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More Clive James: Climate Change Sceptic (Part 2)

(Continued from Part 1)

Opinion and Science

In The Australian, 17 January, 2020, John Carroll, professor emeritus of Sociology at La Trobe University, wrote under the heading of: “Status anxiety and the tyranny of opinion.” It has some learned bibs and bobs of an academic kind. A snippet here:

“Shaky medieval religion also triggered apocalyptic sects, which we see emerging today in an uncanny regression to our most superstitious past.

“Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg provides a case study. Her demeanour and mode of declamation mimics that of a fundamentalist Christian preacher ranting about the end of the world. The intense eyes, the raging warnings of the apocalypse and the incanting chant of “How dare you!’ pitched against the satanic adult world are reminiscent of some cult spawned at Waco Texas.”

It is of course the Emeritus Professor’s own; “How dare you!”

One might remember another teenager of history who was tried, convicted and burnt at the stake for heresy because she said God was on her side, whereas the British insisted God was on their side.

Clive James had definite views about whom he liked and whom he supported in matters to do with Climate Change.

One person he clearly liked and approved of is Andrew Neil of the BBC’s Sunday Politics program in which Neil interviewed Ed Davey, Secretary for Energy and Climate Change, July 2013. The interview was reported with the following headline: “BBC’s Andrew Neil savages Liberal Democrat’s ‘out of date’ manifesto in a brutal Ed Davey grilling.” (express.co.uk).

James wrote that Neil “wiped the floor with Ed Davey.”

Neil asked a number of questions in the 15-minute interview, including about staying in the EU, raising corporate taxes, a boost to spending on public services, and setting a target of generally 80% of electricity from renewable energy by 2030.

Later, Dana Nuccitelli, of an environmental company in Sacramento and author at skepticalscience.com, is the co-author of a paper claiming a 97% of consensus on Climate Change. He wrote to The Guardian: “Andrew Neil – these are your Climate errors on BBC Sunday Politics.”

Nuccitelli said that Davey had handled the interview well. He went on to say:

“As Davey noted, throughout the show Neil focused only on the bits of evidence that seemed to support his position. He focused exclusively on the slowed global surface warming while ignoring the warming oceans, melting ice, and rising sea levels. He focused on and exaggerated the costs of climate policy while ignoring their benefits. And he focused on attacks on our consensus papers by climate contrarians while ignoring the fact that the 97% finding was the result of two independent methods and also consistent with several previous similar surveys.”

Andrew Neil replied:

“The main purpose of the interview was to establish if the government thought the recent and continuous pause in global temperatures meant it should rethink its policies in response to global warming.

“Davey is partly right. We did come at Mr Davey with a particular set of evidence, which we well-sourced from mainstream climate science, but it was nothing to do with advocating ‘a position’.

“Moreover, the purpose of the interview was not to question all aspects of Climate science, just the metric that has commanded most attention. Other indicators of Climate Change – ice melt, ocean temperatures and extreme weather events – are a matter of widespread debate, in which the science is most certainly not ‘settled’. “

It is clear Andrew Neil did not have an unbiased attitude towards Climate Change, even if the BBC did not have ‘a position’.

The heating of the oceans which Neil refers to and which obsessed Clive James was something Nuccitelli mentioned:

“When we account for all the heat the Earth is accumulating, it is warming at a rate equivalent to four Hiroshima atomic bomb detonation per second.”

And that 90% of global warming goes into the ocean (op.cit).

Nuccitelli’s claims about the Hiroshima bomb detonations comparison has been repeated recently. The claims triggered by Neil and rebutted by Nuccitelli can be widely found today in public “debate”.

Another person James mentioned favourably in his essay was Judith Curry, who appeared before the Natural Resources Committee: Hearing on Climate Change, the Impacts and the Need to Act in the USA in February 2019.

Clive James did not cite what Curry said, but Curry has published a text. In essence she says this:

Given the complexities, there is plenty of scope for reasonable and intelligent people to disagree.

If we are to believe the climate models, any change in extreme weather events would not be evident until late in the C21st. And the greatest impact will be felt in the C22nd and beyond.

Curry is not the only sceptic to claim that Climate Change/ Global Warming is not of any concern now. Bjorn Lomborg is one. He says we should not spend much on abatement, but rather invest in solving problems of disease. Later, technology will solve any problems associated with Climate Change, he says.

There is no coherent science of denial/scepticism. We see that in the amount of contradiction in what sceptics say. For example, Ian Plimer says carbon dioxide has nothing to do with climate change, while Bob Carter said carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas.

This range of personal opinions accords with the aversion to “group think” espoused by Henry Ergas, in The Australian, 27/1/2020, where he writes that:

“Thinking for ourselves – precious and threatened.

“Auschwitz worked because so many had been coerced to fall in with the mass opinion.”

