The Audacity of Doom

At, Woody Hochswender puts global warming alarmism in the context of a long tradition of doomsaying — which wasn’t invented by Al Gore and need not necessarily be about climate —  by looking at the dismal career of author Jonathan Schell.

1. Schell argued that given the incredibly dire state of things, a world-destroying nuclear exchange was inevitable. A nuclear exchange was virtually certain to happen, sooner or later, he said, and when it did radioactive clouds would blot out the sun and create a “nuclear winter” resulting in the extinction of human life. Once it started, there was no going back. The concept of inevitability was mortised into the framework of the argument.

2. It was also depicted as a race against time! We had only a teeny-weeny window in which to reverse the horrendous policies and mindset of our ignorant, bellicose leaders (read: Republicans). It was, like, so super urgent, action had to be taken, like, yesterday.

3. But, almost paradoxically, it was already too late! In the bottomless pit of his despair and revulsion at the civilized world for imperiling the planet, Schell contended that we were already too far gone, and it really was too late to stop the nuclear holocaust, although everyone had a moral duty to try.

Sound familiar? What we have here, as Yogi Berra would say, is déjà vu all over again. The eerie parallels between the nuclear-freeze movement and the global-warming movement are clear: the direness of the forecast (which resembles prophecy and has a teleological dimension); the dramatic, race-against-time urgency of the healing project; the element of existential threat as a goad to activism; the notion of human extinction and the “fate” of the earth hanging in the balance, as if suspended by a slender thread; and finally, the admonition that it is probably already too late. The nuclear clock is about to strike midnight; the ice caps are already melting. Fear and trembling all around.

Like other neo-Malthusians, Schell has been spectacularly wrong time and again, but that’s not likely to make him or his correligionists give up on despair. For doomsayers, every year is 2012.

For a more uplifting — and accurate — view of human history, see here.