Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Former National Post & Toronto Star columnist, past vice president of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. New posts: Mondays & Wednesdays.
For half a century green activists have insisted that their historical moment – and a particular generation – are the planet’s last hope.
The thing about green activists is that they’re drama queens. Nothing is ever just a problem – it’s a crisis. Nothing can ever be solved with a straightforward technological fix. Instead, billions of people must be bullied into changing their lifestyles – and scary new systems of global governance must be imagined.
Green crusaders don’t see themselves as doing their small part to make this complex world a bit better here and a little more sane there. Modest, steady, incremental improvement doesn’t interest them.
They yearn, instead, for high-profile roles on the world stage – clad in superhero costumes and accompanied by portentous music. The visions in their head as they fall asleep at night are of televised ceremonies in which medals are draped around their necks and a cast of thousands applauds their saviour-of-the-planet status.
The late comedian George Carlin famously compared the human-planet Earth relationship to fleas on the back of a dog. But green activists consistently imagine that their own navel is the center of the universe. For nearly half a century they’ve insisted that the turning point in human history just happens to be that very moment. They’ve declared – over and over – that whomever they’re speaking to (or about) is the last generation with any hope of averting disaster.
Back in 1970, 42 years ago, overpopulation was the environmental crisis du jour. The public was urged to have no more than two children, and newspapers reporting on a speech delivered by a voice-actor-turned-eco-activist quoted the actor as saying:
we don’t have much more than a decade left. This generation will be the last one with a chance to do anything…By 1975 the United States will have exported its last grain of wheat. And by 1985…air pollution will be so bad…there will not be enough [oxygen] left to breathe and man will perish. [bold here and elsewhere added by me; backup link]
Fast forward two decades and David Suzuki’s 1990 book, It’s a Matter of Survival, told us (22 years ago) that we had “fewer than 10 years to turn things around” and that we were “the last generation on Earth that can save the planet.”
Eight years later, in the year 2000, a UK newspaper ran the headline: If we don’t act now, it’ll be too late. The article, written by activist journalist Geoffrey Lean, interpreted recent flooding as a message from Mother Nature and included this overwrought statement:
It may well be that our children and grandchildren, living in a much more inhospitable climate, will look back on November 2000 as the month when Britain, America and the world failed to take the last, best chance to bring global warming under control. [backup link]
Eleven years have come and gone since Lean penned that screed. Does anyone now regard November 2000 to be an environmentally significant moment? Not in the slightest. He was writing total nonsense, but I suppose it made him feel important.
Two years afterward, in August 2002, the Environment Secretary of the Philippines was telling the media:
There is precious little time to lose, and [the environment summit to which I am heading], may be our last chance to prove our worthiness as the stewards of the Earth… [backup link]
In 2005, the World Wildlife Fund histrionically declared:
This generation of politicians is the last generation who have it in their power to secure the future of our planet…History will not forgive them if they fail to act. [backup link]
In 2007 Rajendra Pachauri, the activist chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, told the New York Times that:
If there’s no action before 2012, that’s too late…This is the defining moment.
That same year, science writer Fred Pearce published a book titled The Last Generation: How Nature Will Take Her Revenge for Man-Made Climate Change. According to the description on Amazon.ca, there’s a “crisis confronting the planet.” Moreover, Mother Nature is a “wild and resourceful beast given to fits of rage” – whom human beings have now provoked “beyond her endurance.”
As the 2009 UN-sponsored climate summit in Copenhagen drew closer all that melodramatic language was recycled yet again. The UK Telegraph reported that economist Nicholas Stern regarded that event as the “last chance to save the planet” and the “most important gathering since the second world war” (backup). Greenpeace Southeast Asia declared that the Copenhagen meeting “may be humanity’s last chance to avoid total chaos” and that the “year 2009 may be the tipping point in human history” (backup). Similarly, the EU’s climate commissioner said Copenhagen was “the world’s last chance to stop climate change before it passes the point of no return” (backup).
As that summit got underway, 56 newspapers ran the same editorial in 20 languages around the world. This editorial claimed that “humanity faces a profound emergency” – and once again argued that the reputation of the current generation was on the line:
The politicians in Copenhagen have the power to shape history’s judgment on this generation: one that saw a challenge and rose to it, or one so stupid that we saw calamity coming but did nothing to avert it. [backup]
Fourteen months later, in Feburary 2011, the middle-aged head of the Copenhagen Climate Council sounded rather like the actor quoted in the 1970 newspaper article when he explained to the Green Editor of the Huffington Post:
Your generation is the last generation who can…to a certain extent, influence their own future. [backup link]
Today, the Rio +20 conference scheduled for June is still a few months off. But guess what? Already green activists are singing from the same tedious hymn book. According to conservation biologist Richard Steiner, the upcoming conference
may be our last best chance to deal seriously with the global environmental crisis before it is too late… [backup]
Sorry, professor, but we’ve heard it all before. Many, many times before, in fact.
Anyone who expects me to pay attention to these current dire predictions needs to explain why things are different this time. After the long list of faux ‘last chances’ that have come and gone why would I imagine that, suddenly, green activists know what they’re talking about?
Why would I imagine that my chain isn’t being jerked once again by a gaggle of self-aggrandizing, childish minds?