On Monday 15thApril 2019 at 6.45pm a fire was spotted on the roof of the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. Two hours later the spire and the roof had entirely collapsed and three separate fires seemed to be burning within the cathedral. First reports suggest that the fire might be linked with work going on on the roof, a part of which is covered in metal scaffolding which has so far survived the fire.
Let’s suppose work stopped at 5.30pm, and the last person left the site around 6pm. 45 minutes later, flames were seen emerging from the timber roof. The oak beams are about a foot thick. What would it take to set them alight in less than an hour, with flames visible from the street below? A bit of careless electric wiring in the vicinity of an oily rag, next to a gas canister..?
Pull the other one, it’s got gargoyles on.
The link to climate change was the fact that the protest started in reaction to a rise in the carbon tax on motor fuel. President Macron was obliged to give way on a key part of his climate policy, and at the same time distribute ten billion euros in subsidies to the working poor, thus bursting through the EU 3% maximum budget deficit rule, at one stroke destroying his twin projects of leading the European Union and making the planet great again.
The Yellow Vest protests have continued, at a lower level of intensity, (only one old lady killed by the police and eleven people blinded by plastic bullets) for nearly six months now. Macron’s response has been to instigate and carry out a massive campaign of local consultation, involving all sectors of society in all regions of France, in which the President answered questions for up to six hours at a time. The results of these “debates” and of a couple of million opinions collected via the internet were to be collated and to form the basis of a radical government programme to satisfy the discontent expressed by the Yellow Vest movement. The culmination was to come this week, with a solemn 25 minute declaration by the President Macron on television at 8 pm tonight, followed by a press conference on Wednesday. The presidential declaration was recorded at 6 pm, minutes before the fire broke out at Notre Dame. Its broadcast has been postponed.
The French media have been discussing nothing but the likely content of President Macron’s speech for months now. It is generally agreed that he is in an impossible situation. The Yellow Vests, still supported by a majority of the population despite nearly six months of disruptive and often violent demonstrations, are demanding a massive transfer of wealth to the poor, particularly to the working poor, plus a massive improvement in social amenities. It is inconceivable that the long term closure of local hospitals, railway stations, post offices, and rural schools can continue. It is likewise inconceivable that aid to the poor can be financed without reducing France’s civil service and the often generous social welfare programme which it administers. Macron’s announced proposals, supposedly based on the most extensive consultations ever conducted in a democracy, were bound to disappoint, and the Yellow Vests were planning to redouble their efforts next weekend in answer to that inevitable disappointment. So for months the media have been previewing tonight’s announcement, hoping for a miracle, and expecting a disaster.
And now, thanks to the burning of Notre Dame, the miracle hasn’t happened, and the disaster has been averted. I’m no expert in the combustibility of 700-year-old oak beams, (help! Is there a dendrochronologist in the house?) but I’d have thought it would take more than a chance fag end to set foot-thick oak beams on fire. So was it deliberate? Did some ISIS fanatic or a mad atheist Yellow Vest on the building site smuggle a can of petrol up the scaffolding and spread it over the timbers before knocking off for the day? The number of workers on the site can’t be enormous. Their movements are presumably easy to trace. The images we have seen this evening are from a small number of ground level cameras. But from a hundred windows overlooking the cathedral a hundred telephones will have produced accurately dated records of the event.
We conspiracy theorists tend to believe that major disasters are manipulated by super-rich rock stars in furtherance of their pet leftwing projects in favour of the planet; hence the question: “Cui Bono?”
Well it’s not the Yellow Vests who will benefit, that’s for sure. It’s possible that all demonstrations in Paris will be banned. The Yellow Vests’ protests have been marked by fireworks and smoke bombs from the peaceful demonstrators, followed by torching of cars and banks by Black Bloc infiltrators. Anyone lighting anything in Paris in the next few months could be shot on sight, with little public protest. Macron is safe – home and dry. Dry as a 700-year-old oak beam. He won’t soak the rich, which was the demand of three quarters of the population, and he won’t face massive protests. There will be an inquiry into the fire, conducted by the Paris Prefecture of Police. Three weeks ago the Interior Minister sacked the Paris Prefect of Police and installed one more closely aligned to government thinking.
What’s all this got to do with things climatical?
In 2012 Professor Lewandowsky suggested a weak but significant link between belief in conspiracy theories and climate scepticism. In this and a number of articles here in the past few months I’ve been reporting on the fact that a number of academic enquiries into conspiracy theorising, some financed by the British Government and the European Union, have gone much further, stating that climate scepticism is a conspiracy theory, and tarnishing the name of honest Cartesian doubt by associating it with such nefarious practices as exercising one’s democratic right to vote for Trump or Brexit. These studies have largely deserted the study of honest-to-goodness conspiracy theories (e.g. about the untimely rash of lone gunmen putting paid to left wing politicians like Kennedy, Kennedy King and X.) A grainy 8mm movie, a stray bullet found on a stretcher; these are archaic relics of the pre-internet age.Now a google search will reveal that WMD weren’t (so the Bush/Blair conspiracy was) and that 97% of scientists agree (so the climate denialists are conspirators.) Problem solved. The rest is fake news.
The internet age has produced a spontaneous rash of evidence. The one piece of material evidence in the first Kennedy assassination was the Zapruder 8mm film. For 9/11 there were hundreds of photos and films. For the 2016 Democrat campaign there were the thousands of emails revealed byWikileaks. You can’t do conspiracy like you used to. You have to cover yourself. Brutally. Hence the forced removal of Assange from the Ecuadorean embassy. Hence Professors Runciman and Naughton trashing climate scepticism by assimilating scientific scepticism to fear of vaccination and immigrants. (Would it be too much to expect three Cambridge professors to produce a rational argument? Yes it would. German academics in the thirties at least had the decency to wait for the rise of Hitler to power before espousing his irrational doctrines. Ranchman and Naughton have reversed the process, espousing the Prinzip even before the arrival of the Führer. )
So,what with the public being equipped with these I-phone thingies and all, it’s more difficult to execute a conspiratorial project without being detected. But it doesn’t matter if you’re detected, because you’ve got your defence ready. Any accusation of wrongdoing can now be countered by the accusation that the accusers are guilty of conspiracy theorising. Any questioning of any official policy can be met with the defence that to doubt the official line is to accuse the powers that be of conspiracy. And conspiracy theorising has been shown scientifically to be nefarious. So watch it.
[Apart from anything else, these past few hours have provided a lesson on the stupidity of modern journalists. The fire broke out in the roof, and was filmed spectacularly until the roof fell in, resulting in the level of the flames lowering significantly. This led to several commentators opining that the fire was abating, when what was clearly happening was that the wooden roof, previously burning in plain sight on top of the cathedral, was now burning inside the walls, out of sight.
There was much discussion about the potential loss of works of art. While you wouldn’t expect an average journalist to have expert knowledge of the artistic content of the cathedral, you might expect an averagely educated Frenchman to know that a 13th century stained glass window was more important than a 19th century oil painting, (or than the crown of thorns of Christ, which has apparently been saved). And that stained glass windows are lined in lead, and, though the journalist might be pardoned for not knowing the exact melting point of lead, there wasn’t much point in speculating about their survival when the TV images the whole world was watching showed sparks flying out of the stone frames of the windows.]
You can see the same visual ignorance at work in any news report from the front in Syria, Libya, or wherever. Or in the analysis of any graph of global mean temperature, for that matter.