"We can all feel good about deploring it."
April 1, 2015 9:20 AM   Subscribe

Carbon Capture by Jonathan Franzen [New Yorker] Has climate change made it harder for people to care about conservation?
And so I came to feel miserably conflicted about climate change. I accepted its supremacy as the environmental issue of our time, but I felt bullied by its dominance. Not only did it make every grocery-store run a guilt trip; it made me feel selfish for caring more about birds in the present than about people in the future. What were the eagles and the condors killed by wind turbines compared with the impact of rising sea levels on poor nations? What were the endemic cloud-forest birds of the Andes compared with the atmospheric benefits of Andean hydroelectric projects?
posted by Fizz (43 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
 
The Earth as we now know it resembles a patient whose terminal cancer we can choose to treat either with disfiguring aggression or with palliation and sympathy.

Ho, ow
posted by angrycat at 9:50 AM on April 1, 2015


Bullying Jonathan Franzen is pretty much the best part of climate change.
posted by srboisvert at 9:51 AM on April 1, 2015 [25 favorites]


Jonathan Franzen is highly relevant and politically astute, and in no way is this just another deeply conservative bit of his typical curmudgeonry masquerading as conservationist ecopolitics

April Fool's, here's a much better take on the politics of climate defeatism
posted by RogerB at 9:52 AM on April 1, 2015 [13 favorites]


Best Jonathan Franzen parody EVER.
posted by jcrcarter at 9:52 AM on April 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


"I’m still susceptible to this sort of puritanism."

Yes, Jonathan, you certainly are.
posted by disclaimer at 9:55 AM on April 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


I don't really feel any contradiction between local/regional conservation efforts and global climate change remediation.

On the one hand, local and regional conservation efforts are happening, and having positive results.

On the other hand, there is no appreciable attempt to address global climate change on any level.

So, uh. . . yeah.
posted by General Tonic at 10:01 AM on April 1, 2015 [6 favorites]


Life on earth will still be here long after we're gone, Jonathan.
posted by gottabefunky at 10:09 AM on April 1, 2015


yeah the conflict that he seems to be pointing out is sort of cartoonishly illustrated with the dudebro who won't treat the glass so birds won't fly into it, using climate change as an excuse, because climate change will kill more birds.

but that's not what is motivating dudebro, surely? isn't more it that the dudebro is a morally vapid dumbfuck?

although this idea is more compellingly illustrated with the problems with biofuels and birds getting caught in wind turbines, I have a hard time why seeing why, cap and trade, for example, automatically means more bird death
posted by angrycat at 10:11 AM on April 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


For what it's worth, Franzen does actually appear to have some kind of point:
Only an appreciation of nature as a collection of specific threatened habitats, rather than as an abstract thing that is “dying,” can avert the complete denaturing of the world.
But on the flipside of Franzen's argument is this: Each of these specific habitats is threatened by climate change. It's kind of a circular argument that reminds me a lot of my own experiences with depression. You ruminate on the same thing over and over and over again. It seems endlessly fascinating and saddening at the same time, but the rumination never really gets you anywhere.

Franzen is confusing guilt with hand-wringing. Replace "New England Puritanism" with depression, and the essay begins to make a little more sense. "Why reply to this stupid email when I have yet to figure out what I want my life to be?" The former does not require the latter. Install the bird-safe glass on the stupid stadium, then worry about mitigating climate change.
posted by compartment at 10:22 AM on April 1, 2015 [7 favorites]


I know everyone hates Jonathan Franzen (J. Franzen is a subject I don't actually have an opinion on), but I'm not nearly as comfortable dismissing this line of argument as all that. I mean, it seems obvious that climate change is functioning, within our culture and economy, as a conceptual mechanism for displacing and obscuring other real concerns, and all you have to do to notice that the nonhuman world is completely fucked even if the climate somehow miraculously ceased to be an issue tomorrow is to spend like five minutes out of doors pretty much anywhere on the planet that has humans in it.
posted by brennen at 10:27 AM on April 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


That's a great article, RogerB. Here's a lovely pull-quote:
To portray certain social relations as the natural properties of the species is nothing new. Dehistoricizing, universalizing, eternalizing, and naturalizing a mode of production specific to a certain time and place — these are the classic strategies of ideological legitimation.