He goes on:

“Whatever their defects, Australians retain a down to earth practicality…

And they still have that sardonic sense of humour that has made them notoriously unreceptive to humourless, conceited ratbags and tinhorn demagogues.”

Clive James said much the same thing when he wrote about Stalinesque comformity under compulsion in some kind of uniformity of thinking among climate alarmists.

Clive James seemed to have a special dislike for Tim Flannery, because few of his predictions, he said, ‘have ever come remotely true.’

The site Under the Milky Way (2012/08/06) tells us what Flannery did not say.

“First, Flannery did not say that the Australian dams will never fill again. Andrew Bolt, misrepresenting Flannery, draws attention to a Feb 2007 Landline interview in which Flannery said: ‘Even the rain that falls isn’t actually going to fill our dams and our river systems’.

“Denialists like Bolt claim that Flannery meant that our dams would never fill again from the date when Flannery was speaking. However, what Flannery was actually saying was that climate trends at the time indicated a long-term outcome of normalised water shortages consistent with IPCC projections.

“Tim Flannery’s comments on water shortages in Perth have been supported in The Australian and by Colin Barnett, Liberal Party Premier of West Australia.

This site also covers Tim Flannery’s understanding of Gaia and how humans can influence the carbon cycle (interview with Robert Manne, 4/7/2009). And on his predictions which deniers say are ‘wildly astray’.

At the time Flannery spoke about water shortages in Perth, there were people advocating a pipeline/channel to bring water down from the Kimberley. As well, desalination plants were recommended around the country.

Shortages of water in towns in NSW are very evident now.

In summary:

“The IPCC’s climate change modelling predicts an increase in heavy rainfall events along with normalised hotter temperatures; ie, it’s a more extreme climate with both more intense droughts and more intense rainfall.”

The Climate Change Commission of which Flannery was the Commissioner was established in Feb 2011. Flannery was a prime target for deniers. The Commission was repealed in 2013 because Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Climate Change is ‘crap’.

For James, Flannery was a figure to be ridiculed. As he wrote in his essay:

“[Journalists] 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…

“He is far more likely to go on being and wishing to be, one of the mass media’s mobile oracles about climate… [Flannery trained as a mammologist and discovered a fossil wombat]

“While the possibility continues, it will go on being dangerous to stand between him and a tv camera. If the giant wombat could have moved at that speed, it would still be with us.”

James forgot that so many of the denier/sceptics were not trained initially in Climate Change either, but came to it from various disciplines, some from no science at all. And as a group they stand out for their incoherent assertions.

Clive James’s “science”:

“the elastic cause of the catastrophists”

“permanently imminent climate apocalypse”

“On the catastrophic wing, whose ‘narrative’ as they might put it, would often seem to be a synthesised film script left over from the era of surround-sound disaster movies; there is always a countdown to a tipping point.”

“… they love a clock ticking down to zero, and if the clock never quite gets there the motif can be exploited for ever.”

“Compulsorily retired from the climate scene, Dr Rajendra Pachauri, was a zany straight from Swift, by way of a Bollywood remake of The Party.”

[Pachauri was head of IPCC, had accepted a shared Nobel Prize 2007 on behalf of the IPCC, but resigned when charged for sexual misconduct 2016, trial set for July 22-23, 2019. Result? The Telegraph (UK) called him “the clown of Climate Change”. A big denier target].

“… drastic actions are still armed with a theory that no fact does not fit. The theory has been unfalsifiable, but there are few science pundits in the mass media who could not tell Karl Popper from Mary Poppins.”

“I am a dissenter, and not because I deny the science, but because I affirm it.”


So Clive James had various ways to attack the notion of Climate Change. He would deride and belittle those who speak up about IPCC science. He used bon mots or clever twists in language to make jokes about his opponents, who may not be more than political opponents. He approved of those who claim to be experts in scepticism, without bothering to verify them any more than he checked the claims of IPCC science. He asserted claims which were already debunked numerous times. He peppered his writing with historical names as if their name proves something. Far from affirming science, he affirmed denial.

Thoughts on unintended consequences

Cars – Henry Ford would not have foreseen that a million people would die in a year from vehicle accidents. Vehicles of various kinds clutter the roads and urban spaces, pollute the air and contribute to Climate Change.

Tobacco – Once an element of ritual, became a fashion where people looked elegant with smoke coming out of their heads. Its long-term practice can cause cancer, heart disease, emphysema… can cause fires. Burning tobacco contains benzopyrene, nicotine (addictive), tar vaporised in the burning ash at 900 degrees – hot enough to melt aluminium, carbon dioxide – as in car exhausts, hydrogen cyanide, polonium and potassium – both radioactive.

Plastic – The new universal material, useful in myriad applications. Clutters the land and sea, chokes the guts of fish, birds, turtles. Breaks down into tiny nanoparticles and enters the food chain unseen.

