From Bret Stephens:
Maybe Sigmund Freud should have been a political scientist. Psychoanalysis might be useless as treatment for neurotics, but there’s something to be said for it as a mode of ideological investigation. To wit, what explains the fatal attraction of the secular mind to the politics of impending apocalypse?
I’m reminded of this again as embarrassed eulogies are being written for China’s one-child policy, which Beijing finally eased last week after a 35-year experiment in social folly and human cruelty. Instituted in the name of resource conservation, the policy resulted in millions of forced abortions and involuntary sterilizations, a male-female birth imbalance of 118-100, and a looming demographic disaster as Chinese grow old while the working population shrinks.
As government policy goes, the one-child policy was as repressive and illiberal as it gets: the ultimate invasion of privacy; the ultimate assault on the human rights of women and girls. Naturally, liberals loved it.
They loved it, in part, because it had been their idea to begin with. Paul Ehrlich helped get the ball rolling with his 1968 blockbuster “The Population Bomb,” which begins with the words: “The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s and 1980s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now.” Mr. Ehrlich, a biologist at Stanford, had no scholarly credentials as a demographer or an economist. But that didn’t keep him from putting a scientific gloss on a personal prejudice.
From “The Population Bomb” there came Zero Population Growth, an NGO co-founded by Mr. Ehrlich. Next there was the United Nations Population Fund, founded in 1969, followed by the neo-Malthusian Club of Rome, whose 1972 report, “The Limits to Growth,” sold 30 million copies. In India in the mid-1970s, the Indira Gandhi regime forcibly sterilized 11 million people. Then-World Bank President Robert McNamara praised her for “intensifying the family planning drive with rare courage and conviction.” An estimated 1,750 people were killed in botched procedures.
Power is seductive, as are fame and wealth, and it’s easy to see how being a scientific prophet of doom afforded access to all three. So long as the alarmists fed the hysteria, the hysteria would feed the alarmists—with no end of lucrative book contracts and lavish conferences in exotic destinations to keep the cycle going. It’s also not surprising that someone like Mr. Ehrlich, trained as an entomologist, would be tempted to think of human beings as merely a larger type of insect.
“My language would be even more apocalyptic today,” an unrepentant Mr. Ehrlich told the New York Times earlier this year. “The idea that every woman should have as many babies as she wants is to me exactly the same kind of idea as, everybody ought to be permitted to throw as much of their garbage into their neighbor’s backyard as they want.” Notice what Mr. Ehrlich is comparing to garbage.
But the real question isn’t what drives people to be leaders of a new movement. That’s easy enough to understand. It’s why so many people—usually well-educated, urbane liberals—would wish to be followers.
It isn’t the strength of the evidence. The idea of a population bomb was always preposterous: The world’s 7.3 billion people could fit into an area the size of Texas, with each person getting 1,000 square feet of personal space. Food has never been more abundant. As for resource scarcity, the fracking revolution reminds us that scarcity is not so much a threat to mankind as it is an opportunity for innovation.
What matters, rather, is the strength of the longing. Modern liberalism is best understood as a movement of would-be believers in search of true faith. For much of the 20th century it was faith in History, especially in its Marxist interpretation. Now it’s faith in the environment. Each is a comprehensive belief system, an instruction sheet on how to live, eat and reproduce, a story of how man fell and how he might be redeemed, a tale of impending crisis that’s also a moral crucible.
In short, a religion without God. I sometimes wonder whether the journalists now writing about the failure of the one-child policy ever note the similarities with today’s climate “crisis.” That the fears are largely the same. And the political prescriptions are almost identical. And the leaders of the movement are cut from the same cloth. And the confidence with which the alarmists prescribe radical cures, their intolerance for dissenting views, their insistence on “global solutions,” their disdain for democratic input or technological adaptations—that everything is just as it was when bell-bottoms were in vogue.
China’s one-child policy has been one of the great unrecognized tragedies of our time. It is a modern-day lesson in the danger of environmental fears and the misanthropic solutions they typically inspire. It behooves us to learn its lessons before we repeat its mistakes on a vaster scale.