They block off any prospect for change. If business-as-usual is the outcome of human nature, how can we even imagine something different? It is perfectly logical that advocates of the Anthropocene and associated ways of thinking either champion false solutions that steer clear of challenging fossil capital — such as geoengineering in the case of Mark Lynas and Paul Crutzen, the inventor of the Anthropocene concept — or preach defeat and despair, as in the case of Kingsnorth.
Amen
posted by No Robots at 10:27 AM on April 1, 2015 [4 favorites]


Yeah, really that piece probably deserves a serious FPP of its own, but it's such a perfect riposte to Franzen's moralistic wallowing that I couldn't pass up linking to it.
posted by RogerB at 10:30 AM on April 1, 2015


here's a much better take on the politics of climate defeatism

Mmmm. I have long blamed capitalism for most of the environmental destruction going on, and it's fairly obvious who the opponents of alternative energy and the climate science deniers are.

And yet reading the article still felt eye-opening. I don't think the idea of the Anthropocene Era is intentionally a defense of capitalism, so much as the habit of equating capitalism with human activity.

If we didn't have a culture where growth (in terms of making and selling crap so that people "above" us can make more money so they will continue to trickle some of that down to us) was the ultimate goal of most of our activity, we'd be a lot more sustainable. Those Amazon Dash buttons for instance... the second thing I thought when I saw it was about the sheer waste of it. (The first thing was "it's several hours too early for April Fool's Day.)
posted by Foosnark at 10:35 AM on April 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Mmmm. I have long blamed capitalism for most of the environmental destruction going on, and it's fairly obvious who the opponents of alternative energy and the climate science deniers are.

Seems a bit simplistic to me. I blame mankind, not any political or economical system.

If capitalism were to blame then the Soviet Union and Chine would be environmental paradises, yeah?

In the US capitalism is the mechanism that fosters environmental destruction. In China, communism is the mechanism.
posted by el io at 10:48 AM on April 1, 2015


I actually enjoy Franzen's writing so it's annoying that he's so completely wrong on this. But this is an effective takedown by climate scientist Joe Romm. Definitely check out the bar graph.
posted by Asparagus at 10:48 AM on April 1, 2015 [4 favorites]


next on Celebrity TrollsTM: Lena Dunham speaks to her mixed feelings about regulatory capture on Wall Street.
posted by ennui.bz at 10:51 AM on April 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


"We can all feel good about deploring it" -- ha, well-chosen title for this discussion.

Some people care a lot about climate change, for any or all of a variety of reasons. Jonathan Franzen, on the other hand, cares a lot about birds. Which is all well and good, somebody has to, everything needs defenders, but it doesn't explain why the New Yorker has given him all these column inches for an article that boils down to self-righteous justifications for grouchiness about other people not giving his particular area of interest its rightful due. The whiff of old-fashioned crankitude is unmistakable. Why does he write so much for the New Yorker, anyway? (He's also responsible for that obnoxious article on Edith Wharton of a year or so ago.) Were they getting worried that their navel-gazing-white-man supply was running dangerously low?

Also, nobody is talking about "blight[ing] every landscape with biofuel crops and wind turbines," dimwit, and the people who are clearing wilderness to grow biofuels aren't doing it out of concern for the climate, they're doing it because they can make money on it.
posted by ostro at 10:53 AM on April 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


Definitely check out the bar graph.

The Bird Deaths By Fuel Source one? It's striking, but it would be more useful to have deaths per megawatt instead of total deaths. I expect the point would still stand, though less dramatically.
posted by echo target at 10:57 AM on April 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


Jonathan Franzen is really like those horrible people fighting offshore wind on Cape Cod because they think it will destroy their precious views.
posted by Asparagus at 10:57 AM on April 1, 2015 [9 favorites]


There's a lot to read (and criticize) here, but IMO the real winner is right in the front:

. . . it made me feel selfish for caring more about birds in the present than about people in the future.

Yes, Frazen, you should feel bad about that because that is an asshole way to live. It's amazing to blame churlish reality for making your actions incorrect.
posted by The Gaffer at 11:01 AM on April 1, 2015


If capitalism were to blame then the Soviet Union and Chine would be environmental paradises, yeah?

