Energy & Environment

How Not to Celebrate Earth Day

Artist Kong Ning, following the coronavirus outbreak, prepares for a portrait in a wearable art piece she made to mark Earth Day, Beijing, China, April 22, 2020. (Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters)
Don’t cheer the pandemic for giving the earth a ‘rest.’

For most Americans, it’s just another day of anxiety-producing quarantine as the unemployment rates continue to skyrocket, and they wonder whether the coronavirus-induced recession is going to turn into a depression. For others, there’s a silver lining. This year’s celebration of “Earth Day” is giving environmental alarmists some grim satisfaction. While most people are lamenting the collapse of the economy, some activists are happy that the earth is being given a “rest” from the ravages of capitalism.

In the weeks leading up to the annual environmental festival, there has been a steady stream of commentary on “the gifts of the coronavirus,” as one Psychology Today headline put it, that have provided some green balm for angry planet.

Leftists often insist that the Right disrespects science. But there is no scientific study or analysis supporting the notion that the pandemic is “Mother Nature’s revenge” for economic development — development that has, by the way, reduced poverty worldwide. For those who have long argued that an imminent global-warming apocalypse is “payback” for our destruction of nature, it’s a short step to paint the coronavirus as Earth’s way of saying “I’ll get rid of you” to humanity — as actor Idris Elba recently told Oprah in a video interview. A host of other leftists, including “professor emeritus of peace and national-security studies” Michael Klare and CounterPunch’s Evaggelos Valliantos, have issued similar rants.

But the effort to link the pandemic to environmentalism isn’t confined to fever-swamp pundits or celebrities. The same theme was sounded by global-warming rock star Greta Thunberg and by Britain’s Prince Charles (as always, a lagging indicator of fashionable pseudo-intellectual comment on any topic) in his otherwise anodyne Earth Day message.

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D., N.Y.) caught flack for tweeting that “you absolutely love to see it” in response to collapse of the oil market in the wake of the virus. She subsequently deleted the tweet when critics pointed out that she was, in effect, cheering, massive job losses for the workers she purports to care about.

At the heart of these morbid reflections is a hope for an environmental Gotterdammerung — a “twilight of the gods” in which proud humanity will meet its downfall and be rightly punished for its sins. In an era when faith is no longer universal (even in a relatively religious nation such as the United States), politics and environmentalism can serve as a kind of religion. That is reflected in the frequent adaptation of biblical constructs about sin and punishment.

The unfounded assumption that humanity is not merely polluting but actually destroying the planet has generated a belief that nature — like a wrathful God of Israel in the Bible who strikes down those who sin — will punish humanity for bad behavior. This has become a kind of popular folk wisdom for those whose environmentalism is a substitute for religious faith. For such zealots, it is no great leap of faith to seize upon the current coronavirus crisis as proof that we are not merely enduring a pandemic but paying for our sins.

Given the ubiquity of the gospel of environmentalism in popular culture and the educational system, the idea that we must mitigate the impact of climate change is almost universally accepted. And even many conservative critics of people such as Thunberg see Earth Day as a harmless expression of support for the idea that we must be good stewards of nature.

Many people sympathize with the ideals of the environmental movement, but that has not translated into working majorities for radical plans such as AOC’s “Green New Deal.” Treating the pandemic lockdown as a just punishment for humanity’s wrongdoing helps explain why the radicals haven’t succeeded.

Theoretical dystopian scenarios are one thing, but when disaster in the form of a shutdown imposed by government to halt a pandemic becomes reality, it stops being an intellectual abstraction. Empty rhetoric about wanting the planet to survive harms no one, but treating the economic devastation from the virus as a blessing isn’t just tasteless; it’s a clear and present threat to any hopes of recovery.

AOC’s talk of a post-pandemic economy driven by “green” industries and Thunberg’s jeremiads about radical changes including the end of air travel and meat consumption suggest that returning to normalcy, which is what ordinary workers and small-business owners want, is not their goal.

Reasonable people view any talk about the benefits of corona-related economic devastation as tasteless, at best, or cruel. Those not under the spell of new-age environmental theology don’t believe they deserve their current suffering, and they will want no part of anyone who says they do.

A half-century after the first Earth Day, this ought to be a moment to celebrate the fact that the environmental movement has succeeded in many respects: America’s air, lakes, and rivers are far cleaner today than they were in 1970. But by treating the current economic crisis as either a good thing or a long-delayed just punishment, the Left is ensuring that their radical plans will generate little support from people who would rather return to a robust 21st-century economy than be sentenced to spend the rest of their days as if they were living in the 19th century.

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