Cucumbers and climate change deniers


Francisco Sosa Wagner holds up a cumcumberFrancisco Sosa Wagner, a Spanish member of the European Parliament, enjoys a modest fame as a doctor of law, university professor, historian, and prize-winning writer. His columns on European political, legal and other topics appear regularly in the Spanish press, and he was awarded the Medal of the Order of Saint Raymond of Peñafort for his outstanding contributions to the field of justice and the law.

His European Parliament profile shows him to be a conscientious attendee of the plenary sessions (103 out of a possible 109 days); he has asked 28 parliamentary questions, delivered 15 plenary speeches, contributed to the amendment of 13 reports and given two opinions.

A fit-looking 65, stylishly bow-tied and coiffed, dignified but with the trace of an impish smile, Wagner might not bestride the European Parliament like a colossus, but he is clearly not to be taken lightly or in any way disrespectfully. All of which makes the most famous and recent photograph of him initially puzzling and certainly surprising.

Wearing one of his trademark colourful bow ties, Francisco Sosa Wagner, MEP, is standing at his parliamentary desk holding at head height a long green cucumber. His message: 'We need to restore the honour of the cucumber!'

It may not have been one of his more telling or resonant speeches — though it was surely his briefest — but it was topical because the cucumber had, of course, been grievously besmirched when identified — wrongly — as the cause of the recent deadly E.coli outbreak in Germany.

It's fairly difficult to look dignified and serious while brandishing a cucumber. Cucumbers are themselves vaguely comic and are central to innumerable phallic jokes and claims. Waving one of these priapic evocations above your head is bound to have a deflating and distracting effect on your spoken message no matter how passionate, powerful and apposite your words might be.

But it is a measure of Wagner's dedication to the cause that he was prepared to risk ridicule and, perhaps, deliberate misinterpretation both of his motives and his imagery, to rescue the innocent vegetable. Anyway, it worked. His dramatic fist-full of penile cucumis sativus prompted further investigations which exonerated the inoffensive cowcumber, as it was once called, and pointed the finger at fenugreek sprouts imported from Egypt.

The Spanish MEP's willingness to risk his dignity and credibility in an apparently eccentric cause reminded me of Vyacheslav Ilyin, whose story I came across in a dentist waiting room copy of New Scientist a few years ago.

Vyacheslav Ilyin is pretty much like you and me, allowing for some cultural differences. He turns an honest rouble at Moscow's Institute for Biological and Medical Problems, trails to and from his office in all weathers protected by his ushanka (one of those Russian fur hats), loves his family, despairs at the indifferent form of his team, Lokomotiv Moscow, and wouldn't give you a bent kopeck for politicians.

According to the article, Vyacheslav's government-backed and classified research interest is how the astronauts in the space station cope with their dirty laundry.

It seems that, after the small matter of ensuring that a spacecraft actually stays in space and sticks to the game plan, the biggest problem in orbit is waste disposal. As a result, Vyacheslav Ilyin is obsessed with underpants. It turns out that astronauts must wear the same underpants for up to a week at a time. In short, the biggest problem up there is down there.

At the drop of a ushanka, Vyacheslav will tell you that each astronaut generates about 2.5 kg of uncompressed waste every day. Lateral thinker that he is, Vyacheslav scorns such remedies as squeezing the spacecraft full of whitegoods. What he's working on is a mixture of bacteria that will digest the astronauts' underpants and in the process produce methane to power the space craft.

Astronautical underpants are Vyacheslav Ilyin's equivalent of Francisco Sosa Wagner's phallic cucumber. Both are difficult propositions to promote with dignity but both men had the passion and the courage to do so publicly and unflinchingly and both made a significant contribution.

This is in contrast to Christopher Monckton, variously referred to as Lord and Viscount, who has called Ross Garnaut a fascist (for which he was forced to apologise), has delivered a speech in front of a large Nazi swastika, compares climate change consensus to Nazi eugenics and who glibly wondered what has happened to the Australian 'fair go' — a concept so dear to English Viscounts and Lords — when a succession of venues cancelled his bookings.

There are easily enough crackpots around — believing everything from the moon landings to the twin towers attack is a 'put-up job' — to ensure that conspiracy theorists and professional deniers like Monckton will always get an audience. It would all be laughable if it wasn't done with such a veneer of phony class (lords and viscounts) and insufferable superiority (the insulting dismissal of genuine intellectuals like Garnaut) and if it didn't call upon obscenities in the past for its validation. 


Brian MatthewsBrian Matthews is the award winning author of A Fine and Private Place and The Temple Down the Road. He was awarded the 2010 National Biography Award for Manning Clark — A Life.