In the US capitalism is the mechanism that fosters environmental destruction. In China, communism is the mechanism.


This is addressed in the article. Soviet Union and China were horrible environmentally in the heyday of communism. Neither of them is communist anymore, and China's energy consumption, use of oil and coal, and its pollution (and coincidentally, its income inequality) have all drastically surged forward in the last 20-30 years. It's the world's source of cheap labor and poorly regulated manufacturing. Foxconn isn't exactly driving workers to suicide for the glory of the Chinese people, nor the Chinese state.
posted by Foosnark at 11:09 AM on April 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


Ah, good. Othering. Always a sign of a promising debate.
posted by cromagnon at 11:12 AM on April 1, 2015


One of my good friends is a fellow Franzen-hater and a dedicated birder. I'm looking forward to seeing her reaction to this article.

Patricia Lockwood's 2014 tweet about Franzen is perfect here.
posted by bibliowench at 11:15 AM on April 1, 2015 [9 favorites]


Coincidentally, malarkey is the word of the day
posted by srboisvert at 11:17 AM on April 1, 2015 [1 favorite]



Bullying Jonathan Franzen is pretty much the best part of climate change.


A pround moment for Metafilter.
 
posted by Herodios at 11:44 AM on April 1, 2015


> They block off any prospect for change. If business-as-usual is the outcome of human nature,
> how can we even imagine something different?

Well, there's that John Lennon song where he goes "Imagine a world without people, how mitigated that would be."
posted by jfuller at 11:50 AM on April 1, 2015


A pround moment for Metafilter.

Your high horse is trampling his bird's ground nesting habit so you're worse than the indigenous people who killed off what would have been his mastodons so he probably feels bullied by you too.
posted by srboisvert at 12:31 PM on April 1, 2015 [4 favorites]


Only an appreciation of nature as a collection of specific threatened habitats, rather than as an abstract thing that is “dying,” can avert the complete denaturing of the world.

Oh, that was a great movie.
posted by JanetLand at 12:36 PM on April 1, 2015


Audubon California was not impressed:

"Franzen launches from this to say, “What upset me was how a dire prophecy like Audubon’s could lead to indifference toward birds in the present.” Franzen’s reaction is baffling, because normally when we encounter people with this sort of “indifference,” they’re the ones offering self-serving rhetorical questions like: Why should we ban lead ammunition when wind turbines are killing so many birds already? Why should we care about oil spills when clear-cutting is already wiping out birds in Central America? Why should we save the California Condor when, you know, evolution? Any decent conservationist — heck, any person with half a brain — can explain why this is specious nonsense. What should have “upset” Franzen upon reading that blogger wasn’t that the man had a point, but that he didn’t."
posted by gingerbeer at 12:39 PM on April 1, 2015 [5 favorites]


I came to feel miserably conflicted ...

felt bullied by its dominance...

feel selfish for caring more about birds...


Franzen sure has a case of the feels!
posted by jayder at 12:49 PM on April 1, 2015


Well, what about the species that thrive in a Global Warming Environment? Who speaks for the jellyfish?
posted by oneswellfoop at 1:12 PM on April 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


A pround moment for Metafilter.

It's always good to be reminded that really this is a place for hate as much as it's anything.
posted by brennen at 1:13 PM on April 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


On the other hand, it's always good to be reminded that the more Franzen writes anything other than fiction, the less likely I am to ever buy another of his books.
posted by nevercalm at 1:38 PM on April 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


At least he hasn't yet donned Victorian mourning and covered his skin in mobile tattoos of extinct animals.
posted by bad grammar at 2:00 PM on April 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Did you notice how global warming wasn't even around until after J.J. Audobon was born?
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 2:42 PM on April 1, 2015


It's always good to be reminded that really this is a place for hate as much as it's anything

Oh please, Franzen's argument, in all its ignorant, self centered, breath-takingly privileged glory, is getting exactly the respect it deserves here. Why the New Yorker deigns give it so much more can only be explained by said privilege.

