The world is going to hell and it’s your fault. If you have a child, are fat, get a divorce, or are simply male, you’re even more guilty.
Don’t like the sound of that? Who can blame you. (After all, you fancy yourself part of the solution don’t you?)
Writing in GreenBiz.com, columnist Brad Allenby writes of the dangerous rise of what he calls “carbon fundamentalism”, pointing to the transference of social trends and behaviors into a simple and simplistic equation of “carbon footprint” as a sign of a growing authoritarian “moral mapping” in the climate change debate.
The idea that environmentalists and “greenies” can take on a screeching whine that turns otherwise intelligent and concerned people off isn’t too much of a stretch. This is the central, if oversimplified, thrust of Breakthrough by Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger (though at times their own indictment of “mainstream” environmentalism starts to take on a shrillness of its own).
But Allenby is talking about something a little deeper, in his mind more sinister, and, if you will, fundamental.
If You Go Carryin’ Pictures of Chairman Mao, You Ain’t Gonna Make it With Anyone Anyhow*
What we are talking about here isn’t the fundamental science of climate change, but the fundamental nature of moral authoritarianism, and how it interjects itself onto the science, discussion, and ultimately the perceived “righteousness” of one side and moral depravity of the other.
Fundamentalism of any stripe suggests an abandonment of reason, a fear-based authoritarian view that rejects open dialog and nuanced consideration of views outside of our own. Ultimately, it is its own worst enemy.
To be sure, I think that global warming is real, that the primary forcing of current climate change is from human activity, and that we are likely in for a bit of a rough ride in the coming years and decades. I express this opinion often. I have been told by commenters on my blog to “go to hell” for expressing this view (as if it is deserving of eternal damnation), and I am constantly dismayed by what appears to me as a debate that ranges from sheer foolishness to blatant and obsessive fabrication.
But am I just as “obsessed” as a James Inhofe, Glen Beck, or Alan Caruba? Does the fact that I’m on the “correct” side of the debate make my obsession or moral indignation “right”?
It’s a fine line. And when, as Allenby writes, scientists suggest mandating a “carbon tax” on parents having children (as well as a carbon credit for sterilization), or writers accuse obese people of burdening the planet with their excessive “carbon load”, or that the tragedy of divorce is made even worse with the suggestion that it creates an excessive carbon footprint, we are in danger of edging across that line into mindless authoritarian fundamentalism. By defining all social behaviors with a simple assessment of carbon footprint, we risk defining nothing at all, merely assigning it a moral criterion of right vs. wrong or “my way or the highway”.
By the time one side or the other (both sides in the case of the climate change debate) have invoked “Hitler”, that line is long passed and any real debate, reasoned logic, and substantive progress is dead (“you ain’t gonna make it with anyone anyhow”).
In the case of the “carbon fundamentalism” that Allenby discusses, it is anathema to what global warming “obsessives” like myself claim to seek – a reasoned and rational debate on how to address climate change.
I don’t have to engage every climate change skeptic or denier every time I am presented with an illogical or factually questionable argument. At some point I have to move on. Nor should I assume that my “righteous cause” justify that I dictate to anyone else their own beliefs or actions – much as I may be tempted to at times.
To the extent that there is a moral component to how we care for the earth and each other, it cannot be dictated or forced; certainly not through the examples cited by Allenby. Little is ever served through authoritarian fundamentalism, under the guise of any cause or belief.
*This was intended as a working subhead, but I decided to keep it. I’m not accusing anyone of being a communist or supporting Mao. It’s the fundamentalism inherent in the statement that is the point. It’s also a Beatles classic, but that’s another story.