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Mass Death Dies Hard
Tuesday 13th June 2017

Just as all branches of the modern media love a picture of something that might be part of the Overwhelming Evidence for climate change even if it is really a picture of something else, they all love a clock ticking down to zero, and if the clock never quite gets there then the motif can be exploited forever. But the editors and producers must face the drawback of such perpetual excitement: it gets perpetually less exciting. Numbness sets in, and there is time to think after all. Some of the customers might even start asking where this language of rubber numbers has been heard before.

It was heard from Swift. In Gulliver's Travels he populated his flying island of Laputa with scientists busily using rubber numbers to predict dire events. He called these scientists "projectors". At the basis of all the predictions of the projectors was the prediction that the Earth was in danger from a Great Comet whose tail was "ten hundred thousand and fourteen" miles long. I should concede at this point that a sardonic parody is not necessarily pertinent just because it is funny; and that although it might be unlikely that the earth will soon be threatened by man-made climate change, it might be less unlikely that the earth will be threatened eventually by an asteroid, or let it be a Great Comet: after all, the Earth has been hit before.

That being said, however, we can note that Swift has got the language of artificial crisis exactly right, to the point that we might have trouble deciding whether he invented it or merely copied it, from scientific voices surrounding him in his day. James Hansen is a Swiftian figure. Blithely equating trains full of coal to trains full of people on their way to Auschwitz, Hansen is utterly unaware that he has not only turned the stomachs of the informed audience he was out to impress, he has lost their attention. Professor of Earth Sciences Chris Turney, who led a ship full of climate change enthusiasts into the Antarctic ice to see how the ice was doing under the influence of climate change and found it was doing well enough to trap the ship, could have been invented by Swift. (Turney's subsequent Guardian article, in which he explained how this embarrassment was due only to a quirk of the weather, and had nothing to do with a possible mistake about the climate, was a Swiftian lampoon in all respects.) Compulsorily retired now from the climate scene, Dr Rajendra Pachauri was a zany straight from Swift, by way of a Bollywood remake of The Party starring the local imitator of Peter Sellers: if Dr Johnson could have thought of Pachauri, Rasselas would be much more entertaining than it is. Finally and supremely, Tim Flannery could have been invented by Swift after ten cups of coffee too many with Stella. He wanted to keep her laughing. Swift projected the projectors who now surround us.

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August 15th, 2017
9:08 PM
Excellent work Clive James. Now please challenge our Monbiot to a debate on this - a written one of course.

Peter Houlding
June 19th, 2017
7:06 AM
Nor will a science degree protect you from "illogic (sic), ideology and ignorance". Ad hominem attacks such as this by Ms Salzman - a person whose right to speak on environmental matters seems to be derived from her anti-nuclear fanaticism and a possible interest in birds - don't advance her cause. She demonstrates every attribute of the climate alarmist, unable to distinguish between faith and evidence, and translating "climate denial" into a vast right-wing conspiracy theory.

June 19th, 2017
12:06 AM
Really, Lorna Salzman? Nothing in his piece makes sense? Did you actually read it or are you just one of those trolls who turn up whenever a journalist steps out of line and questions the (by now legendary) climate change/global warming consensus and scream "denier, denier, denier" in the hope of shutting down debate? So much of the media is on your side and treats the consensus as unquesionable so why the frenzied reaction? You are behaving exactly like the "time is running out" brigade that Clive James is writing about. It is also a bit odd that you claim to hate the left then blame capitalism for destroying the planet.

Peter Houlding
June 17th, 2017
10:06 PM
Salzman strikes another blow for boredom, with the same alarmist pitch, and the same absence of logic possessed by her alarmist teammates. For the record, politics and science should be mainly separate things, with policy being influenced by science rather than (as matters are now) pseudo-science influencing policy. It's very clear that Mr James is better-informed on the real science than is Salzman. The comment on "the once beautiful mind" is a vicious canard. And Salzman should take her - always mediocre - mind back to the American Birds Magazine.

robert quinn
June 16th, 2017
1:06 PM
What's your "contrary scenario?" Nuking all those coal-fired power generators in China and India?

Lorna Salzman
June 14th, 2017
12:06 AM
You don't have to have a science degree to recognize illogic, ideology and ignorance. Clive James puts these on full view. Nothing in his piece makes sense nor is it even factual: he suggests the climate movement is a leftist war, not knowing that the traditional left long scorned environmental issues, dismissing them as political and social constructions and failures rather than actual science- and material-based pollution and injury. Hating the left (as I personally do) does not mean going over to the dark side of climate denial. James has picked out his political alignment carefully and then signed on to all of the right wing's distortions, lies and dismissal of the in=our=face evidence that grows every day. James deplores pessimism and claims about the "death" of the planet by saying: well, it's OK this minute so what's the problem? Clive, the earth won't be dead until it's dead, like the fat lady singing. Your Climate Denial teammates are denying everything not because there is no evidence but because they see global capitalism fast going under. Capitalism based on ever-increasing consumption of resources and energy is not sustainable and the end is quite visible at the end of a shortening tunnel. The right wing and neo cons are desperate to continue Business as Usual, i.e. capitalism and growth. A contrary scenario or roadblock will be fought tooth and nail. But the countdown is approaching faster than their favored solutions and so all they can do is deny, deny, deny. More's the pity that your once beautiful mind is going to waste. You've bet on the wrong horse. Consider in your bowels that you may be wrong, as someone once said.

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