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Clive James: Climate Change Sceptic

The Climate Change sceptics have been quite excited about the publicity attached to the passing of Clive James, who has been celebrated as a sceptic in the IPA publication Climate Change: The Facts 2017, but at the same time the sceptics have been angered by the ABC which has not made Clive’s scepticism widely enough known.

In 2016 Clive wrote a poem, Imminent Catastrophe, expressing Climate Change scepticism, published in The Times, London.

In his essay in the IPA publication, Mass Death Dies Hard, 2017, Clive tells us that he does not know anything about the mathematics of “modelling of non-linear systems,” but he does know, he says, about the mass media and ‘the abuse of language’.

He later goes on to say that when the Attorney General of the USA proposed that Climate Change sceptics be suppressed by law, he decided he would be a ‘dissenter’. So dissenting became his thing.

Where would he find sceptic dissent? From other dissenters/sceptics? By adding some dissent/scepticism of his own?

And would he also be very knowledgeable about the IPCC science about which he is so sceptical so that he could oppose the claims of the IPCC?

Looking at the opening lines of the poem Imminent Catastrophe we see:

“The imminent catastrophe goes on,

Not showing many signs of happening.

The ice the North Pole that should have gone

By now, is awkwardly still lingering.”

In his essay Mass Deaths Die Hard, he elaborates by claiming that the melting Arctic has the “miraculous capacity to go on producing ice in spite of the instructions of Al Gore.”

The sceptics deride Al Gore in particular because he made some high-profile statements about ice melting in the Arctic. Wikipedia, discussing predictions made by non-scientists, tells us about Al Gore:

Former US Vice President, when speaking at the UN’s COP 15 meeting in December 2009 said “Some models suggest that there is a 75% chance that the entire North Pole ice cap during some of the summer months will be completely ice-free with-in the next 5-7 years.” Dr Wieslav Maslowski, of the Naval Postgraduate School of Monterey, California, whom Gore used to source, disagreed with Gore’s forecast and told The Times: “It’s unclear to me how this figure was arrived at”, and clarified his forecast calling for “a six year projection for the melting of 80% of the ice,” but he said he expects some ice to remain beyond 2020.

So, is Gore the right person to listen to about melting Arctic ice? He was a non-scientific politician – and we know that politicians are not always to be believed, entrapped by ideology as they so often are. Why criticise Gore when so many real scientists expect Arctic sea to clear by 2040. Does that not concern sceptics as much as Gore’s mistaken prediction?

And are sceptics also entrapped by ideology? See for example, these claims by Watt’s Up With That: ‘The polar ice melt myth’, May 2019:

“…a more accurate view* of sea ice can be had from satellite images taken every day at the poles since 1981.These images show that between summer and winter, regardless of the degree of summer melting, the sea ice completely recovers to its original size the winter before for almost every year since the pictures were taken. The sea ice has been stubbornly resistant to Al Gore’s predictions. In fact the annual average of sea ice has been essentially the same since satellite observations began in 1981.”

Is this the kind of place where Clive James found his melting ice claim for the poem?

NASA tells us this:

“Arctic ice meets its minimum each September. September Arctic sea ice is now declining at a rate of 12.85% per decade, relative to the 1981 to 2010 average … The 2012 sea ice extent is the lowest in the satellite record.”

How can there be this kind of discrepancy in the reporting of observable events?

The same WUWT site mentions Professor Chris Turney. It claims that Turney was sailing in 2013 in an expedition to prove that Antarctic sea ice was undergoing catastrophic melting only to have his ship trapped in sea ice such that he could not be rescued by modern ice breakers!

Another site, (blog.heartland/2014/Antarctic-trip-too-far-chris-turney) features James H Rust, professor of nuclear engineering and policy advisor to The Heartland Institute.

Rust refers to an interview by Emma Alberici where Turney explains he was “…trying to answer questions about how climate change in the frozen continent might already be shifting weather patterns in Australia”. And Turney says windswept sea ice trapped the ship.

