Why not me?

A few days ago I watched an “Unreported World” programme on BBC 4. It was about Karachi – Pakistan’s richest city. I was shocked.

The problem was water. In recent years the lack of customary rain, linked to an appallingly bad water distribution system, has created a nightmare for the ordinary population. Actually it’s not a nightmare because many long nights are spent waiting by the water outlet – hoping first that it will come (it often doesn’t), that it will be enough and then hoping that it won’t be too brackish or salty to drink. Otherwise, the best chance is an illegal borehole or water tanker – who will serve you but only for a price you are in no position to pay.

We saw the difficulties of a number of families. Worst of all was one with a mentally disabled child who was doubly incontinent. Just imagine how you would cope with that in the lengthy intervals before the next water arrives. Not every citizen was affected. The bourgeois citizens of Karachi, with their fine houses, are able to pay handsomely for the tankers – internal swimming pools and all.

The appalling state of the infrastructure in the city appears to have been brought about by incompetence and corruption. It was not denied that individuals working for the water board were running their own little money raising water schemes. You do not get improvements from authorities who benefit from keeping things as they are.

But the water board can hardly be blamed for the agricultural countryside. The lack of rains has turned it into a near desert, and the customary wells run dry. In Bangladesh you do not waste time thinking about climate change as a future possibility; it is a present experience. As I have written in the past, the emigration to temperate countries that we experience today is as nothing to what we can expect in the future. The living quality and the prosperity of countries will be closely related to their distance from the Equator.

Of course we all know about the poor – as Pope Francis reminds us so frequently. And occasionally we find ourselves wondering how God allows such terrible things to happen. But, even stranger to me, is why I should be so fortunate – I have running taps in my house, the central heating ensures comfort, Tesco is down the road and, every so often, downloads in my kitchen enough provender to supply a street in Karachi. My family is not far away – and some of my children have chosen to live nearby so that they can give us golden oldies support.

I contrast that with young Shuna, who lives in Uganda. She has two siblings but no parents – they died from HIV AIDS. I was privileged to contribute to her fees to become a qualified nurse so that she could support her family. But I learned last week that, halfway through her course, she has developed a serious heart condition. The facility for the necessary open-heart surgery does not exist in Uganda. The small grant she gets from the Ugandan health ministry will pay for less than a fifth of the cost of an operation in South Africa. Why did this happen?

So this week I am not posing any intellectual theological questions, nor am I concerned with what the Church does or doesn’t do. I just ask you to reflect on God’s mysterious ways with man, as I have been doing.

If you heard the 30 minute programme you may already have had the same thoughts as me. But you’ll find ‘The city with no water’ on Channel 4 catch-up at http://www.channel4.com/programmes/unreported-world/episode-guide You may have to register, but that’s not difficult.

About Quentin

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51 Responses to Why not me?

  1. Michael says:

    Thanks Quentin. How on earth does your invite to reflect on God’s mysterious ways with man not constitute an intellectual theological question?

    But maybe you are right. First I need to consider the corruption of the authorities charged with the responsibility of organizing the water supply. We have been relying on the desalination plants very successfully for years in my city. So nothing to do with God there.

    Then I need to grapple with the greed of he rich with their swimming pools filled with chemically treated water. I hope to God I would be different to them. But God seems to have escaped that one too in my argument.

    Then I need to do some analysis on the whole infrastructure that puts so many supermarkets and consumer outlets at my door too and in the process contributing to the deterioration that is causing the climate change in the first place. Nope that’s not very Divine either.

    Don’t worry God I’ll get to you in a minute.

    It’s just there is so much to sort out under my own nose just now.

  2. G.D. says:

    Quentin, We know it’s not God’s ways in question; it’s man’s.
    God has given us the blue print – the majority ignore it.

    There are enough ‘supplies’ and technological ability to distribute them, for this type of depravity to be overcome.
    Just not enough of us that care enough to do so.

    Those that do put in the ‘widows mite’ see it swallowed up by greed and corruption of the ‘elite’ in the destitute areas.
    I personally now only give to ’causes’ where i know people involved, and am sure the benefits get to the people who need it.
    There are enough destitute on my ‘doorstep’ (some abroad!) in need of desperate help to use my widows mite.

