In my mother’s final months, when she was totally immobile and couldn’t read, she asked me to read to her from Dante’s Divine Comedy. I chose the recent translation by Clive James, hoping it would not be dry and dull. We got well into Paradise before she went on her final journey, so I hope that turned out well. Thus I have a lot of time for the late Mr James.
But I have just discovered that something was missing from his obituaries: he was a prominent climate change sceptic. To be precise, he was sceptical of there being anthropogenic climate change, and perhaps entertained the possibility of ‘natural variations’ in the climate system. At least that is what I have divined from an essay he wrote in 2017 and which has been republished by the comic Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF, prop. Nigel Lawson). This essay was originally published by the right-wing Australian ’think tank’ the Institute of Public Affairs in a collection called ’Climate Change: the facts 2017.’ Sadly, Clive’s contribution though lengthy was short on facts and long on his trademark sardonic take on life, with an overly emphasised look at how the subject of climate change is treated in the media. This can be summed up with the suggestion that supporters of the science of anthropogenic climate change are making a mint out of their media prominence and this necessarily relies on their overstating the case—in other words, being alarmist.
All this is well and good if you are a comedian, but I doubt that there will be that many people in Australia at this moment in time happy to find relief in a bit of knockabout Jamesian humour whilst their house is in danger of burning down. But Clive is dead, so we won’t know what his analysis is of the worst fires in Australia’s history. And so far, we don’t know what the Institute of Public Affairs has to say about it either. Judging by their website, they’re all still on holiday. The Clive James essay is here.
Let Dante have the final word (The Divine Comedy, Canto 29, tr. Clive James, Picador 2013 p139)
[Virgil] “The time permitted to us now is short,
And there is more to look at than will meet
Your eyes here.” I said, “Had you given thought
To why I looked, you might have granted me
A longer stay.”