When it comes to issues of faith - which arguably could be defined as ideology - there is much that can't be tested or prodded scientifically. God can't be proven to exist in a lab, or via some form of empirical testing. Of course the fact that God can't be proven to exist in this manner does not mean he doesn't, since there are limits to what science can achieve (although it can achieve quite a lot).
It's when ideology (not faith) hits the real world that its advantages and disadvantages are shown up. Imagine ideology like a tyre built for motorcycles in the MotoGP - if built correctly it serves brilliantly, but one small mistake could end in a crash.
Communism is a classic case of ideology driving a society into poverty. Soviet central planners, in their desire to remain ideologically pure, instituted economic processes that fitted with their ideology - namely, that supply, demand and price is set by the planner rather than the horrible "market" that those dreaded capitalist countries used. The problem was that central planning just didn't work. Too much of one thing was made, resulting in warehouses full of unused products (like spare parts for steam trains), while too little of other things were made, resulting in shortages, and prices were set by committee, resulting in queues and black market profiteers.
Soviet Communism worked quite well from about 1950 until 1970. But from 1970 onwards, it was obvious that a limit had been reached. Economic growth stagnated, people's standard of living drifted downwards and ordinary Russians began to quietly grumble. It took the Soviet Union about 15 years to realise that its ideological practices were simply not working. A change was needed. Then Gorbachev arrived, Perestroika was introduced, and the rest is history.
Ideology that is unsupported by cold, hard, facts becomes useless. One of the reasons why economic neoliberalism (a freeing up of markets) has become so popular over the years is that it has worked. Yet, even now, free market ideology is blinding many people as to its limits. Facts - cold hard facts - need to be assessed and digested in order for ideology to work. Ideology itself needs to change by the presentation of objectively sourced facts.
Back in either 1981 or 1982 a group of Greenies came to Epping Boys High School. These greenies were worried about oil. Our teacher allowed them into our class where they presented their facts and got us to discuss them. The facts were obvious - oil was running out and there may not be enough oil to power our cars by the year 1990. They presented graphs and gave compelling evidence that this was occurring. Of course, I was about 13 at the time so I wasn't really looking ahead to 1990 and the international calamity that was going to befall us.
It was in 1990 that I vaguely remembered those strange greenies. "These guys said we were going to suddenly run out of oil" I said to myself, "What a bunch of losers! There's plenty of oil out there". And so was my opinion - my ideology - created out of cold, hard, facts.
So when in 2004 my friend Dave emailed me about this thing called "Peak Oil" that the world was running out of oil, I was scarcely in the mood to listen. I had read in the Economist magazine that the world had about 100 years of oil reserves left in the ground. While Dave was going psycho, I was just nodding my head and telling him what I knew.
In hindsight, Dave's refusal to give up his argument was the best thing to happen. The reason was (and still is) that I am a firm believer in cold, hard facts. So rather than just dismissing Dave as a raving looney, I sought to discredit his argument. I read up about Peak Oil. I visited the ASPO site. I eventually came to grips with the science behind Hubbert's Peak.
And, armed with all this information, what did I do?
I changed my mind.
Why? Why did I embrace the idea of Peak Oil when my first experience of oil doomers was so negative? Well, first of all, was the removal of an important assumption - that these people were saying that the world would suddenly run out of oil. No. After looking at Peak Oil and understanding the concepts behind it, I realised that the world was never going to suddenly run out of oil - it was going to slowly run out of oil.
It was then that I realised that those greenies back in 1982 were actually correct in theory, but wrong in their predictions. The reason why their predictions were wrong was that the facts they relied upon were going out of date. These greenies were looking at proven oil reserves and average oil consumption at the time - both of which changed drastically during the 1980s (oil reserves grew, oil consumption dropped). These early peakniks may have left me (and others) with the impression that oil was going to suddenly run out, but, the truth was, that they were early adopters of a real problem, but had not been given the correct information. In other words, cold, hard facts.
These days it is different. Peak Oil has entered the mainstream. Moreover, there are cold, hard facts behind it. Oil production levels worldwide have been at a plateau for the past 12-18 months while the price of oil has skyrocketed - proof that something is preventing oil supplies meeting demand. Then there's the cold, hard facts about American oil production, which peaked in the early 1970s and has been in decline ever since - empirical proof that Hubbert's Peak is good science.
This same phenomenon - cold, hard, facts - is what has also turned me into a "believer" in anthropogenic global warming.