    But, of course, it’s not all to do with throwing money at ‘just causes’. It’s not only to do with a lack of material goods.

    There are the issues of the ‘leaders’ in the ‘rich’ countries ( not sure if it’s true or not but it’s often said 1% of people own 50% of all wealth?) that do nothing to change the infrastructure and social status quo that keep the ‘poor in their place’. ( To suit their own agendas maybe? Just look at the government we have here! ). And there are the ‘poor’ themselves who imitate the ‘rich’, by plenty of foul and depraved means of their own to increase their lot ……….

    In that sense ‘charity begins at home’; if it did for the majority, there would be a lot less of the unnecessary sufferings we inflict on each other.
    And the example might spread!
    Jesus sat down with two loaves and five fish – and multitudes were fed!

    The bottom line for me is people’s selfishness & personal lack of real charity – corporate & personal – be they poor rich or somewhere in-between.

    As for solutions …… will leave that to them that consider they have the means to produce them. I’m at a loss!

  3. Brendan says:

    I do not know why God works in mysterious ways – no one does . The more amenable way to address the issue is perhaps to ask …..why is the work of God a mystery to mankind ? Then one can say in faith ( and only then ) which infers a statement of belief , that complete trust in God and his works are justified. To the person of faith, one cannot separate theological musings from existing reality – no matter what humanity has tried to persuade itself in the past or today. They simply do not make sense on their own .
    Outside of just plain foolishness , stupidity and our propensity to hide behind ignorance/ or proclaiming truth in spite of ignorance , the list is exhaustive ( just look at oneself ) ; one can face up fully to the truth by Gods help alone and attempt to eradicate at least some of the worst causes of the plight of suffering humanity today due to corruption and greed.
    In time that is the ‘ way ‘ God works…. through us. As God took our form to show love for mankind at cost; so for us this mystery in action works for mankind . Plainly love comes at a cost. With our innate flaws it could not be in any other way …… but only through the lens of ‘faith’. Personal sacrifice is the only way to ameliorate the worst of the excesses of a world in misery….’ a stumbling block to the Jews, to the Gentiles folly .’ Corinthians 1.

  4. Nektarios says:

    It seems to me, to answer God’s mysterious ways, rather ludicrous, they are mysterious after all and God won’t answer our curiosity.
    God’s dealings with man and this world, we have before us in our own language in the Bible if we care to read it.

    We live in a transient world, it will have its end however, it is to come. There have been many changes in the world and mans relationship to it. By the sweat of thy brow shall ye eat. We are to subdue the world, but God said that pre-fall to Adam, now it would appear the world is subduing him?

    The media brings all the horror stories of famine, disasters, poverty, wars, right into our living rooms, from places far away. We cannot even deal with the famine and disasters and warring going on at our own doorstep.
    The charities appeal for money to help the poor and needy. So little from most charities reaches those intended.

    Many die and suffer in such situations. It cannot have escaped anyones notice surely, this has been going on and taking place in every generation since the Fall of Adam.

    But there is an end coming to this planet. God is going to create a New heaven and a new earth, wherein dwells righteousness. No more suffering, sorrow, pain or death. God is working all things towards that end and for mankind.

  5. Martha says:

    Wondering “why I should be so fortunate,” I think is the key phrase in this week’s Post. I often think how relatively comfortable we are compared with so many in the world who are deprived or completely destitute as Quentin has described. Compared with many people in past centuries also we live lives of undreamed of luxury, How can this be? I believe it was St. Thomas More who said that we cannot go to Heaven on feather beds, we must sacrifice some things as Brendan says. We cannot control corrupt and greedy systems, but we can contribute to alleviating some of the needs of others by at least forgoing some extras or luxuries for ourselves.

    • ignatius says:

      Might as well ask about earthquakes.

      It must be plainly obvious to most that we are, as individuals, in control of so little. None of us know if we will be alive tomorrow and the sheer complexity of community/individual life on our turning planet beggars description. Only we are here and must help our fellow travellers as best we can. This subject does not lend itself well to discussion.

