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Posts tagged ‘Climate Change’

Ghost Species publication day!

My new novel, Ghost Species, is published today in Australia. New books are always exciting, but this one is especially so, because it’s a book I’m really proud of. Set in Tasmania in the very near future, it centres on a secret project to resurrect Neanderthals, and it’s about extinction and de-extinction, loss and love, climate catastrophe and collapse. I think – I hope – some of the ideas in it will resonate, especially at present.

If you’d like to know more, you can check out I’ve written a piece for The Guardian about some of the questions and ideas that inspired the book, and if you’d like to hear a little bit of it, you can see me reading the first few pages as part of Read Tasmania’s Lockdown Reading Group below.

If you’re in Australia you can get copies from any good bricks and mortar bookshop, or check prices online. You can also get it from all major ebook vendors. If you’re outside Australia Book Depository should have copies available. I also highly recommend the audiobook, read by Rupert Degas, which is absolutely fantastic.

My thanks to everybody who helped this book become a reality. I hope you all enjoy it.

November update

I’m deep in the middle of two books, so not here all that often, but just a few quick updates.

The first is the wonderful news that my essay, ‘The End of the Oceans’, which was published in The Monthly in August, has been nominated for the Walkley Award for Feature Writing (Long). I’m thrilled for all the obvious reasons, but I’m also delighted because it’s a subject of the utmost importance that I care about very deeply. If you enjoy it please share it.

I’ve also had several other pieces of non-fiction published over the past few months. The most significant was ‘An Ocean and an Instant’, a long essay about Adelaide, extinction and the death of my father for Sydney Review of Books’ New Nature series. It’s a very personal piece and was extremely difficult to write, but I hope people find something in it.

Also in Sydney Review of Books I have ‘A Family of Disguises’, a long review of Michael Ondaatje’s Warlight, in The Australian (and staying with the oceanic theme), a review of Joy McCann’s terrific new history of the Southern Ocean, Wild Sea (possible $$$). And finally, I’ve recently uploaded a long review of the imaginary history of Australia Rodney Hall mapped out in the Yandilli Trilogy, The Island in the Mind and The Day We Had Hitler Home. It’s a few years old now, but they’re marvellous books, and it would be wonderful if they found new readers.

 

Writing on the Precipice: On Literature and Climate Change

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“Late last year, in the dying days of the American presidential campaign, the World Wildlife Fund published its most recent Living Planet Report. Published biennially, these reports have long made sobering reading, but 2016’s took that to a new level, declaring that between 1970 and 2012 close to 60 per cent of the world’s wildlife had disappeared, and that without concerted action that figure was projected to reach 67 per cent by 2020. In other words, humans were close to having wiped out more than two thirds of the world’s wildlife in just half a century.

“As somebody who has spent most of their adult life thinking and writing about animals and the environment, I found this story physically distressing. As with last summer’s bleaching event on the Great Barrier Reef it felt like a tipping point, a moment when it had become clear we could not continue down the path we are on, a moment when things would have to change.

“In fact the world’s media greeted the story with a collective shrug. A few articles here and there mentioned it — and then it was gone, swamped by the drama of Donald Trump’s terrifying rise to power.

“It is difficult to know what to do in such circumstances. The climatologist James Hansen once said being a climate scientist was like screaming at people from behind a soundproof glass wall: being a writer concerned with these questions often feels frighteningly similar. Because although it is difficult to understand how one could not be writing about these questions, the ethical urgency one feels is tempered by a sense of the futility of the gesture in the face of such enormity, a feeling one’s tools are not fit for purpose. What is the point of stories in such a moment, one wants to ask. How can one poem or one song or one novel make a difference?” Read more at Sydney Review of Books

