Can the climate crisis overcome culture war logic?
JamieLowe68: Insulate Britain hold a press conference outside the Home Office, London, 2021 (CC)
Even some of the arguments about the Covid-19 restrictions morphed into a culture war. At first, it seemed the shared experience could help us overcome controversies and open up a sensible discussion about measures, their consequences, and who should pay for them. In the end, however, the debate started to revolve around an irreconcilable value argument over trust in science and scientists, closely connected to the fight of the virtuous liberals, diligently observing good hygiene, versus the less enlightened masses, supposedly prone to believe nonsense (and often more affected by the pandemic measures).
The collapse into a culture war also looms over an issue which perhaps has the potential to overcome the culture war logic: the argument about the climate crisis, and other key environmental issues that stand in its shadow, not getting enough attention. This conflict is by its nature even more ‘material’ and less ‘cultural’ than the fight over higher wages, and yet it finds itself in danger of being reduced to a battle of phantasms: on the one hand, images of ‘crazy Greta’, ‘eco-terrorists’, and protesters determined to ‘destroy civilization’ and ‘damage our industry’. On the other, a technocratic appeal to trust science, the idea that we need a technical solution which takes into account renewable energy sources and electric cars, and the urge to tame the unenlightened masses (coincidentally those who will not be able to afford electric cars).
Culture wars present us with an unflattering mirror: whether we take part in them or not, they can easily make us seem either pathetic or buck-passing. But here is the question: why should the image be more flattering than that anyway?
Frontpage image: Caspar David Friedrich, Detail from Rocky Landscape in the Elbe Sandstone Mountains, 1822/23