Rapley’s Cogitatum Interruptum: 2071 Transcribed

I’m busy transcribing Rapley’s Royal Court monologue. It’s awful, but in a totally different way to Emmott’s Ten Billion.

Rapley delivers his well-turned phrases, each one decorated with curlicues of statistics, in a clear, if rather boring, voice. As I wade through the tedious enunciation of exactly how many scientists from how many countries took part in this or that intergovernmental initiative, I long for Emmott with his rambling stuttering verbless sentences, his nervous tics, and his surrealist Alice in Wonderland factoids. Whereas Emmott dealt in hamburgers that consume thousands of gallons of water in their creation, Rapley is more interested in how long a glacier flowing at x kilometres a year takes to raise the sea level by y millimetres. Rapley’s delivery is like that of a primary school arithmetic lesson, while Emmott is more like a tragic actor raging against the elements. They’re both bonkers of course, but Emmott in a more interesting way.

Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!

You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout

Till you have drench’d our steeples, drown’d the cocks!

You sulphurous and thought-executing fires,

Vaunt-couriers to oak-cleaving thunderbolts,

Singe my white head! And thou, all-shaking thunder,

Smite flat the thick rotundity o’ the world!

We’re fucked I say, so teach your son

to wield the murd’rous musket

And thus act out the sordid fantasies that

Obsess thy Guardian-reading brain.

Which is a lot more fun than Rapley’s:

Unless we succeed in reducing our emissions

By thirty percent in the next twenty years

(Which I’m sure we can, given goodwill on all sides.)

The reviews I’ve seen are unanimous about the tedium and the lost opportunity:

…a nervous but poised performance …The professor never stirred from his chair. I watched several people drop off to sleep..” (The Observer)

It’s low-key to the point of dullness. There’s … no plot, no characters, no dialogue and less emotional upheaval than most audience members will have encountered on the Tube journey to the theatre … this is a lecture, and a dry one.” (Financial Times)

but equally sure that the message is spot on:

the facts themselves are where the drama resides.” (Financial Times)

It was an evening to make the craziest of climate change deniers blush.

(Business Green)

Ben Pile, in a typically cool and even-handed review at

http://www.breitbart.com/Breitbart-London/2014/11/13/2071-the-most-skull-crushingly-dull

entitled ‘The Most Skull-crushingly Dull Piece of Green Propaganda in the Planet’s History” observes:

Chris Rapley is keen to qualify his role as lecturer by professing his expertise in many things during the opening ten minutes (they felt like hours). One of those things is the cryosphere (the frozen parts of the planet), which is so-called because Rapley went there and bored entire mountains of ice to tears.”

Ben compares the performance to a ritual, and in an article at

http://www.climate-resistance.org/2014/11/2071-and-counting.html

he wonders if a sermon might not be a more appropriate term, which is unfair to the practitioners of two thousand year tradition of speaking with tongues and rousing the faithful to a pitch of fervour in which miracles happen

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=av08GHz_9C4

They don’t sound too worried about a 3mm per year sea rise, do they? And in case anyone thinks it’s patronising to equate religious fervour with oppressed minorities in the deep south, we old white men can do it too

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8BJuO4zPJGk

A fairer comparison would be with “Thought for the Day” the BBC’s god slot that’s always on in the morning when you switch on Radio 4 to get the news, in which some worthy vicar or imam or rabbi or lay preacher tries to extract some deeper meaning from the trivial events of their lives. Their shapeless musings only last for two minutes, but they seem to go on for over an hour while your toast burns and your coffee goes cold. Rapley’s ramblings really do go on for over an hour, but, when they occasionally rise above the level of interest of a warning notice in a packet of aspirins, they catch exactly the tone of “Thought for the Day”:

We can observe the change in atmospheric concentration over time by looking at data from ice cores drawn from the ice sheets and glaciers in Antarctica and Greenland […] The deepest ice cores extracted from the Antarctic are more than three kilometers long, and contain a record going back 800,000 years. As the director of the British Antarctic Survey on one of my Antarctic trips in 2002, I visited the European drill site at a place called Dome C. I watched as a fine section of ice core nearly half a million years old was extracted from a depth of just under three kilometres. It took an hour to load the drill, a few minutes to drill the core section, and an hour to winch it up to the surface.”

