Monday, 7 April 2014

The E.M. Forster of Climate Change

Prologue: A few years ago I read a profile of the band Radiohead. I had been a Radiohead fan for some time, but not yet a fanatic. That article pushed me over the edge. It was the moment where they casually described themselves as "the E.M. Forster of rock." I don't even know what that means, but what a glorious aspiration! My loyalty was now absolute. No matter how much they challenge my pedestrian musical tastes with increasingly "difficult" songs, I will purchase any album they produce, even if it consists of nothing but clicks and hums and apocalyptic wailing. In fact, I think I already have.

Let's get back to Climate Change. Even though I know very little about it, and just about everything intelligent on the topic has already been said by all of the people who do know something about it, and all of the stupid things have already been said by the even greater number of people who potentially know even less about it than I do -- nonetheless, there is something irresistible about the topic. Not climate change itself, of course, that's rather dull and depressing; it's climate-change denial that I'm interested in.

Climate change is a curious thing, from a scientific epistemo-sociological point of view. This may sound like an especially glib thing to say, assuming it means anything at all: the many people distraught at the prospects for our planet would consider this statement akin to a man sitting on a beach, watching an approaching tidal wave bear down on him, and saying calmly into his phone, "There is a really quite fascinating phenomenon underway."

Picture it: a wide, empty beach, with just the one man sitting there. Behind him there are beachfront resorts, hotels and skyscraper apartment blocks, all full of people who have woken up this morning to the news that they are about to die, and who are now fighting uselessly to get out of their buildings and down to the streets and away, continuing the struggle even as the proof of their futility rises so high up out of the ocean that it casts an early-morning shadow across the entire downtown. And on the beach there is the man, staggeringly dwarfed by the gigantic wave looming over him, philosophizing into his phone, and not even about the actual wave. "Isn't the public reaction rather curious?"

I'm happy to be that man, except that I'm even more foolish, because I've gone down to the beach not just with my phone, but with my laptop as well. All I'm really worried about is getting sand in it while I try to write my blog. I also hope that that whopping great wave up in the sky is not going to block out my wireless reception.

And what am I going to write in these few moments remaining to me? I am going to present my own odd little take on the whole curious phenomenon of climate-change denial. I am going to explain the simple muddle that prevents many smart people from accepting climate-change science. I am going to take all of those very angry and passionate and irreconcilable people, and set them quietly on the right track. And, needless to say, I am going to save the world. When it's all over, and they write a 10-page New Yorker profile on me, I will describe myself as, "the E.M. Forster of climate change."

All of this might take a while, but we've got some time. Don't worry about that tidal wave. As we all know from the movies, in the especially dramatic moments just before the hero saves the day, everything moves in slow motion. I expect I'm even allowed to get stuck occasionally, and revert briefly to writing blog posts that make fun of academia. And sometimes even just a few hundred words of shameless filler, like this one.

Next: On Clive James.


  1. Quality filler though, innit.

    1. Thanks. I'm trying to build up suspense, but maybe I'll turn out to be just like my hero. You know what Katherine Mansfield said: "E. M. Forster never gets any further than warming the teapot. He's a rare fine hand at that. Feel this teapot. Is it not beautifully warm? Yes, but there ain't going to be no tea.”

  2. I think she actually said, "... there shan't be any tea."

  3. Surely you jest. She was raised in the colonies, after all.


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