From Stanley Kurtz:
What do America’s college students want? They want to be oppressed. More precisely, a surprising number of students at America’s finest colleges and universities wish to appear as victims — to themselves, as well as to others — without the discomfort of actually experiencing victimization. Here is where global warming comes in. The secret appeal of campus climate activism lies in its ability to turn otherwise happy, healthy, and prosperous young people into an oppressed class, at least in their own imaginings. Climate activists say to the world, “I’ll save you.” Yet deep down they’re thinking, “Oppress me.”
In his important new book, The Fanaticism of the Apocalypse: Save the Earth, Punish Human Beings, French intellectual gadfly Pascal Bruckner does the most thorough job yet of explaining the climate movement as a secular religion, an odd combination of deformed Christianity and reconstructed Marxism. (You can find Bruckner’s excellent article based on the book here.) Bruckner describes a historical process wherein “the long list of emblematic victims — Jews, blacks, slaves, proletarians, colonized peoples — was replaced, little by little, with the Planet.” The planet, says Bruckner, “has become the new proletariat that must be saved from exploitation.”
But why? Bruckner finds it odd that a “mood of catastrophe” should prevail in the West, the most well-off part of the world. The reason, I think, is that the only way to turn the prosperous into victims is to threaten the very existence of a world they otherwise command.
And why should the privileged wish to become victims? To alleviate guilt and to appropriate the victim’s superior prestige. In the neo-Marxist dispensation now regnant on our college campuses, after all, the advantaged are ignorant and guilty while the oppressed are innocent and wise. The initial solution to this problem was for the privileged to identify with “struggling groups” by wearing, say, a Palestinian keffiyeh. Yet better than merely empathizing with the oppressed is to be oppressed. This is the climate movement’s signal innovation.
We can make sense of Bruckner’s progression of victimhood from successive minorities to the globe itself by considering the lives of modern-day climate activists. Let’s begin with Bill McKibben, the most influential environmental activist in the country, and leader of the campus fossil-fuel divestment movement.
In a 1996 piece titled “Job and Matthew,” McKibben describes his arrival at college in 1978 as a liberal-leaning student with a suburban Protestant background. “My leftism grew more righteous in college,” he says, “but still there was something pro forma about it.” The problem? “Being white, male, straight, and of impeccably middle-class background, I could not realistically claim to be a victim of anything.” At one point, in what he calls a “loony” attempt to claim the mantle of victimhood, McKibben nearly convinced himself that he was part Irish so he could don a black armband as Bobby Sands and fellow members of the Provisional Irish Republican Army died in a hunger strike. Yet even as he failed to persuade himself he was Irish, McKibben continued to enthusiastically support every leftist-approved victim group he could find. Nonetheless, something was missing. None of these causes seemed truly his own. When McKibben almost singlehandedly turned global warming into a public issue in 1989, his problem was solved. Now everyone could be a victim.
Wen Stephenson, a contributing writer at The Nation and an enthusiastic supporter of McKibben’s anti-fossil-fuel crusade, is one of the sharpest observers of the climate movement. In March, Stephenson published a profile of some of the student climate protesters he’d gotten to know best. Their stories look very much like McKibben’s description of his own past.
Stephenson’s thesis is that, despite vast differences between the upper-middle-class college students who make up much of today’s climate movement and southern blacks living under segregation in the 1950s, climate activists think of themselves on the model of the early civil-rights protesters. When climate activists court arrest through civil disobedience, they imagine themselves to be reliving the struggles of persecuted African Americans staging lunch-counter sit-ins at risk of their lives. Today’s climate protesters, Stephenson writes,“feel themselves oppressed by powerful, corrupt forces beyond their control.” And they fight “not only for people in faraway places but, increasingly, for themselves.”
One young activist, a sophomore at Harvard, told Stephenson that she grew up “privileged in a poor rural town.” Inspired by the civil-rights movement, her early climate activism was undertaken “in solidarity” with Third World peoples: “I saw climate change as this huge human rights abuse against people who are already disadvantaged in our global society. . . . I knew theoretically there could be impacts on the U.S. But I thought, I’m from a rich, developed country, my parents are well-off, I know I’m going to college, and it’s not going to make a difference to my life. But especially over this past year, I’ve learned that climate change is a threat to me.” When one of her fellow protesters said: “You know, I think I could die of climate change. That could be the way I go,” the thought stuck with her. “You always learn about marginalized groups in society, and think about how their voices don’t have as much power, and then suddenly you’re like, ‘Wait, that’s exactly what I am, with climate change.’”
