FUTUROLOGY is a mug’s game. Anyone determined to make a career in it ought first to take a look at Tomorrow’s World, the television series that promised us flying cars and carefree retirement on the moon. A trawl through the archive of almost any science show that boasts that it has insight into future technologies is likely to reveal a wealth of embarrassment.
Last week’s Archive on 4: A saga of trying (and failing) to save the planet (Radio 4, Saturday) was different. The back catalogue of Radio 4’s Costing the Earth is replete with predictions of global climate change and rising levels of pollution; most of which have proved correct. Professor Alice Roberts’s commentary might have consisted of four words: “We told you so.”
But that is not a message likely to motivate her listeners to change — if, indeed, there was anyone in her self-selecting audience who hadn’t got the message already. Roberts’s approach was more discursive: a “saga” of the ancient kind, whose narrative swirls instead of maintaining a linear chronology. Thus we heard from Margaret Thatcher in 1989, who recognised the global threat of climate change. And then back to 1975, when the phrase “global warming” first appeared in the scientific literature.
Of course, it is easy to select with hindsight those predictions that time has vindicated; and, back in the mid-’70s, scientists were also talking about the onset of a new Ice Age.
Certainly, it is not good enough to blame the NIMBYs, as one contributor did, for a failure that arises from a failure both of leadership and democratic responsibility. And the issue of the environment might have made an effective case study for Professor David Runciman, whose Rethinking Representation (Radio 4, Friday) questioned the effectiveness of what we Brits proudly but perhaps mistakenly call democracy. After all, what kind of democracy can reasonably balance the immediate interests of its citizenry against the long-term interests of the planet?
At which point we quote Churchill about its being the least worst system, and enjoy a chuckle. This is the kind of response that gets the ex-Reuters journalist Patrick Chalmers seething. His beef is with a system that is, as Edmund Burke predicted, essentially oligarchical: one that, every few years, cedes responsibility for governing to the sorts of people willing to kiss babies and be drenched in milk shake.
Who would want to be a politician nowadays? For that matter, who would want to be a priest? Well, Shula Hebden Lloyd for one, as we discovered on The Archers (Radio 4) last week. I confess to being only an occasional Archers listener, but dipping in is a reminder of the superlative scriptwriting and narrative pacing that the show maintains. The scene between Alan and Shula was beautifully executed. One can only hope that Shula pursues her ambition and we get some quality religious broadcasting out of it.