Bruckner’s approach to environmental criticism departs from most others in not disputing any particular environmental claim, including global warming. He fully accepts the possibility of great human harm to nature, and he accords respect to some of the philosophical critiques—by figures such as Martin Heidegger and Hans Jonas—about the obligations of humans to nature, mostly agreeing that we are falling short of our obligation. But just as Bruckner came to understand that Marxism was a perversion of—or an obstacle to—achieving greater justice for the dispossessed, he regards “ecologism,” as he labels the dominant tendencies of environmental thought, as the virtual successor to Marxism, and believes it to be just as potentially degrading, if not tyrannical.
He writes: “In the wrong hands, the best of causes can degenerate into an abomination”—which is exactly what Bruckner thinks has happened to environmentalism.
He notes that “Marxism designated capitalism as responsible for human misery. . . . With ecologism, we move up a notch: the guilty party is humanity itself.” The result is a domain of thought and action today that rewards vehemence over sensibility. This is not a new theme; the “watermelon” label—green on the outside, red on the inside—has been applied to environmentalists for a while. Likewise, Bruckner joins in seeing environmentalism as a secular religion. But Bruckner captures more of the depth and texture of these two aspects of environmentalism than do other critics.
Along the way, he sheds fresh light on why even reasonable and rational environmental concern enables the nonsensical and extreme versions to flourish and dominate. The rational environmentalist wishes to warn us of the damage industrial civilization brings with it, while the nonsensical environmentalist wishes only to use this fact as a stick to beat human beings and condemn modern industrial civilization.
Bruckner offers a particular twist on the environmentalism-as-religion theme. More than just a form of faith, environmentalism revives a monastic mentality that wraps human guilt together with a call for humility, repentance, and a discipline of abasement. This “gaseous equivalent of Original Sin”—an eco version of the fall of man—explains why environmentalists are congenitally resistant to facts, science, and progress itself. Environmentalism isn’t out primarily to save nature, but to purify humanity: “Adding ‘eco’ . . . and ‘bio’ to any word is enough to sanctify it”—although it is no longer acceptable to the high priests to carry your holy eco-water in plastic bottles.