So far this is typical Rapley, a man who can’t unwrap a Mars Bar on the tube without measuring its length and reading aloud the ingredients on the wrapper to the other passengers. But then he gets intensely personal:

There are offcuts, small chunks of the core which aren’t useful to science. I picked a piece up. As a scientist, I try to remain objective and dispassionate, but here I was in a part of the world that had fascinated me since I looked at that area marked “Region unknown to man” as a child, holding a piece of ice that had not seen the light of day since before the dawn of mankind. I listened to the air bubbles pop and crackle as the ice melted in the heat of my hand.”

Pure Thought For The Day. We prepare ourselves for the inevitable dénouement, the reflection of mind-searing banality on the meaning of life that will round off this life-changing experience. Instead, we get this:

By measuring this air, it’s possible to study the composition of methane and carbon dioxide over time. We then melt the ice and measure the ratios of different atomic isotopes in the water. This provides us with a history of global temperature. We can then study the relationship between trace gases and temperature. The ice core data show an almost perfect match between the time curves of global temperature and atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide and methane. As temperature increases, carbon dioxide and methane are released from the ocean and by the biosphere, causing further temperature rises through their enhancement of the greenhouse effect. The opposite takes place during the cooling phase.”

I‘ll leave it to others to comment on the science. My point here is that Rapley embarks on an anecdote meant to lead up to some intense meditation on something or other – and stops. He can’t do reflection. (Why should he? He’s a geography teacher.) Yet he vaguely senses that if you want to persuade the world (or even Sloane Square) of the need to change the world’s economy and every detail of the way we live, isotopes in very old ice won’t hack it.

If only we could feel what he felt when he held that bit of old ice in his hand (Isn’t that rather dangerous in Antarctica?) then we’d understand the need for five thousand delegates from a hundred and ninety five countries to hammer out an agreement to limit CO2 emissions to x gigatons by the year y in order to limit the temperature rise (Rapley calls it a “guard rail”) to 2°C in the year z.

2071 is named after the year that Rapley’s grandchild will be the age he is now. Every year that date will change (go on, do the maths – it’s not complicated) and every year he will have to rename the play, just as every year he will have to put off the date of the doom which is never quite upon us.

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6 Responses to Rapley’s Cogitatum Interruptum: 2071 Transcribed

  1. alexjc38 says:

    Looking forward to reading it! As a footnote to that, there’s now a transcript of the Royal Court Theatre’s Literary Manager interviewing Chris Rapley and the others, earlier this month:
    https://sites.google.com/site/mytranscriptbox/2014/20141104_rc

    One thing I noticed was the emotive language being used during the interview, which is in stark contrast to the reported dryness of the actual performance. Duncan Macmillan talks of “a frightening process” and an “emotive subject”, Katie Mitchell says that the climate change narrative is something “I very passionately believe in”, and Chris Rapley even talks of undergoing “major meltdowns” during preparation of the material.

    Unfortunately, very little of all that passion and creative turmoil seems to have survived “the process”.🙂

  2. alexjc38 says:

    Oops, meant to append a frowning/glum smiley at the end of yesterday’s comment, but something went awry.

  3. Alex
    Many thanks for the transcript of the interview, which has left me very confused. Transcribing the talk, I found it difficult to understand what input Duncan Macmillan could have had, since so far it reads like Rapley’s memoirs, interspersed with a few interpretations of what the collapse of the Antarctic peninsula ice sheets means for sea level rise. It could be an article entitled “Memories of an Antarctic Explorer” extracted from the Illustrated London News circa 1910. Yet in the interview you’ve transcribed we find Rapley saying:
    “..what I know is, I would never ever have written it out that way – that is not the structure that I would have assembled […] And I’ve just finally learned to relax and see that the story comes out anyway, and indeed far better the way Duncan has assembled it. So it’s been great.”
    The interview suggests that Macmillan is responsible for the disastrous format, the suppression of any true discussion of the science, and its transformation into what sounds like an end of term prize-giving day speech by a distinguished old boy.
    For me, Rapley comes out rather better from this interview, and Macmillan distinctly worse. At least Rapley ends by expressing a desire for “an informed discussion” and “a proper conversation”. Maybe our transcripts can help the process along.

