Climate panic will subvert democracy

stephane_p / flickr / Creative Commons

"Nature is angry,"  UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, told CBS ahead of tomorrow’s Climate Action Summit in New York. "Nature, you cannot play tricks with nature. Nature strikes back and we are seeing nature striking back."

This apocalyptic warning is being echoed throughout the media, in universities, schools, and woke corporations. “I want you to panic,” declared 16-year-old Greta Thunberg, climate change’s answer to Joan of Arc, and they are panicking. Tomorrow, hundreds of thousands students, if not millions, will march in cities all over the world in the Global Climate Strike.

“Our house is on fire,” say the organisers. “The climate crisis is an emergency but we’re not acting like it. People everywhere are at risk if we let oil, coal and gas companies continue to pour more fuel on the fire. Our hotter planet is already hurting millions of people.”

It sounds for all the world as if the panic merchants are channelling the terrifying sermon preached in 1741 in Connecticut by Calvinist theologian Jonathan Edwards. This classic of American literature is called “Sinners in the hands of an angry God”. Edwards gives Greta “our house is on fire” Thunberg a run for her money:

The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked; his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire … Tis a great furnace of wrath, a wide and bottomless pit, full of the fire of wrath … You hang by a slender thread, with the flames of divine wrath flashing about it, and ready every moment to singe it and burn it asunder.

This is more or less Guterres’s message. Who says that the world is becoming less religious? We have dogmas; we have a prophet; we have a God of wrath; we have his apocalypse.

Idealistic school kids around the world are marching to express their panic about melting polar ice sheets, coastal flooding, hurricanes, droughts, vast fires, and loss of biodiversity – but their main plan is reminding politicians that the God of Nature is dangling them over the flames of His wrath.

The Climate Change Strike is not politics as usual. In fact, it is not politics at all. It is a crusade marching under the banner of a fire-and-brimstone 21st Century Calvinism. And that's why it is incredibly dangerous.

This is true even if the scientific consensus is right about anthropogenic climate change. Being right is only half the problem; the other half is persuading people to take action. That won't happen by shouting "fire!" ever more loudly.  

These kids need a civics lesson. Panic and democracy are incompatible. Democracies which panic commit atrocities to protect themselves. Just look at how the United States treated Native Americans or citizens of Japanese origin during World War II or how its politicians endorsed carpet bombing and the atomic bomb.

In fact, Extinction Rebellion, the British group which has organised numerous climate protests, explicitly states that it has abjured democracy. The democratic political system which has weathered the English Civil War, the Napoleonic Wars, the Industrial Revolution, the Empire, two World Wars, the Welfare State and Boris Johnson is broken. “The wilful complicity displayed by our government has shattered meaningful democracy … We hereby declare the bonds of the social contract to be null and void, which the government has rendered invalid by its continuing failure to act appropriately.”

It calls for the abolition of Parliament and representative government. “Government must create and be led by the decisions of a Citizens’ Assembly on climate and ecological justice” – an institution which sounds more like the sinister Committee of Public Safety which governed France during its Revolution than the board of a bird-watching club.

Censorship is one of the pillars of a theocracy. So it’s not surprising that some media outlets are  suppressing dissent about climate change. The Conversation, a leading website for academic current affairs commentary, is banning all “climate denialists” from commenting on the site.

Climate change deniers, and those shamelessly peddling pseudoscience and misinformation, are perpetuating ideas that will ultimately destroy the planet. As a publisher, giving them a voice on our site contributes to a stalled public discourse.

That’s why the editorial team in Australia is implementing a zero-tolerance approach to moderating climate change deniers, and sceptics. Not only will we be removing their comments, we’ll be locking their accounts.

It's bizarre that promoters of academic freedom who want to "rebuild trust in journalism" are shutting down discussion. Don't the editors of The Conversation believe that their highly-educated readers are smart enough to sift the comment wheat from the comment chaff? 

The Conversation is following in the footsteps of The Guardian, which recently issued an Orwellian ukase that its journalists must associate climate sceptics with the Holocaust by calling them “climate deniers”. Instead of “climate change” Guardianistas are being forced to write “climate emergency, crisis or breakdown” and “global heating” rather than “global warming”.

Vilification of heretics is another theocratic crime. Tim Flannery, an Australian environmentalist who is widely read in the US and the UK, recently declared (in The Conversation) that “the actions of the denialists have turned predatory: they are now an immediate threat to our children”. As a very competent wordsmith Flannery chose his words carefully. He is coolly comparing climate sceptics to paedophiles. Not even the Inquisition resorted to smearing intellectual opponents instead of debating with them.

Democratic politics is a rational undertaking which seeks to find agreement amongst competing viewpoints. It is based on the humble recognition that no one possesses all the truth about a particular policy and that robust and open debate will eventually lead to workable solutions.

The panic about climate change is fuelled by a crisis of democracy. According to a recent Pew Research Center poll, 58 percent of Americans, 55 percent of Britons and 40 percent of Australians are dissatisfied with how democracy in working in their country. Apart from gripes about corrupt politicians and ponderous bureaucracies, folks like Greta seem to have lost faith in the rationality of political debate. They want clear, emotionally satisfying answers to complex questions. Tomorrow’s climate strikes suggest that young voters have been binge-watching The Handmaid’s Tale and the form of government they prefer is a theocracy.

Or perhaps “eco-fascism”, the term which Brenton Tarrant, the murderer of 50 Muslims in New Zealand, used to describe his “philosophy”. His solution to climate change was: “Kill the invaders, kill the overpopulation and by doing so save the environment.” He, in turn, inspired Patrick Crusius, murderer of 22 in El Paso, who wrote in his demented screed that “If we can get rid of enough people, then our way of life can become more sustainable”. 

Don’t think for a minute that panic politics won’t have consequences. Panic will lead eco-warriors into very dark places.

Michael Cook is editor of MercatorNet


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