Monday, 25 January 2010

Conversations with a Nihilist

Why are eco-sceptics so predictable? I mention this because I was recently cornered in a bar by a chap who, knowing I was an environmental campaigner, decided he wanted to make a point.

‘I am a sceptic’, he announced proudly.

“About what?’, I asked.

‘I’m just sceptical.’

What followed was the sort of tedious conversation which will be familiar to anyone used to talking about environmental subjects, full of unhelpful contradictions, broad statements and no facts.

I won’t bore you with the details, but the main things I could distil from the argument were as follows:

  • He did not believe that humans were responsible for climate change, either in whole or in part.
  • The planet has been around for a long time before humans and would be around for a long time after us. Therefore what we do does not really matter in the long run….
  • He liked nuclear and wanted a lot of it (this was in response to my saying that we might need a bit, but surely we wanted as little of everything as possible).
  • He did not like wind turbines.
  • Humans are a cancer on the planet, and fundamentally not worth saving. This is an interesting one which crops up so often I am wondering if this is the fundamental reason why people choose not to act.
  • He did not seem to mind if 90% of humans died in a resource constrained world, saying we would adapt to a world without power. I am not sure what the point of this was as I had never suggested that we should be in a world without power. I can only assume that he is so opposed to shifting our technology and lifestyles that he does not mind it all stopping when the oil runs out. I mention it to underline the above.
  • He asked why I cared what happened after I died. I asked if he supported those who fought in WWII. For some reason this was different.
  • He had not a single fact or piece of evidence to back up anything he said, and when presented with some evidence said I was trying to bamboozle him.

Okay, enough. I don’t think he really believed most of this stuff, if only because none of it made sense. I also don’t believe for a second he would sacrifice his children to purge the planet of the human race. The point though is that this sort of reaction comes up again and again from what I would term ‘second tier sceptics’… a general sense of defeatism, apathy and nihilism. Nothing much matters, the greenies are wasting our time. The future is shit, lets just leave it that way.

I tried to explain that as I saw it, the environmental movement is about trying to build a happier, cleaner, wilder and better future. He scoffed predictably.

Perhaps it simply comes down to a lack of self worth and a sense of insecurity? There certainly seems to be a smouldering resentment against environmentalists, and even the environment, in much the same way that there is a resentment of academics, artists and scientists in much of British society. Maybe the anti-enviros are simply scared of a future which they do not see themselves as part of, or which they don't feel will value them?

If this is even partly true, we need to learn from it. Guilt is a dangerous thing, and the green movement exploits it at its peril.

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