The turning of the tide
MONDAY JANUARY 25, 2010
The Danish King Canute became the first Viking monarch of England in 1016 after defeating the English army with over 10,000 men, the largest invasion force that had ever been seen. Canute was a most effective ruler, dividing England into territorial lordships, owing allegiance to the king, providing a unified system of government that would last until the Tudors. He stabilised the English coinage and encouraged international trade. In other words the bloke was no fool. He ruled for 25 years and commandeered so much respect according to legend, that his courtiers flattered him into believing that his word was so powerful that even the tide would recede at his command. To shut them up, Canute is said to have had his throne placed by the shore and openly but vainly attempted to command the waves to recede until the water lapped around him. It was an early media PR stunt. Neither a king, nor any other mortal, can command the forces of nature no matter how great he is and how hard he tries. And it is said he told the assembled crowd: "Let all men know how empty and worthless is the power of kings, for there is none worthy of the name, but God whom Heaven, Earth and Sea obey by eternal laws."
This is a lesson which some contemporary politicians and celebrities might want to take to heart. In particular, former Vice President Al Gore comes to mind. At the G-8 summit in Italy in July, the assembled leaders declared that the world's temperature shall not rise: because they decreed it, so it must be so. "The increase in global average temperature above pre-industrial levels shall not exceed 2 degrees [Celsius]," said the summit declaration. So saying, the world's leading economies, who couldn't agree on any actual policy on climate change, opted instead to command the clouds, the seas and all of the Earth to cool.
Arguably, stopping the tide would be easier. If we are indeed so clever now as a species that we have the technology, the resources and more importantly the collective social management, to control the entire world's temperature, not only in the cities that make up only 1% of the surface of the earth, but also the whole of the mostly uninhabited 99% of the rest of the globe that comprises ocean, ice caps, desert, swamps, uninhabited islands and craggy mountain ranges, then halting the tide should be easy peasy and would make a handy little practice run. A species that can build Disney World, Dubai and the Dunedin Railway Station should experience no engineering difficulties. It's only water, after all. And it would show the world it can be done, because right now there are so many skeptics that we can reverse climate change perhaps such a point needs to be made.
So rather than conferencing in dumb places like winter-frozen Copenhagen, world leaders should be trying to determine global climate policy from just below the high-tide line on some picturesque beach, perhaps on Tuvalu, and see how much respect the tide has for environmentalism. I doubt the assembled world leaders would stay any drier than King Canute did. None of them, not Obama, Kevin Rudd, Gordon Brown, NIWA, Greenpeace, our own Russell Norman nor entertainment thickos like Castle-Hughes, Lawless, and Schwarzenagger, despite their fondness for Hollywood fiction, would get the moral of the Canute story, even as the waters closed around their ankles.
All the efforts of Greenpeace stunts and international deals, endless protocols and accords, eco-legislation and live music concerts have made us aware of the zeal and profit motive of the organisers but not how we can combat our "climate crisis". We know that listening to music and supporting their sponsors (including SUV purveyor Chevrolet), paying taxes on everything we drive in, and on everything we eat (because it must come from farms and be delivered to shops by trucks) won't magically reverse the progress of a force of nature which is arguably at least as powerful as the tides and the cyclical warming of the Earth. Where elected legislators believe eco-taxation will make the globe rapidly cool, seas sink, ice caps expand, glaciers retreat and floating icebergs reverse back to Antarctica and join back up to the main block, also droughts and floods end and erosion abate, their voters now quite frankly don't. What started with the Climategate scandals was followed by the defeat of the Ration-N-Tax Scheme in the Australian Senate and the defeat of the IPCC in Copenhagen. Then we had the IPCC fraud regarding Himalayan glaciers and the serial failures of the weather forecasts from the alarm-promoting British Met Office. Now data manipulation scandals are unfolding in USA, New Zealand and Australia.
Paying a tax may make people aware of the planet and curtail their behaviour. But they will still listen to radio, watch TV and phone each other, using electricity that must be generated using greenhouse gases. All workers have to buy clothing, eat, cook, keep warm, use hospitals, and use fuels. We are told we can buy our way out of carbon debt with cold, hard cash (they take Visa and Mastercard) but we are sick of hearing it. In the real world cash inevitably leads to political corruption. The opportunity for the massive grab by finance houses, riding a wave of media frenzy and the public's fear of natural disasters, was too good to pass up. But now far fewer believe we can, and will, reverse a slight warming trend which has been building at the rate of 1C over the last 8,000 years, replaced temporarily since 1998 by slight cooling.
The irony is, the tide has turned.
© Ken Ring Jan 2010