      • Quentin says:

        Ignatius, I may have mentioned this before. I lead a philosophy group (mainly agnostics) and asked them to decide what, if they were God, would they change in creation as we see it now. Several suggestions were made but then the unintended consequences of each suggestion were debated. At the end of the discussion there was general agreement that they would not change anything. So there may be rather more here to discuss than we may see at first sight.

  6. Brendan says:

    This from a very practical, no holds barred , down to earth Christian ……. the late Mother Angelica:-
    ‘ Sometimes we ask God for things , and we seem to get the exact opposite. God sees the whole chapter. You just see the beginning .’

  7. Brendan says:

    Ironically Quentin , in your post aimed at Ignatius – before reading that your ‘ group ‘ had come to a conclusion – I too had thought I ‘ would not change anything. ‘ But an interesting exercise all the same.

  8. Nektarios says:


    I would not expect a philosophy discussion group to answer such much. The conclusion is interesting one however.
    I would paraphrase it; Let God be God, be it in the Cosmos, or this planet, or the people of this planet, and last but not not least, let God be God in us, working all things together according to His will and pleasure.

  9. Brendan says:

    A few nights ago I attended a lecture by Archbishop Paul Gallagher ( the Holy See’s ‘ Foreign Minister ‘ ) , given in the area of dialogue and diplomacy in conflict. I was struck by a man ( taking for granted one of faith ) who had probably spent hour upon hour of deliberating with avowed enemies across a table – having first manged to get them together – and sleepless nights ; only to be informed that a terrorist act had probably scuppered the ‘ progress ‘ made under his auspices that had been made earlier. Back to square one.
    I further detected , after challenging Q&A’S – one noticeable from a lady from ‘ The Tablet ‘ ( you can guess what that was about ) – that he was for a period detached in prayer/ contemplation. I conclude from this encounter that he could not possibly do the work he has to do without Gods unfailing help.

  10. St.Joseph says:

    I have just come back from a weeks rest in Torquay with my family before I start this week on another session of 3 months Chemo Therapy. I would be very grateful again for all your prayers.
    I think anyone can ask themselves ‘Why not me’? .especially if we are speaking of Heaven Hell or Purgatory. A good way to examine our conscience before we die.

  11. Nektarios says:

    St. Joseph
    You remain daily in our poor prayers. God bless -N.

  12. St.Joseph says:

    Thank you.

  13. Brendan says:

    I’ve watched ” unreported World – Ch.4 ”
    I’ll try and put my secular hat on exclusively , but with difficulty . The old lady at the end had it right … ” caught between weak government and climate change ”. Weak ? because Pakistan elite are more concerned with a supposed threat from nationalist Hindu India , who like them has the ‘ bomb’. They are more concerned about keeping a pretense of keeping up with their neighbour who both have an illusion of First World status at the expense of the poor – hence inbred corruption. What on earth are they doing having nuclear weapons when this huge financial resource could be used to bring life-giving water to the masses ? Indeed Britain helps compound this deceit by giving aid to Pakistan…. unbelievable ! Look no further than governance at the heart of the problem which can be dealt with even if it could be too late to halt the worst of climate change effect.
    With my secular hat still on ; historians may tell us of the demise of the Indus Valley civilisation or the disappearance of the pre-Inca civilisation of the High Andes….. drought, war, famine, climate change, disease … but the world is watching this and it knows what to do if only in the short term. Who know what the future holds ?
    I return to type … in God’s name and help find the will to do it !

  14. Nektarios says:


    Yes, man is coming to an end of himself.
    This world will not choose God or Christ the only Saviour of the world. Nor will the choose Him. is message, nor the message of the Gospel which is the only message from God to mankind.
    They would rather live in turmoil, squalor and poverty, corruption, sorrow, fear, misery and war,
    killing each other off, rather than hearing Him and receiving all the temporal and spiritual benefits of
    true Christianity which is given in simplicity and is unifying.
    But the abuse of Christianity down through the centuries is nothing more than the old nature modified religiously. It has not and cannot bring even common sense practical solutions to human life problems such as clean water, fair distribution of wealth and honest dealings with one another.
    Yes, Brendan, mankind and the world is on the brink and in decline.
    But there is yet hope for we are still in a day of grace, all be it we are in the end times.