Topic tags: Brian Matthews, Francisco Sosa Wagner, cumcumber, Christopher Monckton, Vyacheslav Ilyin



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Existing comments

That's a good idea - probably the only way to engage with Christopher Monckton is to burst out into gales of hysterical laughter. He cannot be taken seriously as a scientist so his performances must be intended to be comedy
Doug | 08 July 2011

Brian, why do you call people like Monckton 'deniers? He freely admits there is climate change, always has been, it's the cause that is in question. That is all. Like all journalists, even you play with the truth!
russell | 08 July 2011

It is so easy to stand on the sidelines and condemn anybody questioning some of the science as “crackpots”. People have the liberty in believing anything they want and I am sure we would have no religion if we just would rely on “scientific evidence”. Christopher Monckton may not necessarily have the knowledge of the universe. Ross Garnaut will also go down in history for seemingly helping to promote a carbon tax. A carbon tax will not provide a way towards low carbon economy. A carbon tax is nothing more and nothing less than a smoke screen to cover up inactivity. I am sure that Julia Gillard knows that a carbon tax is wrong, but to introduce a carbon tax is an easy way to kiss the feets of Bob Brown. I am sure that a gradual mandated move towards renewable energy is a far better option. I still prefer a 3% annual increase in the consumption and production of renewable energy as measurable, achievable, affordable but also challenging option. Instead of paying taxes, individuals and businesses can invest in alternatives instead giving more money to a bureaucracy.
Beat Odermatt | 08 July 2011

Well! Eureka Street can always be relied on for a surprise. Lovely balancing act on the tightwire of crudity, Brian. A good start to the day. And a solid demolishing of Monckton who parades idiocy as if it were some form of amusing eccentricity.
Joe Castley | 08 July 2011

"...a veneer of phony class (lords and viscounts) and insufferable superiority (the insulting dismissal of genuine intellectuals like Garnaut)..." Monckton (when he is not provoked) behaves like a gentleman. He apologises unreservedly and sincerely, as he did after his characterization of Garnaut's views as fascist. And he graciously forgives others their transgressions, as he did after Adam Spencer's abominable behaviour in a recent radio interview. He is, in other words, stylishly excellent. There is nothing phony about that. The Viscount Monckton is, in other words, a class act. Professor Garnaut took the IPCC reports at face value. And then told us that we must basically do as we are told in the future in relation to carbon dioxide regulation. (Hence Monckton's harsh words). Monckton takes nothing at face value, and has interrogated those tomes rigorously. He may not be a scientist, but he is a genuine intellectual. Your criticisms are valid only in two aspects: their subjectivity ("phony", "insufferable") and, under the inverted norms of the current greenhouse scare, their transient political correctness. However, they lack objectivity and say more about yourself than they do about Monckton. Simply put, you are wrong, sir.
Oksanna Zoschenko | 08 July 2011

Again the Global Warning Alarmists spread the notion that if you're not of one mind with them then you are a loathsome insane troublemaker. I did not appreciate the schoolboy sexual innuendo that the author referred to when naming a common vegetable.I am sure that rude connotations do not occur to regular readers of this site.
Trent | 09 July 2011

Their idols are like scarecrows in a cucumber field. (Jeremiah 10: 5)
PHILIP HARVEY | 10 July 2011

Readers' comments are often more interesting than the article. Sorry, Brian, but it's pretty straightforward - a Spanish MEP defending his nation's horticulture against Germany shooting from the hip and a Russian researcher working on a practical problem in a high tech industry, as standards against whom to compare Monckton.

And the comments? Russell, denial is rarely about the fact of climate change; it is about the human-induced acceleration. Opponents are dubbed deniers because they ignore the majority of scientific data which shows increased atmospheric and marine carbon dioxide since the industrial revolution, and especially since the 1930s.

And Beat Odermatt, growth of renewable energy in Australia has been retarded by lack of economic incentive for large-scale uptake. Increasing the cost of carbon-based energy increases the financial viability of renewables and, as a tax, provides a source for more government support until the renewables industry is stable.

I do hope Oksanna Zoschenko speaks with tongue in cheek. If so, a brilliant piece. I also hope that regular readers don't share Trent's sensitivity about "rude connotations". Brian's picture of Wagner was about taking a speaker seriously.

I'm so glad Doug, Joe Castley and Phillip Harvey add some levity to the comments.

Ian Fraser | 11 July 2011

Lovely piece - wonderful and surprising opening image.
Greg | 19 July 2011


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