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Resident evil


Several years ago, Harper's magazine ran a feature on heroes of the modern fight against climate change, including celebrities such as actor Julia Louis-Dreyfus. As a corollary, they featured a cartoonish depiction of denialist "circles of hell."

The victims of this eternal damnation included mostly U.S. politicians and lobbyists, as well as Danish statistician Bjorn Lomborg, whose downplaying of the threats of climate change many deem more contemptible than telling outright lies.
But the image of evil-doers getting their just desserts in the afterlife is not a productive one. It plays directly into the narrative that environmentalism is like a church, its adherents preaching against evils of industry and those who enable their polluting ways.
There is a moral element to climate change denial, of course. There is duplicity and apathy, and then there's outright deception.
An investigation by the Pulitzer prize-winning InsideClimate News revealed this week that American oil giant Exxon ignored clear warnings from its own scientists about rising carbon dioxide as far back as 1977.
According to a report on PBS's Frontline, the researchers "warned that a doubling of CO2 levels in the atmosphere would increase average global temperatures by two to three degrees Celsius and would have a major impact on the company's core business."
It's already known Exxon funded agencies with an agenda to sow doubt about climate change; that's evident from internal memos revealed several years ago.
But these new documents unveil a deliberate coverup of the science, in much the same way the tobacco companies kept a lid on internal research that proved bad for business.
Is this evil? It's certainly wrong, contemptible - even actionable. It's like tossing a lit cigarette, then denying you started the fire.
But there is a broader phenomenon at play - one that transcends the melodrama of good guys vs. bad guys. It is the runaway train of technocracy that has allowed humans to fully manipulate their surroundings like never before. We gouge out giant landscapes full of ore, and fill our urban lives with steel and concrete. We are a society hooked on a never-ending pursuit of convenience and comfort.
An essay posted Tuesday on Guernica magazine's website takes an interesting perspective on this concept.
In "The Age of Loneliness," author Meera Subramanian discusses the "Anthropocene," a term coined to describe this new era of human dominance of the planet.
The idea has been kicking around since Hippies shunned modernity to live "natural" lifestyles, but has recently gained more credence now that science has shown how human activity can radically alter the geochemical makeup of the planet.
"The defining characteristic of our new epoch is us and all the things our creative brains have generated to keep ourselves alive, fed, watered, housed, clothed, bejeweled, stimulated, elevated, educated, entertained and multiplying," Subramanian writes.
To see all this as a man-made apocalypse in waiting is to co-opt the language of superstition. It indeed seems headed in a bad direction for our well-being, but the ability to destroy the planet necessarily comes with a capacity to preserve it. This points to something beyond good and evil, something at the core of human intellect and desire. We need only to step outside our own prejudices to see that's really happening around us.
If only that were as easy as it sounds.

The victims of this eternal damnation included mostly U.S. politicians and lobbyists, as well as Danish statistician Bjorn Lomborg, whose downplaying of the threats of climate change many deem more contemptible than telling outright lies.
But the image of evil-doers getting their just desserts in the afterlife is not a productive one. It plays directly into the narrative that environmentalism is like a church, its adherents preaching against evils of industry and those who enable their polluting ways.
There is a moral element to climate change denial, of course. There is duplicity and apathy, and then there's outright deception.
An investigation by the Pulitzer prize-winning InsideClimate News revealed this week that American oil giant Exxon ignored clear warnings from its own scientists about rising carbon dioxide as far back as 1977.
According to a report on PBS's Frontline, the researchers "warned that a doubling of CO2 levels in the atmosphere would increase average global temperatures by two to three degrees Celsius and would have a major impact on the company's core business."
It's already known Exxon funded agencies with an agenda to sow doubt about climate change; that's evident from internal memos revealed several years ago.
But these new documents unveil a deliberate coverup of the science, in much the same way the tobacco companies kept a lid on internal research that proved bad for business.
Is this evil? It's certainly wrong, contemptible - even actionable. It's like tossing a lit cigarette, then denying you started the fire.
But there is a broader phenomenon at play - one that transcends the melodrama of good guys vs. bad guys. It is the runaway train of technocracy that has allowed humans to fully manipulate their surroundings like never before. We gouge out giant landscapes full of ore, and fill our urban lives with steel and concrete. We are a society hooked on a never-ending pursuit of convenience and comfort.
An essay posted Tuesday on Guernica magazine's website takes an interesting perspective on this concept.
In "The Age of Loneliness," author Meera Subramanian discusses the "Anthropocene," a term coined to describe this new era of human dominance of the planet.
The idea has been kicking around since Hippies shunned modernity to live "natural" lifestyles, but has recently gained more credence now that science has shown how human activity can radically alter the geochemical makeup of the planet.
"The defining characteristic of our new epoch is us and all the things our creative brains have generated to keep ourselves alive, fed, watered, housed, clothed, bejeweled, stimulated, elevated, educated, entertained and multiplying," Subramanian writes.
To see all this as a man-made apocalypse in waiting is to co-opt the language of superstition. It indeed seems headed in a bad direction for our well-being, but the ability to destroy the planet necessarily comes with a capacity to preserve it. This points to something beyond good and evil, something at the core of human intellect and desire. We need only to step outside our own prejudices to see that's really happening around us.
If only that were as easy as it sounds.

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