Ghost Species

shell-219665_960_720It’s Sunday morning and I’m sitting on the beach beside the steel gantries and fuel tanks of Botany Bay’s container terminal watching my kids build a sandcastle by the water’s edge, a structure that keeps collapsing because the waves keep hitting it. But what I can’t get out of my head is the section of Kim Stanley Robinson’s new novel, New York 2140, I read this morning, in which an unnamed narrator offers an imaginary account of the first sudden sea level rise in the 2040s. It’s a possibility I’ve also imagined in Ghost Species, the adult novel I’m writing (although mine is done from a more personal, experiential perspective), but simultaneously it’s a scenario that no matter how difficult it is for us to comprehend is now pretty much assured even if we do get emissions under control (as Elizabeth Kolbert wrote recently, “once feedbacks take over, the climate can change quickly, and it can change radically … It’s likely that the “floodgates” are already open, and that large sections of Greenland and Antarctica are fated to melt. It’s just the ice in front of us that’s still frozen”). All of which means this beach, a lot of this city, most coastal habitats, mangroves and reefs and, I suspect, much of our world, are all already lost, swept away by the ocean, like the bathetically symbolic sandcastle my kids are trying to build against the backdrop of the engine of global trade. Is there a word for his prospective grief, this knowledge nothing here will remain? For all the species and ecosystems that still linger, although they are already lost? For the way I feel when I watch my kids, and know that however safe the world they inhabit seems the future holds dislocation and disaster, or for my own uncertainty about what I should be teaching them? In his book Orison for a Curlew the writer Horatio Clare talks about Greece’s economic ruin being a cenotaph for our society, I wonder whether this moment might be another.

The world has changed: on writing in the Anthropocene

Here’s me in conversation with the wonderful Iain McCalman (if you haven’t read his marvellous The Reef: A Passionate History it’s brilliant).

The End of Nature and Post-Naturalism: Fiction and the Anthropocene

One of the most interesting things about watching a novel go into the world is discovering what other people think it’s about. Sometimes that can be illuminating, sometimes it’s frustrating, but it’s always fascinating, not least because the book people seem to read is never quite the book you thought you were writing.

In Clade’s case this process was complicated by the fact a lot of people didn’t seem to know quite how to categorise it. For my part I tended to say it was science fiction, simply because that’s easy and relatively uncontroversial. A number of reviewers, especially in literary outlets, called it dystopian, which it isn’t, or not quite, while a couple of reviewers with an interest in science fiction described it a slow apocalypse or breakdown novel, which I suspect it is, at least in one sense. Others have called it cli fi, or climate fiction, a term that has some utility as a marketing category but seems to occlude more than it reveals when deployed as a critical tool; elsewhere some people have called it Anthropocene fiction.

Interestingly though, several reviewers registered the inadequacies of the terminology, and went on to ask about how exactly we should be describing the growing number of books engaged directly or indirectly with climate change and environmental transformation.

The most substantial of these discussions was in Niall Harrison’s characteristically thoughtful and perceptive review at Strange Horizons, a review that ended with what he described as “a coda about categories”. Noting first that Clade was only one of a number of recent novels “that to varying degrees explore the personal and social effects of environmental crisis”, he went on to note that while many such novels are “kinds of science fiction … there is a sound political logic for discussing them as a group unto themselves”.

Like others, Harrison thinks it’s possible to distinguish such novels from other kinds of science fiction because “climate change is already happening, which means it is in a different class of speculation and social relevance to, say, a pandemic: writing about it is a question of degree and perspective, not whether or not it will happen at all, and the degrees and perspectives that writers choose can be usefully compared” (a point Dan Bloom has also made). But he also – rightly – points out that acknowledging this distinction then demands we recognise the existence of novels such as Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behaviour, which are engaged with these questions but are not science fiction in any meaningful sense.

Like me Harrison is unconvinced of the utility of the notion of “cli fi” in this context (as I have also done he notes its troubling tendency to elide the long history of environmental science fiction), and similarly sceptical of trying to group such books together as dystopias or post-apocalyptic stories, even though many books in this area deploy tropes and strategies associated with these traditions, before acknowledging that while he doesn’t have a solution to the question he believes it deserves further attention, if only because “this is a vital literary area, and … we need to get better at describing and discussing it”.

For what it’s worth I agree with Harrison that this is an area in which our conventional terminology fails us, and that none of the options on offer seem to be able to make sense of the work that is being produced, its relationship to traditional genre categories like science fiction (and indeed non-fictional and essayistic forms such as nature writing), or the various strategies it deploys to open up the realist novel in ways that let it embrace and engage with environmental questions.

That’s partly because of the sheer diversity of such books, and their tendency to elide traditional genre boundaries: certainly there’s almost no meaningful family resemblance between a book like Kim Stanley Robinson’s Aurora and Sarah Hall’s The Wolf Border, but as I’ve argued elsewhere, the affinities between the two means they can (and should) be usefully discussed together.

