Buddhist perspectives on society and culture


Buddhist perspectives on
society and culture

Climate of Fear

The History of Climate Politics, Part 1

Posted in: Politics, Science
mushroom cloud

There is an ancient Buddhist Jataka tale – a kind of moral fable – called ‘The Timid Hare and the Flight of the Beasts’1. Like many Jataka stories, this one imparts a human lesson in the form of an animal allegory. At the centre of the narrative is a hare – traditionally a timid, nervous creature – who has been worrying that the solid ground might collapse. One day, he hears a loud noise and takes flight, thinking his fears have come true. Seeing the hare running, and believing what he tells them, more and more animals join the stampede, fearful for their lives. Yet in the end, it turns out that the noise that frightened the hare was nothing more than a fruit falling from a tree.

In this tale of beastly fright, we have an allegory of two very human tendencies. We might label them as anxious catastrophism and its potential outcome of mass panic. These tendencies are rooted in our evolutionary past, but they are still very much still with us today. How do they occur?

It is natural to feel anxious if one believes a serious danger is at hand. Yet such fears may be utterly misplaced, as was the case with the timid hare. Anxiety can lead to catastrophic thinking — the growing conviction that something terrible is about to happen. Such thinking exaggerates the possible dangers and reinforces the anxiety, leading to further catastrophic thinking — a vicious circle. Anxiety can also make us misinterpret something innocuous as evidence for the thing we fear, such as the noise of the falling fruit in the fable. Furthermore, when an individual has become very anxious about a specific issue, that anxiety can latch onto other issues. In other words, the objects of our anxiety can have a tendency to multiply.

Such traits of individual anxiety can be shared by groups of people. Also, if others are anxious about the same issues as you, this seems to justify your own anxiety and can reinforce it. Even if one is not anxious, witnessing many other people who believe a catastrophe is going to happen can lead one to conclude that their belief is correct. This in effect is another vicious circle, one that can very much contribute to mass panic. Even for people who do not habitually incline to anxious moods, the knowledge that many others are expecting a catastrophe can be hard to resist. In this way, a vicious circle in the individual mind can feed, and be fed by, a vicious circle in a social group. In such conditions, a trivial circumstance may trigger a mass panic.

This article describes how I came to see these ancient tendencies at work in contemporary fears about human-made climate change. As I mentioned in a previous article, my own fears about climate change diminished over the years – just as, rather ironically, the same fears have extended and tightened their grip on the public at large. Also, for scientific reasons, I changed my mind about the hypothesis that human activity, rather than natural variability, is the primary cause of current warming. My growing scepticism about that hypothesis has led me to explore its historical origins and the reasons why it is now taken so seriously. The exploration has yielded some surprising revelations. I have come to realise that the hypothesis arose from a prior cultural context that was imbued with catastrophic thinking. To understand that context, we have to trace the development of certain ideas over the last two centuries and more.

Population Fears

The story begins with a highly influential essay from the late eighteenth century. Thomas Malthus, an Anglican cleric, had a pessimistic view of the future of the human race. In his Essay on the Principle of Population2 published in 1798, he argued that the ‘future improvement of society’ would be severely limited by population growth. He posited that any improvements in food production would always be outweighed by the consequent increase in population. Increases in food supply, Malthus believed, could only be ‘arithmetical’, and would inevitably lead to a ‘geometrical’ increase in population — which would negate the benefits of the extra food. This line of thought led him to a grim conclusion: that the poor laws should be reformed to restrict provision for those in need. Malthus’ essay sowed the seeds of a vision in which humanity appears more as a morbid growth than as the apex of evolution.

Has history proven Malthus to be correct? The answer is a resounding ‘no’. In his 2018 book, Factfulness, Hans Rosling showed how the lives and well-being of humans had substantially improved, compared to the past. Whilst there are far more people on the planet than ever before, the vast majority of people are materially much better off than people had been centuries, or even decades, ago. He presented evidence of various kinds to illustrate this fact, for example the major improvements in real income for the majority of people in the world, and the major decline in the proportion of people in serious poverty. He gave many other specific statistics which detail these improvements.

