May 10, 2010

…global warming shows that apocalyptic prophesying is doing well. The latter goes something like this: Man used to live in harmony with some Rousseauian Eden. Man’s activity—the violation of a taboo against nature, the original sin—disrupted that order and cast humanity into a deteriorated habitat, exposed to plagues and cataclysmic floods. Salvation is possible if Man would atone for his sins and change his ways. In this case, that entails con-suming less energy (sinning less) and buying indulgences—the tax on greenhouse gas emissions, the “pay back” for our carbon footprint.

The biblical parallel is too obvious to be accidental. Climate change and loss of biodiversity are integral to the history of the planet. The recent warming episode is unquestionably due to human activity, but given the range of long-term variables that can potentially affect the climate and given the magnitude of risks involved, it seems shortsighted to focus policies on correcting human activity rather than on broader climatic and environmental management. The actualization of risk is about probability, not about design. Yet, humans have to imagine design when there is none and take ownership of causality. Things do not just happen to our species: We sin. Solace comes from the illusion that ritualistic self-flagellation can make up for structural failure at long-term planning—recently exposed once again by war and financial crisis. Like the Middle Ages, an anxious, contrite present spawns its fundamentalisms: not just the jihadists but radical environmentalists and immigration vigilantes alike, all weaned at the teat of Modernity, all fanatically nostalgic of an idealized past.

Camille Pecastaing
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