Paul and Terra

Climate Change Propaganda

A Semi-rational Response to the Murder of our Planet


Solar panels blanket a mountainside in China—Environmentalism or Extraction?


Next week, for solstice, Terra will participate in a climate forum in Atlanta. She will help to moderate one of several group discussions, and her aim is to help people understand how our stories about the world and about ourselves have helped to bring about the ecological crisis that we now face. Which of the narratives that we carry and perpetuate must we leave behind if we're to bring ourselves back into balance with the rest of the world? What new stories will we use to better understand ourselves and our world in order to thrive?

A starting point for the two of us has been coming to an understanding of how our conversations about climate change are limited and shaped by existing power structures and cultural narratives—especially media and propaganda. Terra and I feel strongly that the meaning of our global ecological crisis cannot be understood from within the highly polarized narratives offered by the media, and that we must find perspectives that more fully treat the nature of the crisis.

The media perspective on climate change mostly consists of dire predictions from scientists, coverage of the debate between scientists and climate deniers, and then some coverage of protests, student strikes, and other attempts to promote rational policy responses such as the Green New Deal. In this way, a very strong connection is forged in people's minds between science, rationality, and climate change. I think it's fair to generalize that people who accept climate science think of themselves as rational, objective, and science affirming; most of these people perceive climate deniers as irrational, and either unintelligent or corrupt. Climate change propaganda is very pervasive, so even non-scientists and artists who are concerned about climate change will likely have negative perceptions of perceived irrationality among climate deniers.

In addition to the toxic polarization thus magnified by this perception of affairs, Terra and I are concerned that by making science the container for all discussion about climate change, the media undermines our collective ability to react appropriately to the crisis. Our scientific solutions to climate change, including social programs designed to engineer a "green economy", may miss the point entirely.

It may be that this is not about carbon, but rather a crisis of rationality itself. It's possible that our predicament results from taking rationality too far and treating complex living systems as machines to be exploited and controlled. If this were the case, applying more science-based rationality may not be the simple answer, and our engineered solutions (social, technological, or otherwise) may be fatal errors. It might be appropriate to react to this crisis from a non-rational, intuitive, body-centered paradigm and to throw out this belief that we can climate control the Earth. Such a reaction would have to be very personal and subjective—quite different from the system level administrative strategies so commonly touted in liberal circles. On the other hand, we should certainly be wary of this pernicious post-modern attitude that objective truth doesn't exist, as this only undermines our rationality and leads to new-age wishy-wash, Fake News, and nihilism. Is there a balancing point that admits for objective study of things that are actually happening without reducing unfathomably complex systems into machines that we presume to control? Is this type of rationality something that we are collectively capable of? I sure hope so.

I saw a photograph some weeks ago (9.22.2019) of a quote from Greta Thunberg projected upon a UN building during a climate protest in New York. Part of the text read, "We need a system change rather than individual change. But you cannot have one without the other." This struck me as a very odd statement in the way that it separates system change from individual change only to put them back together again. For me, this very much captures our struggle to balance the systemic and the personal; the rational and the intuitive; the objective and the subjective; the modern and the post-modern. If we are to find a relevant response to the climate crisis, it will lie somewhere in between all of these dichotomies, in that vague and nebulous grey area where so many of us fear to tread. Where true and false blur, but not into indistinction.

Obviously, media propaganda does not create space for us to view climate change as a crisis of rationality or epistemology. If we pit rational science against irrational denial, we don't create space for non-rational response to climate change; this narrative doesn't validate our unscientific gut reactions to the crisis. If we believe that system change is the answer—which it is—we may also believe that our subjective and intuitive response is meaningless—which it isn't. There's no room for any of this ambiguity or nuance in media propaganda about climate change.

Our second concern about climate change as it is presented in the media is that popular concern about a broad range of activities constituting the murder of our planet (plastic in the oceans, nuclear proliferation, habitat loss, poisoning of soil and water, extinction, etc.) are all being consolidated by media propaganda into "climate change". This has the effect of focusing debate upon one very contentious issue when it might otherwise be possible to make headway on other less polarizing concerns. When we reduce the murder of our planet to "climate change"—as is being done even at the forum where Terra presents next week—the available solutions must amount to the reduction of carbon. This in turn creates an opportunity for industry to capitalize on the crisis through investment in "clean" energy, which is not a small reason for the popularity of this narrative. In the end, we can fight wars over lithium instead of oil, but that isn't any better, especially if you live in Bolivia. We can remove mountaintops, or we can simply blanket them in solar panels. We can follow this thread back to the same kind of thinking that got us into this mess, which is capitalist exploitation of people and planet for profit.

It's very challenging to hold space for all of this ambiguity. It's hard to pursue a scientific understanding of climate change while acknowledging science's role in creating an ecocidal worldview to begin with. It's not easy to tell the difference between honoring the inspirations from our gut, and blind ignorance of other people's realities. I can't always discern at which moment my attempts to deconstruct unjust systems begin to rely too heavily upon those systems for their function. Nevertheless, Terra and I feel that any relevant reaction to this crisis must tread this line—or rather this broad and foggy avenue that leads us from who we believe we are toward who we must become.


Please consider joining Terra at Earthbeat in Atlanta on 12.21.2019 at 5pm for the climate forum. She would love to continue exploring all of this with you!

Facebook page for the event

Paul and Terra