I’m so bored… BORED… of climate change. Environmentalism is such a boring, boring, boring thing. It’s mundane. It’s banal. It obsesses about the minutiae of biological functioning only to the extent that it wants to limit the possibilities of human life, rather than extend them. And it is mean spirited — it nags you about whether children need those Christmas presents, if you need that holiday, if you really need to take the car. It’s a joyless, nihilistic chasm, which sucks the life out of life.
According to some definitions, ‘politics is the art of the possible’. I was reminded of this by two videos I came across recently.
The first is this misery-fest from the Post Carbon Institute (PCI).
Yeah. Merry Christmas.
What we have in that little animated skit from the greens is the art of the impossible. On the Post Carbon Institute’s view, “We have to live within nature’s budget of renewable resources at rates of natural replenishment.” These limits become the parameters of our existence: the complete regulation of our productive lives.
But there are other ideas in the world, which don’t seem to conform to this stifling orthodoxy.
Taking his inspiration from physicist, David Deutsch, Jason Silva says, ‘If you look at the topogaphy of the island of Manhatten today, that topography is a topography in which the forces of economics and culture and human intent have trumped the forces of geology… extrapolating… that will be the fate of the whole universe.’
Trumping the forces of geology is, of course, anathema to the PCI.
I have no idea whether Jason Silva and David Deutsch would thank me for offering them as examples of thinking which sits at the opposite end of an axis to rank gutless miserablism. Perhaps the climate debate is one they would rather avoid — sensibly. It strikes me, however, that this should be the geometry of the debate about the future. To the PCI, history is a series of mistakes, which have taken us to the point of crisis. To the optimists, it is the foundation of ever greater leaps. The PCI speak of constraint, whereas the optimists speak about unleashing ever more creative potential. But there is an even more important difference.
Whereas the likes of the PCI have been able to turn their bleak vision into a system of ‘ethics’ and politics, the optimists’ ideas don’t seem to have any immediate moral consequences. There is no Intergovernmental Panel on Trumping Geology. On the contrary, there is only an intergovernmental panel on sobbing at our utter vulnerability in the face of geology. The impossibility of overcoming it — to any extent — is presupposed in the very foundations of the UNFCCC process: it discovers natural limits, and we are expected to codify them in international law. This is bizarre, not least because there are so many problems that can be faced by not taking seemingly ‘natural’ limits for granted. But also, because so much positive good cold be done in genuinely transforming the conditions of our existence by transcending such boundaries. Environmentalists seem to want them to remain in place. ‘Science’ in that arrangement is restrictive. On the optimists view, however, it liberates.
Environmental politics is about nothing more than regulation of eating, shitting, sleeping and f***ing: human life is reduced to these things, and each must be done ‘sustainably’, lest any opportunity for a more meaningful life opens up between them. So, the pessimists’ approach to the immediate problems facing the world is to regulate them out of existence. But poverty, war, famine and disease could not be abolished from the world by acts of international law intended to make the weather more ‘predictable’. Even if that did succeed, what would human life look like? A drab, miserable existence characterised by subsistence, in which each generation’s existence is identical to its parents’.
We see in the PCI’s animation, active hostility to progress — it is impossible. In the optimist’s video, there is dedication to the idea — the possibilities of human life expand indefinitely. We can argue forever about what ‘science says’ about the climate; the real debate is about its interpretation. The optimists need to recapture the moral and political ground from the miserablists.