14 Dec 2019
CANUTE has been appearing in some media with increasing frequency this summer, eg,
‘We should be spending our efforts adapting to climate change, not be like King Canute.’
The reference to Canute might be to the common understanding of King Canute being so filled with hubris that he went down to the beach with his courtiers and tried to demonstrate his power by commanding the incoming tide to come no further.
The argument above seems to be that we cannot expect to successfully oppose natural forces.
Implicit in the analogy is:
- that climate change is as natural and inexorable as the tide.
- that human activities have little impact on the current changes in climate, either to increase or decrease its momentum or scope.
- that people who propose actions to ameliorate the impacts of the current and predicted changes in climate are deluded by their own sense of importance.
- The earliest story of King Canute’s encounter with the tide on the beach with his courtiers (twelfth century) was to demonstrate to the flatterers that he was just an ordinary person, really, and no-one the tide would obey. That, God is the only one with the sort of power his sycophants claimed for their king.
- The twisting of the tale and its moral came much, much later.
- Weather changes daily; climate changes much more slowly. That is until there is a massive event like the asteroid that crashed into what is now the Gulf of Mexico in the Cretaceous-Paleogene period or the volcanic eruptions and subsequent outflow of lava known as the Siberian Traps in the Permian-Triassic period. Repeatedly the public has been warned that individual events are difficult to attribute to ‘climate change’, by scientists and politicians alike. Climate change, as I understand the term in its popular sense, can be detected in trends rather than single events.