Alf Hornborg:

Doomsday scenarios are capturing the headlines at an accelerating rate. Scientists from all over the world tell us that emissions in 10 years must be half of what they were 10 years ago, or we face apocalypse. School children like Greta Thunberg and activist movements like Extinction Rebellion are demanding that we panic. And rightly so. But what should we do to avoid disaster?

Alan Watts once suggested that no one really believes in the reality of hell. It’s evident in their actions, he said, or, rather, in the lack thereof. If you saw your mother’s name on a list of people scheduled to be rounded up by the Gestapo, the immediacy of the threat would occupy your entire attention. You wouldn’t rest, you wouldn’t take no for an answer, you would do whatever it took to get her to safety, even over her objections. And yet, when it comes to the possibility or the likelihood of your unsaved mother facing an eternity of torment, you’re content to shrug if your tepid efforts at persuasion fail. If hell truly exists and promises to devour many if not most of your friends and loved ones, how could you simply go on about your business, complacent and unruffled?

Likewise, I doubt that many of our devout climatarians genuinely believe in the likelihood of an environmental “apocalypse,” let alone that “panic” would be a wise response; it’s just that the rising cost of positional goods requires higher rhetorical outlays. They seem to love the emotional/spiritual tension of the apocalyptic mindset, true, but Gaian retribution still seems like an abstract fantasy to them. They’re not going to retreat to the primitive living conditions of survivalist hermits, or to the impoverished economies of rural, medieval villages. They’re not going to sacrifice any of their modern conveniences. None of them honestly expect floods and tornadoes and wildfires to increasingly threaten their homes. To judge purely by their actions, it seems that climate change is of interest to them primarily as a means to “win” petty arguments online. An added bonus is that, as with thoughts of hellfire, it allows people of sour, curdled character to revenge themselves upon their enemies through imagination. “I told you so, but you wouldn’t listen, and now you’ll be sorry!” If some chemist ever finds a way to put that sentiment in pill form, the results will dwarf the opioid epidemic.