The Politics of Fear and Environmentalism

Alex Gourevitch, in a letter to N+1 Magazine Issue 6, writes about how the left’s obsession with environmentalism might be exhibiting the very politics of fear they detest with Bush’s War on Terror. Excerpt (not online):

Environmentalism is a left-wing politics of fear because it rests on the deeply fearful idea that only an overwhelming threat to our physical and collective health can inspire us to “transcendence.” Threats to the very conditions of life, rather than social controversies over power and distribution, come to motivate political engagement — an engagement that presumes setting to one side inequality and unfreedom as the central categories of political contestation. As Slavoj Zizek says, “Popular imagination is persecuted by the visions of the forthcoming ‘breakdown of nature.’…It seems easier to imagine the ‘end of the world’ than a far more modest change in the mode of production.”

Strikes me as relevant to all types of leadership: Leaders galvanize the troops by exaggerating the consequences of inaction, or overstating the importance of the cause to begin with.

When Elizabeth Kolbert, staff writer at the New Yorker, spoke at Claremont on climate change, she rather absurdly said, “I don’t need to convince you that global warming is the most pressing moral cause for your generation.” Look, I believe in most environmental issues, and think we need to deal with global warming in a proactive manner, but enough with the shrieking and doomsday overreach. Three billion people live on less than two dollars a day; 790 million people are chronically undernourished; 1.1 billion people lack daily access to clean water; etc etc. I don’t know about you, but poverty strikes me as a much more pressing moral issue than global warming.

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