A new climate fiction novel brings critiques of climate hysteria to another audience.
Winter Games, by Daniel Church, New Wave Books, 248 pages.
How cold does it have to be for someone to freeze to death?
Apparently, not very cold at all. If by “freeze to death,” you mean hypothermia resulting in one’s heart shutting down, the answer is 59 degrees Fahrenheit—provided there is a light breeze, and one isn’t bundled up for a winter storm.
This factoid comes from the opening pages of an odd new novel, Winter Games, by an anonymous American academic writing under the pseudonym Daniel Church. This Mr. Church is not to be confused with the well-known British horror writer of the same name. Perhaps the author of Winter Games was paying tribute to his namesake, the author of The Hollows. In that novel, a village is trapped in a prolonged snowstorm and some characters die of hypothermia. The Brit’s novel, however, is a supernatural thriller, while our American writer has his crampons firmly planted in the glacier of scientific fact.
Winter Games belongs to a sub-genre of science fiction that fans call “cli-fi”—climate fiction. In its most familiar form, cli-fi conjures the results of run-away global warming. But Church’s book entertains a contrary view: that the great danger that faces humanity in our decade is climate hysteria. The readiness of vast numbers of Europeans and Americans to believe in the imminent danger of global warming, says Whit Thorgason, the protagonist of Winter Games, is causing the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people by hypothermia. How so?
If we check what the fictional Thorgason says against the record of what has happened in England since the British government began its all-out assault on fossil fuels, we find, “an average of 9,700 deaths each year are believed to be caused by living in a cold house, according to research by National Energy Action and the environmental group E3G.” The numbers vary according to the source, but not the general picture. A study in Lancet Planetary Health in 2022 found that, each year in England and Wales, about 800 people die of excess heat, but about 60,500 die of excess cold.
The pseudonymous Church has constructed a bit of science non-fiction fiction out of such numbers. He pictures the United States in 2028, by which time the “climatists” have achieved unquestioned domination of the news media, government, industry, all levels of education, the organs of scientific research, and, of course, popular opinion. This is hardly any extrapolation from 2023, but in Church’s imagined 2028, a lonely band of physical scientists operating in secret reject the great “climate consensus.” Most of them dare not speak lest they forfeit their careers and endanger their families, but a few choose to defy the iron hand of conformity.
These are scientists who work in such fields as volcanology, geology, glaciers, and ocean currents. They have detailed understanding of how the earth’s climate is actually changing and how it has changed continually over eons past. In their view, humanity is flourishing during the temperate inter-glacial period that commenced some 10,000 years ago. And mankind has benefited especially in the last several centuries from our capacity to generate cheap and abundant energy.
Fossil fuels have, among other things, allowed us to thrive at temperatures that could easily kill us. The increase in the percentage of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere resulting from our burning fossil fuels, they say, may have increased Earth’s temperature ever so slightly, but by an increment too small to measure in any meaningful way. The “evidence” in the form of dramatic events—the melting of ice caps, the rise of oceans, the increase in catastrophic storms and droughts—is illusory. It comes from manipulation of the actual record and efforts to play upon the psychological susceptibility of the public to scary stories.
Those of us who already consider ourselves skeptics of the so-called “climate consensus” will see nothing very science-fictiony about Church’s story set-up. He has simply taken the basic realities of our rocky, watery, wind-swept, and sun-drenched world and dressed them in the guise of a potboiler. No doubt he hopes this will go down more easily than just laying out the facts.
Others have attempted the path of setting out lucid summaries of the science that contradicts the main climate consensus narrative. In fact, there is no shortage of these. High up on anyone’s list would be Steven Koonin’s Unsettled: What Climate Science Tells Us, What It Doesn’t, and Why It Matters (2021). Koonin was Obama’s undersecretary for science in the Department of Energy. A highly regarded physicist, he simply reached a breaking point when the story he was expected to sell had diverged so far from the scientific record that he couldn’t take it anymore. Unsettled ought to have unsettled the global warming fantasies of millions of Americans—and Europeans for that matter—but it is hard to see that it had much effect.
The stalwart Rupert Darwell is a British writer who has spent a decade writing sophisticated and eloquent works such as The Age of Global Warming: A History (2014) and Green Tyranny: Exposing the Totalitarian Roots of the Climate Industrial Complex (2017). Darwell’s forte is showing how the climate change movement emerged out of progressive politics as early as the 1970s.
Darwell is a conservative, but his concern about the twisting of environmental claims to advance left-wing politics gets amplified by the activist Michael Shellenberger, who was a Democratic candidate for governor of California in 2018. Shellenberger’s Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All (2020) offers the insight, as he puts it in one chapter head, that the contemporary movement is “destroying the environment to save it.”
Danish “skeptical environmentalist,” Bjorn Lomborg, is perhaps the most famous advocate of a cost-benefit assessment of global warming claims. His most recent book, False Alarm: How Climate Change Panic Costs Us Trillions, Hurts the Poor, and Fails to Fix the Planet (2021) gives full cry to the need to address the world’s social problems, which he argues are only exacerbated by the war on fossil fuels.
Having gone this far down the path of mentioning non-fiction works that aim at the sort of refutation that Church puts in the mouth of his protagonist let me acknowledge that I have merely picked out five of several dozen such books that I have shelved next to the tract that Rachelle Peterson and I published in 2015, Sustainability: Higher Education’s New Fundamentalism. Some of the other works are argued with vehemence, some with sweet reason, some tersely, and a few with prolixity. Michael Hart’s Hubris: The Troubling Science, Economics, and Politics of Climate Change (2015) achieved an unsurpassed depth for its time, but it would take most readers another Ice Age to work through its nearly 600 pages of fine-toothed argument. At the other end of the scale is Stephen Einhorn’s Climate Change: What They Rarely Teach in College (2023), which is scientifically literate and reliable, but happily succinct and aimed at the general reader.