But Rust claims:

“Nowhere in Turney’s article [of explanation later] was it mentioned that global warming in the Antarctic was to be studied. No one seemed to pay attention to how Mawson sailed to shore at Commonwealth Bay in 1911, while sea ice prevented Turney from sailing closer than 65 kms off Commonwealth Bay shore in 2013. Is this a proof of increased atmospheric carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels causing global warming?”

What is this proof Rust is asking about? See how it is fixed in the heads of sceptics/deniers that if there is global warming then there cannot be ice in the Antarctic. Yet they are also happy to claim that there is no melting of sea ice in the Artic, when there is.

Joanna Nova, Australian sceptic/denier, makes an appearance in this same site, criticising the ABC – and Turney:

“The ABC PR machine covers for their embarrassment [over the ship stuck in ice] – lest anyone think that climate scientists might be clueless. In the ABC’s world an “Australian Research Team” with “60 scientists” left because “scientists believe there is evidence of climate change”. After they got stuck in ice they didn’t predict, and looked like partying fools on an ill-prepared junket, the magic wand of the ABC-apologia stopped using the term “climate” and underwent a magical transformation to become a “Russian Passenger Ship”.

See the ridicule and obfuscation employed by Nova. Oh yes. It was just a Ship of Fools! ‘Ill-prepared’! And the article goes on to add more distraction with examples of people who made long journeys and failed. Totally irrelevant.

Elsewhere Turney explains what happened to the Australian Mawson Centenary Expedition of 2013-14.

He says:

“…huge gaps in knowledge remain across the region investigated by the original [Mawson] expedition. To tackle these questions we spent the last two years building a team of experts keen to work with individuals outside their area of expertise. Meetings were held and questions honed. We decided, for instance, that among many other things we would investigate the circulation of the Southern Ocean and its impact on the global carbon cycle and the potential for records of past climate change using tree ring and peat sequences on the subantarctic islands…

“Today Mawson’s Huts lie behind 65 kms of sea ice, the result of a 2010 collision between an enormous berg known as B09B and the Mertz Glacier Tongue. As a result of this clash, B09B lodged itself on the seabed of Commonwealth Bay, changing the circulation dramatically.

“Climate Change was part of our programme, but the Australasian Antarctic Expedition is much more…

“Unluckily for us, there appears to have been a mass of thick, multiyear sea ice on the other side of the Mertz Glacier; years after the loss of the Mertz Glacier Tongue. There was nothing to suggest this event was imminent…

“(It seems) we had inadvertently followed the footsteps of the Edwardian Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton, whose ship had become caught in pack ice in 1915.”

Turney also tells us that they did find a way to get to Mawson’s Huts and that earlier in the season the research ship Aurora Australis was also stuck in ice.

We see how ideologically twisted the sceptic/ denier version is, so lacking in relevant details and intent only on ridiculing Turney and his expedition, trying to muddle the so-called “debate”.

Tony Eggleton, in his book on climate change (CUP, 2013) writes about loss of ice.

“From the satellite data alone, by the end of the summer of 2011 the Arctic sea ice cover had declined by 40% from its 1979-89 average.” (page 99)

And about the Antarctic: re several teams of researchers –

“All found an overall mass loss, though the annual amounts estimated ranged from 30 to 250 cubic kilometres.

“Another analysis of ice loss in just the Amundsen Sea catchment estimated about 40 cubic kilometres of ice was lost in 2009. From the perspective of ‘that’s not much’, using the larger figure (250 cubic kilometres a year) it would take 120 000 years before all the Antarctic ice melted. From ‘that’s a lot’ perspective, enough ice melted in 2009 to make an ice block one kilometre wide and one kilometre high, stretching the distance between Canberra and Sydney.” (page 101)

We see how far from understanding the sceptics/deniers are, with their woolly thinking, their ideological confusion and their irrationality. There is no coherent denier science.

Clive James was mistaken to try to borrow from the sceptic/deniers and to use them for his dissenting. Their way of thinking is at a far remove from the kind of thinking we would expect of Clive James. We might be forgiven if we thought Clive James’s writing is a satire/parody of sceptic denial.

What would Clive have made of the present catastrophe, the burning of his beloved Australia?

And all that discussion arising here in this post after looking at just four lines of his poem. There could have been more! We could look at more details of Clive James’s writing in his essay and then at some of the statements made by individual denier/sceptics elsewhere in the IPA publication.

