Ships of fools were becoming rare as unicorns, as scarce as a denialist at a Greenpeace rally. But two of them suddenly turned up in our backyard. The first one sighted was the Akademik Shokalskiy. Trapped by pack-ice in Commonwealth Bay, Antarctica, on Christmas day last year, we now know more about the incident courtesy of the blogosphere (here, here and here).
The Russian vessel was hired by a group of Australian scientists for a voyage to commemorate the Australasian Antarctic Expedition of 1911 – 1914. Packaged as a Spirit of Mawson adventure – and keen to reveal the alleged dangers of global warming for the region – it is now being criticised as a pseudo-scientific expedition and a misguided self-aggrandizing PR stunt , forcing expedition leader Professor Chris Turney to defend it.
Attempts by the MSM, especially Their ABC, to spin the incident initially as a misadventure by a bunch of tourists from an unidentified foreign country are unravelling too. A few, however, did communicate context and some facts.
Graham Lloyd, environmental editor for The Australian, was one of them. He posted this piece on 2nd January: “An icy blast of scepticism”; describing how a group comprising climate (and other) researchers, embedded global media and tourists became trapped “in its own experiment”.
Stranded by sea-ice that apparently appeared ex nihilo on Christmas Day, they were forced to spend the festive season mostly below deck, “instead of exploring what melting ice would mean for mankind.” As the Statement from the Australasian Antarctic Expedition, put it:
We’re stuck in our own experiment. We came to Antarctica to study how one of the biggest icebergs in the world has altered the system by trapping ice. We followed Sir Douglas Mawson’s footsteps into Commonwealth Bay, and are now ourselves trapped by ice surrounding our ship.
Sea ice is disappearing due to climate change, but here ice is building up. We have found this has changed the system on many levels. The increase in sea ice has freshened the seawater below, so much so that you can almost drink it. This change will have impacts on the deep ocean circulation.
Underwater, forests of algae are dying as sea-ice blocks the light. Who can say what effects the regional circulation changes may have on the ice sheet of the Antarctic plateau, or whether the low number of seals suggests changes to their population.
Who, indeed, can “say what effects the regional circulation changes may have on the ice sheet of the Antarctic plateau”? A group stranded in a part of the world where “the system” is in a state of constant change?
And who can explain how “climate change” could cause the simultaneous disappearance and build-up of sea ice? Alvin Stone, media manager for AAE and ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science, gave it his best shot, blaming global warming for the incident. Expect a peer-reviewed paper – full of dodgy attribution statements – in the fullness of time.
The Australian also ran a punchy editorial: “Stuck on a ship of (cold) fools – the botched voyage in Antarctica is full of icy ironies.” Turney and his fellow evacuees to the ice-breaker Aurora Australis were urged to “accept the embarrassing failure of their mission”, and the uncertainties in climate change science.
Some suggested a closer reading of Sir Douglas Mawson’s account of his time there a century ago would have been more valuable than making selfies like this one, or chilling out with knot-tying, yoga and performance art classes. Here’s Guardian journalist-cum-propagandist Laurence Topham:
It is quite stressful… I miss banana and peanut butter milkshakes… I’ve got this really thin, small bed… I’ve hurt my back… I jammed my leg in the door last night… And it’s only going to get worse… Stranded in ice. Oh, God I’m going mad.
Mawson had more important matters on his mind. With the daily challenge of building accommodation – and doing science – there was no time for existential ennui and separation anxiety.
“On the morning of January 20 , all were at work. As we were securely isolated from trade-union regulation, our hours of labour ranged from 7am to 11pm.” (page 54)
“Among other things it was found difficult to fire the charges, for, when frozen, dynamite is not readily exploded. This was overcome by carrying the sticks inside one’s pocket until the last moment.” (page 54)
After losing two colleagues and his best huskies on a fateful trek across King George Land, he was lucky to survive the return journey. It became “a fight with Death and the great Providence would decide the issue”, 300 miles from base (page 160).
So he had great respect for the “Home of the Blizzard”, describing it as an “accursed country”, a place “where the chill breath of a vast polar wilderness, quickening to the rushing might of eternal blizzards, surged to the northern seas” (page 88).
Mawson also noted in his introduction that:
The Antarctic climate, latitude for latitude, has the lowest mean temperature and the highest wind velocity of any land. This naturally follows from the fact that it is a lofty expanse of ice-clad land circumscribing the Pole, and that the Antarctic summer occurs when the Earth is farther from the sun than is the case during the Arctic summer.” (xxviii)
Today the AAE home-page has a warning about Cape Denison and Commonwealth Bay: “Known to be one of the windiest regions in the world”.
The “ship of fools” expression dates from 1494, when Sebastian Brant’s Das Narrenschiff was printed in Basel. In his satire, a ship laden with fools and steered by them goes on a jaunt to – where else but – a fools’ paradise. Folly, water and sea were seen in the Renaissance as states that – conveniently – had an “affinity” for each other. Folk deemed “mad” were put on a ship bound for nowhere: out of mind, out of sight and vice versa. (editor’s note: one wonders if the 15th century’s fools occupied their idle moments by writing little ditties about their misadventures. Watch the video below for a glimpse of how our modern simpletons amused themselves while waitying to be saved from the ice).
Jose Barchilon described the phenomenon in his introduction to Foucault’s Madness and Civilization.
“The ‘Ship of Fools’ crisscrossed the sea and canals of Europe with their comic and pathetic cargo of souls. Some of them found pleasure and even a cure in the changing surroundings, in the isolation of being cast off, while others withdrew further, became worse, or died alone and away from their families. The cities and villages which had thus rid themselves of their crazed and crazy, could now take pleasure in watching the exciting sideshow when a ship full of foreign lunatics would dock at their harbours.”
We are, alas, all (paying) passengers on it. And we are being forced to share the voyage with a crazy cargo of carbonistas, determined to fight the climate war to the bitter end, whatever the cost. They tilt at every windmill along the way and obsess about erecting thousands more – possibly on a hill near you.
Tilting at windmills: 1. Act of attacking imaginary enemies, like Don Quixote. 2. Used to describe confrontations where adversaries are incorrectly perceived and actions are prompted by deluded idealism. 3. Frequently constellates in folk afflicted by grandiosity, pseudologia fantastica and similar states of mind.
Penny Wong, acting Opposition Leader and architect of many a mantra on “dangerous” climate change, is Carbon Con’s chief buccaneer. Witness the speed of her alarmist response following release of the Bureau of Meteorology Annual Climate Statement 2013 last week, urging the Government to abandon its direct action scheme.
But if Wong is the ship’s current captain, then Greg – “spend first, think later” – Hunt seems to be either auditioning for the position of first mate, or preparing to walk the plank. For both parties remain in denial about the rotting core of national climate policy.
We are being duped by our political class. It wants us to accept the fiction that it can modify the nation’s climate, but not in a measurable way. Yet it wants us to believe that reducing carbon dioxide emissions alone will deliver Goldilocks meteorological outcomes – “just right” for everyone.
Whatever one’s view on the causal conundrums of climate change – and there are many – how can a country with a mere 1.5 per cent of global emissions aspire to engineer a benign and “stable” climate? It can’t. To claim otherwise is to attempt a magician’s trick.
The government must investigate what is really going on in this space. It is time — as Michael Asten, professor of geophysics at Monash University, urges — for a genuine review of current climate policy. Otherwise, more billions will be wasted pursuing a chimera.
Michael Kile, January 2014