Many decades ago a young woman sat with her classmates in a convent chapel atop a windy hill in Wellington. A Franciscan priest stood before them. He had been chosen by the nuns to conduct the annual retreat for senior pupils, a time of silence, reflection and contemplation. Winter sunshine shone through the stained glass windows highlighting the 13th century Gothic architecture of the chapel. The priest in the brown robe and sandals of the Franciscan order completed the timeless scene.

In a distinctive Australian accent he commenced with his thesis for the morning lecture. The theme was that mankind should always remain humble and in awe of the complexities of the universe. We are no more important than the grains of sand on the beach and this civilisation will pass as those before have passed. Certainly, we should use our time on earth to further our knowledge but for all his intelligence, man has a limited mind. To demonstrate this, he continued, gaze up at the stars at night and try to imagine what lies beyond our galaxy and all the galaxies beyond that. Eventually, he said, it will become incomprehensible.

I was that young woman in the chapel and throughout a career in science I have had many reasons to remember the priest’s words on man’s intellectual limitations. Some aspects of science are so elegantly simple while others are so complex one can only marvel at the millions of years of evolution it must have taken to reach this means of survival.

The theoretical physicist Stephen Hawkings has proven the theories on dark holes and their gravitational forces. But it still elicits the question of what is beyond them and why did it happen? To me, it seems gross arrogance for man to think he has or can change the climate of a 4 billion-year-old earth.

Therefore, I was somewhat bemused, then incredulous, that people believe animals which evolved on earth were now destroying it by breathing and digesting their food. Certainly, man has altered the conformation of his domestic animals, initially by observation and selective breeding and now with genetics, but he hasn’t changed their digestive systems. The fact that sheep and cattle in New Zealand graze on carpets of CO2-absorbing grass twelve months of the year seems to have completely passed the believers by. Whereas their northern hemisphere counterparts are housed and fed indoors on commercially produced pellets.

But I suspect many believers couldn’t spell photosynthesis let alone explain it.

I find it extremely annoying that we are lectured daily on New Zealand’s greenhouse gases and climate change by financial journalists, lawyers, accountants, architects and politicians, all on the great, green bandwagon and not a science degree among them. 

It is surprising and very unfortunate for the farmers of New Zealand that none of the Green Party politicians in this government have science degrees – and political science doesn’t count. We should help the planet by becoming vegan, they shout. How do they think a plant based diet is better for the planet? Soil is ploughed and harrowed and the crops planted by machines. Weed prevention is by chemicals, and to grow, the crops need water, often by irrigation. Then we come to harvesting, transporting and distribution, more machines and more diesel consumption. This sequence is repeated with the seasons.

The majority of vegans today are urban middleclass and several generations removed from the land. They are often graduates in law, commerce or the arts, not science. Becoming vegan is as easy as going to the supermarket or specialty food store. The fact that their plant food has been grown and harvested by hard working carnivores completely passes them by. Also, I can’t help making the observation that in the past when men have been starving to death they eat their animals first and then each other. Gnawing on the nearest tree or bush hasn’t saved them. I don’t think anyone in the scientific world disputes the fact that man has evolved to eat meat.

That the scientific knowledge of the loudest man made climate change believers is, as The BFD would say, “as shallow as a car park puddle” is proven by their ridiculous adoration of the teenage Greta Thunberg

That priest of long ago also had something to say about steadfastly believing in what you believe to be the truth. He said, mankind will always be littered with false prophets.

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