Dar & Company

Climatology Versus Climatism:
Investors Should Know The Difference
(May 6, 2009)

" . . . the End of the world is already near . . . As this same End of the world is drawing nigh, many unusual things will happen -- climatic changes, terrors from heaven, unseasonable tempests, wars, famines, pestilences and earthquakes.”

The quotation is from a letter sent by a very famous and influential man to a European head of state. Its author is disclosed at the end of this essay.

limatology is a science. Climatism is an ideology. Climatologists are scientists. Climatists are social or political organizers who abuse climatology in the service of ideologues. Climatology was and still is an investigation of nature. Climatism is the exploitation of the fear of nature to gain power, wealth and social esteem.

Once, learned discussions about the climate, if not tomorrow’s weather, were confined to climatologists. Today, public discussion about the climate in the Western media is dominated, maybe monopolized by climatists. The typical American, Canadian, European, Japanese, or Australian is exposed to climatism daily but hardly ever to climatology. Climatism is a Western ideology that has, generally, failed to expand its ambit of influence beyond rich people in rich countries.

Climatism asserts that severe or catastrophic changes in the climate are ahead (but not just yet).  The primary strain of climatism and the one known to the general public is that the earth is warming rapidly (Climatism W). This is a terrible thing. Human beings acting according to their nature, i.e., engaging in human activity are responsible. However, climatism has the solution: ruthless carbon suppression via pervasive and intrusive control of economic activity and individual lifestyles, from personal consumption and mobility to even childbearing, globally. The secondary strain, but one   little known to the public, is that the earth is getting ready to cool dramatically (Climatism C). This is a terrible but entirely natural thing. Human beings have nothing to do with it and there will be few left anyway, assuming they follow some survival prescriptions, to worry about such things.

There are hundreds of web sites devoted to obsessive and oracular pronouncements on Climatism W and scores to Climatism C. Climatism W is the celebrity “ism” of this decade. Perhaps this implies that Climatism C will be adopted by a new set of celebrities in the next decade. Fashion is fickle and celebrities are mutable. The intersection of Climatism W (and, soon enough, of Climatism C) with corporate strategy, investment portfolios, capital investments and consumer goods and services, and of course, national security and The New, New World Order is endlessly explored in dozens of seminars, conferences, conclaves and elite gatherings of the inner circle.

As CS Lewis wrote about the historicism and scientism plaguing his own generation these ‘isms’ are “the sweet poison of the false infinitive.” His contemporary, Ronald Knox, pondering the same ‘isms’ wrote” The world’s future occupied their thoughts instead of a future world, and, by a kind of inverted Confucianism they fell to worshipping their grandchildren.” To both Lewis and Knox the ‘isms’ tempt people to live in the future, instead of the present which is our reality, because the future engenders both fear and hope ,which can be exploited.

Climatists take a small, verifiable, truth and expand it to cover an enormous sphere of nature and human activity. They invoke the authority of science and the mystery of scientific nomenclature to bludgeon the public. Climatists are always certain. Climatologists readily admit their uncertainty. Climatists force fit every  event, observation or trend no matter how contradictory or palpably irrelevant to “prove” their superiority: from penguins to polar bears, to deluges and droughts, changing deserts and rain forests, expanding and retreating glaciers, thickening and thinning ice sheets, coral reefs and noctilucent clouds( clouds high above the surface of the earth made of chemical ice that shine like brilliant gems at night), volcanoes and typhoons, solar wind and water vapor, and of course, very small changes in the carbon dioxide composition of the atmosphere. Climatologists concede there is much they cannot fit or explain, much less predict.

Climatism W has, until recently, succeeded in capturing the political imagination of the West and international bureaucrats paid and flattered by the West and the full range of the energy and environmental agenda in the West. It has failed to do so in the rest of the world, particularly the Global South. In the public climate discussion climatologists have been the silent majority. This appears to be changing as more climate scientists in both the West and the rest of the world (especially Russia and India) challenge Climatism W.  While politically Climatism W remains potent it may have peaked and possibly is waning. In the Global South it has been defeated as an ideology though still regnant as a convenient slogan. In the West its actionable victories have so far been minor although much trumpeted. Time is no longer on the side of Climatism W. It must either succeed in the next 2 years or not at all. It has certainly insinuated itself into several parts of “The Stimulus.”  Since Climatism C is not a political program, its ideological success or failure is of no political or public policy consequence but as with anything that influences the values and decisions of millions of people, it has several business and investment implications.

