June 22, 2013


Against Environmental Panic (Pascal Bruckner, The Chronicle Review)

Ecologism, the sole truly original force of the past half-century, has challenged the goals of progress and raised the question of its limits. It has awakened our sensitivity to nature, emphasized the effects of climate change, pointed out the exhaustion of fossil fuels. Onto this collective credo has been grafted a whole apocalyptic scenography that has already been tried out with communism, and that borrows from Gnosticism as much as from medieval forms of messianism. Cataclysm is part of the basic tool-kit of Green critical analysis, and prophets of decay and decomposition abound. They beat the drums of panic and call upon us to expiate our sins before it is too late.

This fear of the future, of science, and of technology reflects a time when humanity, and especially Western humanity, has taken a sudden dislike to itself. We are exasperated by our own proliferation and can no longer stand ourselves. Whether we want to be or not, we are tangled up with seven billion other members of our species. Rejecting both capitalism and socialism, ecologism has come to power almost nowhere. But it has won the battle of ideas. The environment is the new secular religion that is rising, in Europe especially, from the ruins of a disbelieving world. We have to subject it to critical evaluation in turn and unmask the infantile disease that is eroding and discrediting it: catastrophism.

There are at least two ecologies: one rational, the other nonsensical; one that broadens our outlook while the other narrows it; one democratic, the other totalitarian. The first wants to tell us about the damage done by industrial civilization; the second infers from this the human species' guilt. For the latter, nature is only a stick to be used to beat human beings. Just as third-worldism was the shame of colonial history, and repentance was contrition with regard to the present, catastrophism constitutes the anticipated remorse of the future: The meaning of history having evaporated, every change is a potential collapse that augurs nothing good.

Catastrophism's favorite mode of expression is accusation: Revolutionaries wanted to erase the past and start over from zero; now the focus is on condemning past and present wrongs and bringing them before the tribunal of public opinion.

...what's striking when you read that is the likeness to the catastrophism currently emanating from the Right, which wants to erase the Second Way and start from zero. The two sides share a hatred of the present, a terror of the future and a faith that if only the other side was eliminated all would be right with the world.

Posted by at June 22, 2013 7:40 AM

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