Image credit: The Royal Court Theatre
UK climate skeptics may have been disheartened by James Delingpole's drubbing at the hands of Sir Paul Nurse recently (Delingpole allegedly described the experience as "intellectual rape"), but they can always cheer themselves up with a trip to the theater. It seems, just as a play called Greenland is exploring our inept responses to climate change, another high-profile play is busy dredging up the Climategate controversy, albeit from a decidedly fictional standpoint. Climate Change Consensus Unsettled?
Playing at the Royal Court Theatre in London, The Heretic is supposedly a play about why politics and science should be kept separate. Asking "what evidence do we need before deciding what to believe", the play explores the apparent dilemma of Dr Diane Cassell, an expert in sea levels at York University, who finds herself vilified by colleagues when she starts to question the scientific consensus around climate science.
The plot thickens when Cassell discovers her colleagues have been making deliberately false statements in academic papers, and have manipulated data to "bury the downturn" (sound familiar?) in tree ring data.
Fictitious Accounts of Climate Change are Common
I haven't personally seen the play, so this is not intended as a review—but I do think it is an interesting case study in how theater and other art forms interact with public discourse. We, as environmentalists, can hardly complain about the existence of "fictitious" contributions to the debate any more than skeptics can complain about the existence of Ian McEwan's novel Solar, Age of Stupid's dystopian vision of the future, or even the ridiculously Hollywoodized Day After Tomorrow.
The Politics of Skepticism
But we can point out their flaws; we can note that this is, indeed, fiction; and we can draw attention to the fact that the similarities between this play and the events it is clearly inspired by are tenuous indeed. James Murray over at Business Green has a review of The Heretic which sets out just how far this play differs from real events, and makes it clear that for a play about why science and politics should not mix, it takes a pretty overtly and selectively political stance:
"The pacing of the entire narrative remains shockingly uneven throughout as Bean crowbars in as many climate sceptic tropes as possible, stretching the running time to a hugely overblown two hours and 40 minutes in order to fit them all in. Cassel ticks them off: sea levels aren't rising evenly around the world, temperatures have not climbed since a late 90s peak, there are doubts about the famous hockey stick graph, the IPPC has become a political body, universities kow tow to corporations, sceptical climate scientists are forced to suppress evidence, deliberate mistakes are included in academic papers for political purposes, Al Gore is outed as a carbon trading billionaire, with sledgehammer subtlety it even snows at Christmas."
There is, of course, no mention of the fact that the scientists involved in climategate were vindicated by three separate independent inquiries.
But then this is fiction—so why should there be?