At one level this diversity reflects the many and complex ways in which writers and artists are engaging with these questions, and more deeply their ongoing attempts to map out an imaginative language with which to make sense of what’s happening to our world (and indeed ourselves) in the 21st century, a point I’ve made elsewhere in the context of what might be best described as the new nature writing. Certainly it’s not accidental so many writers fall back on stories about lost parents and missing children when they seek to articulate their feelings about climate change, devices that capture something of the rupture and grief which suffuses the contemporary condition (something that has prompted the writer M. John Harrison to talk about “loss lit”, and which is also present in articles like this, or this). Nor is it a coincidence that so many of these books employ fractured structures, and borrow devices from science fiction and elsewhere to talk about time and deep time (I suspect all the lost parents and children are another way of getting at these questions as well), or that questions of landscape, and our solastalgic sense of loss about its erasure intrude over and over again (in an excellent piece earlier this year Robert MacFarlane made a similar point about the rise of the eerie in contemporary British culture).

More importantly though, this diversity suggests why thinking of these books in terms of genres or categories is to miss the wood for the trees. Because these books aren’t a genre, they’re expressions of the deeper and more pervasive transformation of the world and ourselves we have taken to calling the Anthropocene in exactly the same way novels like Mrs Dalloway and Ulysses reflected and embodied the transformative effects of modernity upon our culture and our selves. As Mckenzie Wark quipped on Facebook earlier this year, all fiction is anthropocene fiction, some of it just doesn’t realise it yet.

To my mind the benefits of thinking about the question in this way are considerable. Not only does it allow us to step away from fruitless arguments about generic definition, but it allows us to see climate change as simply one (if still a very considerable) part of a larger process of transformation, one that embraces, amongst other things, genetic engineering, virtuality, over-population, species loss, habitat destruction and the broader disruption of natural and social systems by environmental change and capitalism.

And, perhaps more deeply, it recognises that we inhabit a world in which we ourselves are being altered, not just by technology and social transformation, but by the shifting terms of our engagement with what we would once have called the natural world. If one wanted to define when this change became apparent perhaps you might point to the floods and fires that tore through Australia over the summer of 2010/11, or the devastation wrought by Hurricane Sandy in 2012, or the droughts in the Middle East in 2008, or any one of the flooding events or hurricanes or droughts or heatwaves that have struck countries around the world in recent years, but perhaps the really significant moment was earlier this year, when average CO2 levels in the Earth’s atmosphere passed 400ppm for the first time since the Pliocene. As Virginia Woolf might have put it, on or about March 2015, human character changed.

What we call the literary expressions of this condition is an open question. The obvious choice is Anthropocene fiction, although I’m resistant to that term, both because like cli fi it suggests a set of generic boundaries, instead of emphasising the degree to which this transformation leaches into everything, and because it emphasises human agency when, to my mind at least, what many of the books and stories we wish to discuss are attempting to find ways to talk about the non-human in fictional terms (I also think it’s worth making the point that while the idea of the Anthropocene is usually assumed to embrace the effect upon the natural world by human activity, but it also – and importantly – embraces a different and more interstitial kind of ecological awareness, one that recognises the presence of wildness and the natural world within the fabric of the human world).

Yet still, given that this idea of the transformation of the natural world, and of the end of a particular idea of nature is central, I wonder whether it mightn’t be simplest to begin to speak of the post-natural, or post-naturalism, and to begin to think of it not as a fad or a fashion or a genre, but as a tangible condition, something shaped and defined by the transformation of the natural world by human agency that is going on around us, and which helps determine the nature of the way we see the world, the questions we ask, and perhaps most importantly, the stories we tell.

 

Write Around The Murray

Detail from Kathy Holowko's 'Batmania', featured at Write Around the Murray.

Detail from Kathy Holowko’s ‘Batmania’, featured at Write Around the Murray.

Just a quick note to say that if you’re in the Riverina I’ll be appearing at Write Around The Murray in Albury on the weekend of 12-13 September. The full program was announced a couple of weeks ago, and features a bunch of fantastic people, but if you’d like to catch me I’ll be discussing ‘When Sci-Fi becomes Cli-Fi’ with Jane Rawson, Cat Sparks and Tim Flannery at 1:00pm on Saturday 12 September, and at 3:00pm on Sunday 13 September I’ll be in conversation with Jason Steger as part of Write Around the Murray’s Big Book Club. Both events are at LibraryMuseum, Corner of Kiewa and Swift Streets, Albury, and you can RSVP online.

