Waugh’s quintessential novel depicts the down-ward spiral of the life of Mr. Pennyfeather who, having left behind common-sense at University, is marred with the frustrations of tutoring at a minor Public School. Though the novel principally flagellated and marred the minor Public School into the English psyche, its plot is a tempting metaphor for the effects of the current debates on climate change upon British politics.
Climate change is fascinating and disturbing for one clear reason: it reflects the fantastical, fanatical and dangerous truth that bottom-up politics still exists. That the media are the true purveyors of the public’s opinions and that their vintage liquor can not only immediately affect political discourse, but also vehemently soak through the agenda of policy. Take a step back from the rows over whether a particular approach or empirical outcome is veracious and deliberate over the overall methodology used to promote the debate. The first overreaching of reason is the following logic, expressed in general terms: That there does not need certain proof of a matter for it to take up Government time, and resource. Secondly, that it is now possible to contend that the greater the supposed harm of an issue, the more the requirement certainty of empirical proof can be over-reached. Taken to its logical conclusion, we enter into a new primitive approach to political agenda setting- namely that the more ‘hue and cry’ and ‘hyperventilation’ over an issue to which there is a supposed general, undefined harm, the greater the priority that issue should take. The fundamental risk this leaves us with is to undermine the very requirement of political agenda setting, and to falsely prioritise one or more issues over others, leaving important matters of Parliamentary consideration at the bottom of the heap. The Victorians tried very hard to iron this ‘shout and leap’ approach out of Parliamentary debates; though, one would concede, with mixed success. Note this following reflective passage in Anthony Trollope's 'The Prime Minister' concerning the debates regarding Irish home rule: 'Had some inscrutable decree of fate ordained and made it certain,- with a certainty not to be disturbed, that- no candidate could be returned to Parliament who would not assert the earth to be triangular, there would rise immediately a clamorous assertion of triangularity amongst political aspirants. The test would be an innocent one- candidates have swallowed and do swallow many a worse one'. A persistent Westminster problem that had to be overcome was that the more emotion an issue caused the more time it would take up in the house. This is where acute reason, one that does not seek harmony or concord on an issue to further expediency over legitimacy, is needed. I for one, (and this maybe an immense failing of mine) cannot recall a debate over legitimacy of this issue with respect to overall policy agenda. If this has occurred, then it is surprising to me that those who see questioning the validity of the issue do not raise this in counter-argument.
That man has an impact on his climate is by no means clear. Further, that man has ‘detrimental’ impact is no means clear, particularly as the word ‘detrimental’ here is primarily anthrocentric- yes life on this planet would not necessarily continue with respect to man, it not being implausible that some obscure aquatic specie might not benefit from supposed man made climatic changes. Then there are general arguments, sociological, not scientific that are ignored- society as it stands would have to change. It is not as if this would not happen anyway, but there is a strangely Delphic presumption that this would be harmful. What is and is not ‘harmful’ is not necessarily important to qualify, mere change to common behaviour and contemporaneous societal customs is enough. One could go one with the various oversimplifications and assumptions that lie in the heart of presuming the issue once the debate moves beyond science. Another key one that has been overlooked is the weakness of scientific methodology itself. That statistics fuelled scientific research is by its nature empirically questionable, that when one demonstrates a trend one has to, importantly, demonstrate the non-existence of a counter-trend. This latter issue is not placed at the heart of the debate, because it has not had to be as the agenda is set and the legitimacy of the issue is assumed. Thus the approach of presumption makes it harder, not easier, to vindicate any truth in the argument in the long-run. One obvious solution might be is to have a separate Parliamentary committee or body where the skeptics can put their own papers forward. Perhaps, only such an approach is fair and democratic.
Copyright Birkenhead Society.