November 27, 2007

The sky: Is it really falling?

If you aren’t aware that the world is under imminent threat of destruction, you probably haven’t been following the news lately. The Bible Code—a New York Times bestseller—predicted the coming of a comet and the end of life as we know it in 2006. The end of the 13th B’ak’tun cycle in the long count of the Mayan calendar foretells a great change in human consciousness requisitely accompanied by planetary cataclysm in 2012—a fact well supported through shamanic contact with beings from outer space. Closer to home, American bishops, tarnished by a long-running sex-abuse scandal, now warn that voting for a presidential candidate without proper consideration of morality could condemn your soul. And, of course, police lackeys of a racist, imperial system have once again brought abhorrent charges against beloved former “Naked Gun” co-star O.J. Simpson. Not to mention the ever present shift of ’isms on behalf of our president—from terrorism, to Islamo-fascism, to jihadism, and back.

Apocalyptic rhetorical techniques are back in a big way. It’s the Red Scare all over again. These examples, while indeed driven by some person or group using fear to establish some sort of power, are universally pretty ridiculous, or, failing that, meaningless. However, at the forefront of the trend has been a most unexpected source: those looking to raise awareness of and combat what they consider to be the greatest-ever threat to mankind: global warming.

In the past few weeks, climate change klaxons have whirred into full gear. Not only has the Nobel Prize–winning U.N. climate-change committee once again dropped the “abrupt and irreversible consequences” bomb, but a final precaution has been implemented that all but acknowledges the inevitability of the world’s destruction at the hands of an irate Mother Nature.

In a move eerily reminiscent of Dr. Strangelove, the Norwegian government has built what the Associated Press calls a “doomsday vault” to store seeds for governments around the world in case of a climate disaster. You can almost picture George C. Scott leaping up onto a bench and declaring emphatically, “We cannot allow a mine-shaft gap!”

This parallel captures the state of things so perfectly: In a bizarre, almost eerie, inversion, the advocates of green awareness have co-opted the Cold War-era doomsday rhetoric to a shockingly greater extent than any religious group or representative of the American right has done.

During the ’50s and subsequent decades, the culture of fear entailed far more than the curtailing of freedoms. It brought about a tangible moral and ethical code identical to that of the modern green movement. The threat of nuclear attack has turned into threat of “climatic disaster.” Instead of consulting pamphlets and worrying whether our children have become subversive communists, we now rush to the computer to calculate our “carbon footprints.” Once again, we shop with a guiding moral imperative—this time buying things that promote the environment rather than avoiding those that support Soviet expansionism.

You can compare the merits of supporting the environment against stopping communism all you like, but that has nothing to do with the mode of presentation. In fact, the relation of the Soviet system to our own probably necessitated, or at least gave preference to, such a doomsday response. Yet, for climate change awareness it instead means a failure of other options: of legitimate lobbying, of properly convincing people that green, for lack of a better word, is good. Really, it means that people probably aren’t going to be swayed. It might even be worthwhile for this environmental vanguard to embrace the ever-increasing green niche market and attempt reconciliation with their greatest enemy: corporate America.

Seth Berlin is a first-year in the College.