Personally, how I feel about What Jonathan Franzen Thinks About Things is much like how I feel about carbon in our atmosphere: ideally it would be unnoticeable and unremarked upon, instead is ubiquitous and pisses me off every time I think about and it'd supporters.
posted by smoke at 3:01 PM on April 1, 2015 [7 favorites]


here's a much better take on the politics of climate defeatism

Franzen at the New Yorker says a couple of stupid things about climate change in an attempt to tie his article that's mostly about national parks, birds, and various interesting conservation efforts to the same "supreme" environmental issue he accuses others of using in pretty much the same way. I'm not sure what he has against "solar farms" really, but the parts where he's blatantly wrong are smallish relative to the content.

Malm at Jacobin, your "better take", is 100% bullshit rationalization and strongly triggers my "someone is wrong on the Internet" rage. It looks like intellectually dishonest Marxist propaganda, except that I usually expect better from anyone courageous enough to be Marxist. The logic seems to be that every technologically advanced society around these days is capitalist; and it's those same societies that are causing climate change: Therefore, capitalism is the problem, and the "advocates of the Anthropocene and associated ways of thinking", i.e. scientists who actually know shit about this subject, are totally missing the point.

Franzen's stupid aside about democracy being the cause of the problem is easier to take than a whole fucking essay of stupidity about capitalism being the only problem in the universe.
posted by sfenders at 6:50 PM on April 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


I thought it was an enjoyable article.

As an aside, I’m always amused how anything with a Jonathan Franzen byline unfailingly achieves Lena Dunham-levels of rankled feathers.
posted by tiger yang at 7:38 PM on April 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


a whole fucking essay of stupidity about capitalism being the only problem in the universe.

The issue as I understand it is that the current economic structure seeks to root its authority in biological determinism, a move that is aided and abetted by science authorities, and this in the face of the obvious destruction of the biosphere. In other words, biology is enlisted to provide the rationale for global biocide. As for the nature of the current economic system, it seems fair to say that we live in a time of global state capitalism. The only way forward is into a system of bio-socialism in which all life-forms are understood as vital components of a general system, and mankind accepts ultimate responsibility for the well-being of all.
posted by No Robots at 9:18 PM on April 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


Or shorter: People will continue to rationalize taking whatever they want from the natural world until those resources are gone. Capitalism is just one of the reasons.
posted by sneebler at 9:06 AM on April 2, 2015


In the US capitalism is the mechanism that fosters environmental destruction. In China, communism is the mechanism.

Excuse my ignorance, but was China (or the USSR, or Cuba) ever really a communist country, as in the workers owning the means of production?
posted by Thoughtcrime at 11:22 AM on April 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


Ah yes, the "no true Stakhanovite" argument.

Whatever those systems were, and whatever China is now, they are prone to environmental destruction. As is Capitalism. As is pretty much every biological system that's capable of great amounts of growth! This is a trend seen throughout the earth, populations that have the ability to grow extremely quickly and exhaust their resources without some sort of tapering off, will experience huge population losses, as well as perhaps mucking up the ecosystem for many other species. The invention of photosynthesis caused tremendous climate change and death and destruction, sometimes referred to as the Oxygen Catastrophe. Continuous change of the life and the environment is the only way that life has ever existed on this planet. Drastic and catastrophic change, wherein species cause themselves great pain, is not something unique to an economic system nor even humans.

We need to focus on the fundamental question of what it is we want to preserve, and what means we have to change our current course to get there. Is it reasonable to think about the birds? Yes, as long as its in context of all the other ways that we're affecting birds. Is it that we care about each and every bird life, or that we care about the species and its interplay in a larger ecosystem, and the continued evolution of that ecosystem? Do we care about Miami not flooding? Do we care about climate change shifting how much food we can produce and where? Franzen is not so off base to consider these possibilities, though we can argue with his conclusions. We preserve nature both because it preserves us and because we treasure the beauty we see in it. They must both be weighed.

Blame capitalism so that we can change the aspects that make it as shortsighted as so many other growing biological systems. Grinding ancient dull axes is a fucking waste of precious life.
posted by Llama-Lime at 9:53 PM on April 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


Audubon's official response is scathing: "Friends like these..."

They note that, in addition to all his other crimes against intellectual honesty, he's also not declared that he's a board member of "American Bird Conservancy, an organization that fancies itself a competitor for funding and attention with Audubon."
posted by bonehead at 7:43 AM on April 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


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