Apocalypse now, the ecological speech act against deniers

Earth is heating up, epidemic rages and the deniers are waving their flags

Prologue of environmentalism: Man the disturbber of nature’s harmonies

“May the old dead give way to the young dead” says Kundera in his “Amori Ridicoli”, “May the old God give way to the new gods”, says Nature, angry, rightfully, towards her Creator who cannot have plus the privilege of transcending it.

The imperative of Genesis (“Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth; subdue it and rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the sky and over every living being that crawls on the earth”), is no longer a moral imperative: the the hour of parricide is upon us.

Earth implodes and Mother Nature, Medea in power, today makes her voice heard, not with clothes soaked in invisible poison, but with an equally lethal and invisible virus. The age of techne – man’s unconditional domination over Nature – must come to its end and make room for a new narrative, in which the bioethical imperative of “taking care” of Nature, mother, too long exploited, subjugated, applies, repudiated.

Man and Nature (1864), is the sacred text of ecologists. Its author is neither a prophet nor an apostle, but a politician: George Perkins Marsh, buried for a long time under the ashes of oblivion and rediscovered in the wake of the environmentalist fashion.

Marsh is credited with having observed, among the first, human intervention on the environment from a critical perspective. Man the disturbber of nature’s harmonies was the title proposed to the publisher. It will take more than a century for the warnings of the US politician to be heard, in all their cogency, at the global level.

The origins of the global warming debate and the denial counter-narrative

The long wave of climate denial has origins at least as far away as the awareness that the increase in average terrestrial temperatures, recorded after the industrial revolution, was attributable to anthropogenic activities rather than to natural climatic variability.

At the beginning of the 1980s, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) awakens the scientific community from its long industrial slumber by establishing the First World Climate Conference in order to “predict and prevent potential climate changes caused by human activities that could have a negative effect on the well-being of humanity”.

The growing concern about the climate problem led in 1988 to the creation of an International Commission on Climate Change (IPCC) – an intergovernmental body composed of scientists and politicians – with the task of collecting and evaluating data in the scientific field, technical and socio-economic related to climate change, their impact and the possible strategies to be adopted to prevent or limit their effects on the Earth system.

The first IPPC report, presented at the Second World Climate Conference, held in Geneva in 1990, confirms the correctness of the theoretical forecasts made by the WMO, highlighting an actual increase in the earth’s average temperatures.

The denial counter narrative soon made its entrance on the scene: in 1989 the fossil fuel industry founded the Global Climate Coalition, an industrial lobbying group with the specific aim of discrediting scientific research on climate change and global warming.

The brisk rhetoric of the Global Climate Coalition – which appeals to theories lacking scientific evidence or ad hominem arguments aimed at the moral integrity of scientists – opens the Pandora’s box of denial by paving the way for creationists, anti-vaters, flat-earthers.

The ecological speech act: an effective weapon against denial in the media age

The debate on global warming has seen activists and deniers on two fronts for about thirty years in a no holds barred fight.

Years after the first report drawn up by the IPPC, there has been a growing democratization of the debate – no longer solely the prerogative of scientific elites, lobby groups, intergovernmental institutions or NGOs – which sees an ever-increasing protagonism played by icons of militant environmentalism (Greta Tunberg is the quintessential example) and by non-political actors such as Naomi Seibt, a young German youtuber and famous climate change denier.

A decisive contribution in this direction was played by the spread on a global scale of social networks, which if on the one hand have played an active and effective role in raising awareness of the environmental problem, on the other have acted as a driving force for disinformation, feeding, in this way, the very dangerous denier machine.

In the era of fake news, a communication strategy with a strong media impact represents for the eco fighters an essential weapon against the deniers.

The ecological speech act focuses on the iconic power of words using a logos that is no longer descriptive but prescriptive: «Use emergency, crisis or climate collapse instead of climate change. Use heating instead of global warming. […] Use a climate denier rather than a skeptic. […] Climate change sounds rather passive and kind when what scientists are talking about is a catastrophe for humanity ». – reads an internal note to the editorial office of the Guardian.

Apocalypse no more to come

The battle horse of denial is the non-visibility and non-identifiability of global warming as a whole phenomenon, which is why it is legitimate and sensible to accuse anyone who claims the opposite as alarmism and catastrophism.

Yes, the terrestrial thermometer is readable only in the distilleries of scientific knowledge and global climate change is not a phenomenon that can be localized on the map, however it is difficult to ignore some events that constitute obvious indicators: the destabilization of the great polar ice caps of Antarctica western, the unprecedented season of fires that 2020 had in California and Australia and, impossible to overlook, the Covid-19 epidemic.

To link the climate crisis and the pandemic is not only the presumption of globality: scientific data in hand, the two phenomena are closely related. The first warning in this sense dates back to 2007 and comes from the World Health Organization (WHO) which, in its “The world health report”, identified viral, bacterial or parasitic infections, as increasingly recurrent threats connected to the aggravation phenomena related to climate change.

A recent report by the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) highlights how the wildfire intervention of human activities on ecosystems and wild species, in combination with global climate change, favors the spread of pathogens and the leap of species of the latter from animals to man.

What emerged with the Covid-19 epidemic is only the tip of the iceberg of a wider catastrophe in the face of which we cannot remain indifferent.

Last year Michael Shellenberger, journalist, writer and well-known denier wrote a book entitled Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All (2020).

The dramatic events that have been taking place for a year now have largely disproved his assertions. Global warming is not a catastrophe to come, it is already underway. Acting as a katecontic force to curb this drift is no longer an option, it is a necessity.

Bibliography:

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  • Ward, Quel che gli scettici non vogliono capire, ibidem.
  • Maracchi, I cambiamenti del clima e gli eventi estremi: prospettive, in Cambiamento climatico e sviluppo sostenibile, a cura di G. F. Cartei, Giappichelli, Torino, 2013.
  • Kundera, Amori ridicoli, Adelphi, Milano, 2005.
  • Gen 1, 28