Coal, Oil – They have driven the Industrial Revolution and has created great wealth for whole countries and some individuals for over two hundred years. Countries have fought over them. Burnt, they cause environmental problems as they do in their extraction. Climate Change is an indisputable result of their use.

Rupert Murdoch – Inherited a newspaper from his father Keith in 1952. He has built up a large and valuable corporation and a considerable personal wealth. David McKnight, in his book “Rupert Murdoch: An Investigation of Political Power” (Allen and Unwin 2012) says this:

“Key parts of his empire are deeply enmeshed in their nation’s politics and operate as megaphones for Murdoch’s values and leverage. Murdoch revels in political gossip and loves to play powerful political insider to whom politicians defer. Political leaders do this because Murdoch has used his media assets countless times to advance his political beliefs and play favourites with governments and political parties.” (p. 27)

At present with regard to Climate Change, Murdoch is walking both sides of the road. He says his writers are not sceptics and that his company is ‘carbon neutral’, but at the same time his media criticises notions of Climate Change and publishes the work of sceptics and deniers almost exclusively.

James, Rupert’s younger son, has said this:

“…in a revealing 2009 interview warned that ‘all of the climate prediction models suggest we are on a worst-case trajectory and some cases worse than the worst case’. ”

More recently, James had “taken aim at both organisations’ [News Corp, Fox] coverage of Climate Change, widely viewed as a contributing factor to the Australian bushfires”, in a statement to the US-based news outlet The Daily Beast.

Murdoch believes in money and power and the business-as-usual future. He is associated with Genie Energy which has been exploring for shale oil in the Golan Heights, taken from Syria by Israel. In an optimistic claim, he said excitedly:

“If Genie’s effort is successful, as I believe it will be, then the news we report in the coming decades will reflect a more prosperous, more democratic, and secure world.”

Murdoch believes in a business-as-usual approach to the world, one of wealth and power – it is his green light.

To quote from The Great Gatsby:

“Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter – tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms further… and one fine morning –

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

Our real hope is in the real belief and understanding of those who understand the real science of Climate Change, those older climate warriors, and the generation of James Murdochs and the generation of Greta Thunbergs – the children of the world.

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  1. Phil Pryor

    Clive James could be witty and amusing, if you cared to notice. Once or twice was usually enough. Soon it was clear enough that James most enjoyed marinating in his self opinion. and resented intruders while he basked and bathed, undisturbed. Love affairs are seductive and all engrossing, especially solo acts. A recommendation of a word or a wine might have been nice from Clive, but as for science or political skill and honesty, not so. As for History, Clive preferred to be aloof and detached, for honesty and accuracy are such a strain. To be amusing was detached enough to satisfy, with little real repercussion or risk. Ah, appearing, being, posing, seeming…

  2. John

    Re John Carroll. I cant really understand how a seemingly intelligent person like him can in any sense be sympathetic with the toxic world view promoted by both the Australia, and the IPA/Quadrant nexus too where he is sometimes featured.
    In the recent past during the storm-in-a-teacup controversy over the Ramsay proposal to establish a university course studying the “great books” of the Western canon he wrote a real clunker of an essay in the Australian “news”-paper in support of the project. The title alone was bullshit.
    As were the titles and contents of most of the other essays published in the Australian at the time – Greg Sheridan’s was probably the worst.

    By the way Clive James was also closely associated with the right-wing UK Standpoint magazine which features a strange mix of back-to-the-past “catholic” traditionalists and libertarians. The benighted uber-creepy George Weigel is a case in point. Weigel is also sometimes featured as a speaker at gabfests organized by both the IPA and the Centre for “Independent” Studies.

  3. John

    Re John Carroll again – his book Golden Cities was published by the right wing “catholic” publishing outfit Connor Court the executive director of which was/is (wait for it) John Roskam.
    As far as I know Connor Court has very direct associations with Opus Dei. It also publishes book by some of the usual dubious right suspects.
    The plot thickens!

  4. guest


    denialism is a big industry. We saw that with the tobacco industry.

    Today, in the Australian, Chris Kenny is showing denialism of a different kind: denial of denialism. He is responding to some of the many critics who accuse the Murdoch media of contributing to Climate Change by its denial. Kenny seems rather confused by the accusation because he thinks he has done nothing wrong by stating what he sees as the “facts” in “good journalism”. Problem is, quite often, omission of relevant facts.

    Nick Cater does the same thing with reference to natural gas. He rightly claims that natural gas burns with approximately half the carbon emissions of coal (depending which coal, Nick). But he omits the problem of the presence of methane (a far more powerful GHG than CO2), problems in the fracking process, storage and transport, air pollution, threats to water aquifers, etc. Online American sites in particular are full of experience, having much to do with the problem there, even though some 3% of carbon emissions has been reduced by burning gas in the US.

    Problem is, if we invest heavily in gas, what a waste if it becomes clear that cheaper renewables are economically preferable!

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