Environmentalists should stop saying the world is ending.

Opinions about events beyond our borders.
Dec. 14 2009 8:02 PM

The Apocalypse Is Not Upon Us

The climate change movement gets nowhere by claiming it is.

A protester in Copenhagen. Click image to expand.
A protester in Copenhagen

There is no nihilism like the nihilism of a 9-year-old. "Why should I bother?" one of them recently asked me when he was presented with the usual arguments in favor of doing homework. "By the time I'm grown up, the polar ice caps will have melted and everyone will have drowned."

Watching the news from Copenhagen last weekend, it wasn't hard to understand where he got that idea. Among the tens of thousands of demonstrators outside the climate change summit, some were carrying giant clocks set at 10 minutes to midnight, indicating the imminent end of the world.  Elsewhere, others staged a "resuscitation" of planet Earth, symbolically represented by a large collapsing balloon. Near the conference center, an installation composed of skeletons standing knee deep in water made a similar point, as did numerous melting ice sculptures and a melodramatic "die-in" staged by protesters wearing white, ghost-like jump suits.

 Danish police also arrested about 1,000 people Saturday for smashing windows and burning cars, along with 200 more—they were carrying gas masks and seem to have been planning to shut down the city harboron Sunday. Nevertheless, in the long run it is those peaceful demonstrators, the ones who say the end is nigh, who have the capacity to do the most psychological damage.

I should stop here and point out that I enthusiastically support renewable energy, believe strongly in the imposition of a carbon tax, and am furthermore convinced that a worldwide shift away from fossil fuels would have hugely positive geopolitical consequences, even aside from the environmental benefits.  It's true that I'm not crazy about the Kyoto climate-negotiation process, of which the Copenhagen meeting is the latest stage. But I'm even more disturbed by the apocalyptic as well as the anti-human prejudices of the climate change movement, some of which do indeed filter down to children as young as 9. 

There have been many radical statements of this latter creed.  In the infamous words of a National Park Service ecologist, "We have become a plague upon ourselves and upon the Earth. … Until such time as Homo sapiens should decide to rejoin nature, some of us can only hope for the right virus to come along." One of the founders of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals also allegedly declared that "Humans have grown like a cancer. We're the biggest blight on the face of the earth." But it is a mistake to think that this is only the language of a crazy fringe.

Look, for example, at the Optimum Population Trust, a mainstream organization whose patrons include the naturalist Sir David Attenborough, the scientist Dr. Jane Goodall, and professors at Cambridge and Stanford and which campaigns against, well, human beings.  Calling for "fewer emitters, lower emissions," the organization offers its members the chance to offset the pollution that they generate, merely by existing, through the purchase of family planning devices in poor countries. Click on their PopOffsets Calculator to see what I mean: They reckon every $7 spent on family planning generates one ton fewer carbon emissions. Since the average American generates 20.60 tons of carbon annually, it will cost you $144.20—$576.80 for a family of four—to buy enough condoms to prevent the births of, say, 0.4 Kenyans.

The assumption behind this calculation is profoundly negative: Human beings are nothing more than machines for the production of carbon dioxide.  And if we take that assumption seriously, a whole lot of other things look different, too. Certainly weapons of mass destruction must be reconsidered, along with the flu virus: By reducing the population, they might also reduce emissions as well. Perhaps they should be encouraged?

Coupled with a firm conviction that the end of the world is nigh, you can see how homework is rendered pointless. As for hopes for the future and faith in humanity—forget about it. But while we're at it, we might as well forget about re-inventing our energy sources, too.

For while it's true that human beings are often greedy, stupid, and destructive, it's also true that we got to where we are at least partly thanks to human creativity, ingenuity, and talent. Electricity is a miracle, an invention that has literally brought light and life to millions. Modern communication and transportation systems are no less extraordinary, helping create economic growth in places where poverty and misery were the norm for centuries. 

All of them depend on fossil fuels, but they don't have to: A profound change in the nature of human energy consumption can be achieved—thanks to the entrepreneurship that created the Internet, the compassion that lies behind the advances in modern medicine, and the scientific reasoning that sent men into outer space. As for nihilism and hatred of humankind, it teaches us nothing, except to give up. And we shouldn't be passing it on to our children, either.



Crying Rape

False rape accusations exist, and they are a serious problem.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

The Music Industry Is Ignoring Some of the Best Black Women Singing R&B

How Will You Carry Around Your Huge New iPhone? Apple Pants!

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.


The Other Huxtable Effect

Thirty years ago, The Cosby Show gave us one of TV’s great feminists.

Lifetime Didn’t Find the Steubenville Rape Case Dramatic Enough. So They Added a Little Self-Immolation.

No, New York Times, Shonda Rhimes Is Not an “Angry Black Woman” 

Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 1:39 PM Shonda Rhimes Is Not an “Angry Black Woman,” New York Times. Neither Are Her Characters.
Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM An Up-Close Look at the U.S.–Mexico Border
  News & Politics
Sept. 19 2014 6:22 PM Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 
Sept. 19 2014 6:35 PM Pabst Blue Ribbon is Being Sold to the Russians, Was So Over Anyway
Inside Higher Ed
Sept. 19 2014 1:34 PM Empty Seats, Fewer Donors? College football isn’t attracting the audience it used to.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 4:48 PM You Should Be Listening to Sbtrkt
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 19 2014 5:09 PM Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?   A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.