Catastrophism, the pumping up of dangers of all sorts as if the world would end tomorrow unless we all follow the catastrophist’s opinions, must have been with humanity since the first time somebody was able to foretell a solar eclipse.
Three of the dangers it carries must have been well known for almost as long:
- Crying wolf is the best way to make sure nobody will do a thing when a really bad situation will happen
- Lurid climate-related material is just as easily forgotten, and may convince the listener or reader that there is nothing at all one could do on the topic
- There is no definite line between those who proclaim the world is going to the dogs because of “A”, and those who take advantage of “A” in order to grab as much power as they can
There is however a fourth danger for whom awareness is slowly emerging:
- Spreading rumors about the planet becoming a hellish place because of person A”s behaviour, can and does often inspire somebody else to pick up arms and forcefully get rid of person A
A couple of examples from outside the climate arena:
- In “Understanding Race and Crime“, Colin Webster suggests that behind the Rwandan genocide there was no actual overpopulation (or lack of resources), rather their myth (=perception), the idea that despite much evidence to the contrary, there would have shortly been a major crisis
- In “Coming Chaos? Maybe not“, Michael W Foley makes the point that crisis-motivated “violence is not a matter of social banditry but is politically organized […] In New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, the hysterical news reports to the contrary, violence was almost wholly the work of white vigilantes inspired by those same reports to ‘defend’ their communities against supposed looters“
The two authors are making the same point: the main motivation for the violence is in the people’s conviction that things are going pretty badly indeed, and they have to do something, however illegal or immoral.
So next time somebody will try to argue that it is our duty to consider mostly worst-case scenarios, I will just remind them: catastrophism, with all its baggage of unintended consequences, is a Pandora’s box. With Hope removed.