Clive James on TV’s climate change experts

The masterful Clive James

The masterful Clive James

I am delighted that Clive James is back writing TV reviews for the UK Telegraph. When I was a teenager, I devoured his volumes of reviews from The Observer, which made me roar with laughter. It didn’t matter if you hadn’t seen the programme itself, the descriptions were often more entertaining in many cases. His turn of phrase was, and is, wonderful – describing a famous 1979 battle at Wimbledon (or Wmbldn as BBC commentator Harry Carpenter called it), James wrote*:

“Connors likes the ball to come at him in a straight line so that he can hit it back in another straight line. When it comes at him in a curve he uses up half his energy straightening it out again. Borg hits nothing but curves. Connors was left with little in the armoury except his new weapon, the Early Grunt.

As I revealed exclusively last week, Connors now grunts at the same time as he serves, instead of just afterwards. Since the grunt travels at the speed of sound, it arrives in the opponent’s court marginally before the ball does. Ordinary opponents try to hit the grunt. Borg was not fooled. Indeed he quickly developed a Swedish counter-grunt. ‘Hworf!’ grunted Connors. ‘Hwörjf!’ grunted Borg. ‘Game to Connors. Borg, rather,’ cried the umpire helpfully.” 

Marvellous stuff. And he is healthily sceptical of the global warming zeitgeist, here commenting on Simon Reeve’s Australia:

Simon was talking to a man in charge of a South Australian wine factory which covered thousands of acres with its enormous shining silver vats and bins. The factory produces a zillion bottles of wine per year, and uses, in the process, a gazillion gallons of water.

The water is drawn from the Murray-Darling river system. If it occurred to you to wonder what would happen to the output of wine if the input of water were to be restricted, it occurred to Reeve too. So did he ask the professionally knowledgeable bloke in charge of the wine whether he anticipated any restrictions in the water supply?

No, he asked a climate change expert. In Australia, climate change experts are not hard to find. Indeed it is very hard to keep them out of your car: unless you wind the window all the way up, one of them will climb in. This climate change expert was called Tim [Flannery, perhaps? – Ed]. Armed with his ability to read the future, Tim predicted that any dry area of the Murray-Darling system was “an indication of what’s coming”, and that “what Australia is experiencing here now” would eventually be experienced by “hundreds of millions of people around the world”.

Simon nodded his moustache sagely but didn’t once ask whether the flourishing wine industry was not part of what Australia is experiencing here now. Nor did he ask whether, in view of climate change, the wine industry was doomed. It was then that the big idea hit me. Why hadn’t he asked the wine grower? It would have been easy to frame the question, perhaps along the lines of: “In view of what is happening to the planet, have you any plans for selling all this colossal acreage of silver metal for scrap?”

It would have been worth asking the wine grower because his whole way of life depends on what he thinks about the water supply, whereas, with Tim, nothing depends on what he thinks about the water supply except his next research grant and his prospects of getting on screen with the visiting TV presenter so that they can shoot off their mouths together. And at that point I started thinking about all those BBC environment and nature programmes from the immediate past that might just turn out, in retrospect, to have been souping up their science with science fiction.

Gee, a public broadcaster souping up science with science fiction? Who’d a thunk it?

* I am delighted, by the way, to see that all of the reviews from those books (now out of print) are on James’ blog here:


  1. Glenn Steiner says:

    Abbott has been in government for a number of months now and you have yet to write anything about his climate change policies. There should be plenty of material for you; he accepts the IPCC science, has the same emissions target as the Labor Party and has a more expensive method of achieving it. Yet I see nothing. Do you actually want to free Australia from the apparent “climate madness” or are you more interested in insulting those on the other side of politics from you?

    Come on, time for some consistency!

    • luisadownunder says:

      Read my lips: Tony Abbott has actually said, in public, for all and sundry to hear that “climate change is crap”. I also remember that when he spoke those words, ridicule was heaped upon him in spades.

      And you are right: he has been in government ONLY a number of months.
      Pity you didn’t speak up when Labor was in government a number of YEARS!
      Or when they introduced ALL those stupid, dumb, global warming and climate change policies.

      You are right: this blog should be consistent.

      I’m also hoping that in your disgust of all the climate change policies that Labor introduced, you didn’t actually vote for them.

      • Charles Johnson says:

        Absolutely priceless reply!

      • Glen has not yet understood that the election is over and he lost, so he is still spreading disinformation about the LNP, all the ALP have is lies. lies about the budget, lies about Carbon Taxes, Glen talks about balance but I bet he never writes about ALP lies. N

  2. Krudd Gillard of the Commondebt of Australia says:

    Wow! re the “Tim” story: what a great example of non-doxastic commitment. Says it all.

  3. Reblogged this on CraigM350 and commented:
    Keep those car windows closed! 😀

  4. Yes, that that Wimbelton piece was classic Clive, I could even hear his dry monotone voice as I read it.

    Clive’s distain for the climate change bandwagon is well known. I don’t know what the ABC think of him now? He used to be one of their intellectual darlings.

    Glad he took a swipe at Simon Reeve, I find his documentaries come across as “glass half empty” with a one sided view of the countries he visits.

    Speaking of the intellectual darlings of the ABC, I wonder what soft sermon Tim and John will be dlivering tonight on China?

  5. Doug Proctor says:

    The reality, or should I saw, the near-term reality, which is the time frame of a person’s career, business or, most definitely, the time in which he has to generate his retirement nest egg – is what we need to get from the Flannery-Gores. And how we get that is by looking at THEIR investments.

    If Al and Tim aren’t heavily into the Green Technology, and are into quiet houses close to the seashore, and haven’t invested in air conditioning for the masses and villages up mountainsides, then we can be assured that nothing of note is in their minds happening for the next 30+ years. Which is quite different from how the alarmists like McKibben, Suzuki and Obama speak: the are not only in peril for tomorrow, all the bad stuff that happened yesterday was the fault of CO2 from coal plants.

    We ARE in a witchcraft craze. Just as James II spoke out about the horrors in his country, so are our national leaders (most, anyway). The professional witchfinders are the professional alarmists like Gore and McKibben. Madness, it’s all madness – not so much what the leaders say, but the way the public accepts what they say without skepticism.

    • luisadownunder says:

      The sad fact is that this nonsense is being promulgated in schools. My youngest was in year 12 when his entire year level, all 130, were made to watch the biggest of insults to core intelligence: “An Inconvenient Truth”.

      That an entire education system would throw all scientific knowledge and enquiry out the window for this load of drivel is beyond understanding.

      Young people being led into the darkness by those that are entrusted with their education with this mindless poppycock! Witchcraft indeed!

      Needless to say, my anger was ineffable.


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