Having one-sided discussions about climate change helps no-one, says Clive James in his weekly column
About 40 years ago now, the world used to hear a lot from a futurologist called Herman Kahn. Of ample girth and unquenchable volubility, Herman Kahn, who died in 1983, was always making confident pronouncements about what would happen in the future.
So and so, he would say, would happen 10, 20, 25 years years from now. It wouldn't happen tomorrow, so that you could check up on it straightaway, but it would happen 10, 20, 25 years from now.
Some of us realised that he had invented a new unit of time, and we gave it a name. In tribute to Fermi, who could measure electrons, we called his new unit of time the Hermie. The merit of the Hermie, as a unit of measurement, was that, while being vague, it sounded impressive.
The prediction itself might or might not have been right. Herman Kahn predicted that within one Hermie everyone in the West would fly his own helicopter and have access to free-fall sex. That didn't happen within one Hermie, but it still might happen in the next Hermie.
All we can be sure of is that Herman Kahn's language exemplified an impressive way of talking about the future, a way of sounding impressive that sounded less impressive only when you realised that sounding impressive was its main motive. Big things would happen. It was big talk. And it paid the penalty of all big talk. As you got used to it, you got tired of it.
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