The thing is, I was interested in global warming and its potential effects long before it became a political issue. Back in the late 1990s and early 2000s I remember examining all the potential explanations - that warming was a cyclical phenomenon, that sunspots were to blame, that "urban heat islands" were distorting temperature measurements. I looked at them all and still came away convinced that, while world temperatures were affected by exogenous phenomena (sunspots, Milankovich cycle), there seemed to be very clear evidence that a) CO2 levels in the atmosphere affect global temperatures (the more CO2, the warmer it is), and b) that CO2 levels in the world's atmosphere have been rising substantially since the industrial revolution. Years before Gore did his film, I was a believer.
And it wasn't as though I didn't go through doubts - I did. For a time I became a denier - but, again, this was before the whole issue became political. Talking to science teachers helped too. In fact, one science teacher in a science staffroom spoke out in favour of global warming, arguing that it was a good thing and created life - much to the surprise of the rest of the staffroom, who couldn't believe that the guy's arguments were anything but bunkum. But all this was before it was political. The science teachers who were "believers" so many years ago were not left-wing communist greens, and the science teacher who was a "denier" was not a free-market, small-government conservative.
These days it is much more difficult to maintain a position on global warming without somehow siding on one side of the political fence, or at least being accused of doing so.
One problem, of course, is the Green movement itself. Back in the 1990s, Greenies had a broad environmental agenda. They were more cognizant of global warming than the rest of the population, but they also focused upon the Ozone layer, the extinction of plants and animals, as well as encouraging people to become vegetarians. So, as global warming became more part of international consciousness, those who spoke up about it were generally greenies - which meant that they automatically alienated a significant portion of the population to the message since it then became political. These days greenies focus very strongly on global warming.
Back when John Howard came to power, I was very much a hater of greenies and lefties, strange as it might seem. This view was backed up by my very limited exposure to university politics at Macquarie University. In the late 1990s, Australia was definitely moving in a conservative direction, and all the whining, bleating, feminists and environmentalists and political activists were yelling the most at Uni. For a while under John Howard I became quite politically conservative as well (and I voted for him).
It seems strange now that I vote for the Greens when I have such bad memories of them. There is something quite uniquely distasteful about leftist political protesting. I remember when a bunch of feminists protested against the introduction of the GST by complaining that tampons would be taxed - they turned up at a political meet wearing women's underpants on the outside of their jeans, with red paint smearing the nether regions of the underwear as they claimed that the GST would make tampons less affordable, thus making the GST anti-women. It was a very low point in my opinion towards lefties.
But the reason why I vote Green these days is not because of these strange anti-GST feminists, or the freeway protester who flipped her middle finger at me as I rode by on my motorbike (they were protesting against the freeway's existence on a pedestrian bridge. As I rode closer to them I waved and the woman flipped me off in response). No. Even though I don't like their choice of clothes or even the fact that their economics is too left wing for me, they were right about global warming. They were convinced by the cold, hard facts and came to the same conclusion that I did.
I'm not a "greenie". I eat meat, I drive a car, use disposable nappies and think that capitalism is not all evil. But I can't get away from cold, hard, facts.
I contacted a friend of mine last week. He's a godly man from my old church. He's just completed his M.Div and is currently looking to join a missionary organisation. The idea is that he go to a developing nation as an academic and become a tent-maker. What sort of academic is he? He has a Ph.D in earth sciences, specifically in studying the effects of tropical cyclones in flooding Fiji. Not only is this guy a conservative evangelical who knows his Koine Greek and has an M.Div from Bible College, but he is also a climatologist with a doctorate. When I asked him about anthropogenic global warming, he comes down firmly on the "believer" side. I don't know what party this guy votes for, or whether he considers himself politically left or politically right. What I do know is that his opinion on global warming matters, and his expert opinion matches the opinion of my own - "informed amateur" I may be.
Let me finish by talking about Al Gore quickly. Al mentioned in his film that there were no peer reviewed scientific papers that disagreed with anthropogenic global warming. This statement is based upon a paper released by Naomi Oreskes (link, pdf, 71.2kb), in which she examines every single peer reviewed scientific paper on climate change between 1993 and 2003 - a total of 928 articles by climatologists and other experts - and finds that none of them expressed any doubt whatsoever that the current phenomenon of global warming has human activity at its basis. Moreover, reputable scientific bodies all over the world have released statements affirming their belief in anthropogenic climate change (read more here).
Al may be a Democrat. Al may have his own political ambitions. Al may even have ulterior motives behind his film. But he is right. Global Warming is a truth that is very, very inconvenient.