Is global warming the perfect McGuffin? I have never really understood what Alfred Hitchcock meant by a McGuffin; for me it always seemed like the cinematic equivalent of the Zen concept of “the sound of one hand clapping”, i.e. there is no sound and the question is stupid, irrelevant, pointless and a red herring or a McGuffin. But perhaps global warming is really the perfect McGuffin.
What is a McGuffin, then? Well the best and worst explanation comes from Alfred Hitchcock himself in an interview with Francois Truffaut:
“It might be a Scottish name, taken from a story about two men in a train. One man says “What’s that package up there in the baggage rack?”, and the other answers “Oh that’s a McGuffin”. The first one asks “What’s a McGuffin?”. “Well”, the other man says, “It’s an apparatus for trapping lions in the Scottish Highlands”. The first man says “But there are no lions in the Scottish Highlands”, and the other one answers “Well, then that’s no McGuffin!”. So you see, a McGuffin is nothing at all.”
So I am racked by doubts – is all this noise and technology and science about climate change and global warming merely an apparatus to trap lions in the Scottish Highlands? But then there are actually rumours of – while not lions – big wild cats in Scotland like the Galloway puma or the Coulport cougar, so maybe a machine to catch lions would be useful.
But I am still not sure and worry that the joke’s on me and everyone is laughing at me for thinking about it too much, or as R.E.M. sang in Losing My Religion:
“That’s me in the corner
That’s me in the spotlight, I’m
Losing my religion
Trying to keep up with you
And I don’t know if I can do it
Oh no, I’ve said too much
I haven’t said enough
I thought that I heard you laughing…”
So why “Losing My Religion” – well that’s obvious as I come from the viewpoint of believing in global warming, but now I don’t think it’s such a big deal nor am I so convinced that we’ve got the answer quite sharp enough yet. Yes, temperature has gone up; yes, greenhouse gases have gone up; but all-in-all it’s perhaps by not that much, and why should we change everything on a leap of faith – a computer simulation of what might happen in 100 or 200 years time and something that might be good for loads of people, incuding Britain!
Imagine this. We are all now living 5000 years ago in Britain. No cars, no mobile phones, no roads, no Internet, no watches, no telescopes, no science and so on and so on. We know that every day a bright light goes into the sky and warms the earth but it comes up in different places at different stages and seems to warm at different rates. We know that a bright white light comes up into the sky and cycles over a shorter period but it doesn’t warm the world, but mysteriously it seems the same period as the oceans move at and women’s menstrual cycles. But how do we work out what to do and what these cycles are or when to plant crops and harvest them. There is no time, there are no diaries.
So we construct a whole mythology and superstitions that seem to help us work these cycles all out. But it doesn’t always work out, as the weather gets warmer and colder dependent on, maybe a volcano in Iceland or El Nino or some other unknown like sun spots. So we make our mythology even more complex and after these unknowns we make new sacrifices to appease an unknown, slightly random god. This goes on and on as we create more and more complexity on a construct with weak foundations.
But them someone works out the clock and then come telescopes and diaries and we develop to now. What was a key and clear set of rules and prediction mechanisms 5000 years ago is now encapsulated in clocks and time and thermometers and weather satellites and diaries etc, and the mystery has gone, the religion gone, even if the randomness and unpredictability is still there.
I feel that we are in 5000BP and cannot see it all clearly just quite yet, and while everyone creates more and more complex computer simulations - just like those people back then built Stonehenge and created their climate mythology - we’re doing the same without the living sacrifices, but certainly with the cash impacts. I just cannot make that leap of faith yet from a 1oC change in last 100 years to a 2oC or 4oC or 5oC rise in the next 100 or 200 years (but I am still working on getting there), while in the-here-and-now I need to work out how my family can be fed, educated and kept happy and Steenbergs can be developed, and how you can relieve poverty and crime in the UK and help the poor vanilla growers in Madagascar.
We should be frugal and we should try and look after the world, but not this vast cost for a minor god whose decision will be made in the really distant future. We must change where we look and focus on bigger gods with a firmer reality and then do today’s things and tomorrow’s things as responsibly as possible in terms of our families, our communities and the world.