Tuesday, May 12, 2009

It's that man again

I've been reading the Listener. Yes, I know; after all I said.

It was the issue for last week that had me in its spell, the one with the photo of Gareth Morgan on the cover. Perhaps I should be more specific, because Gareth Morgan is often on the front cover of the Listener: he is a very busy man and he has lots of ideas, most of which seem to require him and his lovely wife Joanne to ride motorcycles to some exotic place and then publish a book about it, which the Listener kindly promotes with a feature article. In fact, this is exactly what has happened, once again. Here is how the story starts:
Faced with one of the great questions of our time – whether the Earth’s current warming is caused by humans – economist Gareth Morgan did what only a philanthropist can do: hired some top scientists to give him the answer.

Riding her motorbike north through Alaska, or across the Sahara, Joanne Morgan would occasionally pause to point out something – desertification, perhaps, or dying forests – and say to her husband, “See that? That’s caused by global warming.” [ you might pause, gentle reader, to consider how clumsy was that paragraph; I am no geographer, but I think the sight of desertification in the Sahara would be unremarkable, although forests, even dying ones, are rare in those parts]

“I got bloody sick of it, to be honest,” Gareth Morgan says now. “And finally I said to her, ‘Joanne, for God’s sake, you can’t possibly make such sweeping statements.’” Her answer was that if he had read Tim Flannery’s climate-change book The Weather Makers, as she had, then he would understand.

So, he started reading it, but instead of being convinced that human activity – most notably the burning of fossil fuels – was causing global warming, Morgan finished each page with more questions than answers. He decided to hire some climate change policy researchers to investigate...
Now read on; no, you cannot until the end of this month: the Listener's management wants to punish you for not buying the magazine. But I will save you the trouble of finding a week-old copy: the story does not say much more than that. He found some people; he paid them lots of money to tell him all about climate change (this, incidentally, is not philanthropy but the exchange of money for services; Gareth, being an economist, will know this; Joanne Black, who wrote the story, may well not); they told him what he might have learned from reading some other books; Gareth learned that his wife was right: we are, in fact, stuffed; Gareth then hired a journalist to help him write his own book. This book will soon be on sale. If you are feeling philanthropic, you can buy a copy to help Gareth recover some of the costs of his curiosity.

At some point in this journey of discovery there was a motorcycle trip, it seems: the Listener story is illustrated by a very peculiar photograph, which shows Gareth and his wife Joanne on the ice, with a pair of penguins and a pair of New Zealand Post mopeds – the kind they use to deliver the mail, with panniers and no apparent modifications for use in Antarctic conditions. I am not sure whether Gareth and Joanne had to deliver mail to Antarctic research stations to fund their philanthropy, or whether the photograph was made at Kelly Tarleton's, or whether New Zealand Post was itself philanthropic and bunged the Morgans some money on the condition that they rode its mopeds across what remains of the Antarctic, rather than their own BMWs. I expect you will have to read the book to find out.

I should add, as an aside, that this is not the only peculiar photograph in this issue of the Listener; there is another illustrating the main story about the global economy. It shows a mob of men, in old style hats and coats (I borrowed that phrase from Philip Larkin, to conserve rhetoric) attacking a car; some women and children look on, as does a Policeman; meanwhile the Policeman's more proactive colleague draws his baton. The caption to this photograph is "unemployed New Zealanders rioting in the Great Depression," which is both unsurprisingly gauche and suspiciously vague: newspaper photographs usually come with details of date and location. I was vaguely suspicious, so I looked carefully and noticed that several of the men were not wearing hats, which was almost a capital offence in the 1930s. One of them was wearing a Homburg, which was never a hat for the working (or unemployed) man. Another was wearing a hacking jacket, not a coat associated with the urban proletariat. And, to cap my suspicions, several of the unhatted men had hairstyles which were unknown before the 1960s. I put it to you, Listener sub-editors, that the incident shown in this photograph did not occur in the Great Depression but some years later. It may well have been a capping stunt.

And there is a third peculiar photograph, on the Bradford's Hollywood page. It shows Mark Wahlberg, the artist formerly known as Marky Mark, looking peculiarly like our own John Campbell.

Anyway, back to the main story; now, where was I? Ah yes, Gareth is publishing a book. This will tell us what we might have learned from the other books that neither we nor he have read: that we caused global warming and that we are stuffed. Gareth will recover some of the money he expended on this project and more of us will know about New Zealand Post (the CEO of which has just become head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, incidentally).

What good all this will do the penguins is another question, to which the answer is probably 'none.' It probably won't do the Listener readers much good, either. Every week they are told of another new thing to worry about; it is no wonder they have frown lines.

Still, at least there is Hope. It says so on the cover of the very same edition. Apparently, this depression is not going to turn out like the last one, which is good news if you are German, Jewish, of conscription age or any combination of such. It is not so good news if you were planning on a career as a popular wartime entertainer. However, as this week's Listener says : a recession is not the time to be self-absorbed. Will the new zeitgeist mean we accept our bodies, without putting our perceived flaws and wrinkles to the fore?

Answers on a postcard, to the usual address.


Giovanni said...

However, as this week's Listener says : a recession is not the time to be self-absorbed.

So naturally the next sentence was 'We regretfully announce the closure of this publication', right?


(I borrowed that phrase from Philip Larkin, to conserve rhetoric)

I might have to follow suit and steal this line, to further enhance the conservation efforts.

Samuel said...

I'd rather hoped it might have been my reviews that had you in thrall there, but never mind...

My parents no longer subscribe, but I do my bit to shore up Listener circulation by picking up a copy from the Britomart newsagent from time to time - usually a quick flick through reveals whether or not there's good stuff to tuck into over lunch or on the train.