Sinning Against The Earth

In an excerpt from his new book, The Fanaticism of the Apocalypse: Save the Earth, Punish Human Beings, the French philosopher Pascal Bruckner tears into ecological “catastrophism” as pseudo-religious in form and self-hating in content:

Consider the meaning in contemporary jargon of the famous carbon footprint that we all leave behind us. What is it, after all, if not the gaseous equivalent of Original Sin, of the stain that we inflict on our Mother Gaia by the simple fact of being present and breathing? We can all gauge the volume of our emissions, day after day, with the injunction to curtail them, just as children saying their catechisms are supposed to curtail their sins.

Ecologism, the sole truly original force of the past half-century, has challenged the goals of progress and raised the question of its limits. It has awakened our sensitivity to nature, emphasized the effects of climate change, pointed out the exhaustion of fossil fuels. Onto this collective credo has been grafted a whole apocalyptic scenography that has already been tried out with communism, and that borrows from Gnosticism as much as from medieval forms of messianism. Cataclysm is part of the basic tool-kit of Green critical analysis, and prophets of decay and decomposition abound. They beat the drums of panic and call upon us to expiate our sins before it is too late.

In a companion profile, Emily Eakin connects these arguments to Bruckner’s broader intellectual concerns:

He abandoned his faith as a teenager and eventually completed a Ph.D. with Roland Barthes, by which point he’d concluded that Christian concepts of guilt and redemption were inescapable. “Baudelaire said that civilization is the abolition of the original sin,” he told me. “In fact, it’s not true; we haven’t abolished original sin but rather spread it all over.” In Bruckner’s scenario, Marxism transposed the idea of Christ onto the working class; paradise would come after the revolution. Then, with third-worldism, colonized peoples became the embodiment of virtue. Now, he says, it’s Mother Earth: “She is suffering, the metaphor of all victims.”