was covered by Paul Matthews at Cliscep here. Hulme says:
Yet I resist the current mood of ‘extinctionism’ which pervades the new public discourse around climate change. Talking about the future in this way is counter-productive. And it does a disservice to development, justice, peace-making and humanitarian projects being undertaken around the world today.
A denier is a person who denies something, “… who refuses to admit the truth of a concept or proposition that is supported by the majority of scientific or historical evidence.” If I do not believe that climate change will drive the human species to extinction, does that make me an extinction denier? For I do not believe that there is good scientific or historical evidence that climate change will lead to human extinction.
This rise in extinction rhetoric in (largely) English-speaking societies over the past 12 months is in part linked to the IPCC’s Special Report on 1.5C Warming published last October. The slogan “we have only 12 years left” has somehow been extracted from this Report and feeds the rise of climate clocks such as this one from the Human Impact Lab in Montreal. But the IPCC Report offers neither scientific nor historical evidence for human extinction.
From this extinction fear arises the “panic” that Greta Thunberg has called for. Panic demands a response and one response is to declare an emergency. ‘Climate emergencies’ are now being declared in jurisdictions ranging from universities, the British Parliament and several local authorities in the UK.
But the rhetoric of extinction and emergency does not adequately describe the situation we find ourselves in. Declaring a climate emergency implies the possibility of time-limited radical and decisive action that can end the emergency. But climate change is not like this. The historical trajectory of human expansion, western imperialism and technological development has created climate change as a new condition of human existence rather than as a path to extinction.
It’s interesting that Professor Hulme identifies SR15 as the possible source of the climate emergency/climate crisis and extinction rhetoric, whilst at the same time denying that the science therein lent any credibility to such claims. But that’s what the IPCC do. They publish the science and then they promote an unjustified and somewhat alarmist interpretation of that science in the summary for policy makers. What is more interesting is that he implies that anthropogenic climate change, which is not an existential threat or an emergency, is something we must learn to live with and adapt to and presumably attempt to mitigate.
He rejects the fear narrative:
The rhetoric of climate and extinction does not help us psychologically. It all too easily induces feelings of terror as Ed Maibach at George Mason University bluntly remarks, “As a public health professional (and as a human), I find the prospect of 3 or 4 degree C of global warming to be nothing short of terrifying.” But inducing a state of terror generates counter-productive responses in human behaviour.
He also rejects the idea that we need a wholesale reorganisation of society and political structures in order to deal with climate change:
Nor does the rhetoric of climate and extinction help us politically. Simply ‘uniting behind the science’ or ‘passing on the words of science’ gets us no further forward politically. Even if climate science predicted the extinction of humanity, as Darrick Evensen explains climate change “raises a host of ethical, historical and cultural questions that are at most tangentially connected to any scientific findings.”
Bearing this in mind, it is perhaps not surprising to find that Mike Hulme also rejects the ‘Covid crisis’ narrative and is sceptical of the value of lockdowns, arguing for the restoration of our society and former political structures, stating that we must learn to live with this disease. Hulme rejects the simplistic narrative that mass vaccination will achieve a return to normality, as promoted by politicians and as naively believed by so many.
There is a naïve assumption that mass vaccination will allow social life in the UK to return to normal. It is far from obvious that this is so. As the authoritarian regulation of public life extends and continues, the erosion of collective and individual freedoms will only be reversed if citizens demand it.
He criticises the misguided belief in science as the saviour of society and the sole arbiter of policy:
Science is sustained on the promise that its enterprise not only yields greater knowledge about how the physical world works but, crucially, that this knowledge offers more certainty about the future. And that with more certainty about the future, science therefore enables better (‘more rational’) decisions to be made about how to secure policy goals.
The political rhetoric regarding the progression of the coronavirus pandemic and the development of vaccines has certainly leant heavily on this promise. Those whose guiding light is premised on science, therefore remain suspended between finding ways of living a worthwhile life amidst deep uncertainty and waiting for science to deliver on its promise.
But such a prospectus mis-sells science. And it underestimates the complexity of how physical and social worlds interact to create the future. The more scientific knowledge is gained about the physical world, the more it is realized what is still not known. The exploratory frontier of science never closes; indeed, it continues to expand. This is what history teaches us, not least with respect to infectious diseases and vaccines.
