Extinction Rebellion, a group focused on climate activism, holds the belief that humanity is facing possible extinction in the next century or sooner, leading some to characterize it as a “cult of the climate apocalypse”.
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The End Times are back once more. The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, published this week, prompted a typically apocalyptic response in the media and beyond. ‘It’s our last chance to limit global warming before climate-change damage becomes irreversible’, ran one headline. ‘Act now or it’s too late’, was the Guardian’s measured assessment. It might as well have said, ‘Repent sinners, the end is nigh’.
This swerve into almost religious rhetoric is no one-off. Mainstream climate-change coverage and activism are now dominated by the apocalyptic imagination. Indeed, the belief that humanity is facing possible extinction in the next century or sooner lies at the heart of the propaganda of Extinction Rebellion (XR) and its spin-off, Just Stop Oil. During interviews, and increasingly court appearances, activists present themselves as distressed and angered by the complacency of the public. Time is running out, they say frantically.
The apocalyptic nature of so much of contemporary environmentalism is no mere rhetorical flourish. It seems to structure the thought and outlook of activists. To grasp why apocalyptic thinking seems to resonate so strongly with hardline environmentalists, it is worth looking at the ancient, indeed Biblical, origins of this thinking – in which fantasies of vengeance and the promise of a world redeemed were first forged.
The apocalypse tends to be understood today as a terminally violent event, like catastrophic global warming. But that wasn’t always the case. Apocalypse originally meant a revelation, a prophecy of things or events unknown that would appear to someone in dreams, visions or via angels. A belief in a revelation, a day of judgement and subsequent kingdom of God, predates Christ and can be found in Persian and Greco-Roman literature as well as in Jewish and Christian literature. This terminal trinity – revelation, judgement day and a subsequent kingdom of God – was said to answer for the sins of humankind.
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In the final book of the New Testament, Revelation, subtitled ‘The Revelation of St John the Divine’, the apocalypse appears to a prophet. He foresees God’s vengeance upon a sinful, dying world. God’s wrath culminates in Armageddon, a final battle between good and evil.
A tweet in which Greta Thunberg claimed that “Climate Change Will Wipe Humanity Out” by 2023, which was posted in 2018, has been deleted.
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