In the short term, it seems we’ve had it

Update Ed Miliband informs supporters of his action on climate change that sceptics are trying to ban this public info broadcast:

Try to put aside for a minute the crying rabbits and the breath-taking weirdness and fucked-upness of adults encouraging children to feel compassion towards animals which those same adults then consent to be needlessly slaughtered for food. I think that appealing to parents on behalf of their children, and parents appealing to people who don’t have children, and children appealing to adults and policy makers is appropriate and necessary. Scepticism about conserving a habitable planet is so beyond me that it is the polar opposite of what I’m worried about below.

I have the sense of being at the zenith of human existence, on the verge of precipitous decline related to our activities as a species. I sense war, retribution and fatal poverty in my lifetime as those of us in the shrinking habitable zone are forced to slaughter and beat back the migrating hoards who are trying to enter it.  Whole civilisations will drown, ruin each other, or shrivel up and die, and the rest of us will find out the meaning of ‘Dark Ages’.

Here (via Matt) is Melvin Bragg trying to shrug off a conversation between his sedimentologist, paleontologist and paleoclimatologist guests after the recording of a recent edition of BBC Radio 4’s In Our Time.


Still golden autumn days in London. Left Broadcasting House to go for a meeting at BAFTA in Piccadilly. Down Regent Street, across into Savile Row, through Burlington Arcade and met friends strolling along Piccadilly with all the nonchalance and leisure of a family in a 19th century novel. Sometimes even the West End of London can seem like a village. By the time I got to the meeting I had just about shaken down into the real world of time, but I must say that trying to crunch the millions of years, not so much into a pattern but into a digestible reality, had been a tough one.

The conclusion that all three of them came to in the chat afterwards was that the Earth will certainly cope. There’s no doubt that all the CO2 will be sucked down somehow or other and bury itself somewhere or other and, as happened about 50 million (or was it 550 million) years ago, things will change but continue. So, in the long term, the Earth’s great. In the short term, it seems we’ve had it. They agreed that it’s way too late to cut down CO2 emissions. There is a possibility of cleaning CO2 out of the atmosphere. For this we need nuclear reactors to power the scrubbers which will put CO2 back in the pits of Earth, such as those in the North Sea which were resultant from the oil industry. So there we are. That’s about as cheerful as it gets. When I challenged, or rather asked, Jane Francis how long she thought we’d got, she said a few years. But, as I said on the programme once or twice, what’s a few years to geologists? She muttered something about hundreds but refused to be committed on such a narrow basis.

Richard Corfield suddenly expressed a passion for the works of John Wyndham. He gave us a potted biog. It appears that Wyndham had written bodice rippers before the Second World War, but after the war came back to write what Corfield thinks are three great books based on science – The Day of the Triffids, The Kraken Wakes and The Midwich Cuckoos. I say based on science, by which I mean acceptable and even exciting to people who know a lot about science.

Jane Francis cheered us all up by saying that the ice sheets are melting, but there’s a sudden tipping point where the meltdown begins quite quickly – by which she means it takes a hundred years or so. I gather that she thinks we’re near that.

It’s just as well that I was going to have a bite and a glass with a pal for lunch.

Best wishes

Melvyn Bragg

Theories of behaviour change are quite clear: if you want people to change, you have to give us a mixture of hope, opportunity, reason and information. Tell us something unavoidable is on the horizon and we just carpe diem, hell for leather. But sometimes, on the other hand, we require something to focus the mind.

5 thoughts on “In the short term, it seems we’ve had it

  1. Wyndham’s descriptions of stiff upper lips in the face of global flooding in “The Kraken Wakes’ are excellent. And ‘The Day Of The Triffids’ triple-whammy of genetically-engineered killer plants, orbital weapons platforms and weaponless plague makes my heart soar.

  2. Hi, Richard Corfield here. Yes, that Richard Corfield. If you know your Wyndham (as you clearly do) you have broadly got the point but I would add this: One of the things that I was trying to say on the program is that we will need technological solutions to get us out of this. We cannot roll back the clock. That is not necessarily a bad thing and if we embrace that idea (as did the very well written characters in the THE KRAKEN WAKES) then I think there are indeed grounds for cautious optimism. Remember: climate change is not a new phenomenon. It is a feature of this planet. The question is; do we want to maintain the status quo in our favour (with appropriate stewardship of our fellow travelers on this orbiting ark). If so, we need to get on with it. Yrs ever, Richard

    • Heh! Fantastic. Thanks for dropping by! I’m a technologist by profession, and positive about any technologies that improve our lives (and I take a long view on that). I look forward to the cloudships covering our backs, while the poorer parts of the world raise their citizens’ standard of living and we sort out our energy sources.

      I was just having a pessimistic day when I wrote the above post. Admittedly, I have a lot of them, but – well, thanks for your optimistic words.

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