Climate Change Denial

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December 19, 2006


George Marshall @ 1:45 pm
We have fetishised snow- creating an elaborate commercially driven fantasy of the snowy Christmas at exactly the time that snow is disappearing from the European winter. Ersatz snow- spray snow from a can, polystyrene snow, computer generated snow- appears on every shop front, in every tv advert, on people’s windows and front doors, across the mastheads of magazines and newspapers, on every Christmas card. Increasingly there is machine generated snow on the ski slopes where snow is actually supposed to be (see this article for example)

And there is not so much as a single snow flake in sight. This is set to be the warmest English winter on record. The autumn of 2006 has been nearly one degree hotter on average than the autumn of 2005, itself the hottest ever recorded. Even the experts are shocked link…. If these temperatures persist there will be no snow at all across most of England this winter.

The prognosis is clear. Assuming that the there is no collapse of the Gulf Stream, within one generation low land Western Europe will become permanently devoid of snow.

We’re virtually there already in southern England. The number of days of snow has fallen by two thirds during my lifetime. The heaviest snowfall my children have experienced in their five years of life is one inch three years ago. Since then there has been hardly enough to speckle the path.

And yet kids occupy a media generated world of constant blizzards, snowball fights and snowmen. This morning my children sat and watched a Christmas special of Bob the Builder set in two feet of snow, introduced by presenters surrounded by spray-on snow. (Look at this if you can bare it) They were inspired to build their own snowman fetish out of a white blanket thrown over a chair with stick on eyes and a carrot for a nose- just like they’d been told by the snow cult. It was cute, but painful too.

Snow has always been a component of the image of Christmas in both the traditional pagan/Christian festival and the more recent consumerist potlatch. What is interesting is not just that it persists in the face of a marked changed in actual climate, but that its promotion and commodification are becoming even stronger. It has taken on a socially constructed meaning that exceeds any intrinsic meaning; a fetish, in other words.

Humans have a marked historical tendency to fetishise the natural world as they destroy it. Look at the recent spate of penguin fever as discussed by Martyn Carless in the last posting. Think of the national symbols that live on long after their prototypes have been virtually eliminated – the cedars of Lebanon, the Bald Eagle of the US, the tigers of Korea, the Aracaria tree of Chile, and there are many more.

snow canWhat is also happening here is a deliberate rejection of the very rapid changes that are happening around us. Snow has taken on a life of its own in our constructed reality as a symbol of stability and tradition. The loss of snow is one of the harbingers of climate change and it is precisely for that reason that our collective response is to ignore it.

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December 8, 2006


George Marshall @ 2:07 pm

Our guest blogger Martyn S. Carless is aghast at the penguin madness sweeping the US due to the current hit film Happy Feet.

As global warming continues its merciless and unabated advance, destroying vast swathes of the earth’s fragile surface, bad tidings are already coming in of the first unfortunate victims to fall to its dire consequences.

In the Antarctic – where temperatures in some regions have risen by an extraordinary 9°F in little over five decades – alarm bells are starting to sound as the ice sheets go into retreat and with them the rich and abundant species that have inhabited these far flung places for many thousands of years.

It is with this disturbing prospect in mind why I find it all the more ironic that Hollywood, remaining faithful to its festive season profits tradition, should decide to go ahead and release another feature-length animated extravaganza, this time featuring penguins.

not-so-happy-feet-2.jpgThe movie, not-so-aptly named Happy Feet, revolves around the life of a hapless penguin called Mumble who, unable to fit into the Antarctic world around him endeavours to find his place and during the process, discovers a unique talent for tap-dancing – hence the movie’s title.

And strangely, it is not lacking in its own environmental perspective. The penguins, threatened by the deep-sea trawlers helping to remove the oceans of their only food source, find an unlikely hero in Mumble, who takes it upon himself to uncover the truth behind the fishes mysterious disappearance and thus stave-off certain starvation for the entire colony.

Not surprisingly, the film has proven to be a festive hit with moviegoers everywhere and has stormed to the top of the US box office in its opening weekend. It would appear the world has all of a sudden become struck by penguin madness.

So what could possibly be amiss about a film that, after all, delivers its own virtuous environmental message? Well, if it has not already dawned upon you, here are some points to consider:

  • Cinema audiences, in their rush to see what are, after all, but cute and cuddly, CGI animated characters, appear to be losing sight as to the true sorry plight of their real living, breathing, flesh-and-blood equivalents, to which climate change now represents a very immediate threat to their continued existence.
  • The movie’s title – Happy Feet – one could be forgiven for thinking, gives the misleading impression the future survival of this species is certain and sure, when, in all actuality, the ice below these so-called ‘happy feet’ is actually melting away, making the penguin one of the most endangered of all the earth’s living things.
  • The unnecessary emissions released during the production of, and the subsequent viewing of the movie; when these are taking into account (not including the additional emissions that are emitted a result of the pre- and post-release merchandising of the film) this can only contribute to the species demise still further.

polar-opposites-2.jpgIn March of this year, a brand new BBC wildlife documentary series called Planet Earth was received into our homes. Featuring some never-seen-before footage, the nation gasped in awe at the breath-taking scenes the documentary contained.

Along with the other natural delights was stunning new video footage which captured a female polar bear and her cubs as they emerged from their snow-covered retreat into the spring sunshine for the first time. Such scenes of jubilation, as the mother bear rolled contentedly down the snow-strewn peak, her cubs following in pursuit; few could have been untouched by the heart-warming scene.

Yet the same polar bears, contrary to our misconceptions of them at the time, now face an extremely uncertain future in which their very existence is called into question.

Will we ever wake up to the sobering realisation that if we continue to live in our present state of climate denial all that will remain of the natural world we once knew will be but silly CGI creations, brought to life on huge cinema screens, or reels of endless celluloid to be stored in video archives? Such films, however breath-taking and wonderfully choreographed they may be, can never be compared to the natural beauty and wonder of the world we, in our destructive wantonness, are so recklessly destroying.

Martyn Carless is a committed environmentalist, writer and designer for the World Wide Web. A practicing Christian, he seeks to raise awareness of individual responsibility as regards the climate crisis. Martyn can be contacted at the following address:

[ps January 2007. BBC World recently posted a news item making a very similar point to Martyn- the Rockhoppper penguins have had two major population crashes and their decline is believed to be directly related to climate change. Click here to see news item]


hague-penguin.gifThe COP 6 climate negotiations in the Hague in 2000 had a rousing slogan ‘Work it Out!’ and a logo of a penguin in a sombrero with sun glasses. It seems that anthropomorphic penguins are regarded as universally engaging. Try as I might I could feel no humour in this logo- it felt pathetic and tragic in equal measure. – George

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