And just a reminder that I’ll be appearing at Melbourne Writers Festival this weekend and Brisbane Writers Festival the weekend after.

Apocalypse Now? The Big Issue’s Fiction Issue

I’ve got a story in the new Big Issue, which hits the streets today. Entitled ‘Solstice’, it’s part of the magazine’s annual Fiction Issue, which this year is focussed on fiction about the end of the world.

I’ve not had a chance to read the whole magazine yet but since it features stories from writers of the calibre of Margo Lanagan, Miles Franklin shortlistee Tony Birch and Sophie Cunningham, as well as an essay by the depressingly multi-talented James Franco I’m sure it’s brilliant.

Of course it’s always a buzz when a new story goes out into the world, but I’m particularly pleased about the publication of this one (which is set ten minutes from now amidst the melting glaciers of Antarctica) because it’s also the first part of the novel I’ve been working on for the past few months, and which I’m very, very excited about.

So what else can I say but do yourself a favour and grab a copy of the magazine today? After all, how often do you get to grab a pile of great stories and help people who really need it at the same time?

Waves, the ocean and the sublime

Today’s Australian contains the last Australian Literary Review for 2010. A chunk of the issue is given over to a long piece by Michael Costa suggesting some solutions to the problems facing the ALP and a forum of prominent academics such as Glyn Davis, Peter Doherty and Stephen Lincoln exploring the challenges and opportunities facing Australia and the world as we look forward to 2020.

But the issue also features a long piece by me about Susan Casey’s new book, The Wave: In Pursuit of the Ocean’s Greatest Furies. Some of you may know Casey as the author of The Devil’s Teeth, which explored the world of Great White Sharks and the researchers who study them, and while it’s largely shark-free, The Wave often reads like a sequel or counterpart to its predecessor, using the career of big wave surfer Laird Hamilton as the springboard for a much larger study of the science of waves and the gathering storm of climate change.

I won’t rehearse the arguments of the book here, except to say that it’s an intelligent, if sometimes slightly slick piece of work. I’ve subsequently learned there’s been something of a scandal about the fact Casey shared the proceeds from the book with Hamilton, a fact that lends her already over-eroticised and hagiographical descriptions of him a distinctly queasy edge. But as I say in the review, Casey writes brilliantly about the breaks themselves, and the larger picture the book paints of the effects of climate change on ocean turbulence and wave height is likely to be deeply disturbing to anybody who’s not familiar with the facts surrounding the changes taking place beneath the ocean’s surface (if this material is new to you you might want to take a moment to read this story from the ABC, and perhaps this piece by Elizabeth Kolbert as a primer).

Much of what I want to say is in the review itself, but there is one story in Casey’s book I desperately wanted to include but just couldn’t shoehorn in, and that concerns the wave that hit Alaska’s Lituya Bay in 1958. Situated midway between Vancouver and Anchorage, Lituya Bay is one of those rare places where the various factors that generate tsunamis converge, combining a narrow fjord and near vertical cliffs on three sides with a steeply rising bottom, large glaciers and seismic instability. First charted by La Perouse in 1786, it has a long history of sudden and violent wave activity.

But the wave that struck on 9 July 1958 dwarfs all other recorded waves. Triggered by an earthquake, the ocean sent a tsunami which reached 524m in height rolling through the bay and out to sea.

The notion of a wave more than half a kilometre high beggars belief. Yet it is not the most remarkable part of this story. That honour belongs to the fact that at the time of the tsunami several fishing boats were moored in the bay, and one of the captains, Howard Ulrich, survived by steering his boat up the face of the approaching wave.

You can read the review in full here.

Update: I thought these two videos, one of Laird Hamilton in action, the other of an unidentified surfer riding a very big wave might be of interest (thanks to Tim Dunlop for the reminder).

 

 

Is it possible to write good fiction about climate change?

Is it possible to write good fiction about climate change? It might sound like a frivolous question, but it’s one that’s been on my mind for the last couple of days.

It’s been occasioned by two things. The first was a post by one of Overland’s new guest bloggers, Stephen Wright, arguing the failure of Australian novelists to engage with issues such as indigenous dispossession and climate change reflects a profound moral failure. The other was reading Ian McEwan’s startlingly awful new novel, Solar, a book that quite deliberately sets out to address the “elephant in the room” of climate change.