  15. Nektarios says:

    Correction – is message should read – His message

  16. Brendan says:

    The world asks,….’ Why not me ? ‘ Christ answers ….” If you knew the gift of God….” – the difference between ” milk ” and ” solids ”.

    • Nektarios says:


      Would you care to elaborate more on ,’Why not me?’ Otherwise I do not in context understand your answer above.

  17. Brendan says:

    Nektarios – I have taken Quentin’s initial question ” Why not me ?” in the sense that one can ask the World we inhabit – in light of all the misery that is happening to OTHER people(s) – why is one fortunate to escape all this specific pain and anguish while others seem to live such a demanding existence ? The answer I intuit to this as a Christian is the only one ….to take on the Cross of Christ to endure life’s perplexing twists and turns – the blessings and misfortunes – and to come through fully human , in Christ.
    Hence the World itself ( although redeemed by God ) offers ‘ milk ‘ as explanation while God-in-Christ offers ‘ solids ‘ …. which leads to eternal life in Christ.
    In one sense this is the meaning of His ‘ action ‘ through supernatural grace upon us , in exclaiming… ” let the dead bury the dead ”.

  18. Nektarios says:

    I did write a posting and some how it disappeared. So perhaps the Lord did not want be to post that.
    Anyway, lets look at the question, ‘Why Not Me?

    It is the sort of question Quentin likes to look at, the philosophical and the psychological. What can be gained from seeking to answer this question?

    First one has to establish what me is? Me is a thought construct. It is what I think about myself, real imaginary or true?

    In the context Quentin gives it is asking, why not me relative to the problems in the world that we may have escaped for now.
    It is also to compare. Comparison, me and another me. not only creates a division, but leads only to a life of frustration.

    • Brendan says:

      O.k. Nektarios, keep going – I find myself distracted this morning; I’ll catch up later.
      I very occasionally lose postings……..the Lord keeps me humble !

      • St.Joseph says:

        I sometimes lose postings and think that The Lord did not want me to post them. Then another thought comes into my mind when I think about it again, and say to myself after a ‘chat’ to the Lord that maybe old Nick was trying to confuse me, so I post it again !

  19. Nektarios says:

    It is clear from the history of mankind in this fallen world, with all that comes against us, illness, famine, war, social problems, family problems, and facing death at the end of it all, why is it, that people think that this old fallen doomed world can improve and even present some sort of utopia for all to live happily and in harmony? It just not going to happen.

    It is not a very nice message to convey. Even our Lord prophesied that Israel would be under siege by the Gentiles, they would be exiled and dispersed among all the nations, with all that that has meant for the Jews.
    The Temple in Jerusalem was indeed a magnificent building, and they had built it, or so they thought to last for eternity. Yet again Jesus prophesied that the Temple would be torn down and no stone left upon another. Jesus was smashing their utopia dream, but in AD 70 in came to pass.

    It seems we are still trying to erect a utopia where we can live in peace and harmony one with another, nation with nation and so on.
    But if we think like that, trying our best to solve the world’s problems via the Church and Statesmen
    it like so many times before seems promising, goes so far, then falls back into the same old warring factions.
    Since Jesus came, we are living in the ‘end times.’ Jesus is telling us that the world far from getting better is slowly coming to an end.
    Oh they say, how can you say that? Look at our Science and improvements in medicine, look at all the innovations in technology, look at all the improvements to housing, diet and all the rest of it, how can you say its getting worse? Look at all the charities at work helping the poor abroad, with water, food and shelter. We will build a new utopia. We are educated enough and bright enough to make it happen.
    But it is not going to happen.
    This is a fallen world, a doomed world with a sinful and godless and vexatious generation on the face earth, everything reverts sooner or later to type, a leopard cannot change its spots. I will finish this in my following posting

    • St.Joseph says:

      A truer word has never been spoken.
      St John’s Gospel The Book of Revelation. A new Heaven and a new Earth.
      I don’t believe it will happen on this Earth until the Second Coming of Christ on the Last Day of Judgement.
      Then the question will be asked Why not Me?

