Clive James and Global Warming…

It’s worth listening again to/reading Clive James from the weekend before last on climate change, and how in his view the uncertainty around the science (!) illustrates the value of scepticism. Important, I think, both to read his piece and the largely intelligent responses which the BBC has posted at the bottom.

George Monbiot was appropriately horrified, and wrote powerfully in theGuardian about his own sense of despair (he didn’t use that D-word) but that those seeking to warn of the serious threat are quite simply losing the argument.

When I heard the James piece on Radio 4, I leapt to my computer, found his website and sent him the (here slightly edited) following – to which his once-a week secretary very graciously and gratefully responded, saying she would make sure Lynas et al are on his pile of books to read.

Dear Clive,

As someone who truly has long respected, admired, been challenged by and not infrequently laughed with your work, and as a former BBC correspondent myself (Berlin to Beijing etc 1978-1992), I was so so disappointed (although understanding why you were tempted to write like this) by your latest Climate Change POV.

I have also come to an engagement with climate change rather (too) late in my writing and analysing career. In my case, via psychotherapy, which is whither I have wended since leaving the BBC in 2003. But my conclusion is very very different to yours. Climate change is the biggest threat to the human species we have ever faced, and I fear that we will not make it. Bluntly put.

A position about climate change is not a belief. It’s a response to – denial or acceptance of – empirical science, as put forward in increasingly numerous papers and reports and evidence. It’s not commentators who are warning of the consequences of rising temperatures and the rest, it’s the scientists themselves.

Clive, you said in your piece that you don’t understand much about climate change. In that case, given just how incredibly important this is, should you really have offered an opinion in this way? Stating as fact that the science isn’t settled.

If 98% or so of the world’s scientists are saying that it is, what gives contrarian journalists the right to indulge an enjoyable professional cynicism (which is a better description, really, for this position, than scepticism) essentially for the fun and the challenge of it. What happens is that a public already finding every possible way to deny or avoid knowledge of the affliction that faces them, just like an addict (a field in which I now have some experience), is again given excuses not to take this with the seriousness it desperately deserves.

Galileo had to recant, but the earth continued to revolve round the sun. Just as temperatures will continue, taken over years and decades, to rise.

Please, Clive, read the real science before you go public again in this way. Six Degrees by Mark Lynas is a good place to start. Of course there is James Lovelock, who has been awkwardly right about almost all of this since he first identified the problem in the late 60s. Read Nicholas Stern. Read the IPCC reports in detail, not just in summary. Read George Marshall’s Carbon Detox. These are not fanatics, religious bigots. Above all, please educate yourself, as all journalists now should.

You wouldn’t sound off about nuclear physics or infectious diseases or AIDS or the Holocaust without investigating the science and the evidence. As you implied in your criticism of those who criticise Holocaust Deniers, climate change is actually even more important than all of those, as it is literally about our survival as a species.

Anthropogenic global warming, together with all the other harm we’re doing to the planet’s ability to sustain human life, isn’t a belief. It’s a fact. Yes, lots of uncertainties in the detail. But Google James Hansen’s latest research, for example. I think you’ll be frightened and chilled, if only for the sake of your granddaughter.

This really is serious. And journalism/the media need to take it as such. I hope this [note] causes you just briefly to stop and catch your breath.

With best wishes


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