I’ve been leafing through two recent books by two of the most prominent promoters of climate hysteria, George Monbiot and Naomi Klein. I haven’t actually read either of their works, so I can’t do a proper review, but a crash course in fuzzy logic from John Ridgway enables me to utterly destroy any claim they might have to be worthy of notice by rational human beings, without going to the bother of actually reading them. If anyone objects to this procedure, they have only to point out anything I’ve got wrong. I haven’t.
About a century ago a colleague of mine in Hampstead Labour Party recounted the story of a problem voter he’d encountered on the doorstep. “I’m not voting Labour,” she said “On account of that Tony Benn. He’s so extreme. Mind you, I agree with a lot of the things he says.”
Naomi Klein and George Monbiot are in a rather similar category. I agree with a lot of the things they say. They are proud of their reputation as weird freaky outsiders, read and appreciated only by a few million fans who happen to occupy key positions in our social structure – the narrow intellectual band of the middle classes in the media and information professions.
Since at least the seventies the conventional left has shown itself incapable of offering the tiniest resistance to increasing inequality and the bellicose geopolitics practiced by the capitalist West, and has taken refuge in statements of moral rectitude linked to (of all things) their carbon emissions (“we may be useless, but at least we don’t emit horrid gases..”) and fantasies about a mass movement which will impose their own moral vision on an indifferent world.
But there’s one big difference between today’s climate warriors and the far left of the non-warming seventies. Incapable of the sustained effort demand by a long march through the institutions, Monbiot, Klein &co have made a dash to conquer just one of the commanding heights of our political system, the Green one. Thanks to this Blitzkrieg, they own the COP and the UN and the EU and the Royal Society and Lord Deben – the lucky things.
Monbiot and Klein belong to that élite group of communicators who have done more than anyone to impose an insanely ruinous energy policy based on fantasy science on the West, effectively bypassing democracy and rational debate in the process. And they’ve done it in the name of a phantom threat which they claim to understand and analyse. Their gullible well-meaning half-educated fans are, alas, no more perceptive than gullible well-meaning half-educated people anywhere at any time. George and Naomi are the Alastair Crowley and Madam Blavatsky of our times, less sulphurous, less interesting, but with multi-billion dollar peer-reviewed ouija boards.
George Monbiot’s book, How Did We Get Into This Mess? Politics, Equality, Nature is the subject of a short article at Monbiot’s blog
How Did We Get into this Mess?, based on his powerful journalism, assesses the state we are now in: the devastation of the natural world, the crisis of inequality, the corporate takeover of nature, our obsessions with growth and profit and the decline of the political debate over what to do.
And he discusses it for more than an hour here
The book consists of dozens of dated articles, in non-chronological order, spanning about a decade. It is apparently “based on his powerful journalism” which must mean his Guardian articles, thought this is nowhere stated in the book. There are footnotes with references, but not to the articles themselves, though some claims are unhelpfully referenced to guardian.com.
Monbiot begins with the uncontroversial observation that the world’s leaders rely on a powerful compliant media to maintain their role. [While the world’s opposition – Hillary Clinton, Jeremy Corbyn, and so on – presumably rely on the non-compliant and impotent Guardian, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, etc.]
Without the corporate press, without spin doctors and lobbyists and think tanks.. austerity would be politically impossible. Current levels of inequality would be considered intolerable. The destruction of the living world would be the occasion of constant protest. This .. infrastructure of persuasion allow[s] the rich to seize much of our common wealth, to trample the rights of workers and to treat the planet as their dustbin.
In the above paragraph Monbiot announces and repeats his trilogy of political crimes: austerity, inequality, and the destruction of the living world. Austerity and inequality are undeniable facts. The “destruction of the living world,” not so much. Of course, bits of it are being “destroyed” all the time in the sense of being made less agreeable to the aesthetic tastes of old-fashioned people like Monbiot (and me,) whether through the development of car parks, shopping malls, palm oil plantations, wind farms, solar energy farms, or open cast mines for rare earth metals to feed our growing demand for car batteries and associated widgets, etc. It’s all very horrid for someone like Monbiot (or me) who dreams of living in a green and pleasant Rupert Bear land of sustainable villages inhabited by an unthreatening and unthreatened diversity of species including a reasonable number of assimilable aliens such as Bill Badger, the Pekinese Pong Ping and the delectable Princess Tiger Lily.
Where was I?
