02 March 2011

Every Relatively Affluent White Guy for Himself

Dan Sarewitz takes the Washington Post to task for publishing a bizarre commentary on the coming climate apocalypse:
Check out the article by a climate survivalist from the February 27, 2011 Washington Post. (I’m going to go out on a limb and treat the article as if it’s not a satire or hoax, but maybe the joke’s on me.) The author describes how he’s buying solar panels and generators and laying in food and supplies and putting extra locks on his doors and windows in anticipation of the coming climate apocalypse, much in the way that in the 1960s certain nuts were digging shelters in their backyard to provide protection against hydrogen bombs, and in the ‘80s (and probably to this day) right-wing crazies were building up small arsenals to protect themselves against the time when the government tried to take away their right to be bigots.

Anyway, fear of the coming apocalypse seems to be an honorable tradition among some factions of the human race, and besides in this case it’s probably good for the beleaguered economy that this guy is spending what must be lots of money on hardware, both high-tech and low. But there are some elements of climate survivalism that are truly troubling. The fact that the Washington Post chose to put this article on the front page of its Sunday opinion section is an editorial judgment that the author, who is executive director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Committee, is someone whose perspective deserves to be taken seriously.
Sarewitz notices an obvious irony:
One can hardly fail to note the contrast between the standard, communitarian rhetoric of climate change advocacy on behalf of getting rid of fossil fuels – we all need to act together to save the Earth! – and the nihilistic isolationism of climate survivalism – I need to put bars on my windows to save my butt! After all, one of the big arguments that environmentalists have used about the need to stop climate change is that those who will suffer most are the little brown poor people in far-off lands who will, for instance, experience increased incidence of malaria and exposure to floods and other disasters. (Of course the fact that they are already burdened by such things in huge disproportion to the privileged minority doesn’t seem to enter into the argument). Why this hasn’t been a justification for aggressive adaptation I fail to understand (after all, the reason why the privileged minority are relatively insulated from such suffering is precisely that our societies are better adapted to many types of stresses). But I raise this point because when it comes to climate survivalism, the little brown folks are nowhere to be seen, and apparently it’s every relatively affluent white guy (and his nuclear family, of course) for himself.