  20. Nektarios says:

    Jesus being the truth, speaks the truth. What he told the Jews then came to pass. Jesus would not have you think this old world is getting better, far from it, it is getting worse.
    Jesus tells us God the Father has set a time for not only this world, but time to end. Are we listening?
    Or are we rushing around trying to convince ourselves and other that this world is a marvellous place, and can be a utopia.

    All right, lets say we can get the world to agree to stop making atomic and chemical weapons that could wipe out practically everyone; lets say, we can stop businesses and Governments to deal honestly;
    Lets say we could stop nation fighting nation over some ideology; Lets say we could conquer, all famine and disease; What if we could house everyone properly with jobs and a fair income; what if we could cure all diseases that people could remain healthy and active all their days? Yes all that would be very nice wouldn’t it? The trouble is it is not going to happen – is it?

    Whether one is rich or poor, good or bad, moral or immoral, religious or otherwise, what is that going to matter when faced with the ending of this world and of time itself? And it is going to happen suddenly, at a time when we think not.

    Jesus tells us, he is coming again. He is coming as Judge of the whole earth and all shall appear before Him. Perhaps it is time for the whole world to listen to Him for He is the truth. speaks the truth and it will happen.

    • tim says:

      Nektarios, the second coming of Jesus is an article of faith, as you very properly say. But you seem to me wrong in being confident that we cannot improve matters here and now on earth – and to imply that we are wrong to try. Isn’t that the sin of despair? Our Lord went about healing people and feeding the hungry – we can – and should – follow his example in that.

  21. Brendan says:

    The saying ‘Job’s comforter ‘ has come down to us in secular modern idiom …. no need for explanation here . But to me the deeper Christian mesake is somehow diluted by society today.
    Yes, Job’s predicament was due to sinful nature – but only partially. The world is and always will be complex and multi-faceted ; there is no point in living under the delusion that one can ‘ cover all bases ‘. This was the state of unredeemed Creation until Christ ‘s redemptive action in his work of Salvation.We endure this world because of Jesus Christ loved us , not depit it. We see the conclusion in His Resurrection to Eternity and we are called to do likewise.
    Job although could not have known this …. his trust in God was enough to win him over. How fortunate we are to actual ‘ live’ in the promise !

  22. Iona says:

    St. Joseph – I will certainly keep you in my prayers. I’m sure we all will.

  23. Iona says:

    Time was – perhaps up to 150 or 200 years ago – when most of us just knew the people around us, and had little or no idea of what was going on in distant parts of the world. In those circumstances it was easy enough to feel one could engage in effective “works of mercy” towards near neighbours, the parish poor, people clearly in need of immediate input of food, clothing, shelter. But now we get news from everywhere in the world (with the bias towards bad news, because “everything’s pottering along ok round here” isn’t newsworthy) the temptation is to give up in despair of being able to make any kind of a difference. Or to feel guilty because I am living in relative comfort while millions are suffering intense deprivation, and “why not me?” And of course some people have simply given up on their own comfort and spend all their time and income caring for those who are deprived in one way or another. The only gesture I make in that direction is that if I spend money on a wholly unnecessary “treat” for myself I spend an equivalent amount of money by donating to a charity caring for the extremely poor. I am not at all sure that this is adequate, in any sense of the word.

    • Martha says:

      And of course our economic system depends on as many people as possible buying treats and increasing the standard of living, to keep businesses going and workers paid so that they and their families can survive. When terrorist attacks destroy tourism for instance a whole country can become destitute.

  24. G.D. says:

    You are right Iona,
    Charity does begin at home. That’s where it is taught and caught. It can then be spread to the bigger causes.

    We now have a culture that gives material wealth (which is needed too!) to far flung needs, to assuage any guilt we may have about not engaging ‘ in effective “works of mercy” towards near neighbours, the parish poor, people clearly in need of immediate input of food, clothing, shelter ‘ (as you say) on our doorstep.
    I know many have done/do this already, but still the general principal needs to be taken on by ‘leaders’, and they need to ‘get their hands dirty’ working in the community as examples of compassion and concern. Rather than just pay lip service to charity by throwing excess money at various causes. ( Not too mention creating more hardship for others by the lack of concern).
    If they did a climate of practical care for each other would be created, and increase real compassion (peace & love even!) which can then be extended to the wider world and bigger causes.
    Five loves and two fish can be more than enough when blessed with love!

