Pascal Bruckner on The Ideology of Catastrophe:
First you break down all resistance; then you offer an escape route to your stunned audience. Thus the advertising copy for the Al Gore documentary "An Inconvenient Truth" reads: "Humanity is sitting on a time bomb. If the vast majority of the world's scientists are right, we have just ten years to avert a major catastrophe that could send our entire planet's climate system into a tail-spin of epic destruction involving extreme weather, floods, droughts, epidemics and killer heat waves beyond anything we have ever experienced—a catastrophe of our own making."
Here are the means that the former vice president, like most environmentalists, proposes to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions: using low-energy light bulbs; driving less; checking your tire pressure; recycling; rejecting unnecessary packaging; adjusting your thermostat; planting a tree; and turning off electrical appliances. Since we find ourselves at a loss before planetary threats, we will convert our powerlessness into propitiatory gestures, which will give us the illusion of action. First the ideology of catastrophe terrorizes us; then it appeases us by proposing the little rituals of a post-technological animism.
But let's be clear: A cosmic calamity is not averted by checking tire pressure or sorting garbage.
Another contradiction in apocalyptic discourse is that, though it tries desperately to awaken us, to convince us of planetary chaos, it eventually deadens us, making our eventual disappearance part of our everyday routine. At first, yes, the kind of doom that we hear about—acidification of the oceans, pollution of the air—charges our calm existence with a strange excitement. But the certainty of the prophecies makes this effect short-lived.
We begin to suspect that the numberless Cassandras who prophesy all around us do not intend to warn us so much as to condemn us.