Brendan O’Neill: Hurricane Sandy And Medieval Blame Games

  • Date: 30/10/12
  • Brendan O'Neill, The Daily Telegraph

What we have in this mad eco-dash to depict storms as monsters is a secular version of the age-old backward practice of treating natural disasters as judgments upon mankind.

After every natural disaster that occurs these days, we do two things. First, we guffaw or shake our heads in stern disapproval at those religious freaks who blame said disaster on mankind’s sin. And second, we nod in vigorous agreement with those eco-experts who blame said disaster on man-made climate change. And yet, the impulse behind both forms of finger-pointing, behind both the Bible basher’s harebrained claims that deviant people brought this disaster upon mankind and the environmentalist’s insistence that the disaster is actually the fault of industry and pollution, is the same – it’s about doing that very Medieval thing of finding someone or something to blame for scary natural occurrences. Only where Christian zealots blame sinning mankind, green zealots blame industrious mankind.

So in relation to Hurricane Sandy, we’ve all had a good old laugh at the American preacher who says the storm is “God’s judgment on gays” and also on President Obama for supporting gay marriage. How backward to treat a storm, a violent whim of nature, as a sentient force that is trying tosay something to humankind! And yet, other claims that this storm is speaking to us, shouting at us, in fact, about our wicked or careless behaviour, are treated deadly seriously. So the Washington Post has published a piece by an eco-warrior who believes Sandy is the product of “global weirding” (that’s what greens freaked out by the lack of hard evidence for planetary warming have rechristened “global warming”), who tells us: “A wounded earth is speaking – are you listening?” Another eco-commentator chastises both Obama and Romney for refusing to talk about climate change in the current presidential campaign, and says that through Sandy, “the climate is now speaking to them – and to everyone else”.

So what is the climate “saying” to us? Basically that we have been bad, greedy, so obsessed with development and growth that we have let our planet fall into disrepair. In a video commentary that eerily echoes those issued by Christian cranks in the wake of every natural disaster, the influential American green Bill McKibben declares, “It’s really important that everybody, even those who aren’t in the kind of path of this storm, reflect about what it means… We really, finally need to have this reckoning – either the fossil fuel industry keeps pouring carbon into the atmosphere and we keep seeing this kind of event, or we take some action.” The idea that a storm “means” something, that it has sentience, ideas, purpose, something for us to reflect on, is as daft when it is dressed up in green-leaning lingo as it is when it’s dolled up in Biblical nonsense. What McKibben is really saying is that mankind must reflect on his behaviour and change it. No, not by having less gay sex, but by stopping being so greedy.

The application of sentience to Sandy is clear in the way it has been branded a “Frankenstorm”, by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration no less. The science world’s transformation of Sandy from a storm into a monster, into Mother Nature’s equivalent of Dr Frankenstein’s beast, has got eco-observers all excited. These storms are“stitched together from some spooky combination of the natural and the unnatural”, says one, in the Daily Beast. Apparently, “this particular monster” is an “assault from the amped-up forces of the not-so-natural world”. That is, our unnatural behaviour, our carbon-reliant lifestyles, created this storm. Where Christian crazies blame “unnatural” gay sex for bad weather, eco-warriors blame “unnatural” industrial progress. Elsewhere, Sandy is described as “Mother Nature’s wake-up call”, as the“fingerprint of climate change” (a secular variation of the finger-pointing judgment of God), and as a form of moral communication, in which“Mother Nature keeps coming back at us and saying: Look, I’m getting warmer”.

What we have in this mad eco-dash to depict storms as monsters is a secular version of the age-old backward practice of treating natural disasters as judgments upon mankind. This was taken to its logical conclusion on a radical website called Climate and Capitalism, which argues that carbon-spouting fat-cat companies created Sandy. “How the 1 per cent created a monster”, runs the headline. Is it really any more progressive to blame natural disasters on the decadence of the well-off than it is to blame it on the alleged decadence of homosexuals? No amount of pointing at pie charts can disguise the fact that Sandy-exploiting greens are peddling the same medieval prejudices as cranky Christian preachers. The profound irony being that, far from being a disaster for mankind, development and progress have been an enormous, life-saving boon. Just look at the difference in Sandy’s impact on New York and its impact on poor, undeveloped Haiti, where there was far more destruction. How perverse to accuse growth and development of causing disaster, when the evidence suggests they protect us from it.

The Daily Telegraph, 30 October 2012

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