Friday, 15 January 2010

Unnatural signs and wonders?

The redwings swept in from distant countryside, birds I hadn’t seen since I lived on the edge of Dartmoor, twenty or so years ago. They swarmed onto a chestnut tree behind my back wall before stripping a nearby hollybush of all its berries, and moving on.
(Driving across the moor at Christmastime we had every species of weather in an hour: December sunshine, clear and bright as brass, a snowstorm, sleet, rain, and a giddy ascent into the clouds near Vixen Tor. Lapwings, yes, but I never saw a redwing, although at that moment I’d forgotten I remembered them, if you see what I mean.)
Now I briefly got one of those Shakespearean fits: what did it portend, this surge of country birds into the middle of London? The fall of the House of Windsor? The return of Edgar Allan Poe? The re-election of Gordon Brown?
It was the freeze that brought them, of course, a matter of survival. But, as I watched through binoculars, their presence connected me to half-forgotten bits and pieces of my past: a change of schools that brought me to the moor, a particular book, a romance that flared and faded in a terraced house with an open fire, a walk from the village and a ring round the moon, one Christmas night, while owls called.
I had lunch this week with an old friend who’s made his business out of the virtuous cause of climate change.
“Does it matter to the earth whether there are ten thousand varieties of trees, or birds, or butterflies, or ten? Does it matter to the universe whether the earth is a blue pearl or a black cinder spinning in the void?
“That the earth will be extinguished sometime, that the earth will die, is inevitable. So are we trying not to save the planet, but to postpone its execution – to transfer the fatal reckoning down as many generations as we can?”

And we talked about energy consumption, carbon footprints, and the class of ’66, ate and drank quite abstemiously, then wrapped up and said our goodbyes in a savage east wind with slush underfoot.
Inevitably, the not atypical intrusion of an icy spell into a British winter has emboldened those who believe that the theory of global warming is hooey to pump up the volume. As The Guardian noted, they seem to have an irrational difficulty in distinguishing between local weather and the world’s climate.
And yet, walking home through the snow it occurred to me that since the preferred epithet for the sceptic among passionate scientists is “climate change-denier,” scepticism is indeed a modern heresy , and climate science in its own way a leap to a new religion which tries (as religions, of course, have always done) to evade or explain the absurdities of existence and answer the immemorial hunger for “meaning.”
Albert Camus reminds us: “the absurd is born of a confrontation between human needs and the unreasonable silence of the world....
“The irrational, human nostalgia, and the absurd which is born of their encounter – these are the three characters in the drama...”
And the world, inscrutably, is dying around us, because of us and in spite of us, and we despair, and having no-one left to pray to, turn on each other.

January, 2010

Three clips projected in a waking skull:
An old wall with just a trace,
On pitted bricks, of a clock face;
Two man-sized, dog-tooth
Chessmen, back to back;
A climbing street, once loved,
Where doorways fade to black –

(Grasp these unintelligibles, which show
How much there is you know
You do not know).

Footnote: I’m in two minds about this blog, but decided to publish it anyway, as a testament to what fifteen days of sobriety can do to the psyche.
Footnote 2 (January 17:If you'd like to read the Sunday Times report exploding the story that Himalaya's glaciers will have melted to nothing by 2035 - referred to in the comments below - it's here.


  1. More excellent food for thought Frank, thank you. I am not a "climate change denier" (which if mis-spelt could imply warm stockings) but I am a person who knows that most of life is often "more complicated than that". I am disturbed by the fervour of this scientific movement, which seems to take on the attributes of a religion. Your conclusions offer an insight into one possible reason.

  2. I think you’re right on target, Pete, with your anxiety about the “fervour” of the scientists and where it leads them to go (someone said to me at Xmas – “I can’t quarrel with climate science because I’m not qualified to, but I do quarrel with the scientists, because I can’t abide their hectoring, sanctimonious attitude”). The religious analogy fascinates me because – as the great west windows of most our cathedrals testify – the end of the world and our subsequent, irreversible direction of travel figures pretty highly on the usual religious agenda, and the end of the world is exactly what climate science is about, with just the same exhortations to mend our behaviour and save ourselves now. But we keep discovering that the evidence is being fixed or distorted. According to today’s Sunday Times (January 17) the “benchmark” report that the Himalayan glaciers will all have vanished in the next 25 years isn’t based on solid research at all, but derives from an exaggerated version of a speculative remark in a telephone conversation. In other words, it’s not true. We’re not, I think, so very far from the priests of old who with hidden pumps and springs and levers contrived to make statues of the Virgin “cry”, and who, when their deceptions were exposed, protested that it was all done with the best of possible intentions – to save the souls of congregations who were too thick to understand the theology for themselves.