Have we simply delayed the inevitable day of reckoning? Some still argue for policy measures to curb population growth.3 Yet there are others who point out that global demographic patterns are changing, with population growth trending down and even likely to go into reverse in the coming decades (a development which may bring its own problems).4 And this downturn is happening without direct political interventions, such as China’s notorious and now abandoned one-child policy. If doomsday is just around the corner, the chances of it coming in Malthusian form are actually diminishing.

Rosling also noticed that, despite the significant improvement in human welfare, people typically hold strangely pessimistic assumptions about how well we humans are doing as a species. This pessimism prevails across the board, even among those one might expect to be better informed, such as students, scientists and politicians. This fact stimulated Rosling’s interest in the psychological tendencies, or ‘instincts’ as he called them, that typically predispose us to think negatively. He found that the habit of gloom was systemic and powerful: when he asked people multiple-choice questions about human flourishing, they would choose the correct answers less often than a chimpanzee making random choices.5

Rosling’s work shows that Malthus was seriously wrong. It also prompts the suspicion that Malthus’ error stemmed from the very same negative ‘instincts’ that Rosling observed. This should cause us to re-evaluate the long-term consequences of Malthus’ essay, which have been considerable, and are still with us. Malthus’ influence extended to scientific and political thought. On the positive side, his work stimulated Charles Darwin to ponder how evolution may occur, and how it is affected by competition for resources. Darwin realised that naturally occurring variations within a species may at times cause some types to survive and have more offspring, rather than others — making such ‘naturally selected’ types predominant.

On the negative side, Darwin’s theory, combined with other ideas about evolution, then led to what later became known as ‘Social Darwinism’. To quote Darwin himself:

With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated; and those that survive commonly exhibit a vigorous state of health. We civilised men, on the other hand, do our utmost to check the process of elimination; we build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed, and the sick; we institute poor-laws; and our medical men exert their utmost skill to save the life of every one to the last moment… Thus the weak members of civilised societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. It is surprising how soon a want of care, or care wrongly directed, leads to the degeneration of a domestic race; but excepting in the case of man himself, hardly any one is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed.6

Such thinking was then encapsulated in the phrase ‘survival of the fittest’. The term was coined by Herbert Spencer, an influential nineteenth century thinker. The apparently logical concomitant of ‘survival of the fittest’ was the likelihood that civilisation would undermine itself by softening the rigours of natural selection. The main fear was that the ‘unfit’ would reproduce too much, producing an overall degeneration of the human race. This was in effect an extension of Malthusian thinking. Such fear led to deliberate policies to try to prevent the ‘unfit’ – those who were poor, mentally ill, disabled, or of supposedly inferior ethnic status — from reproducing. This practice was referred to as eugenics.  Its most influential advocate was Francis Galton, a relative of Darwin. Belief in eugenics became very widespread across the political spectrum.7

Social Darwinism and eugenics led to increased tensions between ethnic groups, with each group impelled to prove to itself and the world that it was ‘fit’, or even the ‘fittest’, or else not survive. Arguably this contributed significantly to the arising of ethnic nationalism, and hence to World War I.

After the war, belief in eugenics persisted very strongly, especially among wealthy and politically influential elites. In the USA, for example, the Rockefeller family, which had become very wealthy from oil production, was deeply involved with the promulgation of eugenics. John D Rockefeller Jr. was an ardent proponent, and in the 1930s the Rockefeller Foundation collaborated with and helped fund eugenics projects in Nazi Germany.8

But then came World War II and the Holocaust. The latter was a horrific culmination of the eugenics movement. In the aftermath, eugenics was largely discredited, although belief in it persisted in some elite circles. Nevertheless, the Malthusian-Darwinian anxieties that had powered the eugenics movement persisted. They reverted to the original focus on population increase and the resulting competition for resources. Anxiety now turned on the tendency of that competition to generate war. The danger seemed pressing, with two cataclysmic wars fresh in memory and the advent of nuclear weapons. The need to prevent war inspired some prominent intellectuals to become interested in the possibility of a world government. Bertrand Russell, for example, wrote this:

The need for a world government, if the population problem is to be solved in any humane manner, is completely evident on Darwinian principles. (Bertrand Russell, 1952)9

The idea of world government had actually developed earlier, amongst some elite groups such as the American ‘Council on Foreign Relations’ and the UK ‘Royal Institute of International Affairs’.10 It played a part in the founding of the League of Nations (in the aftermath of the first World War) and again in the birth of its successor, the United Nations (immediately after the second). For some of the founders, these organisations were not just forums for international cooperation and peace-keeping, but steps towards building a world government. As Russell’s words suggest, Malthusian and Social Darwinist fears were prominent among the forces driving that ambition. David Rockefeller was a powerful believer in the importance of having a world government. He was involved in the development of the UN (which had its headquarters on land donated by the Rockefellers). He was also the mentor of Maurice Strong, a man who became very influential in the developing environmental movement, and then in the promotion of the hypothesis of man-made global warming,11 as we will see shortly.

