Heeding the minority's advice is hurting the planet

When a child's health started to deteriorate, her parents took her to a doctor. They were told that she was suffering from a serious degenerative condition brought on by an unhealthy diet, and unless she received urgent treatment, she would almost certainly die.

The parents were not happy to hear this, so they consulted a second doctor, and a third and a fourth, until their daughter had been seen by a thousand doctors.

Of these, 999 gave the same advice as the first, but one said treatment was unnecessary and there was no need to worry.

Believing that the majority of the doctors were mad, bad or just plain stupid, the parents took the minority advice.

The girl's health continued to deteriorate, but the parents still refused to accept the need for treatment. Three months later, the child died.

As a result of this unhappy saga, there was a burst of public outrage that an innocent child could be sacrificed on the altar of parents' rights. The parents were taken to court by Child, Youth and Family, and the judge ruled that the surviving siblings be taken into care for the remainder of their childhood.

Moreover, the judge ruled that the parents were incapable of shouldering the responsibilities of childcare, and in the event of the couple having any more children, they should be removed for their own protection.

This story is, of course, hypothetical, but something remarkably similar has been happening with regard to Earth's climate.

In a sane world, one would expect the mainstream media to be clamouring for action - but no. Many, especially some of the corporately-owned media, openly mock the suggestion that humans are changing the climate, and urge us to behave like the aforementioned parents.

An explanation for this perverse behaviour may partly belong in the realms of evolutionary psychology rather than in politics.

In our primeval past, we were more adapted to deal with immediate dangers such as sabre-toothed tigers, where the relation between cause and effect was always clear, rather than with slow-acting, long-term problems that were more likely to afflict future generations.

There may be more to it than that, however. When our ancestors were hunter-gatherers, the only source of energy was solar energy, stored in our food and converted into work by human muscle. Then, with the advent of agriculture about 10,000 years ago, the supply of food energy increased dramatically as human muscle power was supplemented by that of domesticated animals.

But the energy splurge really got going in the Industrial Revolution, when we learned how to exploit ancient sunlight stored in fossil fuels. Within a couple of centuries, we became psychologically as well as physically dependent on this amazingly rich source of energy. Like unsupervised children let loose in a sweet shop, we seemed to lose contact with the long-term reality of a finite planet.

In heeding the advice of the tenth of 1 per cent of climate scientists who deny the need for action, governments are preparing the way for Mother Nature's remedy for our environmental rapaciousness.

Perhaps we need to be reminded that her ministrations would be anything but humane.

  • Martin Hanson is a retired biology teacher, having taught biology for 40 years, 28 in New Zealand and 12 in Britain. He emigrated to New Zealand for environmental reasons. He is the author of a number of school textbooks published in New Zealand and Britain.