Pleasureseeking

I have already referred to what might be dubbed casual scepticism, a form of denial in which ordinary people allow themselves to be persuaded by hard-line 'sceptics' into believing that the scientists can't make up their minds. An extreme version of this might be called 'hairy-chested denialism', a form best illustrated by Jeremy

Clarkson, host of the popular British television program Top Gear. Top Gear is about thrills, escapism, laddish humour and smashing things up. In other words, it is a teenage boy's dream. Clarkson's anti-environmentalism can be thought of as an adolescent refusal to hear anything that might spoil the fun. Like the old left activists at Spiked, Clarkson sees himself as 'the champion of the ordinary people' (although he has also been described by the Economist as a 'skillful propagandist for the motoring lobby').80 He has become notorious for green-baiting, deriding public transport, promising to run down cyclists and declaring: 'What's wrong with global warming? We might lose Holland but there are other places to go on holiday.'81 It's an opinion, or rather a sentiment, that has instant appeal to the segment of the population that feels cheated of its enjoyment by climate doom-mongering, particularly when combined with state nannyism. In this way, Clarkson transforms climate transgressors into victims of political correctness. For some, it validates their resistance to behavioural change, justifying their reluctance to take the bus, buy a smaller car or recycle waste.

Ridiculing environmentalism has become an advertising technique in its own right. It is a strategy pitched mainly at older Anglo men building on what is known as the 'white male effect', the well-established tendency for white men to be less concerned about the environment than women and minorities.82 A magazine ad for a Porsche shows a sleek sports car above the tag-line: 'Save the males. Oh . . . and the planet.' The text adds that the car's CO2 emissions are 15 per cent lower—although, in a classic dangling comparative, it does not say what they are lower than. Nevertheless it claims this fact makes driving the Porsche 'guilt-free' (as if an embezzler could be rendered innocent by stealing 15 per cent less). If Porsche takes a jocular approach to global warming the tourist industry has resorted to chirpiness to gloss over the awful-ness of climate change. Thus tourist operators now urge us to take the trip of our lives to see the natural wonders of the world before they melt or disappear under rising seas. The grim truth is buried by the airy enthusiasm of the advertising, as if there will be plenty more fun destinations after these have vanished.83

Whereas most people associate driving with a range of emotions, Top Gear's team celebrates only one—power. Why shouldn't I be allowed to drive at 100 mph on the motorway, Clarkson wants to know. One does not need to be a petrolhead or into pimping one's motor vehicle to enjoy Top Gear's fantasies. For some, it is not inconsistent to enjoy an evening watching Clarkson do donuts in a Mack truck and drive to work in a Prius the next day. But for Clarkson, driving a hulking SUV itself becomes a form of rebellion, a rejection of the wearying limitations on his liberty and a way to stick it to the greenies and the politicians who want us to conform. Howls of outrage at Clarkson's provocations only validate the sense of cultural identity derived from these anti-green sentiments. Clarkson's caricature of greenies as half-crazed hippies is a means of defining an 'other' in opposition to which his fans can solidify their own sense of identity. (In a similar way, caricaturing those who try to reduce their emissions as 'carbo-rexic' is a reassuring means of 'othering' that allows us to devalue their behaviour.) So pleasure-seeking can also become a means of in-group reinforcement of values. The technique works: some 50,000 people signed a petition to make Clarkson, the kid who never grew up, prime minster of the United Kingdom. Clarkson's ridiculing of climate science and the social limits it demands has provided large numbers of Britons with a rationale for switching off from the warnings and, for some, actively rebuffing them. For those who want a reason to disbelieve, Clarkson provides it.

But there is another dimension to Clarkson's scoffing at global warming through the celebration of powerful cars driven at speed. Pleasure-seeking is recognised as a way of escaping from reality in itself,84 and there is a perverse redoubling of the effect when the pleasure is derived not just from driving high-performance vehicles but also from the wilful transgression of the social prohibitions against climate-damaging activities. It is almost as if Top Gear represents a last wild fling before we all crash and burn.

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