The Great Global Warming Inquisition: Where Scientists are Galileo and the Church is Market Fundamentalism. Four hundred years ago, the Catholic Church found Galileo Galilei “vehemently suspect of heresy” and sentenced him to house arrest for the remainder of his life.
His offending thoughts and book were banned, as were all future books he might consider writing. His crime? Suggesting that the Earth was not the centre of the universe.
Today’s scientists are modern-day Galileos, viciously attacked at every turn by deniers with half-truths and outright falsehoods. Today’s Inquisitors are the Deniers, their church is Market Fundamentalism, and they worship the Almighty Dollar. Ultimately, their true religion is the same as it was 400 years ago for the Roman Catholic Church: Power, Privilege, Prestige. And, now as then, the Inquisitors are terrified by the implications of a scientific discovery because it threatens their position.
Today’s Catholic Church has come a long way and now embraces the views of scientists, at least in the area of the hard sciences. The Catholic Church has an annual “Save Creation Day” and speaks of global warming as a catastrophe that will destroy humanity and much of God’s creation, and therefore sees it as a moral as well as scientific issue. Most major Christian religions take this view, because they see no conflict between science and religion.
We feeble humans attempt to understand the universe through science and through spirituality, and each is valuable and necessary in its own way. Science has nothing to say about morality or the grand question of “Why?” As my high school physics teacher put it to the class many years ago, science cannot answer the question, “Why is a duck?” Meaning, why does anything, including the universe itself, exist? Science does, however, get better and better at describing and understanding the universe and how it works, including all that is in it – including us.
Spirituality, on the other hand, does provide a foundation for morality. Many religions take the view that morality is “because the Bible says so,” but in reality it is not necessary to invoke God or ancient texts to decide what is moral and what is not.
Philosophy, as practised by the ancient Greeks like Aristotle, was once the intersection of science and spirituality. The Greeks attempted to discover the meaning of life, or what it meant to live a good life. Today’s philosophers have abandoned this quest to the self-help authors.
Whether one is a ‘believer’ or not, whether one is Christian or not, there is ancient wisdom in the Bible and other spiritual texts that we have ignored to our peril: The Seven Deadly Sins, for example, really are deadly. Greed is not good, and this is why the Deniers are terrified.
Much of the propaganda from Deniers focuses on the economic aspects of climate change; their fallback argument, after years of outright lies and attempts to confuse people about the science, is constantly that it is “too expensive” to change, that the world economy would crash, that poor people would suffer, and so on. None of this is true, and all of it serves only to mask the Deniers’ true desire, which is to preserve their position. Deniers don’t give a damn about the poor or the planet, nor about you and I. Like the Catholic Church of 400 years ago, they care only about maintaining their power, privilege, and prestige, and they see the scientific evidence on global warming as a threat to that.
That is why deniers talk of agreements to reduce greenhouse gases as “socialist schemes”; they are petrified that someone is going to take away their ill-gotten gains, will see them for the predators they are, and will change the economic system to a fairer one more in line with reality.
In fact, even Market Fundamentalism is a cover for keeping power and wealth. While many Deniers claim to be Libertarians or free marketers, in reality they have aligned themselves with vested interests such as Big Oil – because oil companies fund denial campaigns. They have adopted the doctrine, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” even though it means perverting their supposed values and humanity. The last thing either the fundies or major corporations want is “polluter-pay,” as that would mean the end of fossil industries like coal and oil, gas guzzling cars, and corporatised industrial-scale farming. It would mean a return to small-scale and local, and there’s not much power, prestige, and privilege in that.
We cannot wait 400 years for the Fundamentalists and their corporate backers to be discredited. Long before that time – within a few years – we will have passed climate tipping points of no return and humanity will begin a rapid downward slide into the abyss. We must stop this Inquisition of our scientists and accept the reality of global warming, inconvenient as it may be to the Church of the Market and their false idol the Almighty Dollar. We must move to an economy and way of being that is built not on sin, but on honouring People, Planet, and Prosperity.