Pascal Bruckner’s analysis, while very intriguing in some parts, ultimately fails to go far enough. What Bruckner does best is to demonstrate the secular-pagan deification of the Earth in our society, and the consequent religious nature of the ecological movement. Indeed, he is right in situating it as a kind of successor to Marxism, for like Marxism and its spiritual predecessor Christianity, environmentalism preaches a dialect of struggle, in this case between humankind and nature. Further akin to Christianity, it also preaches the concept of a fallen humankind, forever cast into sin for its environment-decimating technology. Interestingly, both environmentalism and Christianity share an element of apocalyptic and possible redemption. To the outsider, one could infer both pessimistic and optimistic elements to these two ideologies, though Bruckner puts his money on pessimism. Like Nietzsche’s portrayal of Christianity as a pessimistic faith, Brucker portrays environmentalism as inherently pessimistic: “an anthropological pessimism that condemns the human race, which is forever fallen” (Bruckner 61). Although Bruckner does not wholly endorse this position, I would go farther in drawing the comparison with a Nietzschean perspective of Christianity. Environmentalism is world and life denying. It doesn’t wish to seize the world as it is, rather it would try to make meaning through a leap of faith into the act of saving the future environment. Like the Christians ever on-looking for a coming Apocalypse and paradise, so too is the environmentalist schizophrenic in that regard. They escape their existential struggle by embracing an ideology that forecasts two distinct, opposing futures.
In following the religious comparisons to be made with Christianity, Bruckner highlights the absurd, contradictory apotheosis of nature in environmentalism’s worldview. For one, the environmentalist asserts that the world must be saved by humankind, who have damaged it in the first place. Simultaneously, however, they often speak of catastrophes as being nature’s “punishment.” On page 80, Bruckner quotes a response to the Fukushima tsunami incident, who writes that “I [the Earth] am punishing you by taking literally your assimilation of your instruments of death with my immaculate power.” This is just a bizarre anthropomorphisation, to the extent of Bronze Age deification, of the Earth. Indeed, this only serves the continuation of the individual’s ego, not the planet, because humankind is constantly injecting itself into the natural world. Interestingly, it’s a fueling of the ego that seems to be existentially inspired as in any case that a human tries to embrace or identify with attributes of another’s being. Bruckner sort of describes this process by stating that “What is specific to human beings is that we don’t know who we are, that we always exceed our definition: thinking we are extending our domain, we decline into plants, trees…winning back faculties lost by walking erect and civilization” (Bruckner 100). Though this is again more my perspective than Bruckner’s, I find that environmentalism is simply another existential “escape,” and a flawed one at that. However, I ultimately appreciated how Bruckner touched upon the penumbras of this point a few times.
Quotes and Discussion Questions:
To begin, do you think that environmentalism is constantly preaching catastrophe, and if so, is this worth criticizing?
Do you believe that climate change activism is more about the planet or about ourselves, and if it is the latter, in what way is it about ourselves?
Do you find that climate change alarmism and natural disaster coverage actually hinders any realistic approaches to combatting climate change? Are we desensitized by being exposed to this alarmism on a regular basis? ,
Bruckner draws many parallels between environmentalism and Christianity, do you think that was an accurate comparison? Does environmentalism treat humankind as “fallen”?
What is your thoughts on Latour’s suggestion that we make a Senate that includes nature among its representatives, and how would that even work? (page 84)
Do you believe that combatting climate change requires us to embrace a simpler, ascetic lifestyle. If so, do you believe it will be enough to change anything at this point?
In terms of the environment, do we owe future generations anything?
As Bruckner alludes to, is it possible that it is a contradiction to preach catastrophe and concern for the future of humanity at the same time?
Many of the big chocolate manufacturers produce their products using, in part, “dirty cocoa.” Some of this cocoa is grown in the Ivory Coast, where protected rain forests have been illegally decimated for the process. The major chocolate manufacturers don’t deny this occurs, and in a recent collective statement, they’ve recently claimed that they desire to end forest decimation for cocoa.