Being lectured about what’s wrong with contemporary fiction is one of the more dreary fringe benefits of being a novelist. And it’s made more irritating by the fact that those who do it are usually advocating replacing one sort of (perceived) narrowness with another.

But unlike most of these sorts of tirades, Wright has a serious point, and he’s doing rather more than simply whinging about the state of Australian fiction. As he says in his post:

“It’s not about trying to fit an indigenous eco-friendly character into your novel, or writing novels full of didactic speeches. It has very little to do, I’d venture to say, with being incredibly topical or writing about Copenhagen and climate science . . .

“It’s probably got more to do with the depth of our awareness of just where we are living: on stolen land, on an ecologically devastated continent. Meanwhile, an inexorable planetary disaster unfolds around us. An awareness of this situation could enable us to write, give texture and ambivalence to our work, enable us to track and expose and map the fault lines of where we live “.

For what it’s worth, I agree with Wright about the urgency of the problem. But simultaneously I think it’s easy to make sweeping statements about the need for new kinds of fiction to address the burning issues of the day, and rather more difficult to actually write such things. So perhaps there’s a different question we could ask here, which is what would a book which succesfully addressed the issue of climate change actually look like?

One thing it certainly wouldn’t look like is Solar. For those of you who haven’t read it or seen the first reviews, the book is McEwan’s long-awaited “climate change novel”, and – not to put too fine a point on it – it’s a stinker.

McEwan gets a lot of stick, mostly for being a slick, smug parody of the bourgeois novelist. I think most of that criticism is misplaced, and fails to engage with the skill and sophistication of a lot of his writing. And while he certainly turns out the occasional dud (Amsterdam is a shocker) books like Atonement and Enduring Love are the work of a writer of pretty remarkable gifts (I challenge anyone to forget the tongue scene towards the end of Atonement in a hurry).

All of which makes the sheer awfulness of Solar even more puzzling. It’s not so much that it’s didactic, or even that it feels like the work of a writer who feels so passionate about a subject that they have to do something (though it does), it’s that it’s so under-imagined and structurally uncertain, so embarrassingly unfunny, and – perhaps most damningly – that McEwan himself doesn’t feel convinced by what he’s doing.

The plot, such as it is, seems to be assembled out of offcuts from McEwan’s other books. There’s the requisite accidental and destabilising death. There’s the requisite unloading of scientific information and musings on the interplay between the subjective interior world of the individual and the objective world of scientific fact. There’s even the requisite scene of hideous physical dismemberment/disfigurement (the already famous frozen penis scene). But instead of feeling fresh, or fascinating, they feel like attempts to prop up the otherwise faltering business of the novel. Even the scenes describing the landscape I saw Andrew Reimer waxing lyrical about in The Sydney Morning Herald sound to me like McEwan on auto-pilot. Indeed, in a very real sense, the book reads like McEwan is doing a parody of himself: the only problem is that it’s a pretty feeble parody.

Part of the problem is that McEwan has clearly decided to save himself from writing an awful “issue” novel by flicking the switch to vaudeville, a decision which clearly made sense at the time, but given that McEwan’s real strength is exquisitely modulated depictions of violence and transgression (and more particularly the intrusion of that violence into the ostensibly “safe” world of middle class life) seems a little misguided in retrospect.

But I suspect Solar’s failure is also reflective of some of the conventional realist novel’s more general limitations, especially when confronted by an issue as large, and as systemic as climate change.

The problem is that the things social realist novels are good at – characters, narrative, interiority, social context – are hopelessly inadequate when it comes to something like climate change. Obviously I’m talking to some extent about the limitations of my own imagination here, but it’s very difficult to imagine how one could encompass such a subject in a conventional novel without projecting some sort of coherence or shape onto it which does violence to the scale and difficulty of the problem.

In a way the problem is analogous to that of fictional representations of the Holocaust. The sheer enormity of what actually happened means fictional recreations of it tend to be cheapening at best, downright offensive at worse. As Jonathan Littell’s The Kindly Ones demonstrates it’s not impossible to do (though interestingly The Kindly Ones’ success depends at least in part on its success at mimicking the authority of non-fiction, and synthesising vast amounts of factual detail into its fabric). It’s that the desire of the novel to make sense of events, and find shape in lives is fundamentally at odds with the brutal and senseless nature of the reality, so much so that attempting to impose those shapes on the events often ends up looking like the worst sort of kitsch.

