Remember when Butch Cassidy and Sundance, endlessly pursued by a gang of vigilantes, unable to shake them off, looked at each other and said, in wonderment, "Who are these guys?"
Feel the same way about the gang of vigilante know-nothings hunting down every post about climate change all over the world, endlessly coming back, no matter how many times partly shaken off, to repeat the same kinds of unscientific nonsense learnt from denier blogs. Endlessly attacking, both in public (libelling scientists) and in private (death threats and abuse), science, the crowning glory and achievement of western civilisation. Determined to destroy science and replace it with extreme right wing ideology and religion. Back to the Dark Ages but this time into a society run not by king and established church but by multinational corporation and fundamentalist church.
And they seem to have appeared from nowhere, these rabid naysayers.
If you had asked me, say ten years ago, how the world was going to respond to climate change and the absolutely imperative need to reduce greenhouse gas production, I would have responded somewhat pessimistically, knew that it was going to be a battle between science and vested interests, just like earlier battles over DDT, tobacco, CFCs, acid rain, asbestos, tree clearing, and on, and on. Whenever there are trillions of dollars (minimum $1 billion per day lost to oil industry if there is co-ordinated action to restrict the increase in global temperatures to 2ºC) at stake then the gloves come off. Donations will be made to political parties and individuals, lobbyists will set to work bending arms, right wing think tanks established with tame scientists willing to manufacture doubt, the Murdoch Press will open its opinion and news pages to outright denial, unions will be convinced that their natural allies are the bosses, scientific bodies will be silenced, opposition parties will buy votes by offering to do nothing. I could see all that coming to pass but I would not say that the struggle nought availeth. I thought that dispassionate and disinterested calm statements and restatements of scientific truths would eventually prevail over the forces of the energy company bottom line. But "Good, too, logic of course, but not in fine weather". And so the labour and the wounds were in vain, the enemy fainted not, nor faileth, "and as things have been, things remain".
What I hadn't counted on was the help that the vigilante know-nothings would give to the big corporations. Who could have known that, just as the battle was in the balance, a damned near run thing, red devils carrying pitchforks and pitch would come screaming over the hill on a Saturday night and destroy the representatives of five hundred years of scientific endeavour. That science's regimental colours, with images of Galileo, Newton, Arrhenius, and Einstein, would be trampled in the mud by striped uniform heathens with banners bearing the images of radio shock jocks and right wing bloggers and hereditary lords.
A number of us have tried to understand this phenomenon of the new dark ages, for example Clive Hamilton, John Quiggin, and myself, but all of us, not being football fans, have failed to really come to grips with that always lethal combination of hatred and ignorance seen on blog after blog about the reality and dangers of climate change. Having read the incredible number of vitriolic responses to Clive Hamilton's climate change series on Unleashed, and the positive applauding "you go girl" responses to Joanne Nova's Unleashed piece (in which the forces of light, the energy companies, desperately poverty stricken and outnumbered, are fighting the good fight against the forces of darkness, the green peril who have untold riches provided by governments), an LED light bulb suddenly lit up in my cerebellum. This was football. This was Manchester United supporters coming into Arsenal territory, or Collingwood and Essendon supporters outside the gates of the MCG. This was overweight and middle-aged men wearing no-longer-fitting-if-they-ever-did striped or red football jumpers, singing "We are the Champions", or "We'll do you on the train".
And each gang is led by the biggest meanest s.o.b. of all, the denialist bloggers. These are the leaders who start off the slogan chanting, lead the rush to the enemy, smash opposing leaders, put the boot into prone figures. This is the stuff of secret societies, our gang, outsiders, bogans, the rejected, the unpopular kids in school. They can be convinced that the Other (the elites, intelligentsia, government, scientists, authorities, people who look down on the unwashed hordes) is the enemy. And now comes payback time, hit back at those who you blame for your unsatisfied life. Show them who is really boss. Very powerful emotions. Used to motivate mobs since time began.
Have always been around, these people. I once met a chap over lunch. Normal conversation until he mentioned his large gun collection. Why so many, I asked. For when the Indonesians invade, he said. I began to go along with the joke, as you do, ho, ho, yes, they'll be charging through Alice Springs any day now, when something about his expression and silence made me realise he was deadly serious. Seems that is exactly what they would be doing and the Howard government had a secret agreement with them, like the Brisbane Line of WW2, to give them the top half of the country, he had read this in his conspiracy theory magazine (secret UFO research, fluoride poisoning our children). My lunch companion was ready to take to the hills and fight them.
The other day I met an at first apparently normal truck driver who said he was "cured" of blindness by the laying on of hands, and how all sickness was the result of not obeying the exact word of the Bible. Another fellow, met in a country pub, discovering that I was working on Aboriginal archaeology, told me proudly that they had "got rid of all the Abos in this town a while back" (Myall Creek massacre of 1838, 170 years before our conversation, but still a source of pride). Ah, if I had a dollar for every nutter I have met I would be as rich as George Soros and could take over the world. Point is, the knowledge-poor have always been with us, but once upon a time they were left to bloom unseen and waste their ignorance on the desert air. Now, what with first talk back radio, and now blogs, they not only have microphones, but are welcomed as statistics on visitor counters. Fair enough, no one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the general public, or as some shock jock said – there's a sucker born every minute. Gotta make a living how you can, and if your living involves inciting mobs to trash science and prevent action on global warming, well, then, what of it? Ya wanna fight?
But always look on the bright side of life. The advantage of all this is that these people are making themselves known. No longer spreading anonymous poison in pubs or at a football match. The hidden casual racism, the conspiracy theories, the anti government rhetoric, the gun ownership, the hatred of environmentalism and science in general, the extreme nationalism, are now exposed to the light of the internet. It will take another ten years of science and reason, another ten wasted years that are going to see CO2 levels so high as to cause serious planetary damage, but at least the battle will be fought knowing who all the players are, and who is over the hill waiting to attack.
Football is not just a matter of life and death, it's much more serious than that.
All David Horton's earlier writing is here.