None of us know the future. None of us. And past attempts at futurology have often been hilariously wrong-footed. You would think that an intelligent person would learn from this, that to be so rock-solid sure of your position can be an unwise move. If anything these days, certainty is the least solid ground from which to preach, given that the world is awash with information, partial information, misinformation and deliberate disinformation. No sirree, Bob, I’m not certain at all
Not so, Dr Gareth Dale, of Brunel University, who regularly pontificates about climate change and the coming age. As he did on last week’s The Moral Maze, an excellent discussion forum which often provides me with food for thought. The panellists and the expert witnesses they get to hear and interrogate offer food for thought and room for manoeuvre. An open-minded listener will often find their preconceptions challenged and their dogged determination to stick to a position founded on sand as directly opposing positions suddenly seem entirely reasonable.
The question was “What’s our moral responsibility to the future?” and as expected a range of opinion was aired from, ‘make the present bearable’ to ‘make unspeakable sacrifices for the good of future generations, even though they will almost certainly never thank us’. We get it right, they live happy lives, our actions go unremarked. We get it wrong, they suffer, we (the long dead) are blamed but unaccountable. It seems as if either way we can’t win.
Dr Dale was, of course, the harbinger of doom and gloom. To him, every disaster prediction is unassailable truth and the world will end in a fireball unless we cease all joy now. It could have been Greta Thunderbug herself, with the total lack of nuance, the finger of blame and the insistence that life on Earth now depends on living humans self-flagellating and doing without… everything. We had a taste of that in the format of Storm Eunice (‘EU nice?’ as some wag remarked.) and a sour taste it was. Power out for much of the weekend meant that, had we not had a coal-fired stove and an open log hearth we would have been cold as well as in the dark.
There is little romantic about candlelight when it is not by choice. I expect Dr Dale has a very nice salary, an assured pension and drives a lovely new electric car, which he charges up at work on his employers dime. It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that he has a solar array and a powerwall; all things denied to those on even average incomes. I surmise all this because I have learned that those who demand sacrifice rarely offer up themselves.
Let’s do what ‘they’ do when seeking to prove a point. Let’s take a quote out of context. In one of Dr Dale’s screeds he writes: “A major chimney of pollution could be sealed off by relieving the rich of their superyachts and private jets, ending their frequent flying, and revoking their license to drill.” That’s a pretty unequivocal position. Considering he teaches Politics at Brunel University, I wonder how impartially he presents his lectures. (It need hardly be said that he utterly despises Boris Johnson.)
The amount of knowledge out there today is unprecedented. The Internet makes it accessible to all. But it is of little use if the weight and complexity of it all is too much for any individual to process. We rely on expert interpretation, but expertise rarely comes without its own prejudices, and it remains almost impossible to find a truly balanced appraisal of the facts. Whether that be in science, medicine, social studies, politics, justice… whatever, we are all held in a perpetual state of ignorance.
My approach has been to embrace that ignorance while seeking to find my own way through the mists. Trust no individual sources and beware the madness of crowds. It’s a lonely path, along which companions will accompany you just so far before you discover your own schisms. The present is a mish-mash of distorted versions of events and even the past is not a completely open book. How then, does anybody have the sheer brass neck to claim to know what comes next?