Monday, 21 December 2009

Would Darwin give a monkey’s about global warming?

So the Copenhagen summit has come and gone, “and we have not brought salvation to the earth” (Is 26:18).
Doubtless, the global warming saga will run for some time, as will the question about the extent to which mankind is responsible for causing it and capable of curing it.
As I looked at the televised pictures of delegates to the summit, however, I found myself wondering, “Does it really matter?” Or rather, “What reason, given the presuppositions held by most of these delegates, would they or anyone else with the same viewpoint give for arguing that it mattered?”
Let us take the ‘worst case but one’ scenario. (The worst-case scenario is, I would argue, runaway and irreversible global warming leading the planet to hot up like Venus and become utterly uninhabitable. I’m not sure if this is possible, but I just thought I’d touch base with that one.)
The second-worst case, I guess, is something like this: the planet warms up by several degrees celsius. The seas rise by a number of metres, inundating much of the existing land. There is a major refugee crisis, and at the same time a catastrophic decline in our ability to produced food. Wars, riots and starvation become rampant. Billions die. At the same time, tens of thousands of species of plant and animal become extinct. The global ecosystem wobbles on the point of collapse. More and more life forms are threatened with extinction including, possibly, the entire human race.
My question to the Copenhagen delegates is, “So what?”
As far as I am aware, our planet has suffered several what are called ‘extinction events’ —including the Cretaceous–Tertiary, the Triassic–Jurassic, the Permian–Triassic, the Late Devonian and the Ordovician–Silurian. And that’s just the big ones. Apparently there are a number of other, lesser, extinction events which can be added to the mix.
According to Wikipedia (and why should I doubt it?), 97% of all species that have ever existed are extinct. Yet, every time, the ecosystem got over it. From a purely evolutionary perspective —and I am sure that is the perspective not only of most Copenhagen delegates but of their scientific advisers —an extinction event is a mere ‘blip’. Indeed, it is arguably an opportunity rather than a catastrophe. After all, the death of the dinosaurs led to the rise of the mammals, including ourselves. Who knows to what the AGW extinction event, should it happen, might give rise?
Of course, one of the worries is that a lot of people will die. But whilst accepting this with equanimity is not a vote-winner, it is surely an acceptable attitude in the biological long-term. Let us not forget, everyone alive now will probably be dead in a hundred and fifty years. What does it matter if some of them die sooner, rather than later?
Some might appeal to the suffering that global warming would cause as a reason for concern. But the more people global warming kills, the less actual human suffering there will be in the long-term. For it is not just that existing people will die, and therefore not suffer any longer, there will be fewer people born to suffer in future, because there will be a smaller human population.
Moreover, if the people who blame global warming on human influence are right, the fewer people there are, the more rapidly the problem of global warming will be corrected. Some years ago, when I was more interested such things, I had a book called The Optimum Population for Britain, which reckoned the figure was 35 million. Given that we are currently at 70 million and rising, a population collapse would be beneficial, and especially so if there is widespread loss of low-lying land to the rising sea.
Certainly the human race cannot go on increasing at its present prodigious rate. The effects of global warming on the human population are thus, from a planetary point of view, likely to be nothing but beneficial, especially if, as some are arguing, we are the chief cause of the phenomenon in the first place.
Others will point to the loss of bio-diversity, but as already been observed, we know that this is not a real problem following previous extinctions. Bio-diversity is not a constant, but goes in cycles. Nor is a dramatic loss of such diversity a problem. It seems likely that at least some extinction events occurred virtually overnight in terms of planetary history. Yet the ecosystem recovered every time.
Equally, the time taken for such a recovery is not an issue. No-one is actually waiting for this recovery! No one is inconvenienced if it should take a few million extra years. All we need to know is that, willy-nilly, it does seem to occur.
So yes, global warming is a threat to our survival. But then we are a threat to the survival of other species, from the late Dodo to the soon-to-be late polio virus. It is only a form of speciesism which laments the demise of the former over the latter, or ourselves over either or both.
Would Darwin, or should Darwinists (which is most of our political and scientific establishment), give a monkey’s* about global warming? If they are right, then at worst, it would reset the evolutionary clock. But we have every reason to believe the planet would recover. And it might even get rid of the chief planetary trouble makers, namely ourselves.
And if that should happen, would anyone care?
Revd John Richardson
21 December 2009
* To give a monkey’s is an English phrase meaning ‘to care’.
Anonymous users wishing to paste in the comments box need first to select 'preview', then close the preview box. When posting your comments please give a full name and location. Comments without this information may be deleted.


