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Mass Death Dies Hard
Tuesday 13th June 2017

They came out of the grant-hungry fringe of semi-science to infect the heart of the mass media, where a whole generation of commentators taught each to other to speak and write a hyperbolic doom-language ("unprecedented", "irreversible", etc) which you might have thought was sure to doom them in their turn. After all, nobody with an intact pair of ears really listens for long to anyone who talks about "the planet" or "carbon" or "climate denial" or "the science". But for now — and it could be a long now — the advocates of drastic action are still armed with a theory that no fact doesn't fit. The theory has always been manifestly unfalsifiable, but there are few science pundits in the mass media who could tell Karl Popper from Mary Poppins. More startling than their ignorance, however, is their defiance of logic. You can just about see how a bunch of grant-dependent climate scientists might go on saying that there was never a Medieval Warm Period even after it has been pointed out to them that any old corpse dug up from the permafrost could never have been buried in it. But how can a bunch of supposedly enlightened writers go on saying that? Their answer, if pressed, is usually to say that the question is too elementary to be considered.

Alarmists have always profited from their insistence that climate change is such a complex issue that no "science denier" can have an opinion about it worth hearing. For most areas of science such an insistence would be true. But this particular area has a knack of raising questions that get more and more complicated in the absence of an answer to the elementary ones. One of those elementary questions is about how man-made carbon dioxide can be a driver of climate change if the global temperature has not gone up by much over the last twenty years but the amount of man-made carbon dioxide has. If we go on to ask a supplementary question — say, how could carbon dioxide raise temperature when the evidence of the ice cores indicates that temperature has always raised carbon dioxide — we will be given complicated answers, but we still haven't had an answer to the first question, except for the suggestion that the temperature, despite the observations, really has gone up, but that the extra heat is hiding in the ocean. It is not necessarily science denial to propose that this long professional habit of postponing an answer to the first and most elementary question is bizarre. Richard Feynman said that if a fact doesn't fit the theory, the theory has to go. Feynman was a scientist. Einstein realised that the Michelson-Morley experiments hinted at a possible fact that might not fit Newton's theory of celestial mechanics. Einstein was a scientist too. Those of us who are not scientists, but who are sceptical about the validity of this whole issue - who suspect that the alleged problem might be less of a problem than is made out - have plenty of great scientific names to point to for exemplars, and it could even be said that we could point to the whole of science itself. Being resistant to the force its own inertia is one of the things that science does.

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Lifeguardianreader
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.

observer
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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