Language is revealing. In June this year, in an interview with German public radio broadcaster rbb24, a leading climatologist revealed all the hubris behind his thinking in one short sentence: “We are losing control over the climate system.” (“Wir verlieren die Kontrolle über das Klimasystem”), said Stefan Rahmsdorf of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (German acronym PIK). The statement was later uncritically quoted by the flagship news program “Tagesschau” in the public TV broadcaster ARD, reports Michael Klein of the “ScienceFiles” blog.
According to Wikipedia, Rahmstorf was portrayed as one of the world's 10 leading climate scientists by the Financial Times in 2009. In 2007, he received the German Environmental Media Award.
When someone like Rahmstorf says that we are losing control of the climate, most people – of sound mind – might just dismiss it as another case of chicken little running around claiming the sky is falling down because she was hit on the head by a falling acorn. But there’s more to it, as Klein wrote recently in his blog, republished by “eigentümlich frei”. “We are losing control of the climate system” implies that ‘we’ currently have it, the climate system, under control.
So now we know, writes Klein: “The climate is being controlled from Potsdam”. However, there’s no need to fear that ‘we’ are losing this control, because the German Federal Government is galloping to the rescue. With an ‘emergency program’ called ‘Klima leben!’ (linguistically an absurd injunction: ‘Live the Climate!’), the government is going to hand over 115 million euros of taxpayers’ money to the PIK, so that Rahmstorf can continue to have full control over the climate.
Jokes aside: Klein makes an important point about the revealing words Rahmstrof used.
The Potsdam professor is typical of a kind of scientist exemplified by C.S. Lewis in “The Magician’s Nephew”, the chronologically first part of the Narnia series.
Uncle Andrew, as the novel’s scientist/magician is called, experiments with teleportation from one universe to the next. This causes some unintended, evil consequences. The point Lewis was making was that scientists can be tempted by the power they think they have from knowing, or supposedly knowing, how the elementary parts of nature interact. What they don’t understand is what F.A. Hayek warned us about: Individual knowledge is limited. We cannot possibly know everything. It is wrong to proceed on the assumption that everything necessary is known. Of course we should proceed into the unknown. But to do so on the assumption that everything necessary is known for success in the unknown is hubristic and stupid. The way to proceed is to use decentralised knowledge and to share this knowledge via the naturally emerging market system. And nowhere is that more important than when dealing with a highly complex subject such as the climate.
If afflicted by hubris, scientists often want to use their knowledge for personal gain. In our time, in the real world, displaying such an aim would be counterproductive, so hubristic people often sublimate their urge into a wish to improve the world (with them at the helm of course, or at least at the ear of those at the helm).
Uncle Andrew certainly has hubris in spades. He doesn’t like “ordinary, ignorant people”, for one. Which is exactly how some in the 'climate community', often with the help of a complicit media, like to portray climate change "deniers". The magician doesn’t think he should be bound by his promises: “Men like me, who possess hidden wisdom, are freed from common rules just as we are cut off from common pleasures.” He has no problems sending unsuspecting children off into unknown worlds, but is indignant at the suggestion that he might try this experiment on himself first. His hubris also leads him to dismiss old warnings against his behavior as “old wives’ tales”, as nothing to worry about.
Like Uncle Andrew, Rahmstorf is full of hubris. His statement has exposed it. What does Uncle Andrew’s disgusted nephew Digory say to him – and Lewis through him about contemporary ‘magicians’? This: “Well, I’ve never read a story in which people of that sort weren’t paid out in the end, and I bet you will be. And serve you right.”
Article by Michael Klein from on the 'eigentümlich frei'-website from November 15th 2019 (German): Potsdamer Forscher enthüllt: Klimasystem wird von Deutschland aus gesteuert.
Interview of rbb24 with Prof. Stefan Rahmstorf, June 26th 2019 (German): Potsdamer Forscher enthüllt: Klimasystem wird von Deutschland aus gesteuert.