Pollution and Environmental Fears

In the decades after World War II, widespread anxiety about another issue emerged. Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring, published in 1962, awakened the public to the dangers of pollution and environmental degradation. To some extent, such concerns were justified responses to the need to control pollution. However, the book predicted not just serious problems, but disaster.12

The issue of pollution then became associated with pre-existing Malthusian fears about over-population. A very influential book was published in 1968 by a Professor of Population Studies at Stanford University. It emphasised three problems: ‘too many people’, ‘too little food’ and ‘a dying planet’. The professor was Paul Ehrlich, the name of the book being The Population Bomb.13 The first two issues were, in essence, a restatement of Malthusian belief. The extreme and anxiety-provoking idea of a ‘dying planet’ was Ehrlich’s way of attaching those old fears to new ones about pollution and environmental harm, caused by human activity. As Ehrlich put it:

Our problems would be much simpler if we needed only to consider the balance between food and population. But in the long view the progressive deterioration of our environment may cause more death and misery than the food-population gap. [PB, ch3, p26]

While perpetuating anxieties about population increase, Ehrlich’s book catalysed a shift of emphasis away from the increase itself and towards its environmental consequences. The environmental movement was thus marked from the outset by a Malthusian ambivalence about humanity’s place in the world. In part, environmentalism was a reasonable desire to preserve the environment as the natural setting for human flourishing. Yet it was also, in part, an impulse to demote the human race to the rank of just one species among many – a species whose uncontrolled, almost cancerous, proliferation threatened to wreck nature as a whole.

The Malthusian strand of environmentalism was exemplified by the Club of Rome, an organisation of thinkers and business leaders who formed with the stated aim of addressing the world’s problems. Like Paul Ehrlich’s The Population Bomb, their 1972 report The Limits to Growth emphasised the threat from increasing population.14 They even outdid Malthus, in describing such population growth as increasing ‘exponentially’. The Club had commissioned some researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to do computer modelling of population as well as other factors, such as ‘industrialisation’. They argued that, because of ‘positive feedback loops’ between the factors, population and the other factors would all increase exponentially, until disaster happened – unless people took radical steps to prevent such exponential growth, and deliberately cultivated an ‘equilibrium society’. To quote from their report:

All five elements basic to the study reported here – population, food production, industrialization, pollution, and consumption of non-renewable natural resources – are increasing. The amount of their increase each year follows a pattern that mathematicians call exponential growth. Nearly all of mankind’s current activities, from use of fertilizer to expansion of cities, can be represented by exponential growth curves… (Limits to Growth, Chapter 1.)

Taking no action to solve these problems is equivalent to taking strong action. Every day of continued exponential growth brings the world system closer to the ultimate limits to that growth. A decision to do nothing is a decision to increase the risk of collapse. We cannot say with certainty how much longer mankind can postpone initiating deliberate control of his growth before he will have lost the chance for control. We suspect on the basis of present knowledge of the physical constraints of the planet that the growth phase cannot continue for another one hundred years. Again, because of the delays in the system, if the global society waits until those constraints are unmistakably apparent, it will have waited too long. [p183-4]

It is important to grasp that both The Population Bomb and The Limits to Growth were not just drawing attention to problems but forecasting worldwide disaster — unless immediate radical steps, on a global scale, were taken to prevent it. This is anxious catastrophism. To some degree, of course, the mood was understandable in the context of the time. Two world wars still lingered in living memory, and the superpowers possessed arsenals of nuclear weapons that could destroy the planet. Also, human beings are a hunter gatherer species who, within a relatively short time, had developed science and technology which were transformational, with consequences that were very difficult to predict. Even so, something irrational was apparent in the intensity with which anxiety over ‘the bomb’ now spilled over onto the issues of population growth and pollution. The very title of The Population Bomb suggests that anxiety about nuclear war was being transferred to other issues.

