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Mass Death Dies Hard
Tuesday 13th June 2017

Dyson served science. Except for the few hold-outs who go on fighting to defend the objective nature of truth, most of the climate scientists who get famous are serving themselves. There was a time when the journalists could have pointed out the difference, but now they have no idea. Instead, they are so celebrity-conscious that they would supply Tim Flannery with a new clown-suit if he wore out the one he is wearing now. In 2016 he dived on the Great Barrier Reef and reported himself overwhelmed by the evidence that it was on the point of death, a symptomatology which, he said, he had recently learned to recognize by watching his father die. Neither he nor any of his admirers at the Sydney Morning Herald cared to note that it has now been almost fifty years that the reef has been going to die soon. But the moment never came, although it will probably go on being about to happen for the next fifty years as well. The reef death disaster is like those millions of climate change refugees who were going to flood into the West by 2010. They never arrived. But when the refugees from the war in Syria started to arrive, there was a ready-made media apparatus waiting to declare that they were the missing climate change refugees really, because what else had caused the war but climate change? They were the missing heat that had been hiding in the ocean.

A bad era for science has been a worse one for the mass media, the field in which, despite the usual blunders and misjudgements, I was once proud to earn my living. But I have spent too much time, in these last few years, being ashamed of my profession: hence the note of anger which, I can now see, has crept into this essay even though I was determined to keep it out. As my retirement changed to illness and then to dotage, I would have preferred to sit back and write poems than to be known for taking a position in what is, despite the colossal scale of its foolish waste, a very petty quarrel. But when some of the climate priesthood, and even the Attorney General of the United States, started talking about how dissent might be suppressed with the force of law - well, that was a tipping point. I am a dissenter, and not because I deny science, but because I affirm it. So it was time to stand up and fight, if only because so many of the advocates, though they must know by now that they are professing a belief they no longer hold, will continue to profess it anyway.

Back in the day when I was starting off in journalism — on the Sydney Morning Herald, as it happens — the one thing we all learned early from our veteran colleagues was never to improve the truth for the sake of the story. If they caught us doing so, it was the end of the world.

But here we are, and the world hasn't ended after all. Though some governments might not yet have fully returned to the principle of evidence-based policy, most of them have learned to be wary of policy-based evidence. They have learned to spot it coming, not because the real virtues of critical enquiry have been well argued by scientists, but because the false claims of abracadabra have been asserted too often by people who, though they might have started out as scientists of a kind, have found their true purpose in life as ideologists. Modern history since World War Two has shown us that it is unwise to predict what will happen to ideologists after their citadel of power has been brought low. It was feared that the remaining Nazis would fight on, as Werewolves. Actually only a few days had to pass before there were no Nazis to be found anywhere except in Argentina, boring one another to death at the world's worst dinner parties.

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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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