One of the main points I was making in this recent post is that the shelf life of green catastrophism has expired. But environmentalists don’t want to hear this. Many have responded indignantly to the contrast I set up between what I call green traditionalists and green modernists. In the coming week, I’ll respond in full to the various critiques made on twitter and in the comment thread.
Meanwhile, let me direct your attention to this excellent essay in The Atlantic, called “The Perils of Apocalyptic Thinking.” It’s adapted from a new book just out: The Last Myth: What the rise of apocalyptic thinking tells us about America.
To some degree, the essay covers the same ground discussed here. But the authors of the Atlantic piece also make some trenchant observations on the apocalyptic climate change frame that activists are so fond of and which mainstream media dutifully echoes:
Talking about climate change or peak oil through the rhetoric of apocalypse may make for good television and attention-grabbing editorials, but such apocalyptic framing hasn’t mobilized the world into action. Most of us are familiar with the platitude “When the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” In a similar way, our over-reliance on the apocalyptic storyline stands between us and our ability to properly assess the problems before us. Some see the looming crises of global warming and resource and energy depletion and conclude that inaction will bring about the end of civilization: only through a radical shift toward clean energy and conservation, those on the Left argue, can we continue the way of life that we have known. Those on the Right dismiss the apocalyptic threats altogether, because the proposed solutions to peak oil, global warming, and overpopulation conflict with core conservative beliefs about deregulation and the free-market economy, or with a religious worldview that believes humanity is not powerful enough to alter something as large as our climate. Still others dismiss the catalog of doom and gloom as mere apocalypticism itself. Surely, we convince ourselves, all the dire warnings about the effects of global warming aren’t that different from the world-ending expectations of the Rapturists?
These are the two sides that have come to characterize our cartoonish public debate on climate change. As the Atlantic authors note:
The result is that the energy we could expend addressing the problems before us is instead consumed by our efforts to either dismiss the threat of apocalypse or to prove it real. Ultimately, the question becomes not what to do about the threats before us but whether you believe in the threats before us.
By allowing the challenges of the 21st century to be hijacked by the apocalyptic storyline, we find ourselves awaiting a moment of clarity when the problems we must confront will become apparent to all — or when those challenges will magically disappear, like other failed prophecies about the end of the world. Yet the real challenges we must face are not future events that we imagine or dismiss through apocalyptic scenarios of collapse — they are existing trends.
Just a quick aside: How many of you think the “connect the dots” campaign is going to (finally) make the case for global warming’s catastrophic impacts?
Personally, I don’t think the climate doom drumbeat is going to move the needle on public opinion, beyond short, periodic blips, notwithstanding the latest poll results. There’s also the risk of this boomerang, according to the Atlantic authors:
The deeper we entangle the challenges of the 21st century with apocalyptic fantasy, the more likely we are to paralyze ourselves with inaction — or with the wrong course of action.
But hey, at least we can indulge these fantasies in the comfort of our bunkers.