    It’s much easier to give to distant suffering from our abundance, than give the widow’s mite and get involved with what is on our doorsteps. ( Mea Culpa!! too ).
    When the needy come to close most of us ignore them.

    I’m not saying we should ignore the bigger issues by any means, there are of course plenty of worthwhile causes to support, but to instil a genuine ‘practical habit of communal love’ the immediate community is the school where it needs to happen.

  25. twr57 says:

    Quentin, your idea that ‘climate change’ is likely to increase water shortages lags behind the science (See Nature report in March, http://www.nature.com/news/global-warming-already-driving-increases-in-rainfall-extremes-1.19508). As I have argued before, climate catastrophism is fundamentally mistaken. The climate is changing – but not very fast. We don’t know exactly what will happen – nor can we be at all confident that we can – or need – do anything to stop it. What is plausible is that any serious results will be aggravation of problems we already have (poverty, starvation, disease, floods, drought, etc…). So we should spend our efforts on relieving these problems now, rather than diverting enormous resources to dubious and probably futile efforts to preventing them getting worse decades – or centuries – into the future.

    • Quentin says:

      I am certainly no expert in these matters but I do not see how the Nature article supports your suggestion: it only speaks of incidents of heavy precipitation. These cause their own problems but can only have a marginal effect on the deep reserves of water which agriculture requires. And of course climate warming is pre-supposed in the warmer air which therefore holds more water.

      While I would of course agree that we should address problems on the ground rather than theorise, the practical consequences of warming for the prosperity of the countries affected – and the resulting emigration do seem to be an increasingly serious problem to which we have at present no answer.

      • twr57 says:

        At least, heavy precipitation does not increase drought. You think the current problems of immigration are significantly driven by climate change? I doubt that.

      • Quentin says:

        The motivations for economic emigration are multiple. Insofar as they are linked to lack of prosperity, climate change must be seen as a factor which, if it continues to increase, will become a real problem.

  26. Alan says:

    Tim – “At least, heavy precipitation does not increase drought.”

    The piece you linked to looks into the increased chances of heavy rainfall within a day. It also suggests more moisture in the air which might come preferentially from the sea I suppose, but I’ve no particular reason to think so. What makes you say that there wouldn’t be an increased risk of drought? The articles I find on the subject in publications like Nature/Scientific America etc. and from data and models published by NASA suggest otherwise.

    Can I also ask, again because of what I find when looking at such publications, what leads you to believe that climate change is “not very fast”?

    • tim says:

      As a quick response to your last question – the fact that (while we were told at the turn of the century that global temperature would increase at a rate of around 0.3 C per decade) since 2000 the total increase has been less than 0.1 C. At that rate, the increase by 2100 would be (less than) 1C. It’s not part of the argument, but such a change would probably be (on balance) beneficial.

      As to droughts, Quentin points out that expected temperature increases will increase (if only very slightly, given that they are very small) the amount of water in the atmosphere. It is inherently unlikely that this will increase droughts – nevertheless, if you have an internet reference explaining how this happens, I will look at it. In return, I may ask you to look at a reference to my side of the argument!

  27. Alan says:

    Tim – “… since 2000 the total increase has been less than 0.1 C. At that rate, the increase by 2100 would be (less than) 1C.”

    I would be happy to look at a reference from your side. Is there actually one that approaches climate forecasting using a starting date for extrapolation of 2000? The ones I have seen discuss anything from the past 1000 to 60+ million years. Global atmospheric/surface temperatures might not have risen as fast as predicted in the very recent past but the reason for that is known and it isn’t expected to continue.

    Tim – ” It is inherently unlikely that this will increase droughts ”

    This may well not be the mechanism but neither does this fact seem likely to support the idea that extremes of heavier rainfall wouldn’t increase drought. I didn’t go so far into the articles or their sources so as to discover the details of the supposed process, but you can find the sorts of pieces I read in any of the usual publications – New Scientist, Scientific America, The Mail on Sunday …. okay, maybe not that last one … NASA also publishes data forecasting expected increasing agricultural drought as a continuing trend.

    • Alan says:

      I probably should have said “wouldn’t go hand in hand with increased risk of drought” rather than “wouldn’t increase drought”.

