Appleton covers more thoroughly the ground mapped out by Barone; a useful discussion that touches on some of this is John Jay’s post. Advocates of global warming make it increasingly clear their interest is less in solutions than political & cultural revolutions.
It’s harder to take Al Gore seriously if you reread sections of Wigglesworth’s “Day of Doom” every semester and have some sense of human nature. We love to create a certain frisson of terror at the results of our own evildoing. I’m not sure that is all that bad – we aren’t truly innocent and a real if controllable fear helps reign in our willfulness. Besides, well, it’s human nature. Poe & Hitchcock, artists who strive primarily for effect (Poe’s primary goal), derive their power from recognizing we like to be scared; bogeymen buried in our consciousness want out out every once in a while & we like to feel a little horror of recognition before we pop them back. And we know, without often expressing it or acknowledging the appropriate gratitude we should feel, that life is easier, than it has perhaps ever been: we live in a world in which entertainment is one of our larger budgetary expenses. We feel a little guilt.
Measuring the Political Temperature, Josie Appleton discusses less the effects of global warming than the context in which it is posed – finding motivations less in tune with science or technology than patterns in our cultural history and human nature. (Arts & Letters links to a Spiked review.) She introduces her argument by noting the patterns of the use of science:
But there is another way to approach this question, which is to look at the political circumstances in which climatic science is produced, a process that also has its own laws and patterns. It is strange, at a time when the social construction of science is an established idea (Thomas Kuhn’s 1962 book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, in which he describes science’s progress through ‘paradigms’, is on every undergraduate’s reading list) that nobody thinks to look at the social construction of global warming theories. Global warming science is being produced in highly febrile times; and history tells us that the more the political temperature rises, the more science’s view of nature is distorted.
Her discussion goes on; my mind is perhaps overstocked with popular culture, but it can prompt questions. For instance, how much has technology changed the foggy, smoggy London of Sherlock Holmes (only in the twentieth century did the English, especially in London, begin to live as long as their colonists had since the mid 1600’s)? Sure, I used to call Aaron Tippin’s “You’ve got to stand for something or you’ll fall for anything” the white trash anthem because of its belligerent, don’t dis me, nature; nonetheless, as so often in country music, it arises from an understanding of human nature. So, even the most trivial of pop culture gives us a context for the faux religious & the faux technological arguments. We sense the gloom of the older generation – the kids are going to hell in a handbasket. (Our children, for instance, did not have to walk five miles to school, up hill both ways – thus they can not become the people we are without going through the challenges we did.)
Appleton notes the quasi-religious solution, as well.
Yet global warming also plays a teleological role: it provides a decisive point towards which history is heading, and provides an overall meaning for events. A decade-and-a-half after Francis Fukuyama announced the ‘end of history’, environmentalists have apparently found an occasion to which we must rise. The impending ‘climate crisis’, and our need to respond, is the first post-political narrative that has aroused significant passion or conviction. It is the first post-political notion of an historic task, a decisive future event that will determine humanity’s fate. It is perhaps the only way in which today’s society can discuss the idea of the judgement of the future, or the condition of life for our children. Hence, the dramatic sweep of the campaign against global warming throughout the elite – especially members of the political elite who spent periods in the cold.
She quotes Gore:
The climate crisis also offers us the chance to experience what very few generations in history have had the privilege of knowing: a generational mission; the exhilaration of a compelling moral purpose; a shared and unifying cause; the thrill of being forced by circumstances to put aside the pettiness and conflict that so often stifle the restless human need for transcendence; the opportunity to rise…. When we do rise, it will fill out spirits and bind us together. Those who are now suffocating in cynicism and despair will be able to breathe freely. Those who are now suffering from a loss of meaning in their lives will find hope.’ (His italics) (7)
Global warming may be real, but so are likely to be its solutions. Appleton feels that “Life beyond consumerism would be a fine thing, but that would be life without pulse.” She acknowledges a certain charm to the quiet world:
The low-carbon society is above all calm. According to Lynas, the battle against global warming will allow us to cure the problem of human hubris, which has been the defining feature of what he calls the ‘Anthropocene’. In the low-carbon society, human beings’ restless desire to improve themselves will be gone. We will live locally, we will be thankful, we will make do. Children would be able to play in the street again; airports would be converted back into forests. One is reminded of the end of The Day After Tomorrow, when the moment of disaster has been averted and the clouds part, and humanity is reborn, humbled and tranquil. In the post-Anthroprocene, or perhaps we should call it the Ecocene, we are appointed ‘de facto guardians of the planet’s climate stability’; our mission is regulating the thermostat. In a currently popular phrase, we will become ‘caretakers of the planet’.
This is the charm of Zen in the midst of psychedelic and fervent sixties; this is the charm of peace. This understands human nature more than it understands science, understands the pull of theology more than the uses of technology. As my pulse has slowed and I think more of retirement than an ambitious future, I assume the world around me is slowing down as well. As my feet ache more often and my contemporaries speak more of accommodations to their various maladies than solutions for them, I assume that the world at large, like our bodies, is taking this path. That’s because I see the world reflecting me. To some degree, we all do. I doubt, for instance, that my children find accommodation so attractive in part because they are likely to find it less necessary.
Appleton’s solution was once characteristic of my generation but now is more likely that of my children’s:
Techno-fixes are not some airy-fairy notion, some leap of faith. This is otherwise known as innovation, the only way that environmental problems have ever been solved or new energy systems produced. I am not aware of a major environmental problem successfully tackled by the mass of people consciously and systematically abstaining from some or other desirable activity. The lesson of history is that techno-fixes happen, and they happen fast in societies that are looking for solutions.