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Mass Death Dies Hard
Tuesday 13th June 2017

The most exalted of all the world's predictors of reef death, President Obama, has still not seen the reef even now, at the end of his time in office; but he promises to go there one day when it is well again. Assurances that it has never really been sick won't be coming from his senior science adviser John Holdren. In the middle of 2016 some of the long-term experts on reef death began admitting that they had all been overdoing the propaganda.

After almost half a century of reef death prediction, this was the first instance of one group of reef death predictors telling another group to dial down the alarmism, or they would queer the pitch for everybody. But an old hand like Holdren knows better than to listen to sudden outbursts of moderation. Back in the day, when extreme cooling was the fashion, he was an extreme coolist. Lately he is an extreme warmist. He will surely continue to be an extremist of some kind, even if he has to be an extreme moderate. And after all, his boss was right about the ocean. In his acceptance speech at the 2008 Democratic convention, Obama said — and I truly wish that this were an inaccurate paraphrase — that people should vote for him if they wanted to stop the ocean rising. He got elected, and it didn't rise.

The notion of a count-down or a tipping point is very dear to both wings of this deaf shouting match, and really is of small use to either. On the catastrophist wing, whose "narrative", as they might put it, would so often seem to be a synthesised film script left over from the era of surround-sound disaster movies, there is always a count-down to the tipping point. When the scientists are the main contributors to the script, the tipping point will be something like the forever forthcoming moment when the Gulf Stream turns upside down or the Antarctic ice sheet comes off its hinges, or any other extreme event which, although it persists in not happening, could happen sooner than we think. (Science correspondents who can write a phrase like "sooner than we think" seldom realise that they might have already lost you with the word "could."

When the politicians join in the writing, the dramatic language declines to the infantile. There are only fifty days (Gordon Brown) or one hundred months (Prince Charles wearing his political hat) left for mankind to "do something" about "the greatest moral challenge . . . of our generation." (Kevin Rudd, before he arrived at the Copenhagen climate shindig in 2009).

When he left Copenhagen, Rudd scarcely mentioned the greatest moral challenge again. Perhaps he had deduced, from the confusion prevailing throughout the conference, that the chances of the world ever uniting its efforts to "do something" were very small. Whatever his motives for backing out of the climate chorus, his subsequent career was an early demonstration that to cease being a chorister would be no easy retreat, because it would be a clear indication that everything you had said on the subject up to then had been said in either bad faith or ignorance. It would not be enough merely to fall silent. You would have to travel back in time, run for office in the Czech Republic instead of Australia, and call yourself Vaclav Klaus.

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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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