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  1. Harry Lime

    I admire Clive’s writing and his humour,but nobody is the suppository of all wisdom,bar the Chimp and the Liar.When you see the mountain of bullshit being shoveled about,you know we have a battle on our hands.Fckwitted foghorns abound in OZ.

  2. Phil Pryor

    Clive James was a scribbling rascal, a highly amusing bullshitter and as he knew that, who could be so arseholish as to abuse his memory. Clive was unscientifically obtuse while being sharply amusing. Ratshit Roskam and the I P A pox wouldn’t comprehend…

  3. king1394

    Climate experts do need to be very precise in their language and yet at the same time they need to get the attention of the media. A misstep or an exaggeration in an explanation will be fallen upon with glee by those who are desperate to discredit all the information. Gore was trying to raise awareness, to spark some alarm about what was happening and he could have said that the Arctic sea ice would be gone to the extent that shipping could move through it, but it was quicker to say that the North Pole ice would melt. Shades of Tim Flannery on sea level rise, or indeed Bob Hawke saying no child would live in poverty when he should have hedged his bets.

    No denier wants to understand that Antarctic sea ice is affected by other things beyond a simple if/then equation i.e., if temperature rises, ice must melt. Presumably, they have never endured the wind chill factor on a sunny day, or used ice to cool a drink by its melting .
    It is the very obtuseness of the average sceptic so-called that makes it impossible to have a meaningful discussion.

  4. Max Gross

    Much as I enjoy and admire Clive’s gift of the gab, gentle self-deprecation and beautiful prose, his denialism is no surprise. He was always right-of-centre.

  5. Old bloke

    I was totally turned off by Clive James when seeing a British TV show he hosted which had the theme of making fun of other cultures. Just a smart-arse. Then on one rather more intellectual effort a discussion with like minded conservatives running down Andrew Lloyd Webber for what most people saw as brilliant musicals….but perhaps not up to the musical genius of Mozart. For me he never really graduated from Sydney Uni’s Honi Soir smart-arse cleverness. Always an undergraduate. A poser.

  6. Kaye Lee

    Old bloke, I feel the same about his buddy, Germaine Greer.

  7. Phil Pryor

    Old Bloke is on the trail, for an Aussie perennial cranky juvenile smartarse could and did do well in Pommy circles. Humphries, Harris, Greer, James, Kylie Cruikthroat, certain others, made a good living, all being (arguably) as substantial as a flea’s fart. (Here we go..! ) Yes they are all well known, have fans, leave remains and works…especially over there, while we here face a continuing Political Perverted Poopainting. Anyone for Boris, a continuing undergraduate type??

  8. Terence Mills

    A senior Newscorp employee, commercial finance manager Emily Townsend, has sent an email to all Newscorp employees, here’s an extract :

    “I find it unconscionable to continue working for this company, knowing I am contributing to the spread of climate change denial and lies. The reporting I have witnessed in the Australian, the Daily Telegraph and the Herald Sun is not only irresponsible, but dangerous and damaging to our communities and beautiful planet that needs us more than ever now to acknowledge the destruction we have caused and start doing something about it.”

  9. Henry Rodrigues

    Not much affection for someone who like to be considered quintessentially Aussie, yet spent most of his life in smoggy London, hobnobbing with the toffee nosed, plummy accented knobs, whose favored pastime is looking down their noses at anyone who they judge to be less erudite or articulate than themselves. No loss to Australia I reckon.

    Where did he choose to buried ????

  10. totaram

    “What would Clive have made of the present catastrophe, the burning of his beloved Australia?”

    No need to ask. The answers have already been provided in spades.

    It’s nothing new. There have always been bush fires in Australia every summer. Don’t make a big deal of it.
    It’s people with green ideas who obstruct preventative measures (fire-breaks, hazard reduction burns, back burning – you name it). That makes ordinary fires worse.
    It’s “greenies” actually starting fires to get people into their alarmist cult. Apparently there are over 200 arrested already, but not reported because the press is full of “lefties”. Never mind that the police have denied these figures. (Police also infested with lefties?)
    Watch closely as some new myth is manufactured.

