Thursday, August 03, 2006

The disadvantages of "climate porn"

From Simon Retallack in CiF:
"Climate change is most commonly constructed through the alarmist repertoire, as awesome, terrible, immense and beyond human control. It is described, using an inflated or extreme lexicon, a quasi-religious register of death, as being accelerating and irreversible."
I'd like to stake claim to being an early victim of this sort of "climate porn". Despite the demonstrable incompetence of the human race at predicting the future, I remember in the mid-seventies soothsaying was big business. There was two strands to this. On one side stood the optimists who still imagined a Tomorrow's World future where it was assumed that technological change would supply all mankind's needs, regardless of how trivial. On the other side were the environmentalists, who were saying more or less what they are saying now. Which is, basically, "we're all fucked".

Now I was of an impressionable age so I believed all of them - and wasn't old enough to understand that these visions were contradictory. To this day, I'm still a bit pissed-off about it. I want to know from the optimists: where's the jet-pack you assured me I'd be travelling to work on by now? As it is, I'm still crawling along the M8, about to have a "Falling Down" moment any day now. Or maybe even more annoying - where's the CD's that don't jump? Telling us they wouldn't jump because they didn't scratch like vinyl. Liars.

Same with the fluffy harbingers of the apocalypse. I'm not advocating "climate change denial" - I'd just like to make the observation that there are still whales, air to breathe, trees - shit like that. I expected then that all of them would be gone by now.

To project this to the present day would of course be irrational. After all, just because the enviro-prophets were wrong then, this doesn't mean they are wrong now. However, what is more rational, I think, is to consider the possibility that environmentalists tend to prefer the more pessimistic amongst the scientific predictions of climate change because they wish to impress on people the urgency of the problem in order to influence people's patterns of consumption.

I have no doubt this is done for the best motives but in doing so, the original problem identified by Simon Retallack kicks in: it has the opposite effect because the more apocalyptic the environmental predictions are, the less likely people are to see changes in their own behaviour as being worthwhile. Or to put it another way, is there really much point in me re-cycling my (admittedly copious) empty glass bottles if we don't have the United States, Russia, India and China on board with the whole carbon-emissions thing?

I'm probably just rationalising my prejudices - but who doesn't? And there's something else the art of prophecy as practiced today shares with the 1970s. Then as now, people projected into the future in an attempt to answer the question that political circumstances couldn't help presenting to them: what will the world look when the oil runs out?

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