Oh yes. Whereas Monbiot and I have had zero success in making the world see sense on the subject of austerity, gross economic inequality, neo-colonial wars and nuclear arms reduction, Monbiot has won hands down on global warming, having got the entire world (minus the US) to sign off on a plan to stop it. Is he happy? Not in this book, published in 2016 and republished in paperback in 2017.
George is on record as stating about a million times in his Guardian articles that global warming (or weirding) or, if you prefer, climate change (or collapse) is the only problem that counts. What’s the point of saving the whale, the wild, the weald, or the wold, if human life itself, or even the biosphere, is threatened?
It’s therefore rather surprising that climate change only makes its appearance at about page 120, and global warming a few pages earlier, in the context of George’s claim to have initiated the “keep it in the ground” campaign. George’s logic is irrefutable. As long as there’s coal or petrol, people will use it. Therefore the solution is not to ban its use, but to eliminate its existence. George seems unaware that his cunning plan has many precedents. Don’t criminalise junkies; wipe out the poppy fields of Afghanistan; that’ll solve a couple of social problems (smelly druggies in bus shelters, and al-Qaeda) at one throw. Alcoholism and gambling were eradicated at a stroke in the twenties in the USA when recently enfranchised females voted for prohibition and anti-gambling laws, with all the interesting cultural consequences that flowed therefrom (Al Capone, Jazz, Damon Runyon..)
In this messy badly referenced assembly of articles climate change is buried in a gigantic waste heap of other awful things wrong with the world. So why be bothered? Or at least, why be more bothered by the climate than by, say, lead in drinking water? George has worried about that too, and has an article to prove it, which quotes incontrovertible evidence that the reduction of lead in drinking water is linked to a reduction in criminality. Great. So what? Everyone knows lead poisoning is bad. It’s no surprise to learn that people behave better without poisoned brains. But that’s not enough for Monbiot. He tells us that his finding is backed up by over two hundred scientific papers, and that’s he’s read them all.
And that’s perhaps the key to Monbiot’s influence. He’s read all the sources, and you haven’t. In a world where opinions rule, the opinionator who can back up his opinion with a reference to another opinion rules. In the country of the blindsided, the cockeyed man is king.
There’s a selection of reviews of Monbiot’s book at his site, including this one:
“A dazzling command of science and relentless faith in people … I never miss reading him.” – Naomi Klein
Which brings us to Naomi Klein and her No is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need. I’m reading the French translation, which has no index or references. So the quotes below are my retro-translations, with no guarantee that they correspond to the English original.
Klein first tackled climate change in her 2014 book This Changes Everything. Klein appreciates Monbiot, as the review quoted above makes clear. But they are very different creatures. Monbiot is, or was, a serious journalist, who carefully references his sources, especially when demolishing anyone who dared challenge the emerging climate consensus. Thus Monbiot could, in the naughties, devote an entire article to demonstrating how David Bellamy had got his figures on the melting of glaciers wrong by hitting the wrong keys on his keyboard. [And this argument worked a dream at the Guardian, because the Guardian has a deliberate policy of not mentioning the name of any climate sceptic who hits the right keys, to the point that when the Guardian organised a grand debate about the Climategate emails, they forgot to invite Steve McIntyre, the chief target of the said emails, and he only appeared at the event thanks to his fans paying his airfare. And Monbiot, who was running the debate, showed his appreciation by posing his first question to Steve on an entirely irrelevant subject. And that was the end of climate scepticism, for George.]
Back to Klein, who is a latecomer to climate catastrophism, which she discovered while writing her 2014 book “This Changes Everything.” She wrote a puff for this work in an issue of the New Statesman edited by the comedian Russell Brand. The article was entitled “How science is telling us all to revolt” [a title which provides another slither of evidence for my “O’Grady Says” theory of climate catastrophism. When the chattering classes finally twigged that the world was bored with their messages (“people are horrid,” “the world is a mess,” “disaster looms” – all projections of their own shallowness and cowardly inability to face up to their own mortality and general uselessness) they subtly changed tack, adding “Scientists say..” to their message, just to show they really meant it.]
Her New Statesman article began:
In December 2012, a pink-haired complex systems researcher named Brad Werner made his way through the throng of 24,000 earth and space scientists at the Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union, held annually in San Francisco… Standing at the front of the conference room, the geophysicist from the University of California, San Diego .. talked about system boundaries, perturbations, dissipation, attractors, bifurcations and a whole bunch of other stuff largely incomprehensible to those of us uninitiated in complex systems theory. But the bottom line was clear enough: global capitalism has made the depletion of resources so rapid, convenient and barrier-free that “earth-human systems” are becoming dangerously unstable in response… There was one dynamic in the model, however, that offered some hope. Werner termed it “resistance” … “environmental direct action, resistance taken from outside the dominant culture, as in protests, blockades and sabotage by indigenous peoples, workers, anarchists and other activist groups”.
