The OTHER other Climate Change Metaphor

As I’ve written before, the Middle Ages proves a flexible metaphor for people on the skeptical side of the global climate change debate.

–On the one hand, if you want to deny that humans are causing global climate change, you can point to the Medieval Warm Period as a time of (grape-induced) human prosperity.
–On the other hand, if you want to go further and attack people who advocate reduced CO2 emissions, you can deride them as “medieval environmentalists” who want to take society back to the horrible Middle Ages (when all people had were grapes to comfort them).
–And now,* on the other other hand, if you want to attack people who advocate reducing CO2 emissions through a carbon credit trading system, you can accuse them of being as corrupt as the medieval church. Those aren’t credits, those carbon offset companies are offering–they’re indulgences! Here’s a typical use of the metaphor from Mark Luke at

The parallels between the medieval Catholic Church and Al Gore’s modern religion, the Church of Man-Made Global Warming, get more pronounced every day. […]

And the fastest growing corrupt parallel to the old Catholic Church is the selling sinful indulgences. The Church used to forgive sins if the sinner paid the Church. The Catholic Church used the money for its own indulgences. Al Gore is doing the same today, selling carbon indulgences which he calls carbon offsets. The false prophet is profiting nicely in this exploding $55 million industry, which changes nothing but it makes the sinners feel better.

One interesting thing about the carbon-credits-as-indulgences metaphor is that it appears to have been originated, or at the least popularized, by someone on the opposite side of the climate change debate.

In a 2006 article in the Guardian, George Monbiot used indulgences as to attack carbon credits for not going far enough quickly enough to have any impact on the dangerous threat of climate change:

Rejoice! We have a way out. Our guilty consciences appeased, we can continue to fill up our SUVs and fly round the world without the least concern about our impact on the planet. How has this magic been arranged? By something called “carbon offsets”. You buy yourself a clean conscience by paying someone else to undo the harm you are causing.

Just as in the 15th and 16th centuries you could sleep with your sister and kill and lie without fear of eternal damnation, today you can live exactly as you please as long as you give your ducats to one of the companies selling indulgences. It is pernicious and destructive nonsense.

Poor Monbiot. Even if he can claim to have coined this particular rhetorical flourish, like Frankenstein, he’s lost control of his monster.** Originally used as a call to action for more and deeper steps against human-created climate change,*** the metaphor has been flipped, so that the indulgence is now a means to demonize the climate change advocates.****

*And by “now” I mean since at least 2006. That’s what this blog promises you: up-to-the-minutetwo-years-ago coverage of all things medieval.
**Or coin–or how about monstrous coin?
***Monbiot is the author of Heat: How to Stop the World From Burning.
****I love the vocabulary of the debate. Climate change advocates advocate the theory that humans caused climate change, and are themselves definitely against the change itself. “Climate change skeptics” or “climate change opponents” are of often in favor of the change (for grape-related reasons!).

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  • DWMF

    Hmmm. I can think of another parallel. Ecologists == Morris dancers.

    A lot of dancing about, waving white hankies, jiggling of jingle bells, to make sure that the sun will rise the next day.

    Both have exactly the same scientific validity.

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