The climate apocalypse is upon us once, or at least that’s what the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report suggests. Media outlets and activists have responded with apocalyptic fervor, warning that we are on the brink of disaster unless we take drastic action. Mainstream climate-change coverage and activism are now dominated by the apocalyptic imagination, with organizations like Extinction Rebellion (XR) and its spin-off, Just Stop Oil, claiming that humanity is facing possible extinction within the century or even sooner.
To understand why apocalyptic thinking resonates so strongly with hardline environmentalists, it’s important to look back at the ancient, Biblical origins of this mindset. The apocalypse was initially a belief in a revelation, a day of judgement, and a subsequent kingdom of God that would answer for the sins of humankind. Over time, this apocalyptic thinking has persisted and has become more secular as societies have become more secular. Today, environmentalism is the area where apocalyptic projections and predictions are most prevalent.
Green apocalypticism, as exemplified by XR, views climate change as a form of necessary punishment for humanity. This thinking can inspire panic, particularly among young people, and lead to ill-thought-out actions such as disrupting traffic on the M25. Moreover, environmentalist apocalypticism casts human history and achievements as sinful, contributing to societal pessimism and undercutting prospects for positive social change. “Climate change poses a challenge to humanity. But green apocalypticism does not help anyone. It inspires panic in those who buy into it, especially young people. They then see it as their job to wake us all up, to make us see what they see, to reveal the coming Armageddon. As far as they are concerned, this righteous mission trumps everything else.”
Mainstream politicians, in their attempts to appear environmentally conscious, have even criticized the Industrial Revolution. For example, then Prime Minister Boris Johnson at COP26 in Glasgow in 2021 declared that British innovators during the Industrial Revolution were the original perpetrators of climate sin. This denigration of humanity’s achievements is also evident in Just Stop Oil activists’ attacks on canonical artworks.
Green apocalypticism is a deeply anti-human narrative that deprives us of our sources of strength and hope. We must resist this thinking and look to the ingenuity and resourcefulness that humans have shown in the past and continue to show today. Advances in energy, medicine, transport, and space travel demonstrate that nature has never been as unthreatening as it is today.