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In April 1856, after decades of frontier skirmishes with British colonial powers, the Xhosa tribe of current-day South Africa stopped planting crops, slaughtered their cattle, and destroyed their grain stores. They acted on the prophecy of a teenage girl who said spirits had told her that, if they would do these things, the golden age before the white invasion would be restored and they would see an era of increased prosperity. By the end of 1857, an estimated one-third to one-half of them were dead, and the British corralled the survivors into labor camps and assumed control of the land.
Rael Jean Isaac opens Roosters of the Apocalypse with this true story to make a point: despite modern advancements and scientific enlightenment, we may have more in common with the Xhosa than we think.
Apocalyptic movements have much in common with each other, says Richard Landes, a historian with Boston University. They have their initiators and promoters, whom he dubs "roosters" because they crow an exciting message, more cautious folks he calls "owls" because they warn against unwarranted drastic action, and a mass of followers who must choose whom to believe. Such movements also follow a common lifecycle. In the first wave, the roosters break onto the public scene and begin amassing followers. Next comes the breaking wave, when the roosters' message dominates public life. This is followed by a long churning phase, when the inertia of the movement carries it -furiously forward despite failed predictions and mounting evidence that the owls were right. And finally, as the wave recedes, the owls are vindicated, but much damage has been done and the consequences remain.
Isaac applies Landes's explanatory metaphor to the climate change movement. "From a political point of view, climate change must still be counted a breaking wave," she writes. "It continues to dominate public life because the preponderance of political, academic, environmental, and media elites, as well as a significant segment of business leaders, remain committed roosters. Intellectually it's another story."
Her subsequent chapters lay out the facts of that other story, including: the massive intellectual fraud perpetrated by the climate scientists at the University of East Anglia and elsewhere, now dubbed "Climategate"; the convoluted scheme of trading the fictitious commodity known as carbon credits, which amounts to nothing more than a huge tax on energy; and the economic black holes surrounding the quest for renewable energies. These show that the movement, far from being grounded in scientifically established fact, is basically irrational, ideological, and profoundly anti-science.
Most helpfully, Isaac delves into the history of the climate change movement in order to diagnose the driving force behind it all. "From the beginning, energy, not pollution, was the chief target of environmental roosters," she writes; she then succinctly exposes the movement as a destructive drive to undo human achievement. Tying a political tourniquet on energy production is merely the means du jour for pursuing the pernicious end.
Her application of Landes's metaphor fits way too close for comfort. Western economies and human livelihoods are directly affected. "How ironic it will be," she concludes, "if despite our pride in bringing down the Soviet Union without a shot, the twenty-first century, thanks to our self-destructive pursuit of an apocalyptic fantasy, belongs to a Communist dictatorship?"
"Ironic" doesn't even come close. Contemptible would be more like it. Despite the warm fuzzies we might feel about protecting the earth, Isaac's account should compel reasonable people to apply sound judgment before following the roosters. •
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