Beyond the Climate Crisis: A Critique of Climate Change Discourse

Crist, Eileen
Telos 141 (Winter 2007), pages 29–55

Much climate-change discourse is framing climate change as “the most urgent problem of our day.” This frame is criticized for encouraging the narrow quest for technological fixes, and for implicitly suggesting that other dimensions of the ecological crisis are secondary or more forgiving. The biodiversity crisis, including anthropogenic mass extinction, is at least as serious a problem as climate change. While climate change will exacerbate biodiversity losses, the latter have also been occurring independently of the climate crisis; thus a technological fix of climate change will not end biodepletion. This paper considers the relationship between climate change and the biodiversity crisis; instead of focusing on shifting climate conditions’ well-documented detrimental impact on species and ecosystems, it examines how the wounds already inflicted on wild nature are greasing the wheels of climate-change damage. It is argued that framing climate change as “the most urgent problem,” and the related discursive portrayal of climate change as impending apocalypse, divert us from confronting the real problem: the industrial-consumer civilization that underlies the ecological crisis as a whole. The paper ends by considering how this civilization is driven toward the endpoint of colonizing the biosphere, and thereby inaugurating the Era of Man – now being called “the Anthropocene”: instead of yielding to this historical course as the biosphere’s inevitable fate, we need to oppose it through radical action and critique.