Monday, April 25, 2005

The worst calumny

In my recent introduction to openDemocracy's debate on the politics of climate change, I mentioned that Michael Crichton compares believers in global warming to Nazi eugenicists.

The thinking and motivation behind this gross calumny - rightly described as an horrific assault on sanity - are hard to understand.

It is scarcely descending to Crichton's level to point out that such wild accusations are little better than the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the Big Daddy of modern conspiracy theories. The Protocols turn the nature of Judaism - a noble and compassionate tradition - on its head, with the disasterous consequences we all know.

Working out the roots of the Crichton mindset is important. Effectively countering it will probably depend on a deeper understanding than I have at present of the hideous vitality of hatred some people bear for environmentalism.

One of the most conspicuous, but - I guess - by no means the only contributory factor to the hatred is a perception (cultivated, manipulated, factitious?) that environmentalism is somehow anti-human. [Another factor in the US looks to be the manipulation of class war anatomised by Thomas Frank.]

But environmentalism as anti-humanism is the precise opposite of the case.

Trying not to be too angry, I have been glad to read Robert MacFarlane's series on nature writing, which includes a sketchy piece on English authors (perhaps over zealously cut by editors?), a useful piece on Raymond Carver, that most unexpected of nature writers, a workmanlike one on Willa Cather, and good introduction to Barry Lopez ( I agree more with MacFarlane than Jonathan Raban about Lopez's work, much though I like and respect Raban).

Best so far in the series is MacFarlane's most recent piece on Antoine de Saint Exupéry, whose books I am glad to be sharing with a very fine twelve year old:

"We are living on a wandering planet", [Saint Ex] beautifully observed. "From time to time, thanks to the aeroplane, it reveals to us its origin: a lake connected with the moon unveils hidden kinships. I have seen other signs of this."

This idea of connection - an idea that was both environmentalist and humanist in its implications
[my emphasis added] - joins all of Saint-Ex's writing, right through to his mystical work, Citadelle, unfinished at the time of his death (he died as he dreamed, disappearing in July 1944 during a reconnaissance flight over the Mediterranean). Up in his sky-lab, Saint-Ex developed a socialist version of heroism: a belief - in the words of his best English translator - William Rees, that "human solidarity was the only true wealth in life, mutual responsibility the only ethic". [my emphasis added]

This ideal was inextricable, writes MacFarlane, with the view from above - the aeronaut's vision: an viewpoint captured in the Greek word katascopos. In the short, exquisite prologue to Wind, Sand and Stars, Saint Ex described his first night flight in Argentina:

"It was a dark night, with only occasional scattered lights glittering like stars on the plain. Each one, in that ocean of shadows, was a sign of the miracle of consciousness. In one home, people were reading, or thinking, or sharing confidences. In another, perhaps, they were searching through space, wearying themselves with the mathematics of the Andromeda nebula. In another they were making love. These small flames shone far apart in the landscape, demanding their fuel. Each one, in that ocean of shadows, was a sign of the miracle of consciousness ... the flame of the poet, the teacher, or the carpenter. But among these living stars, how many closed windows, how many extinct stars, how many sleeping men ..."

"...We must surely seek unity. We must surely seek to communicate with some of those fires burning far apart in the landscape."

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