As far as I can tell there’s a whole lotta shark-jumpin goin’ on these days.
It’s all about what Marshall McLuhan called “hot media”. McLuhan feared video (called television in his day) though he wrote about it a lot. He was an intellectual, and he feared the visceral power of moving images. I think he had a point.
To start the headspinning episodes off, Joe Romm featured this video. It’s a rhetorically effective piece, well designed and well produced, and containing shocking scences of this some of this year’s extreme weather events, under the rubric “this is what global warming looks like”. I think it was guilty of nothing more than spin until the end, when it blurts “a 1600 square mile ice chunk broke split from the great Petermann Glacier leaving the Arctic sea ice at an all time low”. Now we have a statement that totally demolishes the impact of the piece for anyone who has the remotest understanding of the way the cryosphere works. It is one thing to emphasize the bad things that are probably starting to become more common and/or mopre extreme. It’s another thing to just blunder. Did nobody who knew anything at all vet this video? And why feature it on Climate Progress with a blunder like that?
So what to do? I thought I’d feature a much better piece, a recent Peter Sinclair Climate Crock of the Week, about the recent stress among Arctic walruses as the ice retreated to far out to sea to support the offshore weaning of walrus pups. Essentially this population of walruses faces the same stresses as some polar bear groups. I got a surprisingly virulent critic of this piece based entirely on the use of the word “extinction” in Peter’s title, and not in any of the claims made in the video.
So while I was contemplating how universal video publishing (a bandwagon I’ve yet to climb on) is going to effect debate in the future, and whether I should favorably compare Peter’s piece to the flawed NRDC piece, the bombshell of the bizarre
10/10/10 10:10 (not the same as 10/10/10 apparently) “exploding schoolchildren” video emerges. (If you haven’t endured it yet and are of a mind to, here’s a link.)
Great moments in the annals of “what the hell were they even thinking”? OK, preachy and tedious greenish schoolteacher, earnest and cooperative children, a couple of surly outliers, and their explicitly violent death at the hands of the teacher? Followed by a couple of reprises in case you missed the point? OK, so we start with everything everybody hates about greens, and follow up with what the most paranoid among us fear? What?
(Yes I’m aware of the use of comparable devices in Monty Python’s work. Few can take a back seat to me as a Python fan in either non-herpetological sense. But this is obviously grossly misplaced and I fail to see why it is even perceived as funny at all.)
Yet, that wasn’t the worst of it. Even more amazing, we find that the denial squad takes this piece literally, as an encouragement to greens to 1) deliver stupefyingly ponderous lectures and 2) assassinate anyone who is unconvinced.
With No Pressure, the environmental movement has revealed the snarling, wicked, homicidal misanthropy beneath its cloak of gentle, bunny-hugging righteousness.
However, it was the choice of the 10:10 movement to openly promote genocide. They are not just promoting it: much like in the case of The Fate of the World PC game, they are planning it. They are genuinely planning ways how to reduce the global CO2 emissions by 10% a year. And indeed, genocide similar to what they present in the video (or in the game) is the only plausible way how something of the sort may be achieved.
However, if 10:10 has similar ideas what to do with the people from the “other side”, they may rename themselves from 10:10 to 9:11; the sum wouldn’t change, after all. Al Qaeda U.K. may sound nicer than 9:11.
The CIA, FBI, and others should go after the neck of the inhuman activists behind the 10:10 movement and those who harbor them. These people are a genuine threat not only for your well-being and prosperity but for your freedom and health (or life), too.
(Update: Coby Beck has more examples of this sort of thing.)
There’s an interesting defense of the piece here, but for me it doesn’t wash. You actually have to find that there is some humor under the vile misanthropy of the piece. I don’t find it.
Most confusing of all, even though he goes out of his way to bait me, (bait which I am, as you see, not taking) I think Tom Fuller (of all people) wrote a more sensible critique:
What are they saying? That it’s okay to ostracize, bully and dismiss those who don’t agree that climate change is uber alles (Oops! Godwin alert, Godwin alert) and that skeptics or the children of skeptics are fair game for… whatever.
As there is no real attempt at humour in the video, there’s no point in pretending it’s a parody. It’s instructional. It’s not even aimed at helping children work towards reducing emissions. It’s about helping children take aim at those who do not.
… there is a special place in hell reserved for those whose intent it is to legitimize the cruelty of children towards each other based on what has evidently become a religious belief. And I hope that none of the film’s makers reaches that special place ahead of their allotted timespan–but I hope they get there.
Well, I don’t wish hell on anybody, but this is really the point.
We have forgotten how to think and we are reduced to pulling each other’s strings. This was a gross misfire in the battle of manipulated emotions. Indeed, there is lots of evidence that the opposition does this far better than we do. But the game is the same; it is an “own goal” as the Brits say, on the playing field of emotional manipulation and not of reason. Not a word about why one should or shouldn’t act in these ways appears in the entire piece.
In a society where social connections are frayed and community leadership has vanished, we losing track of ways of collectively processing information rationally. In the end people vote with their gut, having no time to engage their brains and nobody sensible to talk things through with.
Peter Sinclair’s work, by contrast, stands above the usual propaganda because he goes to science and to scientists, and goes out of his way to represent the facts on the ground as they stand. He lets the facts work on your emotions. The visceral power of images is there, but it shows us that there are serious, smart, hard-working people who are genuinely worried about this or that peice of the puzzle.
The climate crisis is not the last complexity we will face. Even if it turns out to be a dud, or if the Lomborgians find the magic pixie dust that outcompetes carbon without a carbon tax, our future remains bleak unless we remember how to reason together.
Similarly, if do we succeed somehow in capping carbon concentrations based on a widespread shallow and manipulated belief that we ought to do so which isn’t really based somehow in some combination of reason and deserved trust, it really will be something of an enforced religion. I really don’t see how that can work.
I think we are in a desperate race against time to create not just an ethic of sustainability but a rational understanding of it as well. The solution isn’t in pushing through some half-baked compromises. The solution is in a world that lets go of the pieces of its cultures that cannot fit through into the future.
There are many other problems between our increasingly muddled and desperate present state and the sustainable universal prosperity and dignity that until recently everybody was genuinely hoping for and even expecting. The lack of real progress over my lifetime, and the increasing signs of decadence, denial and decline, have been a very deep disappointment to me and to the best of my generation.
I suppose I have no authority to say something like this; I’m not a Rabbi or a Mahatma, just a fading old hipster with a fancy but commercially useless degree. Make of it what you will but this is what I believe.
If there is a way out, it will not come from any of us acting on our fears or frustrations. A sustainable world can be a better world. The changes we need are significant, but not overwhelming. There is no hope in making enemies. The world is no longer stable enough to afford much hostility. If there is a solution, it is not in anger but in joy; not in meanness but in generosity of spirit; not in fences but in bridges; not in noise but in music.
A different Fuller, old man Buckminster, wrote a book called Utopia or Oblivion. I think he had it right. Why is that even a difficult choice?