Solar, which has a relatively simple narrative and a small cast is one example of this problem at work, but I suspect it’s also a problem for larger, multi-strand narratives that attempt to grapple with the problem. Imagine, for example, the Underworld or (to use a filmic example) the Syriana of climate change. To work either dramatically or thematically they require the imposition of order upon what is an open-ended and diffuse problem. As James Wood correctly observes of Underworld, it “insist[s] on connections (the atom bomb is somehow connected to JFK’s assassination and to paranoia) as Dickens’s plots insist on connections (wills, lost relatives, distant benefactors)”. The problem is there are no connections in climate change, unless of course you believe there really is a vast conspiracy linking oil companies to governmental inaction (which there is, of course, but it’s the sort of messy, mutating, ad hoc conspiracy that crusading journalists can’t expose). Inventing a conspiracy, even a vanishing one as in Syriana, trivialises the problem by making it a function of individual action, rather than the system itself.

So, to return to my question before, what might a good novel about climate change look like? One answer might be science fiction. But while the capacity of SF to step outside the strictures of reality makes it better at dealing with these sorts of big ideas than conventional literary fiction, it’s hobbled by many of the same problems when it comes to climate change.

Take Stephen Baxter’s recent novel, Flood, as an example. In Flood Baxter graphically depicts the consequences of rapidly rising sea levels. At least initially this process is driven by climate change, but Baxter then adds a wrinkle of his own, suggesting that the release of the melting ice’s pressure on the earth’s crust allows vast sub-surface oceans to begin to pour forth, dramatically accelerating the process, so that within the space of a few decades the entire world is submerged.

When Flood works, it really works. The scenes in which the Thames Barrier gives way and London floods are truly terrifying, and there are any number of amazing details. But because it is, like most SF, essentially realist, it’s still compelled to at least gesture towards character and story (there’s actually an oddly clinical detachment to the whole book, so in many ways it is only a gesture). And, as a result, the thing it most resembles is a fictional version of a disaster movie, and more particularly films like The Day After Tomorrow and 2012 (with which it shares a number of important devices).

So if not SF, then what? Some sense of an answer might be found in the work of William Vollman, and more particularly books like Imperial or Seven Dreams. Imperial is actually non-fiction, but all Vollman’s books sit on the borderland between fact and fiction, and seem to be less interested in representing the world than actually recreating it. They push at the boundaries of both fictional and non-fictional forms, and indeed at the limits of what readers are prepared to read, but they also suggest a point beyond the neatness and coherence of conventional fiction. And, with them in hand, it’s at least possible to imagine a book that might be able to draw together the many strands of the climate change catastrophe without trying to impose an obviously artificial order upon them.

The question to my mind though is less whether a writer like Vollman, or a book like Imperial might be able to assimilate and represent the subject, but in what sense it would be fiction if it did, especially if it also incorporated large slabs of factual detail or reportage. In this I am, of course, articulating the same sort of anxiety about fiction David Shields explores in Reality Hunger (a book I’ll post about soon) but it’s a real question: at what point have we so exploded the idea of the novel, and of fiction, that what we’re reading isn’t really a novel anymore? And if writing about climate change demands that sort of dismantlement, what does that tell us about the “failure” of contemporary writers to deal with the issue?

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Is climate change denialism the new Hansonism?

Like everybody else in Australia I’ve spent the last couple of weeks mesmerised by the spectacle of the Liberal Party coming unravelled over the question of their position on the Rudd Government’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme and climate change more generally. Watching open warfare break out between what the media politely describe as the conservatives (I suspect reactionaries is probably closer to the truth, but perhaps a little inflammatory for the broadsheets to use on a daily basis) and the moderates I’m reminded of an interview I heard with The Sydney Morning Herald’s Political Editor, Peter Hartcher at the time of Turnbull’s elevation to the leadership, in which he was asked whether he thought Turnbull was ready to lead the Liberal Party. To his credit Hartcher just laughed. ‘I think the real question is whether the Liberal Party is ready for Malcolm Turnbull’.

