In an important climate change speech yesterday, Obama listed the ways he could work around Republicans in Congress and take executive action. “We don’t have time for a meeting of the Flat Earth Society,” he said at one point. “Sticking your head in the sand might make you feel safer, but it’s not going to save you from the coming storm.”
“The coming storm,” while it’s a useful reference to Hurricane Sandy, the Colorado wildfires, and other recent and upcoming natural disasters linked to climate change, is also an apocalyptic-sounding phrase that leads me to think of two different apocalyptic conversations occurring in our society at the moment. One is from environmentalists, the other from “end times” evangelists. These groups are not usually mentioned together given that one believes in scientific insight whereas the other often declares much of science to be “lies from the pit of hell.”
Certain members of the second group believe not only that environmental devastation is of little concern but that it may even be positive since such devastation coincides with certain signs in the Book of Revelations. These people are like those who believe that Israelis should seize complete control of the Holy Land because that too appears in Revelations as a sign that the second coming is at hand. It’s as though they use the alarm bells of climate change, not to alter their behavior but to fuel their beliefs.
Left and right, in other words, can overlap in strange ways, leading me to imagine Obama delivering one of Henry Vaughan’s mystical passages in his attack on climate change denialists:
O fools—said I—thus to prefer dark night
Before true light!
To live in grots and caves, and hate the day
Because it shows the way . . .
To continue to apply this passage to climate denialists would admittedly be misleading since Vaughan is talking about people who focus on their earthly lives rather than on God’s mystical presence. Obama, on the other hand, is trying to get us to wake up to what is happening on terra firma.
More applicable to our denialists, then, is Alexander Pope’s attacks on the dunces of his time. I’ve posted before on this passage from The Dunciad but it bears repeating. Book IV begins with Goddess Dullness suppressing intellectual inquiry:
Beneath her foot-stool, Science groans in Chains,
And Wit dreads Exile, Penalties and Pains.
There foam’d rebellious Logic, gagg’d and bound,
There, stript, fair Rhet’ric languish’d on the ground . . .
By the way, I have no doubt that Michael Crichton, whose novel State of Fear claims that climate change is an eco-terrorist hoax, would have been one of Pope’s dunces had he lived in the 18th century. Using his bestseller status to grind this particular axe, he is like the poet John Oldmixon in the poem “who but to sink the deeper, rose the higher.”
Here’s the poem’s grand finale:
Lo! thy dread Empire, Chaos! is restor’d;
Light dies before thy uncreating word:
Thy hand, great Anarch! lets the curtain fall;
And Universal Darkness buries All.
If religious climate denialists have their way, anything that stands in the way of their vision must be attacked, and this includes science, wit (wisdom), logic, and rhetoric (good writing and speech). If their attacks are successful, we’ll do nothing to prevent increasingly serious storms in the future.
I’m less confident than they are that these storms will pave the way for Jesus.