Memory Holes Are Greatly Improved
Memory holes are much more energy efficient today. And much less polluting.
When George Orwell first introduced memory holes in his novel 1984, published 72 years ago today, these machines for erasing the past were filthy incinerators in the bowels of ominous government ministries. They were fed by thousands of pneumatic tubes carrying papers to be destroyed—unrectified newspaper stories, failed forecasts, old speeches that had become embarrassing.
Orwell’s inspiration came from the widespread Soviet practice of cutting apart photos to remove the images of newly disfavored political figures.
Today’s memory holes, in contrast, are the epitome of sustainable cleanliness. A simple mouse click can do the job. That ability is shown most dramatically in the area of climate data. Through data manipulation, warm periods of the past are eliminated while current warming is embellished, making the alleged current temperature rise more dramatic. The rate of recent sea level increases is hyped despite being practically the same as what occurred over the past century. In Glacier National Park, a “Goodbye to the Glaciers” sign warning that the glaciers “will all be gone by the year 2020” gets quietly replaced with a less verifiable doomsday claim when the glaciers fail to disappear.
In his new book on climate science, Unsettled, Dr. Steve E. Koonin, Undersecretary of Energy for Science under President Obama, described one institute’s “tuning” of its climate models as “cooking the books.” And because these data involve historical climate records, the slogan of Orwell’s all-powerful Party in 1984 gets uncomfortably close to reality: “Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.”
Memory holes are worrisome enough. But the basic organizing theme of Orwell’s nightmare society was something worse—never-ending war. The three mega-nations of Eurasia, Eastasia and Oceania were constantly battling, forming and dissolving alliances that led to no victories but kept their people in a constant state of agitated militancy.
The war against greenhouse gases isn’t all that different. In 2008, in a breathtaking feat of rhetorical misappropriation, Al Gore declared: “Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said … injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. And in that same sense we live in a new reality in which increased CO2 emissions anywhere represent a threat to civilization everywhere.”
That “threat’ will never be eliminated when every flick of a light switch or striking of a match or turn of an ignition key results, somewhere, in a micro-burp of CO2. And certainly not when every blessed birth of a child means there’s another mouth to be fed and another new carbon footprint created.
The campaign against climate change will never end.
We see the groundwork being laid for this. The epithet of climate denier is the trigger for instant ridicule and dismissal, just as Orwell’s daily “Two Minutes Hate” exercise reenergized the public anger toward the “Enemy of the People.” The term global warming has been expanded into the far larger—and conveniently less verifiable—claim of climate change.
And now the boundaries of that term are themselves being expanded. As the Society of Environmental Journalists recently put it, “climate change is now too big a story to be siloed under ‘environment’”; it needs to encompass “religion and spirituality” and “environmental justice activism” and “environmental humanities programs at Ivy League institutions”. Calls for tribunals devoted to prosecuting “climate crimes” are commonplace, and President Biden’s $10 billion proposal for a Civilian Climate Corps won’t scratch the surface of what’s to come.
The goal is the same as that of the Party: a populace “marching forward in perfect unity, all thinking the same thoughts and shouting the same slogans”.
This is not the national unity we need.
Sam Kazman is general counsel of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, headquartered in Washington, DC.