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The planet is sick. Human beings are guilty of damaging it. We have to pay. Today, that is the orthodoxy throughout the Western world. Distrust of progress and science, calls for individual and collective self-sacrifice to ‘save the planet’ and cultivation of fear: behind the carbon commissars, a dangerous and counterproductive ecological catastrophism is gaining ground.
Modern society’s susceptibility to this kind of thinking derives from what Bruckner calls “the seductive attraction of disaster,” as exemplified by the popular appeal of disaster movies. But ecological catastrophism is harmful in that it draws attention away from other, more solvable problems and injustices in the world in order to focus on something that is portrayed as an Apocalypse.
Rather than preaching catastrophe and pessimism, we need to develop a democratic and generous ecology that addresses specific problems in a practical way.
In his newest work of political philosophy, Bruckner (The Tyranny of Guilt) takes a level-headed look at extreme ecologism and the true practicality of its proponents' most-quoted solutions. He opens with a seemly comparison of religious guilt and the pious posturing for favors from God with the current, widespread tendency to apologize for one's carbon footprint. His is not a condemnation of all "green" efforts he demarcates the rational from those modes that seek to promulgate human guilt. Bruckner's reigning suggestion is a rarely heard one: that damnation of humans is antithetical to the actual salvation of the earth, as only unprecedented innovation will churn out results big enough to answer the planet's problems. His essays incorporate case studies and effective side notes, including a lexicon of modern platitudes that underlines the superficiality of popular environmental posturing. Though his prose is cutting, Bruckner can be equally poetic, such as when he describes the non-utilitarian branches of the animal kingdom as "the baroque exuberance of the living." As stylistically gratifying as he is intellectually lucid, Bruckner presents a clear alternative to the accepted thought on one of this era's hottest topics.