This morning I awoke to the realisation that I had a couple of things in common with the legendary Thomas Paine. Firstly, I had a hangover and secondly, I had now launched an argument at a drinking and debate society called The Headstrong Club. There the similarities end. I’m in no danger of being run out of Lewes and am unlikely to be elected to national assemblies in both France and America. The original Headstrong Club was Mr Paine’s drinking crew. These days it concentrates more on the meat and less on the sauce, by which I mean the focus is on debate, rather than debauched trouble making.
Last night I addressed The Headstrong Club, with a talk entitled as above. Being no scientist, I had turned to the Royal Society‘s Summary on the Science of Climate Change (850KB pdf) for the facts. The summary divided the science into that upon which there was widespread agreement, that upon which there was still some debate at the margins and that which there most debate about. Drawing only from the scientific analysis about which there was widespread agreement, I set out the case that says we, humankind, have demonstrably altered the atmospheric proportions of carbon dioxide, the warming effects of the planet and so on. I’ll not repeat the whole thing here (Hey, you had to be there!) but suffice it to say that I urged my audience that if they wanted to avoid a conflict of interest between themselves and their descendants, they needed to radically change their lifestyles with immediate effect. They needed to stop buying more stuff which they didn’t need. They needed to go vegan. I also argued that market forces have been unable to produce the incentives necessary for inventors to create devices capable of harvesting carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, so we need massive cash prizes. I suggested that if we binned our nuclear weapons and spent the monies saved on a prize fund every year, to be awarded to anyone who could demonstrate that they had created a harvesting method at least as efficient and carbon neutral as criteria agreed by an international panel of scientists, then we might have a chance of helping ourselves to make the necessary change.
I asked people to confess to whether they had children or grandchildren. Similarly, I asked them to confess whether they ate meat or flew around the world. I’m pleased to report that whilst I was urging the assembled Lewesians to refuse to fly again, I did lip read one or two people around the room whispering to their neighbour, “Perhaps we should stop flying.” However, as strongly as a I feel about this topic, the reason I was asked along was to provoke a debate, so I was equally pleased when a lady declared that I was wrong to claim that there was more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere now than there had ever been before. Apparently there was more during the Pliocene Epoch, in particular 5,000,000 years before the present day, although she didn’t have the parts per million measurements to hand.
At another point in the debate, another lady made the age old point that the whole problem was too big for us to deal with as individuals and we needed governments to deal with it. I pointed out that asking for governmental responsibility in democratic countries was little more than asking for individuals to cast their votes more responsibly. To illustrate the point, I asked how many people had voted for the two main parties, to highlight the fact that, collectively, we voted for parties which cared very little for the change need because they were obsessed with material growth. Curiously, when I asked who had voted Tory, not a single hand went up. Perhaps that was to be expected. Perhaps Tories are so sure in their world view that they don’t join political debating societies? I suspect that they are simply socialised into not admitting their sin. Hilariously, one young man raised his hand and confessed to voting LibDem with the words, “Isn’t that the same thing?“. Even more curiously, when I asked who voted Labour, the few hands that went up were extremely half hearted. Well done Ed, you’ve really inspired them, haven’t you?
Next month’s debate at the Headstrong Club is being led by Paul Bowen QC, whom I had the pleasure of meeting last night. He’ll be discussing the history of euthanasia and asking the question whether the time has come to recognise a right to kill yourself. Having spoken at length with him last night, I know that debate promises to be fascinating.