This mood seized not only individuals and local groups, but the high ground of international culture and the mindset of political elites. One can call this ‘cultural catastrophism’. It is exemplified by the process of latching onto what may initially be a legitimate concern about an issue, brooding obsessively upon it, and becoming convinced that the worst outcome will occur unless drastic collective action is taken.

The Limits to Growth is also noteworthy in that it relied on ‘computer modelling’ – in essence the use of a computer to solve mathematical equations. The equations were believed to accurately reflect the real-world issues being modelled.  It is vital to realise that such modelling is dependent upon the assumptions made by the persons selecting the mathematical equations. Those assumptions, and therefore the modelling, could well be completely wrong. In The Limits to Growth the major assumption was that uncontrolled positive feedback loops would lead to the supposed exponential growth. In other words, the computer modelling was built upon catastrophic assumptions – and therefore merely served to reinforce those assumptions rather than test them. It is Malthusian pessimism programmed into a computer (and thoroughly exemplifies the negativity instincts that Hans Rosling discusses in his book). The consequent increased personal and cultural anxiety that comes from believing in the results of such modelling could fairly be called ‘computer-generated panic disorder’.

The Limits to Growth was published in March 1972. Three months later there occurred the first United Nations Conference on the Human Environment.15 It’s Secretary General was Maurice Strong, the protégé of David Rockefeller, whom I mentioned above. Strong’s influence on the conference was substantial. The report from the conference contains audible echoes of The Limits to Growth:

The vast benefits which the new technological order had produced were undeniable, but man’s activities had created serious imbalances. Not only each society but the world as a whole must achieve a better balance among the major elements that determined the level and quality of life it could provide for its members – population and its distribution, available resources and their exploitation, and pressures placed on the life systems that sustained it. (UN report, p45)

The same report explicitly reflects the advocacy of Maurice Strong for strategies by which nations might be bound within a web of supranational obligations:

Looking beyond the conference he stressed the need for: (a) New concepts of sovereignty, based not on the surrender of national sovereignties but on better means of exercising them collectively, and with a greater sense of responsibility for the common good; (b) New codes of international law which the era of environmental concern required, and new means of dealing with environmental conflicts; (c) New international means for better management of the world’s common property resources; (d) New approaches to more automatic means of financing programmes of international co-operation, which could include levies and tolls on certain forms of international transport or on the consumption of certain non-renewable resources. (p45, 1972 UN Conference)

Whilst these words appear to discountenance any ‘surrender of national sovereignties’, it is hard to see how some degree of surrender could be wholly avoided if there were to be ‘new codes of international law’, ‘more automatic means of financing programmes of international resources’, and so on. The fact is that Maurice Strong believed in the development of a world government, and the UN report was rather more than the modest proposal for international cooperation that it seemed to be. It opened the door to the transfer of power from national governments — which are, or at least can be, accountable to their electorates — to unaccountable international technocratic and bureaucratic elites. Early in the conference, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) was established, as a step towards achieving the goals that Strong had emphasised.

One concept which developed from this era was that of ‘sustainability’ or ‘sustainable development’. Whilst these terms appear to refer to very reasonable goals, it is important to understand that they have implications associated with the context in which they arose. This was, in essence, about achieving the ‘better balance’ mentioned in the UN report, and thus avoiding supposed catastrophe. Implicit fears about population growth were involved in these concepts.

To grasp adequately the mood of the times, it is necessary here to emphasise once again the prevailing ‘cultural climate’ during the decades after World War II. There were pre-existing fears about over-population of the planet and the consequent pressure on food and resources, bringing the risk of war. There had already been two world wars, and there was an ongoing Cold War, which threatened to flare into nuclear war (at the time of the Cuba missile crisis, for instance). There were new worries over the effects of pollution. On top of all this, there were fears that any new scientific and industrial improvements would themselves lead to further serious problems, due to ‘feedback loops’ (as claimed in The Limits to Growth). Industrialisation and economic development were not seen as solutions, but as significant contributors to the impending problems. This mixture of past troubles and present dangers all combined to produce a strong tendency to catastrophism. Associated with this tendency was the belief that actions on an international scale were needed to prevent the catastrophe. This implied at least some yielding up of national autonomy, and pointed towards global government.

