The Curse of Kirkpatrick Sale

By Keith Kloor
Aug 24, 2009 7:06 PMNov 20, 2019 3:09 AM


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This manifesto published recently at Grist seeks to rewrite the climate activist playbook. Why do I feel it's the prelude to a larger internecine struggle within the environmental movement? Because there's this growing belief among environmentalists that reversing the buildup of greenhouse gases is beyond our collective political, policy, and technical means. Forget about re-framing the global warming message, Adam D. Sacks, writes. It's high time environmentalists "tell the truth" about humanity's culturally malignant illness:

The root cause, the source of the symptoms, is 300 years of our relentlessly exploitative, extractive, and exponentially growing technoculture, against the background of ten millennia of hierarchical and colonial civilizations.^ This should be no news flash, but the seductive promise of endless growth has grasped all of us civilized folk by the collective throat, led us to expand our population in numbers beyond all reason and to commit genocide of indigenous cultures and destruction of other life on Earth.

Yes, this all sounds familiar. So what does the author suggest, if we really want lick global warming and learn to live harmonically with nature?

We must leave behind 10,000 years of civilization; this may be the hardest collective task we've ever faced. It has given us the intoxicating power to create planetary changes in 200 years that under natural cycles require hundreds of thousands or millions of years"”but none of the wisdom necessary to keep this Pandora's Box tightly shut. We have to discover and re-discover other ways of living on earth.

And how do we do this in the era of increasing globalization? Obviously, shopping at your neighborhood farmer's market will take you only so far, so Sacks says that

we will have to figure out how to live locally and sustainably. Living locally means we are able get everything we need within walking (or animal riding) distance.

Okay, if this means I have to stop taking the subway into Manhattan from my Brooklyn neighborhood, sign me up. (Then again, I'd have to find a new dentist. Damn!) Seriously, there's much to mock in this Back-to-the-Garden/anti-technology retread tract. There's also enough in here for a year's worth of George Will columns. He dines off this stuff. Let me offer a constructive suggestion to Sacks and anyone else that seriously believes we need to hit the reset button on civilization. Don't tell us, show us. That's the first cardinal rule in story-telling, it should be the first cardinal rule for preachy environmentalists. Don't tell, show. So go ahead, show us how to do it. If you're on to something good, I'm sure everyone will follow you down the yellow brick road.

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