Posted by: Corri van de Stege | November 3, 2009

Climate Change

I know, I haven’t been very communicative these days, weeks, months, but not because I have lost interest in my blog or in reading or in commenting on the world at large.  Like everyone else I suffer from time-deficiency, almost inbuilt into my constitution nowadays.  I work, try and fit in a bit of reading here and there but when additional necessities such as keeping up your garden or your house rear their heads then I’ve had it, then there’s simply no time or space left for some of your favourite pasttimes: reading, writing about reading, writing about writing, reading about writing, etc.  All that simply gets pushed to the back, or carries on like a kind of subcurrent, hidden.  Until you realise that you have actually managed to read a number of books, only you haven’t got the energy to write about it or to tell others about it.

I do read newspapers, almost as a force of habit, partly because I rarely manage to catch anything on tv, partly because I enjoy holding this thing every day and see it as a kind of connection piece to the big wide world when I’m coped up with yet another report on skills, training, education and public sector programmes on education. 

So today I came across this piece by George Monbiot in the Guardian: Clive James isn’t a climate change sceptic, he’s a sucker – but this may be the reason.  The title alone is quite provocative and because I am reading (well, picking up the odd essay rather) Clive James’ Cultural Amnesia and am extremely impressed by his wide-ranging intellect and immensely clever and skillful writing about everything and everyone that has contributed anything at all to world culture, I was intrigued.   

Monbiot, writing about the increasing scepticism about the reality of climate change being due to human activities, expressed in books and on websites writes:

An American scientist I know suggests that these books and websites cater to a new literary market: people with room-temperature IQs. He didn’t say whether he meant fahrenheit or centigrade. But this can’t be the whole story. Plenty of intelligent people have also declared themselves sceptics.

One such is the critic Clive James. You could accuse him of purveying trite received wisdom, but not of being dumb. On Radio 4 a few days ago he delivered an essay about the importance of scepticism, during which he maintained that “the number of scientists who voice scepticism [about climate change] has lately been increasing”. He presented no evidence to support this statement and, as far as I can tell, none exists. But he used this contention to argue that “either side might well be right, but I think that if you have a division on that scale, you can’t call it a consensus. Nobody can meaningfully say that the science is in.”

Monbiot continues and accuses in particuar anyone over 60 of being the most vociferous deniers of climate change, even though science, in his view, shows quite clearly that the there is convincing evidence that climate change is man-made.

Anyway, read the piece and in particular the comments (already running into close to 800 and the day is not at an end yet). 

You see, this is why it’s really worth while reading news papers – it’s made me think how even people you greatly admire for what and how they write, at times seem to be getting things completely wrong.  Yes, I mean Clive James, at least if George has quoted him correctly!

Nevertheless, I will continue my enjoyment of Cultural Amnesia.



  1. I’m a big fan of Clive James and his verse, but articles like this do make you thnk that those in the arts should keep mum and practice humility when faced with science. I have the impression he also falls in the trap of reading science like a story, which it so obviously isn’t. Worse than that, he doesn’t adhere to the basic rules of argument, which are also practiced in the arts: you source and you make sure your sources are reliable.

    The science for athropogenic climate change is settled, what scientists are merely debating at the moment are the degree and the forecasts, not the ifs. Those who are considered sceptic are either misquoted because laypeople misunderstand the terminology used or these are scientists who are jumping on the contrarian bandwagon in the hope of getting noticed by a media stirring an artificial debate to sell copy or increase website traffic.

    Anyway, hope you go on enjoying Cultural Amnesia! 🙂

  2. Ario: I admire your cynicism, but yes, you are right. Cultural amnesia is a great book and provides profound insights – it is so strange then to realise that the same author can come up with such stupid assertions about what scientists have or have not shown to be the case as far as environmental damage is concerned.
    Glad it got you going too 🙂

  3. Interesting post and I agree with Ario that the role for scepticism in the climate change debate should be on the extent of the change and the forecasts. There’s a huge role for scepticism but not on the big issues (such as whether the Holocaust happened). Will future generations look back on our apathy in the face of climate change with the same horror that greeted the Holocaust?

    Have heard of CJ down here but not read him.

  4. Not sure whether this is mere scepticism or simply turning one’s back on bad messages, a kind of denial that stems from unease: because if you admit that these are real issues then you need to do something about it! Climate change won’t go away, but if you deny it exists, as with the holocaust, then you are blameless…..

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