With so many plain factual critiques of climate catastrophism available, why did our pseudonymous Church resort to cli-fi? Plainly he hopes to reach an audience that Koonin, Darwell, Shellenberger, Lomberg, Hart, Einhorn, et al. didn’t or haven’t reached yet. But Church is plainly not a science fiction writer who just happened to hit on a likely theme. Winter Games shows little sign of having been penned by a sci-fi regular. Rather its author is a scientist who knows his way around volcanos, glaciers, American universities, international science conferences, and the often-vicious attempts to cancel academics who dissent from the “official” positions of their departments.
I have no idea who “Daniel Church” really is, but he is plainly an insider at a very high level of his discipline. And he is an insider who has decided that the only way he can get his message to a broader audience is to resort to a novel.
As a novelist Church lacks any hint of subtlety. The male protagonists are dashing and brave. The women are all smart and beautiful. The heroes all have tragic backstories. Characters make improbable decisions. They become incredibly lucky at opportune moments. Television news is the catspaw of millionaire manipulators and the news folk themselves are the embodiment of prideful ignorance, but at the necessary moment they discover a capacity to listen to reason. The book ends suddenly with an optimism that belies everything that came before.
Those are all good reasons not to mistake Winter Games for literature. But it is nonetheless quite remarkable storytelling, and worth the attention the author bids for.
The basic plot is this: The dissenting scientists have hit upon an appalling tactic of despair. Unable to get their voices heard in any other way, one by one they stage public suicides. Their method of exit is to film themselves at intervals, one at a time, each sitting in his laboratory somewhere around the world, delivering a message about the falsity of the climate consensus. After that, each simply sits still in a 59-degree room with a fan blowing a light breeze, for 18 hours or so, until they die of hypothermia.
That’s all it takes. Is it a plausible way to die? Actually, yes. Not that anyone would actually do it. A real person would stand up and walk out of the room; do some jumping jacks; put on a sweater; turn up the heat. But the point for these fictional scientists is that those are not options for millions of people living some distance from the equator, suffering through winters as their governments have decided to raise the cost of energy beyond their ability to pay. Replacing relatively low-cost fossil fuel-produced heat with high-cost (and unreliable) wind, solar, and other “alternative” sources of energy is a death sentence to those who are impoverished and elderly—or simply impoverished. Governments get away with it (in Church’s not-so-fictional world) because it is an “invisible holocaust.” Elderly people dying one by one in the winter is a statistic, not an engineered calamity.
The “climatists” not only see no calamity, they come away with an image of themselves as champions of the Earth and humanity’s greatest benefactors. But in Winter Games, dissenting scientists lay down their lives to teach ordinary people just how vulnerable we all are to the ever-lurking cold. While I doubt a single “climate denier” would ever actually perform this experiment, plainly one was willing to devote his off-hours to imagining a narrative where thirty-some so-called “59ers” (as they die at 59 degrees) see this as the only way to break through the controlling fable backed by authorities ranging from Al Gore to the International Panel on Climate Change.
Serial suicide makes for a dramatic tale, but in fact dissenters from the climate faux consensus do have some opportunities to make themselves heard. Not on NPR or the BBC, or on network television, and certainly not in America’s classrooms, where what now passes as “science” instruction is mainly indoctrination in the evils of the industrial revolution. But outside this bubble, word is getting around.
I do not just mean in that collection of books I cited, but also in an increasingly articulate broad movement. In Britain, the race to de-carbonize the economy is running into large-scale tragedy. And even in far-flung corners of the world where hypothermia is not an issue, the efforts to starve people of energy are undermining health. In southwest Africa for example, Namibia has been bamboozled into forfeiting its abundant energy resources in the name of fighting “climate change.” The power grid in much of Africa has been jeopardized by these make-believe efforts to stave off global catastrophe.
Bit by bit, the public is noticing the holes in the climatists’ garment of altruism and concern for human flourishing. The climatist narrative is beginning to unravel. Not fast enough, I must say. Last year a French journal invited me to present my views on climate change, which it promised it would translate and publish. My essay appears to have almost melted the Mer de Glace and denuded Mont Blanc in the heated editorial debate that ensued. But I am pleased to report that “Unsustainable: The Imaginary World of Global Warming” will soon appear in that Parisian journal. It is not my first such battle.
I gave a talk on global warming at a conference in Switzerland a few years ago, which was the only occasion in my public speaking career in which a portion of the audience got up and stomped out—literally. One of the co-editors of the conference proceedings resigned rather than have my paper published. But I note with satisfaction that my skeptical voice in both cases ultimately defeated the guardians of climatist conformity.
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How awful and offensive were these two excursions about manmade catastrophic global warming? No more provocative than anything I have written here. They just help me see how clearly the censorious spirit of control presides over this topic. It would probably be easier to publish an article in the mainstream press advancing an argument for the restoration of Aztec human sacrifice in the name of indigenous rights than it is to question the legitimacy of the climate consensus.
Even so, large numbers of ordinary people have begun to doubt the gospel that fossil fuels are bad and windmills and solar are good. Perhaps we will reach a compromise on nuclear energy or one day on fusion energy, but at the moment we face a no-compromise determination by the world’s ruling regimes that climate change poses an existential crisis, a permanent state of emergency in which nothing will suffice but windmills, solar, EVs, and the banning of everything from gas stoves to hot showers.
Winter Games may be a quixotic attempt to open the public mind. I certainly don’t expect it to find its way on to high school reading lists. But it offers a window into some of the actual and but almost always unheard scientific debates in American universities. And it offers at least one good mystery: What prominent scientist wrote it? Grab a sweater, put a carboniferous log on the fire, and read it.