“…the underlying belief is that a better grasp of scientific facts and a sufficient level of dread—if spread widely enough—will cause people to agree on some course of action.”
Stephen Jackson recently wrote at openDemocracy about the consequences of using fear as the prime motivation for protecting the environment. Interestingly, he focuses on what he describes as an evolving definition of ‘climate denial.’ According to Jackson, ‘denial’ once described someone who rejected the alleged reality of climate change, but now it includes those who accept the general consensus on climate but who “nonetheless devote little personal time and energy to engage with the issue through activism or changes in their daily habits and routines.”
Two fictionalized accounts of France’s revolutionary history provide excellent imagery of the consequences created by the use of fear-based motivation, or catastrophism.
The latter portion of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables describes a rebellion that earns the loyalty of the general populace but loses their support when it is realized that the making of a new world will threaten the status quo. In practical terms, the rebels’ extreme rhetoric and actions alienated more moderate sympathizers.
A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens, illustrates Jackson’s point. When the guillotine began to fall, it claimed the heads of aristocrats. Then, the upper-middle class. Then, any who spoke against the new system.
At a foundational level, catastrophism tends to become alienating and eventually insatiable.
To be clear, Jackson is not criticizing the content of the progressive climate movement. Rather, he objects to the way the message is being broadcast. In the course of his criticism, however, Jackson rubs shoulders with a conservative philosopher by the name of Roger Scruton.
While not nearly as receptive of definitive anthropogenic global warming, Scruton’s book, Green Philosophy, charts a similar course: “The one who runs into the street crying ‘The End is nigh’ is sure of an audience, as is the one who, like Lenin, stands on a soap-box shouting ‘What is to be done?’ The quiet voice of the Anglo-Saxon poet, who told us that ‘this too shall pass’ is only heard later, when the damage has been done.”
It is here that Jackson and Scruton part ways. While Jackson argues that the climate change movement should focus on breaking down political barriers that threaten unity, Scruton proposes that we heed such barriers. To Scruton, a shared ‘love of home’ is the bedrock of successful, and rational, environmentalism. It is “a motive in ordinary people [and] it can provide a foundation for both a conservative approach to institutions and a conservationist approach to the land.” In other words, small associations create the strongest bonds between an individual and the needs around her.
Rather than seeking to tear down all barriers to a longed-for global brotherhood, we need to appreciate and utilize the strength of small associations/communities built around a shared ‘love of home.’ This kind of perspective equips us to confront shortages of natural resources and management of wildlife populations. And it even offers the motivation to mitigate the effects of human-induced climate change—to whatever extent the problem exists, if at all.