In self-de­struct mode?

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out a shift in con­scious­ness and stiff­en­ing of po­lit­i­cal will, even if we haven’t seen it yet. I think it’s wildly ir­re­spon­si­ble to just throw up your hands in de­spair.

And I think that Kingsnorth’s sweep­ing cri­tique of to­day’s en­vi­ron­men­tal­ism is in­ac­cu­rate. There are strong cur­rents in the move­ment that pose “no-growth” strate­gies, which do not buy into the “green growth” sce­nar­ios that busi­ness as usual is pos­si­ble by sim­ply switch­ing to car­bon-neu­tral en­ergy sources. It’s more than a lit­tle cyn­i­cal to say that the green par­ties amount to noth­ing more than “a rad­i­cal chal­lenge to the hu­man ma­chine – trans­formed into yet an­other op­por­tu­nity for shop­ping.”

More­over, Kingsnorth’s con­tention that re­new­able en­ergy it­self is partly to blame be­cause its hard­ware mars bu­colic land­scapes, redi­rects nat­u­ral wa­ter­ways and en­dan­gers bird pop­u­la­tions is ridicu­lous. Some trade-offs have to be made as clean en­ergy sources take over from fos­sil fu­els, but these are worth the price if the al­ter­na­tive is re­ally a “sixth ex­tinc­tion”, as El­iz­a­beth Kol­bert dubbed global warm­ing’s worst-case sce­nario. Wind tur­bines are cer­tainly the lesser of evils here, and much softer on nature than coal-fired plants and nu­clear re­ac­tors.

And there are very re­cent ex­am­ples that show that hu­man be­ings can limit and even re­verse en­vi­ron­men­tal degra­da­tion, as the re­sponse to acid rain and the ozone’s holes il­lus­trates. The for­mer was coun­tered by laws re­quir­ing fac­tory smoke stacks to wear fil­ters, while the ban­ning of flu­o­ro­car­bons stopped the thin­ning of the ozone – and now it is re­gen­er­at­ing it­self. Hu­mans cre­ated and then solved the prob­lem.

When sci­en­tists recog­nised that cli­mate change was threat­en­ing the planet, a broad com­mu­nity of en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists, with their univer­sity chairs, sci­en­tific in­sti­tutes, lobby groups, po­lit­i­cal par­ties and civil-so­ci­ety or­gan­i­sa­tions man­aged to come up with a game plan to fight it and they’ve boxed through laws. The pin­na­cle of this was the con­clu­sion of the Paris Agree­ment last year, which had 144 coun­tries pledge to limit the tem­per­a­ture in­crease to 1.5 °C above pre-in­dus­trial lev­els. Though I, too, don’t see how this am­bi­tious goal can re­ally be met, per­haps we can keep the rise be­low 2.5 °C.

Kingsnorth of­fers no pos­si­ble so­lu­tion at the hands of man. “I don’t have any an­swers,” he writes, “if by an­swers we mean po­lit­i­cal sys­tems, bet­ter ma­chines, means of en­gi­neer­ing some grand shift in con­scious­ness … I with­draw from the cam­paign­ing and the march­ing, I with­draw from the ar­gu­ing … I am leav­ing, I am go­ing for a walk.”

Kingsnorth can walk all he wants to his bu­colic hide­away in Ire­land. But there are al­ready vic­tims of cli­mate change to­day who don’t have the op­tion, to say noth­ing of fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.

Paul Hockenos is the au­thor of Ber­lin Call­ing: A Story of An­ar­chy, Mu­sic, the Wall and the Birth of the New Ber­lin.

Thomas Trutschel / Getty Images

Paul Kingsnorth con­tends that the ap­pa­ra­tus of re­new­able en­ergy harm the environment, such as wind­mills that en­dan­ger the bird pop­u­la­tion.

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