A far-right group tried to deconstruct environmentalism through political theater, but its provocative performance fell flat. Liam Glen writes on the strawman argument behind anti-green rhetoric.
Influential progressive Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez recently held an unusually unruly town hall where a woman in the audience advocated eating babies to mitigate climate change.
The clip was immediately shared around the conservative mediasphere, notably being retweeted by President Donald Trump with the comment “AOC is a Wack Job!”
When it was revealed that the woman was actually a plant from the fringe Lyndon LaRouche PAC – which, among many other conspiratorial positions, denies anthropogenic climate change – some of Ocasio-Cortez’s opponents still tried to find significance in the event.
Personalities like Tucker Carlson and Candace Owens attacked her for not refuting the statements strongly enough, ignoring Ocasio-Cortez’s explanation that she believed that the women was mentally unwell.
Above all, they want to say that the incident is emblematic of, in Carlson’s words, “the rhetoric of the left.” They are firm in their view of environmentalism as a maniacal, anti-humanist ideology. But this interpretation falls short of reality.
The Elusive Green Misanthropes
No one (hopefully) really believes that Ocasio-Cortez endorses infanticide. Those who applaud the stunt – ignoring the LaRouche movement’s decades-long history as a racist and anti-Semitic cult – compare it to Jonathan Swift’s satirical A Modest Proposal, advocating the consumption of Irish children as a solution to famine and poverty.
But satire only works if it has basis in reality. Swift assailed British indifference to Irish life in the early eighteenth century. What exactly is the baby-eating stunt trying to attack about the environmental movement?
That it is alarmist? There are certainly elements of this. When, for instance, an estimate came out that major emissions in fossil fuel emissions by 2020 are necessary to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius, many activists misinterpreted this to mean an impending apocalypse.
But even these doomsayers rarely advocate anything more extreme than shifting to renewable energy. The baby-eating stunt implies that there is some deeper, destructive side to environmentalism.
The woman referenced Magnus Söderlund, a Swedish behavioral scientist who recently raised the possibility of human flesh as a sustainable food source. Söderlund, however, is simply a single person without any connection with Ocasio-Cortez, and not even he was making the proposal in full seriousness.
The LaRouche PAC implied that its attack was on Malthusianism, the idea that human population growth must be strictly kept to sustainable levels. This line of thought has been advocated by influential environmentalists such as Paul Ehrlich, but most scientists and policymakers firmly reject it. One would be hard-pressed to find Malthusian ideas in Ocasio-Cortez’s platform.
The Elusive Green Misanthropes
Among parts of the right, the idea that environmentalists simply hate humans has become an article of faith. After the LaRouche PAC’s stunt, conservative commentator Cheryl Chumley denounced the “leftist way of thinking of environmentalism first, humanity second — of trees and animals first; men, women and babies last.”
To those who shut themselves in a bubble and refuse to hear opposing viewpoints, who deny scientific evidence on climate change and cannot see any other reason that someone would want to limit resources extraction or carbon emissions, this seems like a searing critique.
To anyone else, it is a ridiculous strawman. The focus of modern environmentalism is not even on protecting the environment itself, but rather ensuring that current human activity does not have environmental impacts that will harm future humans.
This is especially true for progressive environmentalists such as Ocasio-Cortez, who take any opportunity they can to incorporate social justice concerns in their plans to mitigate the effects of climate change.
No one who has actually read the Green New Deal can call it anti-human. Its main selling point is that it goes beyond direct environmental concerns and puts its focus on economic priorities like jobs and infrastructure.
Whether these proposals are actually good policy is another debate. Such an argument would need to rest on reason and evidence.
There are many who accept this. But for the extreme anti-environmentalists who reject empirical evidence (a category that unfortunately includes many influential individuals including the President of the United States), it is far easier to simply misrepresent their opponents and present them as monsters bent on the destruction of human civilization.
As the rest of the world moves forward, however, they increasingly find themselves to be a vocal minority. Continued reliance on stunts and misrepresentation only paves a pathway to future irrelevance.