The vaccine rollout will not, cannot restore what has been lost through lockdowns:
Now don’t mis-read me. I am most definitely not anti-science and vaccines are good things. Absolutely. The world needs them, desperately. But we deceive ourselves badly if we think that the mass roll out of vaccines will by itself put back together our broken social and economic worlds. The biggest danger in the roll-out of vaccines is that in the public mind they are interpreted as white horses riding out to save us.
This is a mirage. Vaccines will reduce case fatality rates and the incidence of serious side-effects. But transmission will continue, albeit at lower rates but with occasional spikes. SARS-CoV-2 will still be with us. We need to find better ways of living with the risks this virus will continue to pose to life and health than by suspending individual and collective freedoms through shutting down society (lockdown).
He is obviously very concerned at the loss of liberty and the social and psychological harms inflicted upon us as a result of lockdowns:
These restrictions are deeply worrying, whilst also appearing disarmingly mundane.
Worrying for those who hold to a certain view of western liberal democracy are the following: the abandonment of the right of assembly; unprecedented state restriction on personal freedom of movement; the forcible incarceration of elders in care homes (keeping them alive so that they may die lonely and alone); the isolation of the mentally ill in hospitals; the enforced schooling of children at home; the suspension of the right to trade; the expansion of state surveillance; the enlargement and intrusion of police powers into private life.
Who could disagree? Quite a few, apparently, which is worrying in itself.
He says what I have been saying myself for many months. The only way to end this nightmare is for us, the people, to stand up and re-assert our right to live life normally again. The government is not going to give us back what it has taken unless we demand it. Meekly acquiescing to a coerced mass vaccination campaign which mainly benefits people like Bill Gates will not get us back to normal. Quite the opposite in fact. It will inform the government that it can dictate to us even what we put into our own bodies. That is an extremely perilous thing to do.
The simple belief that securing the mass roll out of vaccines will automatically reverse the state’s appropriation of unprecedented powers, manifest in the large and small ways summarized above, is dangerous in both its naivety and passivity. Vaccines of course do not have the agency to return rights and freedoms that have been suspended, but neither can we expect politicians or medical experts to automatically restore them. The totalizing hold that the central state now has on British political and social life will only be relaxed by citizens demanding the return of those liberties and freedoms that have been withheld.
Until public fear is neutralised, COVID risk normalised and citizens demand the Government returns their political and social freedoms, we will remain living under conditions of emergency, thus perpetuating the fragmentation and de-socialisation of society.
There is hard political, psychological and social work to be done in re-constructing the basic elements of a free and sociable society that have been so badly damaged. Three things are necessary in the weeks, months and years ahead to achieve what the vaccines on their own cannot achieve — the re-socialisation of society.
Mike advises of the need to dispel the irrational and damaging fear which has been deliberately generated and engineered by alarmist academics and psychologists at SAGE, the media and by the government itself:
Second is to alter the mass psychology of a nation that has been tutored by the iatocracy and the media into fearing coronavirus. Sociologist Robert Dingwall argues thus: “Above all, we must dispel the current mood of fear and the arguments of those who thrive upon that fear.” Or to quote a more distant, but equally perceptive, voice: “The only thing we have to fear is … fear itself – nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance”.
Finally, Mike advises us that we must learn to live with the risk of death or disease from SARS-CoV-2. Just like the ever present risks of climate change must be normalized, managed and incorporated into our existing social and political structures sensibly and rationally, which means not kowtowing to the demands of extinction rebellion fanatics and hysterics at the Graun screaming that we must radically alter our society, our behaviours and our modes of governance in order to avert an existential climate crisis.
And, third, it is necessary to accept that COVID-19 and its threats to human life and health will not be eliminated by vaccines. COVID risk needs to be treated just like other presenting risks. (I am not saying that all risks are equal in threat or the same in character; rather, that we need equally to learn how to live with risk while preserving the things we value). COVID risk should not be exceptionalised. It needs to be assimilated into everyday risk awareness, social norms and human behaviour.