  4. Ben Pile says:

    Good point, Geoff – if I understand the podcast correctly, the co-writers could have had no fewer than 32 (!) meetings to write what I can’t believe took longer than a Sunday afternoon and couple of cups of coffee.

    Rapley’s desire for ‘a proper conversation’ is a hollow platitude. In the play he says something similar: ‘what kind of future do we want’, he asked, after having spent an hour telling us that it wasn’t up for discussion.

  5. A hollow platitude? Some might call it hypocrisy. In his glossy UCL report Time For Change, published in June, (which was much ridiculed by climate scientists at the time) he wrote that
    “There is a need for the general public and climate scientists to engage in constructive dialogue”.
    This theme ran throughout the report, for example:

    “The advantages of dialectic – or dialogue – are manifold. The starting assumption is that all participants have useful contributions to make. The approach is collaborative, is at least as much about listening as it is about speaking”.
    The report also recommended a forum for an “active and authoritative conversation”.

    But his idea of a conversation seems to be him sitting on a stage delivering a dull monologue. All rather reminiscent of a certain magazine promising academic rigour and journalistic flair.
    When he issued one of his earlier proclamations, “Time to Raft Up”, in Nature, I wrote a 36-line email to him, including at least four specific questions. I got a one-line reply, just saying that he noted my comments. I wonder if this is what he means by constructive dialogue and proper conversation.

    The other wonderfully ironic recommendation from the report is that
    “Active critical self-reflection and humility should become the evident and habitual cultural norm on the part of all participants in the climate discourse”.
    It might have been wise for him to do that before putting himself forward to read a lecture on autocue from an armchair and calling it a play.

  6. Paul Matthews:
    “His idea of a conversation seems to be him sitting on a stage delivering a dull monologue.”
    But according to Rapley in the discussion transcribed by Alex, the resulting monologue wasn’t his idea at all, but Duncan Macmillan’s, and this is what’s baffling me. I’ve watched videos of Rapley at work, for example at the Royal Opera House here

    or in front of an audience of psychoanalysts (plus Bob Ward, whose bald pate shone out like a beacon of self-satisfied sanity in an ocean of fruitcake) in a video which has mysteriously disappeared from this site
    http://www.beyondthecouch.org.uk/Podcasts
    and I’ve found him to be a master of the Drone, the minimal apparatus able to survey the field and surreptitiously deliver the occasional porky without being detected.
    According to Rapley, the text is Macmillan’s. But why would the author of at least one decent carbon-footprint-related joke:

    write this?
    The IPCC was set up in 1988 by the United Nations Environment Programme and the World Meteorological Organisation. Its job is to provide a comprehensive summary of the scientific data to inform the policy decisions of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
    This is an international treaty negotiated by 196 nations at the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992, and its objective is to stabilise greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that will prevent dangerous human interference with the climate system.
    The IPCC has three working groups. Working Group 1 reviews and assesses the physical science information relevant to human-induced climate change. Working Group 2 addresses the related impacts on people and the environment, and Working Group 3 focusses on the policy options – adaptation to and mitigation of human-induced climate change.
    Since its establishment the IPCC has produced five assessment reports, approximately one every five years, each consisting of a lengthy technical report; an agreed summary for policy makers; which is scrutinised and agreed by representatives on behalf of the governments participating in the IPCC process. The most recent Working Group 1 report – the fifth – was released in September 2013. It’s arguably the most audited scientific document, and possibly the most audited document in history.
    The work was led by 209 scientists who are regarded as world experts in their respected fields. They were supported by more than 600 contributing authors from 32 countries, and 50 review editors from 39 countries. Of the tens of thousands of publications sifted, more than 9,200 were cited. The authors responded to 54,677 comments from 1,089 reviewers worldwide, and the final text was approved by representatives of 196 governments. The full Working Group One technical report had 1,535 pages and weighs four and quarter kilos.

    It doesn’t make sense. My personal conspiracy theory is that Macmillan sexed up the dossier – as a master of the thespian art would be expected to do – and met with so many objections and caveats from the Prof that he finished by saying: “OK, you want boring, I’ll do you boring” and flounced out of the arena, leaving the Prof to the mercy of the lions (or Christians, depending on your point of view.)

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