I try to avoid liking or disliking people simply on the basis of their politics. I think it’s important to recognise that honest and decent people may hold views and understandings about society that are radically from our own. And for this reason, and I suppose because of his obvious personal charm, I was rather slower than many people to come to a negative judgement about Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London. But this article, which he wrote in the Telegraph back in January, has been preying on my mind ever since I came across it a couple of months ago, and it has finally ended any last vestige of respect I still had for him.
In this piece, adopting his carefully honed, faux-humble ‘what do I know?’ persona, he casts doubt on the idea of global warming. (Not, of course that he for a moment wishes to ‘dispute the wisdom or good intentions of the vast majority of scientists’, oh dear no! He no more wishes to do that than Mark Anthony wished to dispute that Caesar was an honourable Roman). He offers as evidence for his doubts his own observation that winters have been pretty cold lately (ignoring record-breaking average temperatures across the globe). He makes the fatuous comment that it is the sun that warms the earth, not the atmosphere (which is obviously the case, but the same sun feels pretty different, doesn’t it, when you’re inside a greenhouse than it does when you stand outside in the shade of a tree?), and he suggests that ‘we human beings have become so blind with conceit and self-love that we genuinely believe that the fate of the planet is in our hands’.
But it isn’t conceit and self-love that tells us that carbon dioxide levels are rising. Nor is it conceit or self-love that tells us that carbon dioxide has the greenhouse effect of trapping heat. On the contrary this information only exists because some people have had the humility not to assume that they know things when in fact they don’t. It exists because some people have taken the trouble to actually study and measure things and figure out how they fit together, and it comes from years of meticulous, tedious, painstaking work, like extracting gas from tiny bubbles in the Antarctic ice.
None of this touches Johnson. Here is a man whose own conceit and self-love is so great that he feels able to take the platform available to him as one of the best-known politicians in the UK, and use it, not to communicate the facts about a real global threat (which wouldn’t be hard to do: he’s a bright man and he surely has people who can look things up for him), but to blur, muddy and confuse them.
To obtain so much power and then to exercise so little leadership!