Climate Hopelessness is a Work of Fiction

Redwoods in Yosemite (credit: Dan Klotz)
Redwoods in Yosemite (credit: Dan Klotz)

Fiction writer Jonathan Franzen’s latest essay for The New Yorker on the hopelessness of climate change opens with a complaint about new football stadium being built for the Minnesota Vikings. The stadium will be built with glass walls that pose a lethal hazard to the thousands of birds flying through the area. But instead of focusing his ire on the governments of Minneapolis and Minnesota, which is sinking $498 million of public money into the development, Franzen blames the National Audubon society for its focus on climate change.

Franzen spends a good part of the essay complaining about the inconvenience of climate change, the guilt he feels in grocery shopping, and the puritanical “belief system” of environmentalists. The intensity of his writing about the environment is understandable. He lives part of the year in California, which is in the midst of a horrific drought and is thus the current poster child for the consequences of ecological disregard.

Environmental problems loom large in the state right now. Forget about the question of watering the implausibly lush lawns in desert oases. Agriculture operations in California’s central valley have drained so much groundwater—to compensate for a lack of rainfall—that the ground has sunk by as much as a foot a year in some places.

At the same time that Franzen’s essay ran, veteran journalist Jeff Tollefson, writing for the science-based periodical Nature, tells the story of successful efforts to slow deforestation in the Amazon rainforest. The contrast between the two narratives couldn’t be more striking. Franzen erroneously blames the deforestation of the Amazon rainforest on “poor families displaced from more fecund regions” while Tollefson correctly pins the blame on timber and industrial agriculture—beef and soy operations for the most part. Franzen opines that climate change —> Read More