This potent brew of worries about population and technology was also infused with geopolitical and ideological factors. For example, the environmentalist fear of the negative effects of industrialisation was susceptible to anti-capitalist ideology. Thus, the German Green Party developed with a strong ‘far-left’ component, and attracted past members of the movement that had hijacked Israeli planes and threatened their Jewish passengers.16 In the 1970s the member states of OPEC oil cartel instigated two major rises in the price of oil, at least partly in response to the West’s support of Israel. As well as causing serious inflation, the price hikes led to uncertainty over the future oil supply. That uncertainty compounded ongoing fears about diminishing natural resources.

Environmentalism as an influential movement developed in this cultural context. It was not simply a measured response to the growing awareness of pollution or species loss. Appropriate concerns about these issues were magnified by anxious catastrophism. It was against this background that fears about the effects of human activities on weather and climate began to grow significantly.

Weather and Climate Fears

There was at least one legitimate concern here. The effects of coal smoke on local weather had long been recognised. London, for example, had often been beset by ‘smog’ due to such pollution. This was at its worst in the ‘great smog of London’, in 1952. This led to an environmental law – the Clean Air Act of 1956.

Then, in the 1970s concerns developed about the polluting effects of ‘acid rain’. This became a serious preoccupation, both in Europe and North America. It was argued that acidified rain, due primarily to sulphur emissions from fossil fuel power stations, was acidifying soil and thereby causing significant damage, for example to forests. This issue was particularly associated with Swedish politics and with arguments about using nuclear power stations rather than coal-fired ones. Good scientific studies later showed that the dangers of acid rain were being exaggerated. Changes in the acidity of soils were due to other factors, and not a threat to forests, and the acidifying effects of coal fired power station emissions were minor. Nevertheless, such studies tended to be ignored whilst politicians and activists promulgated acid rain catastrophism. Eventually the issue faded into the background, as ‘global warming’ came to the fore. Interestingly, two Swedes associated with the acid rain scare were also prominent in promoting global warming fears. These were a Swedish prime minister, Olaf Palme, and scientist, Bert Bolin.17

Ironically, in view of subsequent events, the primary climate fear in the 1970s was of an impending ‘ice age’ because temperatures were on average lower than in the decades prior to World War II. Yet just a few years later, everyone had forgotten their worries about a big freeze, and the concept of ‘anthropogenic global warming’ had become dominant — so much so that by 1988 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was established. This had come about primarily because, in the 1970s, various people, including Olaf Palme and Bert Bolin, had become concerned about increasing CO2 levels. They became extremely influential, especially when, in the 1980s, temperatures seemed to be rising when compared to the 1960s and 1970s.

For the most part, these decadal changes in average temperatures were not interpreted as naturally occurring variations. Instead, whichever direction the change was going in was taken as crucial evidence that it would continue, catastrophically, to go in that direction. In the 1970s this way of thinking led to the fear of an ice age, and then in the 1980s it contributed to the fear of catastrophic warming. However, what had led Bolin and others to consider a significant future temperature rise was not just the trend in the 1980s, but the apparent slight rise in average temperature over the previous hundred years or so, combined with the understanding (developed by Svante Arrhenius) that CO2 is a ‘greenhouse’ gas, and that its concentration in the atmosphere had been rising since the industrial revolution.

The Villach Conference

In 1985, UNEP and other organisations held a meeting at Villach in Austria to discuss human influences on weather and climate, especially the possible effects of the rising level of CO2. Bert Bolin was a key participant. The Villach Conference proved a turning point for the idea of man-made global warming. Given the anxious catastrophism that was prevalent, the outcome of the conference was predictable. The published report warned of a significant global temperature rise, comparable to the world’s emergence from the last glacial period, precipitating a crisis that would require an internationally coordinated response.18 This forecast was based upon computer modelling — though the report provided no details of how the modelling was done. The Conference Statement declared:

Based on evidence of effects of past climatic changes, there is little doubt that a future change in climate of the order of magnitude obtained from climate models for a doubling of the atmospheric C02 concentration could have profound effects on global ecosystems, agriculture, water resources and sea ice.