  11. Pagnol

    That’s nice, but it’s not going to change anything.

  12. Keith


    The Murdoch press has been very busy hasn’t it?

  13. Old bloke

    Kaye Lee, I wonder if that poser exraordinaire Greer thought herself an equal to Simone De Beauvoir and tried just too hard. Saw her interviewed recently in that ABC take home program. Jesus H Christ she was up herself and unfortunately the interviewer lavished such adoration on her.

  14. Old bloke

    They talk about Jame’s poetry as being something just so erudite. With my son today we went to the movies and saw 1917 and it was better than good, but harrowing. There was a scene which troubled me and I suddenly thought of the poetry of Wilfred Owen, killed in the last week of the war. Now there was meaningful and disturbing poetry. The scene reminded me of that poem where the soldier in a dream meets the German who kills him. I find the poetry of James, in contrast to be trivial.

  15. wam

    I am an atheist no god
    rose is an agnostic two bob each way
    scummo is a god man
    I believe man has influenced climate change
    a sceptic is not convinced it is man’s interference
    a denier is a god man.
    Sceptics and agnostics can be worked on atheists and deniers???

  16. Kathryn

    The working-class Kid from Kogarah tried hard, but failed, to become one of the intolerant and intolerable toffy-nosed snobs from a far-flung country (England) who’s tenuous grip on a global empire died a long time ago! Sadly, James and Greer could never hide their scathing condescending contempt for the country of their birth, for the nation that nurtured them, for the country that adored them, for the people who laughed at their jokes and cynical humour; for the land whom they professed to love – albeit from afar; failed to hide their pretentious scorn for the practical, down-to-earth, no-nonsense Australian culture they sought to undermine. The fact that James chose to try to extinguish his working class roots in a tragic attempt to take on the indescribable hypocrisy and climate-change-denying idiocy of Tory extreme right-wing ultra-conservatism and greedy self-interest is not surprising! Barry Humphries made a career of it! Personally, I have always found their smug, cynical, supercilious affectation and sneering superiority over Australia and Australians tiresome and exceedingly boring. So typical of the phony, shamefully superficial right-wing, like the repugnant Scott Morrison, so desperate to create a new fake “persona” and always at someone else’s expense!

  17. Old bloke

    Well written Kathryn. Barry Humphries set out to make Australians look like a sub-class of people, choosing to send up those who would be called bogans today. In doing so, he ‘disappeared’ the great achievements of Australians. He didn’t lampoon Malcolm McKerris, Joan Sutherland, Dr. Victor Chang, the many successful scientists and engineers, the Nobel laureates, the education system that produced him and his like. He certainly didn’t lampoon the Packers, Lang Hancock or Menzies. Very selective choosing a class unable to fight back or who had been dumbed down and didn’t realise they were being ridiculed.

  18. Kathryn

    Old Bloke, your wise observation and comments are totally correct. Sadly, what James, Greer and even Humphries, failed to realise is that the toffy-nosed, non-achieving snobs in far-flung England NEVER accepted them anyway! Why? Because they are Australians! No amount of pretentious ridicule of our nation and its people under the guise of (traitorous) humour by these prodigal sons and daughters of Australia – who made a good living out of ridiculing everything they professed to love – could prevent the sniggering, sneering contempt these Tory grubs have for Australians. Sadly, the age old Tory sport of heaping vindictive scorn on Australia and Australians just doesn’t conceal the envy they have for the fact that Australians (unlike them) are universally well liked, far more popular and our nation has made astounding more progress in only 250 years DESPITE the stifling, ultra-conservative impact of a Brexit-influenced isolated little nation (England) who are becoming more and more regressive with each passing year! The fact that countless millions of English citizens have willingly, gladly and gratefully made our country their home in preference to the stifling snobbery, unjust elitism and pretentious, overbearing classism of England where one is ruthlessly judged by the way they speak, their accent, which school they attended, where they live and other such superficially shallow constraints that prevent the rise of creative, intelligent and admirable people who, in reality, are superior to these Tory snobs in every way! Sadly, these vile, smug elitists rarely achieve a thing that benefits anyone except their own self-entitlement …. they despise everyone outside their very limited, insular little world. Their venom is extensive – they hate Americans, condemn Germans, loathe most Europeans, look down on the Scots and Welsh, ridicule the Irish and, of course, turn their patrician noses up at Australians! Mmmmm, I wonder if they even realise that the feeling is internationally reciprocated towards so-called Uppity Class England who’s only claim to fame is their deluded sense of superiority in the face of such mindless mediocrity. This condemnation does NOT extend to hard-working working- and middle-class English people who do NOT subscribe to the inhumane ideology of the Tory class who, like the smug, non-achieving grub, Scott Morrison, see ordinary people as nothing more than an enslaved under-class of Drones used to enhance the power and wealth of the Top 1%.

