‘Al Gore, who art in thy fully offset private jet; Nobel-prized be thy name; thy carbon-free kingdom come; on planet Earth (otherwise known as Gaia) as it should be after Copenhagen; give us this day our daily meat-free diet; and forgive us our emissions, though we don’t forgive any other big fat Americans who emit against us; lead us not into exotic holiday flights; and deliver us from climate denial; for the science is settled. Amen.”
That lacks a certain resonance, I must admit; but now that a British judge has ruled that believers in man-made global warming catastrophe should be protected under the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003, we should try to come forward with some suitable prayers for this newly identified faith.
Mr Justice Burton, of the High Court, is the man behind the ruling. He found for a “sustainability officer” called Tim Nicholson, who claimed he had been made redundant by the property company Grainger because of his beliefs in imminent man-made climate catastrophe. To be precise, the judge did not say that Nicholson had actually been sacked for that reason; only that he had the right to sue for unfair dismissal under the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations.
Why should Tim Nicholson (who looked sweet with his fold-up bicycle outside the High Court) have wanted to establish this as the reason for his dismissal? Possibly it was a desire to become an ecological hero; but I am equally inclined to see the hand of some very clever employment lawyers. In a “normal” redundancy, the departing employee is entitled only to a statutory minimum payoff together with anything already defined in his contract; but when a court finds that the employee has been sacked as a result of some form of discrimination, then there is no legal limit to the amount that can be claimed.
This is why there have been a number of multi-million-pound payouts for City women winning claims that they have been victims of sex discrimination at work. It may seem unlikely that Nicholson’s case, even if it ultimately succeeds at the forthcoming tribunal, will be followed by many others; but given the number of “sustainability officers” employed in the soon-to-be-cut-back public sector and the ingenious opportunism of employment lawyers, who knows?
The more perceptive environmental campaigners did not join in Nicholson’s rejoicing at his victory. They noted that in Burton’s judgment a belief qualified for protection only if it could be said to be “not an opinion or view based on the present state of information available”. In other words, said the judge, Nicholson’s views on man’s influence on climate — which had brought him into conflict with his chief executive over allegedly excessive air trips — went beyond evidence and were more a form of philosophy, or even faith.
Interestingly, Burton is the very same judge that two years ago found for a Kent school governor who brought a case against the government’s plans to supply every school with a DVD of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth. The judge agreed that the film was flawed. He decreed that it contained nine scientific errors and that the government should accompany any DVDs sent to schools with guidance pointing out, among other things, that polar bears are not drowning in the absence of sufficient quantities of ice. Put away those hankies, children: they’re going to be all right.
It’s one of the properties of established religions that people profess to believe even when they don’t, really. That may seem hypocritical, but social pressure is a powerful force that can make even the most independent minds quail. Richard Dawkins is probably right, for example, when he says there are many Americans who are privately atheist but find it much easier to pretend to be Christians. A similar point was made to me by one of the only five Conservative MPs to vote against the Climate Change Bill. When I told him I was surprised so many Tories felt the carbon cutbacks required by the bill were achievable, he laughed. “None of them do, but they want to be seen to be virtuous.”
A year or so ago, a couple of ministers, Ed Balls and Shaun Woodward, were observed travelling in separate chauffeur-driven cars from the same Downing Street meeting to the same dinner party, 150 yards away. Their chauffeurs waited outside and then after dinner drove the two ministers, again separately, to the Commons, all of 300 yards further on. Because the dinner party was for Labour donors, the Tories insisted that it had been inappropriate to use official limousines — at least for the first 150 yards. The more interesting point was that if Balls and Woodward truly believed — as the government claims — that millions of children yet unborn will die of thirst if we do not immediately check our excessive and avoidable CO2 emissions, they surely would not have condemned another suppositious baby African or two to death by choosing not to walk a quarter of a mile down Whitehall. As so often, it is our actions that reveal our thinking, rather than our words.
This has been made clear by the run-up to next month’s Copenhagen summit, which was supposed to supply the successor treaty to the Kyoto protocol, according mandatory CO2 emissions targets to all the nations of the world. Kyoto had excluded developing countries, and the US refuses to sign any treaty (Barack Obama is little different from George W Bush in this respect) unless such vast nations as China and India come on board. Almost every country pays lip-service to the view that an agreement in Copenhagen is necessary to “save the planet”, but it is now clear that no treaty will be agreed next month.
An article in Prospect magazine by one who had been attending the interminable meetings leading up to the Copenhagen summit reveals how this process really functions — or, rather, doesn’t. It points out that there will be at least 20,000 delegates flying into Copenhagen, but even the intermediate meetings of the relevant UN committee attract up to 10,000 delegates, producing negotiations described by one attendee as “complete unreality ... delegates just talk past each other”.
Apparently the most intractable delegation — and bear in mind that a deal requires complete consensus, not a mere majority — is the Saudi team, which has been arguing that a swingeing cutback on fossil fuels is “economic discrimination” against oil-exporting nations. Yes, Saudi Arabia is already an arid desert nation, but it is rich enough to keep its people supplied with irrigation: this makes the unfashionable point that it is not climate change that condemns Africans to early death, but poverty. The poorer nations understand this only too well, which is why they see Copenhagen as being about the transfer of vast sums of money from north to south: how much we also cut back our emissions is of much less importance to them.
This is not what adherents of the “catastrophic global warming” faith — the sort of people identified by Mr Justice Burton — want to hear. They believe that the wretched of the world’s poorest nations will not be saved unless we construct vast wind farms across the British countryside and give up generating electricity from coal and gas. In fact, given our own very small share of global emissions, such a policy might lead to the poorest Britons dying of hypothermia, while being of no perceptible benefit to the life of a single future African or Bangladeshi.
I hope that this is not what will happen, either here or there. If it does, perhaps some future traveller to Britain, centuries from now, will examine the excavated remnants of those giant wind turbines and speculate that they were the temples of some primitive faith. He would not be entirely mistaken.