The remaining biographical accounts in Stephenson’s piece repeat these themes. Climate activists see themselves as privileged, are deeply influenced by courses on climate change and on “marginalized” groups they’ve been exposed to in high school and college, and treat the climate apocalypse as their personal admissions pass to the sacred circle of the oppressed.
It may be that these activists, eyes opened by fortuitous education, are merely recognizing the reality of our impending doom. Or might this particular apocalypse offer unacknowledged psychic rewards? These students could easily be laid low by an economic crisis brought on by demographic decline and the strains of baby-boomer retirement on our entitlement system. Yet marriage and children aren’t a priority, although they could help solve the problem. Why? Many dooms beckon. How has climate change won out?
Last academic year, the National Association of Scholars released a widely discussed report called “What Does Bowdoin Teach? How a Contemporary Liberal Arts College Shapes Students.” The report chronicles what I’ve called a “reverse island” effect. Back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when the classic liberal-arts curriculum first came under challenge, courses in ethnic and gender studies were like tiny islands in a sea of traditionalism. Politicized in ways that were incompatible with liberal education, these ideologically based “studies” programs were generally dismissed as necessary concessions to the nascent multicultural zeitgeist.
Today the situation is reversed. Not only have the ideologically driven “studies” programs taken over a large share of the college curriculum, but many courses in conventional departments reflect the underlying assumptions of the various minority-studies concentrations. Today, classic liberal-arts courses have themselves been turned into tiny besieged islands, while the study of alleged oppression represents the leading approach at America’s colleges and universities.
In this atmosphere, students cannot help wishing to see themselves as members of a persecuted group. Climate activism answers their existential challenges and gives them a sense of crusading purpose in a lonely secular world. The planet, as Bruckner would have it, is the new proletariat. Yet substitute “upper-middle-class” for “planet,” and the progression of victimhood is explained. Global warming allows the upper-middle-class to join the proletariat, cloaking erstwhile oppressors in the mantle of righteous victimhood.
Insight into the quasi-religious motivations that stand behind climate activism cannot finally resolve the empirical controversies at stake in our debate over global warming. Yet understanding climate activism as a cultural phenomenon does yield insight into that debate. The religious character of the climate-change crusade chokes off serious discussion. It stigmatizes reasonable skepticism about climate catastrophism (which is different from questioning the fundamental physics of carbon dioxide’s effect on the atmosphere). Climate apocalypticism drags what ought to be careful consideration of the costs and benefits of various policy options into the fraught world of identity politics. The wish to be oppressed turns into the wish to be morally superior, which turns into the pleasure of silencing alleged oppressors, which turns into its own sort of hatred and oppression.
What do American college students want? I would like to think they are looking for an education in the spirit of classic liberalism, an education that offers them, not a ready-made ideology, but the tools to make an informed choice among the fundamental alternatives in life. The people who run our universities, unfortunately, have taught their students to want something different, and this is what truly oppresses them.
From Mark Steyn:
News from Santa’s Grotto:
Global warming hysterics at the BBC warned us in 2007 that by summer 2013, the Arctic would be ice-free. As with so many other doomsday predictions by warmists, the results turn out to be quite the opposite.
Meanwhile, down the other end at Santa’s summer vacation condo:
Antarctic sea ice has grown to a record large extent for a second straight year, baffling scientists seeking to understand why this ice is expanding rather than shrinking in a warming world.
Antarctic ice is now at a 35-year high. But scientists are “baffled” by the planet’s stubborn refusal to submit to their climate models. Maybe the problem with Nobel fantasist Michael Mann’s increasingly discredited hockey stick is that he’s holding it upside down.
Nonetheless, the famously settled science seems to be re-settling:
Scientists Increasingly Moving To Global Cooling Consensus
Global warming will kill us. Global cooling will kill us. And if it’s 54 and partly cloudy, you should probably flee for your life right now. Maybe scientists might usefully consider moving to being less hung up on “consensus” – a most unscientific and, in this context, profoundly corrupting concept.
Tenured doomsayer Paul Ehrlich is at it again.
