The planet’s burning. Let’s party!

The Live Earth Global Warming Survival Handbook exposes the origins of environmentalism in the guilt-ridden twitches of the middle classes.

Brendan O'Neill

Brendan O'Neill
chief political writer

Topics Culture

The planet is ‘burning’. The consequences could be ‘catastrophic’, including ‘rising seas, searing temperatures, killer storms, drought, plague and pestilence’. Humanity is ‘speeding into a troubling void’. Wow. What should we do about it? Wear a jumper, apparently. And ‘audit your rubbish’. You might also like to think about growing your own tomatoes, riding a bike to work, wearing organic-cotton denim, and building a bat box in your garden. (It’s like a birdhouse, only for bats. Apparently you can buy them flat-packed for as little as a tenner at Phew. With such useful tips, I feel far better about the whole spinning into a troubling vortex of doom thing.

The organisers of Live Earth have published a Global Warming Survival Handbook, a colourful, cartoon-packed guide to life on our warming planet that is meant to be funny – not funny peculiar, but funny ha ha hardly. It contains 77 ‘essential skills’ that we all must learn in order to prevent a ‘global warming disaster’. And for all the shrill scaremongering of the global warming gloom merchants, the skills are petty indeed.

So, after telling us that humanity is heading for catastrophe – ‘three billion people could suffer water shortages and 200 to 600 million could face famine’ – the book tells us we can turn this fate around by adopting Skill No.20: Wear A Jumper (it will help you save on heating your home), Skill No.28: Grow Your Own Tomato (‘you won’t believe the taste!’) and Skill No.12: Throw A Party (‘sometimes the best way to raise consciousness is by raising a glass – and what deserves a toast more than our venerable old planet?’). In a nutshell? The planet is fucked, let’s party!

This contradiction – perfectly summed up in the sentence ‘Global warming may be the most serious challenge the human race has ever faced, but don’t freak out’ – captures the essence of environmentalist campaigning. Behind all the talk about climate change being the biggest threat of all time, one which requires a revolution in thought and action, there lurks a narrow-minded campaign to lower our expectations and turn us all into veggie-growing, bike-riding conformists who wear pullovers instead of turning on the heat, live in small houses rather than McMansions (someone should tell Al Gore), and only fly overseas if we really, really have to.

The most irritating thing about this book is that it is based, not on scientific investigation, but on the quarterlife crisis of some long-haired middle-class rich boy. The author is David de Rothschild – and yes, he’s a member of the super-wealthy Rothschild banking family. These are the kind of people now telling the rest of us to live in little houses and wear £5 jumpers. Christ give me strength.

De Rothschild says he first ‘began to grasp the scale and complexity of climate change’ during a trip to the North Pole. ‘Standing in the midst of the Arctic, surrounded by 5.5 million square miles of frozen ocean, I felt like nothing more than a speck of dust on the endless horizon of Earth’s most raw, majestic and environmentally significant ecosystem.’ And because this son of extraordinary privilege suffered an existential crisis during a jolly in the Arctic, the reading public must now suffer his exhortations to live more simply. We’ve all at some stage wondered ‘what on earth am I doing with my life?’ (I did it in a field in Bordeaux in 1992, but then I had consumed vast quantities of Bordeaux’s most famous product), but we’re not so arrogant as to think the world should change its ways on the basis of our myopic, me-pitying angst.

The book captures the extent to which climate change campaigning is based on fear and emotion more than scientific fact. So although the intro says that climate change theory is ‘backed by evidence that almost every reputable scientist now calls overwhelming and unequivocal’ (their scare italics, not mine), ‘Skill No.9: Imagine’ admits, extraordinarily, that none of us knows what will happen in the future: ‘How can we predict the shape of [a] warmer world 50 years from now? We can’t even forecast if it will rain next week.’ So we should all imagine what might happen in the future, it advises.

‘One approach to seeing the future is through scenarios – carefully crafted “what if?” stories that let us imagine several different outcomes’, the book says. It suggests holding a ‘scenario party’ (seriously) where you can ‘pool the imaginations and experiences of your friends’. In short: we have no idea what the future will look like, but let’s knock about some shocking ‘what if?’ scenarios over a glass of wine to make ourselves feel simultaneously terrified/terrifically important. It’s the closest you’ll get to a naked admission from the climate change lobby that its warnings of floods and pestilence and swarms of locusts are based on its members’ own fevered, teenage imaginings rather than a scientifically revealed forecast of what is to come.

Indeed, de Rothschild expects his book to be popular because it combines ‘moral wisdom, frightfully dry statistics and imaginary scenarios’ – in other words, it has all the qualities of the three most widely-stocked books in libraries around the world: ‘the Bible, the US Census and Mother Goose.’ He has unwittingly provided a searing insight into the climate change campaign: it’s a mishmash of Biblical-style hectoring and fairytale fantasises of good (Al Gore) and evil (you and me if we don’t recycle), with ‘the science bit’ used to make the campaign look serious and rational – like in those adverts for L’Oreal anti-wrinkle cream where some dolly bird from Hollywood says ‘Here comes the science….’

Environmentalism is fundamentally an emotional spasm, a twitch of guilt and angst, which dresses itself in ‘frightfully dry statistics’ to look grown-up.

The book is unbearably middle class. It’s packed with weblinks for companies that make eco-jewellery and eco-clothing, or organise eco-weddings and advise you on how to ‘green your home’. Skill No.21 advises us to ‘work at home’. Apparently if one million of us did that, we’d eliminate three million tonnes of CO2 a year. Okay, but what about the millions of people who work in schools, hospitals, offices and factories, and whose jobs involve, you know, human interaction? Not everyone runs virtual online stores that sell overpriced hemp-based garments to the guilt-ridden daughters of the aristocracy. Most of us have proper jobs.

I found Skill No.18 the most grating. It advises us to say no to packaging by unpacking everything we buy in store and leaving all the cardboard and plastic with the store manager. ‘This sends a message to retailers to downsize their waste.’ Grrr! When I spent my eighteenth summer working in Argos, a regular customer used to do precisely that. ‘I won’t be needing this, thank you very much’ she’d say, after unwrapping her teamaker-cum-alarm clock and dumping the box and its polystyrene insides with me or some other unfortunate stroppy teenager on duty. The only ‘message’ it sent to us was: ‘What a BITCH.’ When the Live Earth Global Warming Survival Handbook is not encouraging you to fantasise about future doom, it’s giving you a licence to behave antisocially in shops.

At least the doom-mongers and death cultists of old had the courage of their convictions. They’d hide themselves away in caves for 70 years or wallop themselves across the back with sticks and whips in anticipation of God’s furious judgement. Today’s end-is-nigh preachers prefer to visit their guilt and panic on to the rest of us. Sorry, but I will not be sitting in a draughty house while wearing bamboo-based trousers and sorting through my weekly rubbish just to make some rich snots feel better about themselves.

Brendan O’Neill is editor of spiked. Visit his personal website here.


Read spiked‘s Live Earth analysis in full here.

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Topics Culture


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