New Yorker: Global Warming Strikes Hell

By Kennedy Maize

One of funniest pieces of political satire that I have read in many years is in the current issue of the New Yorker magazine. Written by Ian Frazier, the article’s title is “The Temperatures of Hell: A Colloquium.

The premise is that temperatures in Hell have risen by 3.8 degrees since 1955 and that levels of boiling pitch for those in the lowest depths of the destination of the sinful had risen from knees to higher regions. Ouch! So, in December 2008, an international, interdisciplinary get together honchoed by former Vice President Al Gore, met in a “sulfurous subbasement of the Sony Building” in New York City to address the crisis.

Frazier describes the attendance policy: “To encourage the widest possible range of views, Mr. Gore invited a mixture of climate experts, satanic functionaries, representatives of industry, people from the faith community, average citizens, advocates for the aged, and a large number of the souls of the damned who are dealing with these changes on a daily basis.”

In his careful transcript of the meeting, Frazier quotes Mr. Gore asking the participants: “You know what it’s like down there, while many of us still don’t. First off, I think we’d all like to know: how hot is it?”

Among the witnesses is NASA’s climate scold Jim Hansen, who, according to the transcript, says: “Now, we are accustomed to thinking of the basic affliction of Hell as the burning brimstone—and, yes, brimstone is a significant part of the package, with its horrible odor and disgusting yellow color and the way it sticks to the skin and so on. But brimstone is essentially just sulfur, a rather expensive commodity when compared with, say, coal. And the fact is that owing to cost considerations low-grade soft coal—so-called ‘dirty coal’ —is currently providing more than ninety-three per cent of the energy for the fires of Hell.”

Opinions vary during the confab, which is interrupted by some Satanic episodes of furniture relocation and bad audio reception. But the decider in the debate is Satan him-or-herself. Whatever its gender, Satan steals the show. Beelzebub complains, “So when you look at your kids asleep in their beds after you return to your homes this evening, I want you to ask yourselves, ‘What kind of Hell am I leaving for them, and for my grandchildren?’ Once we’ve all thought about that, maybe we can set aside personal concerns and begin to act in the larger interest of Hell.”

What particularly tickled me by this satire was because ANALOG Science Fiction/Science Fact published a humorous satire I wrote in the Feb. 1978 edition (“Update: The Lord’s Prayer”). That piece of satirical fiction took on political correctness and the use of gender designations in language (“Our father” is clearly unacceptable). My short story had much the same form as Frazier’s take on hellacious warming, with a couple of diversions and sidetracks. In my piece, the meeting to work out a new Lord’s Prayer took place in Jersey City and the Mob got intimately involved.

Political satire has a great tradition. Read Jonathan Swift’s 1729 satire, “A Modest Proposal” on how to deal with famine in Ireland for a classic example.

These days, most good satire is on TV (and YouTube). The Daily Show and the Colbert Report, on the Comedy Channel, are good examples. The Fox News channel and its lineup of bloviating commentators is the often hilarious self-and-unaware satire station. Ditto Rush.

But it’s nice to read well-done, intended satire, as in the New Yorker article.