From Theodore Dalrymple:
Being in France again, I read Le Monde. On Saturday 9 February, my eye was caught by a little notice at the top of the front page of the Ideas & Culture section advertising an article on pages 4 and 5 in the same section. The notice read:
Paul Ehrlich preaches in the wilderness: the American biologist predicts the collapse of our civilisation. Studies that agree are multiplying. But no one does anything.
Could this be the same Paul Ehrlich who, in 1968, wrote ‘The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s the world will undergo famines, hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death in spite of any crash programme embarked on now’? Reader, it could be, and it is.
This set me thinking about the typology of pessimists. Naturally I prefer pessimism to optimism, largely because optimists have no sense of humour; and since I have a sense of humour, I must be a pessimist.
But of course it does not follow from the fact that people with a sense of humour are pessimists that pessimists have a sense of humour. This is because there are two main types of pessimist, the existential and the apocalyptic. The former is pessimistic because he knows that Man is an imperfect being, inclined to do wrong for its own sake, often blind where his own best interests are concerned, ridiculous, self-destructive and self-defeating, and endowed with contradictory and incompatible wishes and desires. He knows that life will never be right.
The apocalyptic pessimist is different. He is so earnest that he could almost be an optimist. He believes that the end of the world is nigh, and secretly is rather pleased about it. If he is of a scientific bent, he does the following: he takes an undesirable trend and projects it indefinitely into the future until whatever is the object of the trend destroys the world. For example, he might take the fact that Staphylococci reproduce exponentially on a Petri dish to mean that, within the week, the entire biosphere will consist of Staphylococci and nothing else. Man will be crushed under the weight of bacteria.
Paul Ehrlich is of that ilk. His belief in the end of the world precedes his belief in any particular cause of it. When the end fails to happen as previously announced, his faith is undented. The End of the World has not happened. Long live the End of the World!
From James Delingpole:
“Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth”, saith the Bible.
So let joy be unconfined that one of the archest of the world’s arch Greenies – James Lovelock, inventor of the Gaia hypothesis and therefore, more or less, founder of the world’s most powerful modern religion – has come clean and admitted that he got it wrong in his doomsday predictions about “Climate Change.”
Well, come almost clean.
I can’t say there has been quite as much wailing and lamentation and as breast-beating as I would have liked. Here’s what he has said in in his retraction in an interview with MSNBC.
“The problem is we don’t know what the climate is doing. We thought we knew 20 years ago. That led to some alarmist books – mine included – because it looked clear-cut, but it hasn’t happened,” Lovelock said.
“The climate is doing its usual tricks. There’s nothing much really happening yet. We were supposed to be halfway toward a frying world now,” he said.
“The world has not warmed up very much since the millennium. Twelve years is a reasonable time… it (the temperature) has stayed almost constant, whereas it should have been rising – carbon dioxide is rising, no question about that,” he added.
Presumably, Professor Lovelock will now be donating all his royalties from his earlier alarmist bestsellers to help fund those proper, principled, decent scientists around the world – Fred Singer, Richard Lindzen, Bob Carter, Ian Plimer, Tim Ball et al – whose careers have been blighted and whose lives have been made misery for having said precisely what Lovelock is now admitting, only much, much earlier. And then, perhaps, using his cachet among his greenie co-religionists to make amends for his sins by calling for the abolition of the IPCC.
This is the kind of crap that might actually screw-up our climate. These fools have no clue what the consequences of this will be.
From the Times Online:
The first trials of controversial sunshielding technology are being planned after the United Nations failed to secure agreement on cutting greenhouse gases.
Bill Gates, the Microsoft billionaire, is funding research into machines to suck up ten tonnes of seawater every second and spray it upwards. This would seed vast banks of white clouds to reflect the Sun’s rays away from Earth.
However, a study last year calculated that a fleet of 1,900 ships costing £5 billion could arrest the rise in temperature by criss-crossing the oceans and spraying seawater from tall funnels to whiten clouds and increase their reflectivity.
Silver Lining, a research body in San Francisco, has received $300,000 (£204,000) from Mr Gates. It will develop machines to convert seawater into microscopic particles capable of being blown up to the cloud level of 1,000 metres. This would whiten clouds by increasing the number of nuclei.