      • tim says:

        Noted. And it occurs to me that my ‘projection’ (we climate science buffs don’t make forecasts or predictions – we make ‘projections’, as that makes us look much less foolish when they don’t work out) – my ‘projection’ of a further warming of no more than 1 C by 2100 may be unintentionally misleading. To make this comparable with other ‘targets’ or ‘projections’, you must add in the warming that’s already taken place since 1870 (0.8C) so that in total would be 1.8C. That is to be compared with the 2C (or preferably 1.5C) target set in Paris last year.

    • tim says:

      Alan, thank you for your response – and for your generous offer to look at a reference (more of that later!). Why do I start at the year 2000? Because it justifies my claim that temperatures have not been rising as fast as has been predicted. The UK Met Office predicted at the turn of the century that temperatures would rise ‘at around 0.3 C. per decade’. That hasn’t happened – so far. You say the reasons for this are well-understood. I doubt this. There has been much discussion about ‘the pause’ (in warming) since 2000. Literally dozens of explanations have been put forward – not all consistent – and some even deny that there has been any (scare-quotes) ‘pause’.

      Am I ‘cherry-picking’? It seems (to me) reasonable to start the test from the date the prediction was made. By picking different dates, you can get a wide variety of results. One starting date is 1870 – since when the temperature has gone up about 0.8C (less than my rate of 1C per century). If you take 1970-2000, you can get around 0.3 C per decade. Since 2000, CO2 emissions (and concentrations) have continued to rise (if anything, faster than expected), so it is remarkable that temperature rise has slowed.

      The strong point of the case for urgent action now to (try to) stop ‘climate change’ is the ‘scientific consensus’ (scare-quotes again!). Sceptics (better, ‘agnostics’?) often argue that there is no such consensus. In reply, President Obama tells us it is scientifically proven that the consensus is 97%.

      But what is this consensus? By chance, a paper (of potentially great authority) has just been published – http://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/11/4/048002. It has 16 authors, including the people that President Obama relies on to show the consensus. They seek to rebut criticisms of their previous claims. Their methodology has excited derision among sceptics – but what is the consensus it claims to prove? To quote from the abstract ” that humans are causing [at least some of] recent global warming” (the square brackets added by me, to prevent you misreading it – without them you might think that they were claiming a consensus that humans had caused all recent warming – which they could not support).

      This – very modest – claim of consensus is almost certainly correct. But this is not what the general public (and President Obama) understand by ‘the consensus’. That is much stronger. Public understanding of ‘the consensus’ is shown by a recent article in the ‘Washington Post’ (April 17). It quotes an email from Vermont Attorney-General Sorrell to colleagues seeking to prosecute oil companies for ‘fraudulently’ denying that the climate changes: “As we all know, global warming, if not reversed, will be catastrophic for our planet.”. No – some of us fear that – none of us know it.

      Alan, the article you might read is http://www.thegwpf.org/richard-lindzen-global-warming-and-the-irrelevance-of-science/ . This is by Richard Lindzen, former Professor at MIT. I’d recommend it to anyone with a half-way open mind on this topic. He identifies three Narratives – of IPC Working Group 1, of Sceptics and of Political Activists (in which he includes contributors to the other IPC Working Groups). There is much scientific agreement between the first two Narratives (he says). They emphasise different facts – One points out how the temperature has gone up and the glaciers are melting, while Two says both started in the late nineteenth century before CO2 increased. They differ mainly in that Two rejects catastrophic outcomes, while One does not rule them out. Narrative Three however preaches that action is urgent to avoid catastrophe – and (usually) that failure to accept this amounts to bad faith. The promoters of Narrative Three are not typically scientists, but politicians, environmental pressure groups and newspapers (catastrophe sells!). I think Lindzen makes a good case – he is a little sour, but this is understandable in one whose views have incurred so much obloquy.

