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Zadie Smith

“Another response that would seem natural aligns a deep religious feeling with environmental concern, for those who consider the land a beauteous gift of the Lord should, surely, rationally, be among the most keen to protect it. There are a few of these knocking around, too, but again, not half as many as I would have assumed. Instead the evidence is to be ‘believed’ or ‘denied’ as if the scientific papers are so many Lutheran creeds pinned to a door. In America, a curious loophole has even been discovered in God’s creation, concerning hierarchy. It’s argued that because He placed humans above ‘things’—above animals and plants and the ocean—we can, with a clean conscience, let all those things go to hell. (In England, traditional Christian love of the land has been more easily converted into environmental consciousness, notably among the country aristocrats who own so much of it.)

But I don’t think we have made matters of science into questions of belief out of sheer stupidity. Belief usually has an emotional component; it’s desire, disguised. Of course, on the part of our leaders much of the politicization is cynical bad faith, and economically motivated, but down here on the ground, the desire for innocence is what’s driving us. For both ‘sides’ are full of guilt, full of self-disgust—what Martin Amis once called ‘species shame’—and we project it outward. This is what fuels the petty fury of our debates, even in the midst of crisis.”


A small slice of the best-written essay I’ve read this year: “Elegy for a Country’s Seasons” by Zadie Smith.

I highly recommend you take the time to parse the entire essay, in which Smith looks with a critical, even gaze onto the individual human desires — for vindication, for guiltlessness — which are driving the climate change chatter. Her prose moves with some of the rhythms of one of my favorite writers, Julian Barnes, and she speaks with a clarity, consistency, and evenhandedness that so rarely seeps into discussions of this topic.