Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power just appeared in theatres. Given the prominence of the first film, whose title the sequel evokes, and the advance of the environmental movement throughout the globe, it is sure to garner huge attention.
Whether one decries it as a reheated version of the Oscar-winning fare he first served up to the public, praises it as a theme worthy of recycling, or objects to the use of the documentary format for propaganda, probably depends less on the film’s merits than whether one shares the author’s fundamental presuppositions.
I have not yet seen the film. But I can certainly admire the brilliant messaging, which extends from its use of the image of an hourglass pouring a technicolour globe into a greyscale urban hell to its use of the Quaker slogan (adopted by the political left as a motto) in the subtitle.
With the latter in mind, it is impossible not to see the sequel as agitprop against a Trump Presidency, with Gore, the former Democrat politician and current board member of both Apple and Google representing the ‘globalist elite’ against which Trump ran his surprisingly successful campaign.
Though the political agenda cannot be ignored, it is less my concern here than its claim that addressing climate change is a moral obligation humanity must undertake to rectify an injustice.
It is in its understanding of what constitutes an injustice that we can see the chasm that emerges between a humanist understanding and that of a posthumanist like Gore.
For Gore, the injustice is the crime that civilization advances against nature.
What standard of justice?
Alex Epstein, author of a book making a moral case for the use of fossil fuels, writes in a recent critique of the movie: “As the most influential figure in the international climate conversation, Gore has a responsibility to give us the whole picture of fossil fuels’ impacts — both their benefits and the risks they pose to humans flourishing. Unfortunately, Gore has given us a deeply biased picture that completely ignores fossil fuels’ indispensable benefits and wildly exaggerates their impact on climate….
Advances in technology are making fossil fuels cleaner, safer, and more efficient than ever. To reduce their growth let alone to radically restrict their use — which is what Gore advocates — means forcing energy poverty on billions of people.”
Epstein’s critique summarizes the moral objections to Gore’s war on fossil fuels. It is interesting insofar as it directly questions the validity of Gore’s moral argument.
Epstein’s moral argument is based on humanist criteria. It is predicated on the demonstrable benefit fossil fuels have made to the ameliorate the human condition, and the demonstrable harm that energy poverty will cause to it.
Epstein argues that the environmentalists should have to justify the human misery that must ensue if fossil fuels are abandoned on the scale they demand, and not just ignore that inconvenient truth.
It seems a fair point.
What is equally apparent, however, is that he is speaking at cross purposes with his critics.
Epstein seems to think that Gore is being selective in his presentation of the facts and overblown in his alarmism.
I think that the problem runs much deeper than that. It is not so much that Gore is selective in his evidence as that he is prejudiced by the moral equivalence he assumes to lie between people and the rest of life. As civilization advances, the green space on the planet shrinks. Gore regards that change as an inequity, and therefore an injustice.
Epstein’s understanding of justice is not Gore’s. Neither is his standard of truth.
They are both making moral arguments, but while Epstein the humanist employs a personal understanding of morality, justice, and truth, for Gore the posthumanist the criteria are all impersonal.
Environmentalism and posthumanism
While influential figures such as Al Gore, David Suzuki, et al. do talk about the catastrophic effect of climate change on humanity, careful scrutiny reveals that it isn’t their primary concern.
Their primary objection is that those who promote the use of fossil fuels are selfishly thinking of its benefit to people, whereas they ought to use broader and more inclusive standards. For them, the microbe and the man ought to have the same standard, and receive the same consideration, in order that justice be done.
This is the spiritual objection of the posthumanist to Epstein’s humanistic understanding of justice.
The posthumanist wishes to protect and preserve life, but only after first defining it upon the impersonal standard of the organism. This understanding of life doesn’t exclude humanity, but it does remove what is distinct about humanity, its individual personal nature, and it uses the lowest common denominator to all of life as the universal standard of flourishing.
The adverse effect of the environmental movement on human persons is thus not accidental. It is rooted in its posthumanist convictions.
The ideological basis of the environmental movement, which reaches back to the Romantic era’s panentheist view of nature, deserves far more scrutiny than the scientific basis upon which the discussion is currently being based.
This is doubly so as a posthumanist worldview also just so happens to be highly convenient for advancing the wealth, power, and sexual ethics of a globalist elite of tech billionaires. After all, they can become extraordinarily rich and powerful if they have the right marketing.
With the right combination of a call for heroic sacrifice and the threat of an imminent global armageddon, the masses will feel good about sacrificing their wealth, personal rights, and the future of their families to the grand cause of saving the world.
And they will zealously attack any resistance. After all, they will think that their world depends on it.