Governments and regional inter-governmental organizations should take into account the results of this assessment (Villach 1985) in their policies on social and economic development, environmental programmes, and control of emissions of radiatively active gases. [p3]

The use of phrases such as ‘little doubt’, ‘order of magnitude’ and ‘profound effects’ aroused in the reader an apprehensive concern, which would scarcely have been allayed by the presence of that equivocal verb ‘could’. Nor was this the only place in the report where worrisome assertions were found side by side with acknowledgements of uncertainty.  

Although quantitative uncertainty in model results persists it is highly probable that increasing concentration of the greenhouse gases will produce significant climatic change. (p57)

At present, and certainly for a number of years to come, climate change studies by means of models provide possible scenarios, not predictions of future climate. (p58)

Thus, on the one hand, we have acknowledgement that the computer models were not giving ‘predictions’ but only ‘possible scenarios’. On the other hand, despite such caveats, the report declared that significant climate change was ‘highly probable’. Actually, the climate is such a complex system that realistic modelling is impossible even with today’s computers, let alone with those that existed in 1985. Worse, the report lacked any discussion of the natural factors that change the climate over periods of decades and longer, and how such factors might have impinged on changes in the last two centuries.

In general, the Villach Conference Report clearly demonstrated what I have described as cultural catastrophism and computer-generated panic disorder. Nonetheless, it was taken very seriously. It paved the way for the establishment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). In my next article I will look at the IPCC, and explore what has happened since it was established.

Further Observations

It is time to summarise the discoveries that have surprised and troubled me as I traced the growth of anxiety and guilt over our impact on the climate. My first discovery was the persistent influence of Malthus’ views about population growth. Despite its role in sinister historical trends, such as Social Darwinism and the eugenics movement, Malthusian anxiety continued to exert its influence throughout the twentieth century. Indeed, it continues to sway us even now — whether or not we have ever heard of Thomas Malthus’ name — despite the obvious contradiction between his gloomy forecast and the reality of the much larger, but also materially much better off, population of the world today.

Secondly, there was the fact that the environmental movement, in the form we currently know it, is imprinted with neo-Malthusian thinking. True, environmentalism is in some measure a product of reasonable concerns about pollution, the potential exhaustion of resources, and the recognition of the value to humans of biodiversity — a value that may indeed include not just a material but also a spiritual aspect. Yet in some measure too, environmentalism today bears the mark of Malthus’ anxious revulsion from what he saw as the morbid growth of the human population.

Thirdly, there was my discovery of the enthusiasm among the intellectual and political elite, in the aftermath of World War II, for the yielding up of power and responsibility to supranational bodies — a drift towards the utopian dream of global government. This contributed to the formation of the UN and other bodies that have weakened the autonomy of national governments (which are, or at least can be, accountable to their electorates). Among the factors fuelling the enthusiasm for global government was the belief that it was needed to solve the problems of population growth and environmental degradation — problems that supposedly would otherwise lead inevitably to catastrophe.

However, the most important discovery for me is that there can be cultural anxiety states, not just individual ones. Such cultural anxiety states have occurred in previous centuries in relation to matters remote from the climate. There was, for example, the fear of witches, as in the seventeenth century Salem witch trials. Indeed, as the ancient Indian tale of ‘The Timid Hare and the Flight of the Beasts’ suggests, fears about environmental collapse and even ‘the end of the world’ have a history that bridges continents and spans millennia.

Individuals can start to manage their anxiety, and lessen it, if they can learn how to recognise their catastrophic thinking for what it is, find ways to challenge it, and replace it with realistic thinking. I wrote about this in an earlier article. Realism does not mean pretending that everything is perfect, but instead involves developing realistic estimations of risks, rather than compulsively envisaging the worst outcomes. For groups of very anxious people, learning such realistic thinking is also very important. Having an honest and courageous role model can help.

This brings me back to my starting point — the Jataka tale of the nervous hare and the needless panic that he triggered by misinterpreting the fall of a fruit in the forest. In the end, how did the animals manage to come to their senses and abandon the stampede? The Jataka relates that it was a wise lion who stopped the animals from fleeing. Through careful enquiry and examination of evidence, the lion helped them recognise that their fears were misplaced. According to the tale, of course, the lion was none other than the Buddha Sakyamuni in one of the innumerable previous lives through which he cultivated the perfections of the bodhisattva path.

