Environmentalism is a Humanism

The problem with the political debate over climate change (the scientific debate is over) is that it de-emphasizes the deeply subjective and personal contact between conscious mind and the earth: the felt human response to the disruption of seasons and migrations; water, land, air. Even if somehow climate deniers could prove that climate change is either not happening on a global scale or not dangerous on a global scale (which is insane but whatever), there would still remain the deeply intuitive, subjective feeling (a feeling I believe billions of people possess whether they know it or not) that something is not only wrong, but fundamentally wrong: that something anti-life — a cancerous force — has slipped into the fabric of nature. Even if climate change wouldn’t yield a collapse of ecosystems (it will, but hypothetically): it still would yield a collapse of phenomenological ecosystems: overlapping, dynamic systems of experience and sensuous exchange between minds and material (people animals plants elements). Coal miners, for instance, in West Virginia, have been convinced that the loss of mining jobs is the tragic loss of a way of life, but the tragedy is that the anti-way of life that is mining (the destruction of human and natural bodies for the sake of power and profit) has not been replaced by a system of human life integrated not only with nature, but with the ideal of human excellence and beauty. In other words, mining destroys the landscape and it destroys the people who destroy the landscape. Even if the demand for fossil fuels was some inevitable, unstoppable phase in the growth of human populations and/or capitalism, it is a phase that we ought be able to grasp now with a broader, more philosophical perspective. One reason I know that there is no true conservatism in the United States, is the total indifference to slower, non-industrial communities and ways of life; the indifference to the potential for harmony between human populations and nature. I am not calling for a return to pre-18th century life, but rather, a revolution in language, particularly political language, that captures a broader, richer sense of what is gained and lost in debates about economic and social policy. When a farm is sold to a developer, when a historic building is ripped down, when a highway obscures access to a forest or river; when a winter day in the northeast does not fall below 50F — experience, subjective and collective, is traumatized. Trumpist environmental policy is clearly a crime against science — and a crime against humanity in political terms — but it is also a crime against humanity in aesthetic terms. It guarantees that the uglification, smog, noise, isolation of contemporary hyper-capitalism only continues and continues to accelerate and thus, that what it means to a human being — to be a soul — is reduced largely to the experience of artifice without art or wonder or peace.

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