  28. Alan says:


    Thank you for the article but I’m not sure what I am supposed to take away from it. I am open to the possibility that Richard Lindzen is right. I can read the specific issues he raises regarding uncertainties in science and what we do and do not know about feedback effects etc. But I don’t know enough about climate science to judge the merits of these particular points. I never will. I can however look to the responses of other people who work in this area and see what they have to say about his views. Few agree with him. And, so long as I don’t assume they are the ones necessarily or more inclined to be lying/mistaken/biased/in someone’s pocket, they don’t agree with him in very large numbers amongst his peers. This is from their own responses, not via the media or a politician.

    Exaggeration isn’t viewed favourably by most as far as I can tell. But then nor would deliberately downplaying the risks be welcome and we aren’t ruling that possibility out are we?

    With this week’s blog topic in mind, I might not trust the views of experts unquestioningly, but nor does it seem to make much sense to me to trust the views of any other group over those experts. I am not seeking out monkeys armed with darts the next time I fall ill. As some have pointed out we seek a second opinion if we are uncertain. If we were able and still in doubt we could seek a third and a fourth opinion. If we seek 100 and only one tells us we have gout rather than DVT are we really going to decide against the treatment for DVT? This seems to me to be the exact opposite of seeking a second opinion. And why would someone do that? Does anyone think that they, or the few that are diagnosing gout, are immune to the errors and pitfalls the majority of the medical profession/climatologists are being accused of?

    Nothing distinguishes this argument for me. Nothing stands out as clearly ridiculous – with the possible exception of the odd Sunday Mail article. Only one thing separates it quite dramatically. Weight of numbers. Does that make me certain? No. But does this doubt mean that I think that policy should instead be driven by advice from the few? No.

    Is there some other open minded way I should be looking at this which makes Richard Lindzen’s position look more credible than, say, Sir Brian Hoskins?

    • tim says:

      Thanks, Alan. I feel you’re missing the point. Lindzen is saying that he and Hoskins broadly agree about the scientific consensus. And my other reference sets out what the scientific consensus is. The question is what we do about it. That is not for us to delegate to experts. The main disagreement is about the politics. Given that CO2 has caused (at least part of) the recent warming, is it right to make enormous efforts (costing trillions of pounds and slowing development and the spread of prosperity) to reduce CO2 emissions? Given that CO2 has caused some of the recent warming, it is quite likely (though not inevitable) that more CO2 will cause some more. So far the proven effects of warming (slightly warmer winters) have been broadly favorable. If the temperature goes up more than about 2C, that might be different – or not. There is no scientific consensus that catastrophe is inevitable. We have the capacity to adapt to most things that might happen. Past forecasts of doom (among others, Ehrlich, 1970, “Millions will starve to death in India”) have failed. Maybe this one is justified? I think not. You are of course entitled to a different view, but I shall continue to argue for adaptation to any unwelcome changes rather than trying (at great expense, and, in my view, pointlessly) to prevent them all.

  29. Alan says:


    Thanks for the reply. Maybe I have missed the point but a good deal of the issues being raised seem to be to do with disagreement over the prognosis rather than the treatment. How fast and by how much will the climate warm? How much confidence can we have in the models? How much do we really know about the variables? etc.

    “Lindzen is saying that he and Hoskins broadly agree about the scientific consensus.”

    Hoskins and a very large proportion of other climatologists as far as I can tell are saying that there are areas upon which they and Lindzen agree, but there are some very important issues where they differ. And these areas are not to do with decisions about what action to take. They specifically mention this area of the debate in their criticism of Lindzen’s views and make a point of not commenting on it. Where they do differ is on what can be expected of the climate and what confidence can be placed on those expectations. This seemed to be the focus of Lindzen’s piece too. Naturally this will have a bearing on what actions we may consider appropriate, but that isn’t where the points of contention look to be.

    I was not making the comparison with doctors so as to compare the relative experience of climatology with medicine but rather to compare relative experience within those different fields. Climatology is a fairly new science. It’s track record is questionable (it’s far from alone in that). But in looking to Lindzen for a position on what to expect of the climate in the relatively near future you are favouring less collective experience and expertise over more. No matter the subject in question – why pay more (or disproportionate) attention to the 1 over the 100? For all the faults of the 100, what makes an alternative look to be better/more likely?

    I’m away for a while so I may not get to see any reply for a while. Will catch up when I’m back.

  30. tim says:

    Thanks, Alan, I’ll think about that for a bit – and may come back later.

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