A lion, the proverbial king of beasts, is a symbol of courage, authority and leadership, just as the hare is a symbol of timidity and anxiety. Today we need a such an influential figure— someone with not just the scientific understanding and clarity, but also the courage and the public standing necessary to calm our cultural catastrophism over human-made climate change. No such leader has come into view yet. In the meanwhile, it is up to each of us individually to promote calm as best we can. We can start by trying to inform ourselves better, and by having the courage to speak up.

Unfortunately, any candidate for the role of lion would face more obstacles than the lion had to deal with in the tale. After all, the stampede was generated by nothing more than the anxious fantasy of a single beast. The hare did not have a well-resourced and prestigious organisation to help him promote his private nightmare. There was no Interspecies Panel on Ground Collapse (IPGC). Unfortunately, nowadays we do have an organisation of that type, with its financial and political associates. I intend to explore this in the second part of this article.


  1. The Jataka story of the timid hare and the flight of the beasts
  2. Thomas Malthus; Essay on the Principle of Population
  3. For example, the organisation Population Matters, formerly known as The Optimum Population Trust, whose patron is the popular broadcaster and environmentalist David Attenborough.
  4. See, for example, The Great Demographic Reversal: Ageing Societies, Waning Inequality, and an Inflation Revivial, by Charles Goodhart and Manoj Pradhan, (2020).
  5. Hans Rosling; Factfulness; 2018. The ‘instincts’ Rosling describes include ‘fear’, ‘negativity’, ‘blame’, and ‘urgency’. Since Factfulness was published we have had the response to Covid, which has had serious negative effects on income and well-being for many people in the world. Thus, we have recently witnessed a decline that, to some extent at least, goes against the general trends that Rosling described.
  6. Charles Darwin; The Descent of Man; 1871
  7. For a detailed exploration of Social Darwinism, see: ‘Social Darwinism and English Thought’, by Greta Jones (1980).
  8. Re: eugenics and the Rockefellers: https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/1796
  9. Bertrand Russell; The Impact of Science on Society; (1953) From Chapter VII – Can a Scientific Society be Stable? http://groupelavigne.free.fr/russell1953.pdf
  10. For a detailed discussion of the groups and individuals associated with the idea of global government: https://www.iatp.org/sites/default/files/Global_Governance_Why_How_When.htm
  11. https://www.discoverthenetworks.org/individuals/maurice-strong/
  12. Silent Spring; Rachel Carson, 1962 ‘We stand now where two roads diverge… The road we have long been traveling is deceptively easy, a smooth superhighway on which we progress with great speed, but at its end lies disaster. The other fork of the road—the one ‘less traveled by’—offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of our earth.’ (From chapter 17)
  13. The Population Bomb; Paul Erlich, 1968
  14. The Limits to Growth; The Club of Rome; 1972
  15. https://www.un.org/en/conferences/environment/stockholm1972
  16. See, for example, chapter 9, ‘Born Again Greens’, of ‘Green Tyranny’ by Rupert Darwall.
  17. Chapters 6 and 7 of ‘Green Tyranny’ by Rupert Darwall.
  18. Villach Conference;

    The Executive Summary includes the following statement:

    The expected global mean temperature due to a doubling of CO2 is of about the same magnitude as the change of global temperature from the last glacial period to the present interglacial. (p20-21)

    As a way to justify taking the computer modelling seriously, the Villach Report also mentions that the recorded increase in average surface temperature, since the beginning of the industrial revolution, fits with what the computer models ‘predict’ it would be:

    The observed increase in mean temperature during the last 100 years (0.3- 0.7°C) cannot be ascribed in a statistically rigorous manner to the increasing concentration of CO2 and other greenhouse gases, although the magnitude is within the range of predictions (0.3- 1.1°C).(p20-21)

    The phrase ‘cannot be ascribed in a statistically rigorous manner’ actually implies that, just because the computer models give ‘predictions’ of a temperature rise, during the last 100 years, of the same order of magnitude as the actual one, this does not mean that the models are accurate depictions of weather and climate. Indeed, it is quite possible, if not very likely, that the specific equations chosen for the ‘modelling’ were ones that could be adjusted so that they agreed with the past recorded temperature rise.


Advayacitta is a retired clinical psychologist. He is the author of  'Thinking at the Crossroads - a Buddhist exploration of Western thought'.

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