  19. Old bloke

    Kathryn, hear hear! When I worked in England (head of Physics in one of those city academies…thank you Tony Blair) I met academics who were in the process of leaving England. Years before, the celebrated physicist Paul Davies, left the place to get away from Thatcherism. He came Australia and became of professor of Physics in one of our universities. England suffered a ‘brain drain’ and I fear the same has been happening in Australia. Instead of our brightest going into areas of research which would benefit the country and its people, they now go into banking and such. Why would you spend 7 years getting a PhD and have no tenure in a job and live in a place which openly derides ‘clever’ and educated people, now disparagingly called ‘elite’. Live in a country where government gets away with diminishing the sciences in people’s minds….you know, they might know a lot, but they don’t have common sense schtick. Aaaahh, bugger it. I despair.

  20. Phil

    Clive James was a Tory, for mine, I have seen better poetry scrawled on a shit house wall. I will never forget him in an interview, waxing lyrically about the officer class suffering more than the rank and file in the trenches during WW1. James for all his put on Aussie Larrikin charm, was an insufferable snob. He was about as funny as a bad case of hemorrhoids.

  21. guest

    Totaram, thank you for your comment straight out of Murdoch media. It reminds us of the right wing denial which provides alternative ideas which do not help at all.

    Neither does James’s claim that such events as the Australian fires this season are a “catastrophe…Not showing many signs of happening” – as he says in the opening lines of his poem. And you agree with him. For you and James, the fires are “nothing new”.

    I do not know how much James knew of the fires before he died in November. His poem was published in 2016. But he might have had a clue that these fires are not new. They have burnt out 8.4Mha so far. Check it out.

    Imagine if you went to explain to the police or the insurance company that you had had an accident – and they asked you to tell them what happened. You say, “Oh nothing new. Just another accident.” They would not be impressed; they would require details

    But then for you the police, and everywhere, are infiltrated with “lefties”. And “Greenies”.

    In this post on Clive James’s scepticism,, we see some of the false claims made by sceptics about melting ice, for example. False claims are widely made by James in his writing about Climate Change.

    And the Murdoch media says some silly things as well, such as how we can save so much burning by hazard removal – when the fire chiefs said it could not be done over such a large area.

    Somehow, large scale fire events seem to be beyond the comprehension of the Murdoch media. Fire does not need to spread along the ground, but can spread through the tree tops. It can race over plowed ground; it can send wind-blown embers 40 kilometres or more ahead; it can turn at 90 degrees with a wind change. Dry lightning can start hundreds of fires quickly.

    To suggest arsonists created hundreds of fires in order to enforce their ideology is a concocted distraction not proven.

    Back burning is a deliberate burning to deprive fires of fuel, but it can get out of hand.

    If anything is to be done it is what should have happened a long time ago: stop the burning of fossil fuels here and overseas. The sceptic idea that Climate Change is of no consequence is a false claim designed to comfort those with vested interest in fossil fuels (Rupert Murdoch is one of those, having vested interest, for example, in the Golan Heights, stolen from Syria by Israel}.

    Murdoch claims to be dedicated to fewer emissions, but his media is full of misinformation about Climate Change – of the kind we see in the writings of Clive James.

  22. Old bloke

    Guest, ‘Fire does not need to spread along the ground, but can spread through the tree tops.’ Back in the 90’s in the lower Blue Mountains I watched tree tops exploding into flame well ahead of the main fire.

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