  1. Hi John
    By extension you could also say that the failure at Copenhagen is of no great concern for religions which are fatalist and/or body-denying. The odd thing about a worldwide concern that Copenhagen failed is that it attests to the pervasity of the Judeo-Christian view of humanity as worth saving!

    In a slightly different direction of thinking, my mind has noted the limitation in meaning for the word 'tragedy' in respect of global warming. Along the way of global warming (assuming its truth) there will be tragedies as people die, islands are drowned, etc. But if we all die, if homo sapiens is made extinct, is that a tragedy? If it is then who would feel the pain, mourn the loss, and reflect on an explanation for this suffering?

  2. Thanks, John - I've been searching for new material for Christmas & you've struck just the right note!
    - well, you and 'Rage against the Machine'.

    Warmest greetings of the Season!

    Mark B.

  3. "And it might even get rid of the chief planetary trouble makers, namely ourselves.
    And if that should happen, would anyone care?"

    By definition no, because nobody would be left to do the caring!

    But to answer your question, would Darwin care? I would say yes because his primary interest was in biology and his travel logs do show his interest in biodiversity and his fondness for Aristotle would indicate this also. Let's not forget Darwin's aversion to pain, probably the biggest reason for his agnosticism. The most dire predictions show global warming resulting in a lot of suffering and I would imagine that any reseting of the "evolutionary clock" at the expense of Darwin's own descendants would grieve him.

    Now the "Darwinists" or more appropriately the "Apostles of Progress" would care but for a different reason, namely that human-induced global warming shows their belief to be folly. Heaven isn't a place on earth after all, imagine that!

    Those who care for the wrong reasons are the neo-paganist eco-warriers within the CoE and my own Church. They should keep to saving souls. If God allows us to destroy ourselves by our own selfishness and worship of 'Progress' then so be it.

    As Christians we believe to be on pilgrimage on this earth and specifically called by God into life with the hope of being with Him forever. Compared to that, Progress on earth, evolutionary or other, pales in comparison.

  4. I agree with you entirely. Hitler had the same idea. Millions of Jews would have died sooner rather than later. Far better that they were gassed to put them out of their misery, making room for more people on the planet. Perhaps Auchwitz should be re-introduced.

  5. Ivan, you're right about one thing. Hitler was, essentially, a 'Darwinist'. I quote from Mein Kampf: "Under certain circumstances, in periods of distress or under bad climatic condition, or if the soil yields too poor a return, Nature herself tends to check the increase of population in some countries and among some races, but by a method which is quite as ruthless as it is wise. It does not impede the procreative faculty as such; but it does impede the further existence of the offspring by submitting it to such tests and privations that everything which is less strong or less healthy is forced to retreat into the bosom of tile (sic) unknown. Whatever survives these hardships of existence has been tested and tried a thousandfold, hardened and renders fit to continue the process of procreation; so that the same thorough selection will begin all over again. By thus dealing brutally with the individual and recalling him the very moment he shows that he is not fitted for the trials of life, Nature preserves the strength of the race and the species and raises it to the highest degree of efficiency."

    By contrast, our human activities get in the way of this process: "... as soon as the procreative faculty is thwarted and the number of births diminished, the natural struggle for existence which allows only healthy and strong individuals to survive is replaced by a sheer craze to 'save' feeble and even diseased creatures at any cost. And thus the seeds are sown for a human progeny which will become more and more miserable from one generation to another, as long as Nature's will is scorned."