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Stephen Fry and the climate of hypocrisy


STEPHEN Fry has announced that he doesn’t understand ‘climate deniers’, implying that such people are selfish and uncaring. He delivered himself of this opinion in a puff piece for his new travel series, A Year on Planet Earth, due to drop on ITVX on December 22.

The series takes Fry to some of the most exotic and beautiful places in the world where he will emote about the flora and fauna. He hopes we will be sufficiently awestruck to help save the world from the ‘climate crisis’ but won’t be lecturing us, he says. This is a relief. But what exactly does he not understand about ‘climate deniers’? 

Let’s take a quick look at the views of those crazy denialists. According to William Happer, one of the world’s most distinguished scientists and former adviser to two US presidents, anthropogenic climate change is real – we do have an impact on the climate, but it is small (nothing like a ‘crisis’) and in many ways beneficial (‘global greening’). 

Happer and others argue that CO2 (the stuff of life, let us not forget) is a very minor greenhouse gas, and, due to the saturation effect, there is a limit to how much it can affect climate. He uses the analogy of painting a barn door: there are only so many coats you can apply before there is no further impact. In other words, China can build as many coal-fired power stations as it wants, and that may not be good at a surface level, but beyond a certain, not very scary, level, it won’t make any difference to global temperatures. 

Added to this, there is the awkward fact that the world isn’t co-operating in the climate crisis narrative. The Arctic and Antarctic have failed to melt away; the Great Barrier Reef, for which an obituary was written in the Guardian, is flourishing, and those pesky polar bears, penguins and whales, just refuse to do the decent thing and disappear. So, to paraphrase Jim Callaghan, ‘Crisis? What crisis?’ 

Happer’s arguments, shared by many of the world’s most distinguished scientists, should, along with other sceptical viewpoints, certainly be subject to scrutiny. But they certainly shouldn’t be airily dismissed, particularly by someone who by his own admission knows nothing about science: ‘ . . . anything too scientific leaves me having to clutch at a table, feeling a bit weak and hopeless’.

Fry says he can’t understand the people who hold sceptical views on climate views. Can’t, or won’t? The first step to understanding something is wanting to understand it, and if you don’t want to, you never will. This seems to be Fry’s problem, as with many a climate zealot. It is a dangerous mindset, leading you to close your mind to uncomfortable information and denounce unbelievers as heretics. 

Fry says in his article that climate deniers ‘now seem to be diminishing in numbers, thankfully’ suggesting these dreadful people are one species he would be glad to see become extinct. And yet this is manifestly untrue. The WCD (World Climate Declaration) is a campaign group of some 1,400 scientists, engineers and experts led by Nobel laureate Ivar Giaever. Hundreds are signing their declaration every day. These, their key points, even a science ‘illiterate’ should be able to understand:

·       Natural as well as anthropogenic factors cause warming

·       Warming is far slower than predicted

·       Climate policy relies on inadequate models

·       CO2 is plant food, the basis of all life on Earth

·       Global warming has not increased natural disasters

·       Climate policy must respect scientific and economic realities

As for other evidence of scepticism the Swedish government has just scrapped its environment ministry. Huge protests against compulsory farm closures have been happening in Holland. The Sri Lankan government fell after a popular uprising provoked by its climate policies. In the UK, the third highest polling party Reform UK promises a referendum on NetZero (‘Net Stupid’) suggesting considerable scepticism here.

Fry’s most recent project was a three-part spoken word show based on Greek myths: ‘Gods’, ‘Heroes’ and ‘Men’. I suspect he most closely identifies with the first of these. That would explain his Olympian disdain, his effortless superiority, and his seeming imperviousness to accusations of hypocrisy. Like his friend Emma Thompson, Fry apparently sees no contradiction in flying around the world and then claiming to care deeply about climate change. There are, reputedly, 60 locations featured in his new series. Even the title A Year on Planet Earth is revealing, suggesting he has descended from a superterrestrial realm to lead us back on to the path of righteousness. 

I’m just about old enough to remember when Fry not only made me laugh but made me think too. Fry was, once, an equal opportunities humorist. If there was a common denominator to his targets it was people who lacked self-awareness, were narrow minded, self-important, and intolerant – like Lord Melchett of Blackadder. If there was a message, it was to engage your intellect and to resist the lure of received ideas.

But that was before this avowed atheist found his religion. Sadly, Fry has gone awry. He is suffering the worst fate that can possibly befall a satirist. He has become an example of the very thing he used to make fun of.

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