Today’s reading comes from the Book of Daniel, Chapter 12, Verse 5:
“And Daniel sayeth unto the throng, ‘People of vision, working together patiently and persistently, hast inspired their community and changeth the course of history. These leaders, recognising the threat to civilisation poseth by climate change, have successfully alerteth many of the public to the danger it faceth. After many years and great resistance from powerful and ruthless people, an empowered community hast achieved an epic win.‘
And the throng didst sayeth unto Daniel, ‘Did ye just sayeth epic win’?
And Daniel continueth, ‘Verily. And I sayeth unto you, the country hast taken its first steps towards a ‘clean energy future’. But time runneth out and much more needs to be done to prevent the catastrophe. Also, your enemies useth lies and fear to win the hearts and minds of the people, and destroyeth their hard won gains. Everything may be lost – unless the leaders reacheth out to a resistant public in new ways and tell them the truth about the threat to health, lives and livelihoods that we faceth’.”
Okay, I’ll come clean. That wasn’t actually a quote from the real Book of Daniel. It is something much more sacred and spiritual than that. It is a quote taken from a speech by Daniel Voronoff, Senior Policy Officer, Climate Change at Department of Human Services, Melbourne, Australia, as given to a forum in Melbourne back in February, 2012. The liturgical embellishment is my own, but the words are his. He was the one talking about ‘inspired’ and ‘empowered’ communities. He was the one who came up with the rousing guff about ‘enemies using lies and fear to win the hearts and minds of the people’. He set the proselytising tone, and I just ran with it.
So just what are the ‘new ways’ that Voronoff had in mind to tell a ‘resistant public’ his ‘truth’?
Heaven Can Wait – But Hell Won’t
Anyone who plodded through my recent 5-part series on AR5, Chapter 2, will already know the answer. According to Voronoff, it’s all about “drawing on the cognitive sciences” and using “human-centred communication that acknowledges the threats, demonstrates agency and inspires empathy.”
In other words, scare the bejesus out of everyone and make it personal – very personal. I wonder where in the hell and personal damnation that idea came from. However, lest any of you go away thinking this is a cynical attempt to ‘win the hearts and minds of the people’ by issuing threats to their soul, Voronoff has this to say:
“To those who argue that recourse to ‘fear appeals’ is ‘manipulative’, my answer is: manipulation is when you lie, like saying climate change is crap, or omit the truth, like not mentioning that climate change is the problem and not spelling out its effects. By contrast, openly discussing the science – which is frightening – and broadcasting our common plight to our fellow Australians, is taking responsibility for the truth.“
Ah, the truth. That old chestnut.
Liar, Liar, the World’s on Fire
So let us talk a bit more about the dangers of ‘not mentioning that climate change is the problem and not spelling out its effects’. And let us take as our example, the BBC coverage of the forest fires that have been recently raging in India and Nepal.
Under the heading ‘Why India and Nepal’s Forest Fires Are Worrying Scientists’ (and with the tagline ‘Climate change’), the BBC repeats the ancient wisdom:
“Scientists say although climate change can’t be directly blamed for forest fires, it has intensified the dryness in the region.“
The implication is clear: forest fires are a natural disaster, made all the more likely by climate change. Nothing new here, you might say; one can always trust the BBC to mention that ‘climate change is the problem’ and ‘spell out its effects’. But then one encounters this interrogative sub-heading:
“Forest Fires No Natural Hazard?“
Yes, delivered under a big, fat, passive aggressive question mark, the BBC correspondent reports incredulously that the Indian authorities are not going along with the climate change narrative:
“India’s National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) has not recognised forest fires as natural hazards.
On its website, it has listed cyclone, tsunami, heatwave, landslide, floods and earthquakes under such category.
An analysis done by the Forest Survey of India in 2019 showed that nearly 36% of the country’s forests are prone to fires and nearly one third of that is highly vulnerable.
‘The reason why we have not listed forest fires as natural hazards is because in India most of such fires are deliberately caused by people mainly for agricultural purposes and, therefore, it is an anthropogenic [man-made] hazard,’ said Krishna Vatsa, a member of the NDMA.“
Further on, there are revelations that India’s fire services had been severely cut back and were now considered to be as much as “96% less than what was required”.
“‘There is almost no preparedness on the part of the administration while the fires are becoming more and more intense,’ Aniruddh Jadeja, an environmental activist in Kumaon district of Uttarakhand, said.”
Of course, the point is that the fires are becoming more and more intense at least partly because of the lack of preparedness, but try telling that to an environmental activist.
One way or another, the truth seems to be taking on a decidedly non-binary character here. And given that a tale of man-made hazard has been packaged and delivered by the BBC under the banner of climate change, it would seem that there are actually “powerful and ruthless people” on both sides of the divide that are prepared to use “lies and fear to win the hearts and minds of the people”.
So what are we to make of Voronoff’s Book of Daniel?
As a study in eschatology, Voronoff’s efforts stand up rather well against the original. In both works, the forces of good heroically take on the forces of evil. In both there are powerful and ruthless people to deal with and an empowered community. In both, there is a prospect of damnation but, equally so, of salvation. In both, there is a message to be given and a truth to be defended. In the binary world of the Books of Daniel, what is not true, must be a lie; what is not good must be evil; and what doesn’t fail must be an epic win. There is no room for nuance. You need to make your mind up – do you want to join the blessed or are you happy to take your chances with the devil?
So we should be thankful that there are people like Daniel Voronoff, selflessly sacrificing their time, willing to stand up to the powerful and ruthless people, to call out their lies and bring a message to the people that you can still “avert the catastrophe.” We should be thankful that we have the BBC to stoke the fires of Hell raging on the Himalayan hillsides. We must thank them also for demonstrating how a simple question mark can be used to muddy the truth. All that remains now is for you to renounce your earthly goods: your car, your boiler, your Maccy D, your foreign holidays. Admit your sins against God’s Nature. Lie down before Saints David of Attenborough and Greta of Thunberg, and beg forgiveness for your past selfishness and ignorance. Just repeat after me: The power of Mann compells you! The power of Mann compells you!
Hallelujah! Lordy, Lordy, I am alerteth.
Now who do I pay?