Why Has Climatism W Dominated The Public Conversation?

Climatism W has a tremendous advantage: it has learned very well the insights of the various collectivist and materialist ‘isms’ of the 20th Century: scientific reductionism, communism, fascism, socialism and indeed even racism. It has absorbed and expertly applied the insights to the circumstances of the early 21st Century and displayed mastery of propaganda and mass political communications. Climatism W’s program is simple and effective: first exploit a deep fear among the general public. If the fear is not initially prevalent, then manufacture it since, in the 21st Century, urban Western civilization is far more impressed with manufactured or synthetic reality than with truth. Second, offer to take away this fear in return for great power, money and stature.

The 20th Century ‘isms’ realized that there were four ways for people to know things: by reasoning, by experience, by revelation and by authority. If reasoning, experience and revelation can be eliminated  or discredited as channels then only authority remains and authority can be seized via assertion, repetition and bullying.

The lay person cannot reason about the global climate. The time, effort and intellectual preparation are simply not available to 99% of the population. Reason, as a source of knowledge is eliminated. Modern urban Western people have no experience of nature as a diversified, cyclical, hierarchical whole. The modern Western man or woman has no ability to “read” nature and nature’s many signs and indicators and connections. People cannot directly experience the signals nature provides about whether the global climate is warming, cooling or varying gently and rhythmically. Experience is eliminated as a source of knowledge. Revelation is just not available to the materialistic and reductionist mind of the 21st Century Western man or woman.

This leaves authority as the sole source of knowledge. Authority, for many in the West, resides in black boxes that are opaque, complicated, mathematical models which purport to yield information about the future. The current majority culture in the West vests these models with the same potency as stone idols and carved totems of earlier cultures and cultures still strong in Asia and Africa; but idols, we know, have ears that do not hear and eyes do not see, yet demand regular and large sacrifices of treasure and blood. The outputs of these models, which are pervasive, are used almost daily by most people. These are quantitative models about next week’s weather; the stock, credit, commodities and housing markets; the economy, population, crime, politics, cities, diseases, games, the cosmos; in fact, anything one is remotely interested in. Models are the manufactured reality of our age. They are the goat entrails of the 21st Century. Just as selecting the right goat to kill and reading the entrails was the province of the highly select and self anointed, so too with models. People obsessively want to know the future and models are the channels to next month, next year, the next decade and indeed the next three to four decades. 

Western society and societies that ape Western sophistication and sophistry are perhaps the most credulous in human history. Many of us will believe practically anything somebody with assurance says if they flourish a mathematical model, inaccessible data, and can cite ten other people as validating sources. Naturally, the model makers and keepers are vested with awesome authority. Climatists W claim to have the models that portend terrifying consequences from global warming caused by human activity. Fear of the climate, has for many people in the West, become the abiding fear of our time.

Quantative models have wildly overpromised and grossly underdelivered in finance and economics. These models have failed to anticipate or even help tactically manage the trajectory of financial markets, commodity markets, labor markets, real estate markets or in any important aspect of the real economy. A few analysts, money managers, investors and talented amateurs relying on superior experience, knowledge, judgment and the transient blessing of good luck have done a vastly better job of alerting their fellows (or at least the habituates of certain web sites) to impending turning points and market inflexions and on coping with directional change and paralyzing volatility than the model keepers and worshippers. Better does not mean infallible or even excellent. 

The quotation at the beginning of this essay was taken from a letter by Pope Gregory the Great to Ethelbert, King of the Angles (June 601). Gregory was one of the most talented, learned and accomplished men of the Middle Ages. If even one as able as he could be wrong, then why should investors and interested lay people believe any climatist, any self appointed keeper of the “the black box” today? Far better for the ordinary investor to seek more than one way of knowing, supplement forecasts and predictions with scenario planning, develop personal and investment contingencies and accept that guaranteed  returns, sure bets , managed glide paths and safe annuities simply do not exist for most people, in most places in most times. Stability, replicability and security, in the material world, are the abnorm.