And she went on to praise “the godfather of modern climate science, James Hansen” and millionaire hedge fund manager Jeremy Grantham as examples of “indigenous peoples, workers, anarchists… activists from outside the dominant culture” who would show us the way forward.
Naomi’s book is about Trump and how to defeat him. The title of the first part “How did we get here?” echoes the title of Monbiot’s book. The second part, titled “Where are we? The Epoch of Inequality” starts with a whole chapter on climate entitled “The climate clock is chiming midnight.” Here’s how she begins:
Let’s go back a bit, to the week of Trump’s victory. In fact, I was suffering from the shock of not one, but two catastrophes. And in order to gauge the true disaster represented by Trump, I had to face both at once.
I was due to leave for Australia on a business trip, and I realised that the carbon cost of the journey meant that I couldn’t do it twice. So I decided to visit the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Queensland, a UNESCO World Heritage Site… As a child I spent a lot of time underwater.. As the moment of my trip approached, I realised that my emotion engendered by the idea of seeing the coral reef was linked to the fact that I am the mother of a little four year old boy, Toma. Parents sometimes make the mistake of explaining the dangers that threaten the natural world to their children at too early an age. The first book about nature that many Canadian children read is the Lorax [by Dr Seuss] which deals with pollution, and all those wonderful spots which have become dustbins, of all those animals threatened with extinction or who die choking on plastic bags they’ve swallowed. It’s literally frightening. I read it to Toma when he was two, and when I saw his terrorised expression, I quickly realised that I’d made a mistake. So now we read stories about talking squirrels… I know that these species are on the verge of extinction, but Toma doesn’t need to bother about that for the moment…
It was also as a journalist that I wanted to see the Great Barrier Reef. For the second year running it was experiencing a phenomenon without precedent, a massive bleaching, which affected more than 90% of the coral caused by a record rise in the temperature of the water. It was a cataclysm… a 1°C rise in the temperature which these species were used to was capable of causing a devastation… When we arrived at the Great Barrier Reef, no signs of this catastrophe were visible. The boats from Port Douglas continued to come and go, full of tourists. The surface of the water was a magnificent blue, streaked with turquoise. But the ocean is adept at hiding the worst outrages of humanity… We accompanied a team of biologists extraordinarily devoted to their work (and devastated by what they saw) and a film crew from the Guardian…
And so on. The green narrative (in the immortal words of Ben Pile of Climate Resistance, and occasionally of this parish) is All About Me, or rather, about Neo-Me, and also about Toma, who exclaims “I saw Nemo!” you’ll be glad to learn.
Climate catastrophism is a cultural, and more particularly, a literary phenomenon. Naomi’s maunderings about her little boy’s wonder at encountering Nemo (not Little Nemo, note, oneiric coeval of the Rarebit Fiend) reminded me of a short story by Doris Lessing, in which she describes her own son’s diving off the coast of Italy, in company/competition with the local boys, who lived in the water. This was not in search of a Disney cartoon character, but about daring, about the expression of some masculine need that Lessing tries to understand.
This is the same Lessing who, in another work, describes a picnic on the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro in the company of fellow members of the African Communist Party, most of whom were, like herself, privileged white Africans.
One of them looks out on the idyllic landscape and exclaims: “I suppose, if we get our way, all this will be covered with council houses.” To which the Lessing character replies: “I suppose it will.”
Being a communist in Africa in the final years of the British Empire meant taking risks. Monbiot too took risks in the early years of his career as a journalist in Indonesia and Kenya. Then he stopped, and became the spokesman for a peculiar kind of secular auto-flagellation.
Neo-me Klein, whose whole career is based on opposing the devastation of our society (and the planet) wreaked by the richest 1%, seems totally unaware of the fact that she is part of the 1%. She may not be quite as rich as Trump, but she’s part of the problem, not the solution. Urging her readers to march on Washington so that little Toma can continue to snorkel the Barrier Reef with a Guardian film crew to see little Nemo in the flesh is about as radical as Marie Antoinette stuffing cake down the throats of starving sans culottes. And as Paul Matthew’s recent posts on opinion polls show, the strategy is not working.