Aside from the fact somebody’s usually done something totally insane by lunchtime (and yes, Tony Abbott, I’m looking at you) one of the really fascinating things about the whole schemozzle is the way it’s highlighted just how entrenched climate change denialism is in the ranks of the Liberal Party.

Now I’d be the last to claim the views of our elected representatives are particularly representative of the views of the community at large. On a range of issues, from religion to abortion and euthanasia, they are, for the most part, markedly more conservative than most Australians. And if the polling is to be believed, they’re similarly out of step on climate change, as polls such as this one in today’s Sydney Morning Herald showing two thirds of Australians support the ETS, demonstrate.

But on the question of climate change I suspect they’re providing a useful reminder that despite the increasing acceptance in the community at large that climate change is happening, and fast, there is a small and entrenched minority who reject the science.

What’s interesting to me is the distribution of these beliefs across the community. A few weeks ago Roy Morgan released some polling data about the question, which Crikey’s Possum has offered some useful commentary on. Several things stand out in the Morgan data. First, belief in climate change and the need for action divides pretty cleanly across party, gender and demographic lines. Labor and Green voters are much more concerned than Liberal voters, women are more concerned than men, and people in the capital cities are more concerned than those in regional and rural areas. Second, and more worryingly, these positions are hardening and polarising: there has been a small increase in the number of people who disapprove of the CPRS in the last few months, and these new initiates into the ranks of the climate change denialists are mostly Liberal-voting men from outside the capital cities (I appreciate disapproval of the CPRS and climate change denialism are not precisely the same thing, but I think we can assume the two are closely connected in this context).

These are, of course, precisely the same people who were the backbone of One Nation a decade ago. Older white men from outside the capital cities.

One of the things I remember most keenly about the rise of Pauline Hanson was the way it blindsided conventional public opinion. For middle-class elites it seemed to come out of nowhere, a furious, incoherent cry of unreason which deliberately rejected the foundations of their world view in favour of views which seemed to inhabit a netherworld somewhere between the laughable and the poisonous.

I suspect the rising tide of climate change denialism is catching middle-class elites off-guard in exactly the same way. That Andrew Bolt’s blog is a haven for denialist maddies is no secret, but I’d suggest anyone who thinks there’s broad-based support for action on climate change spend some time trawling the comment strings on The Daily Telegraph or The Punch, or maybe tune into 2GB for an hour or two.

Of course I’m well aware that an awful lot of what passes for commentary on news sites is the work of formal and semi-formal political operatives. But the sheer ferocity of the comments about Turnbull and Rudd, and the persistent suggestion that the science of climate change is a lunatic conspiracy, and the CPRS some kind of plot to destroy (white) Australia is pretty striking. More broadly, climate change denialism exhibits many of the same characteristics that made Hansonism so potent: the rejection of evidence-based policy, suspicion of expert opinion, dislike of what was seen as the preaching of the self-appointed guardians of public morality. And, judging by the polls on different news sites, it’s catching elite opinion off-guard in exactly the same way Hansonism did: earlier today I compared two polls about the Liberal leadership: The Sydney Morning Herald was registering close to 70% support for Malcolm Turnbull, while support for Turnbull over at The Daily Telegraph was running at about 31%.

All of which suggests there is something fundamental happening out on the fringes of public debate. It may not have a name yet, or a figurehead, but it’s not too much of a stretch to see the beginnings of a larger political movement, grounded in climate change denialism and resonating with older anxieties about immigration, refugees and Aborigines (for what it’s worth I don’t think it’s a coincidence we’ve seen an uptick in anti-immigration sentiment in recent months, or that portions of the Liberal Party are running so hard on refugees again).

There are some important differences between Hansonism and the new movement, not least the fact that whatever else it was, Hansonism was, in a very real sense, a grass roots movement, while climate change denialism has been assiduously fostered by powerful interests with a lot at stake (if you’re interested in tracing the role of big business in stalling action on climate change and discrediting the science I thoroughly recommend you check out the relevant chapter in George Monbiot’s Heat). And unlike Hansonism, the ranks of the climate change denialists are swollen by a solid cohort of wealthy older men. But I suspect that in some deep sense climate change denialism is drawing on the same discontent that Hansonism drew upon, and that despite the now-overwhelming scientific evidence, in the months and years to come it may well begin to gain ground in much the way Hansonism did a decade ago.

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