Many of us live in lucky, bourgeois, comfortable bubbles of place and ideology. This columnist dwells in the multiple bubbles afforded by his plush first-world city, by his superannuation-cushioned upper-middle-class lifestyle and by his smug faith in his atheist-left-liberal attitudes. Bubble-encased folks like us struggle to stay in touch with what goes on in the minds and lives of people unlike ourselves.
But outside our bubbles, there is another country. They do things differently there.
I mumble all this so that I can confess to being startled in recent days by some new beyond-the-bubble statistics.
To some of us, enbubbled, it can feel obvious that climate change is the most important thing of all.
But now it is reported (for example in the ever-intellectually admirable online City Journal) that a recent UN survey of 10 million people across assorted nations found that climate change ranked 16th in these sometimes struggling people's daily concerns. Issues of sheer day-to-day survival loom far larger for these folk than questions of what the world will be like in 10 years' time, of how bleached the Barrier Reef will be.
Meanwhile, the same City Journal essay notes that while polling shows most Americans have some concern about climate change, that same polling shows that climate is only their 11th leading concern, eclipsed by among other things including health care, the economy, immigration, guns, women's rights, the Supreme Court, taxes, income, and trade.
Even as I write this (it is a Wednesday morning here in my first-world suburban bubble) my ears are pricking up at the radio news that the Trump administration has begun the USA's formal withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement. To eco-alarmed and enbubbled Australian ears this seems a shocking and wicked thing to do, and yet to Americans ranking climate only 11th on their scale of angsts it must seem unremarkable.
Increasingly aware of my possible enbubblement and of how it may be distorting my world view I find myself doing a lot of reading of ideas that at first seem almost blasphemously contrary to my own.
One beauty is Lech Blaine's essay How Good Is Queensland? published in the new The Monthly. It offers the outrageous idea (outrageous for Canberra-enbubbled lefties) that there are many sorts of Queenslanders (not just one, rednecked species) and that they had various good and nuanced reasons for voting anti-Labor in May's election. I commend this blasphemous pamphlet to all enbubbled, Queenslander-defaming Canberra snobs.
Then, with ample first-world bubble-time to loaf and linger over my prolonged and avocado-rich café breakfasts and tackle big essays, there is Pierre Desrochers' The Long History of Eco-Pessimism just published in spiked.
Desrochers is a Canadian professor of geography. His essay comes with the daunting-for-some warning that it is "long form", but its length held no fears for me once I discovered that one of its themes is that 93-year-old climate crusader Sir David Attenborough is a deluded fool.
Nothing floats my boat quite so buoyantly as outrageous iconoclasm. Desrochers' polite but rigorous taking of god-like Attenborough to the cleaners over his extreme climate agonisings gives some of the same rapture given lots of us by dear Christopher Hitchens in his taking apart of Mother Teresa as a fraud, hypocrite and credulous dunce.
Desrochers looks at expressions and movements of eco-pessimism and eco-optimism across human history. He finds, he says, that the doom-predicting eco-pessimists (of whom Attenborough is one of today's celebrity examples with his predictions of coming "collapses of our civilisations and the extinction of much of the natural world") have always been proven to be wrong. Desrochers thinks Attenborough really ought to be well-read enough to know this.
"[Instead]," Desrochers diagnoses, "David Attenborough's thought processes, his writings and speeches suggest that, like many biologists, he simply cannot acknowledge the fact that humanity has reached the top of this planet's food chain by developing unique characteristics."
And those characteristics include, Desrochers says, cataloguing some of them, an ability to innovate that again and again has found planet-benefiting, disaster-averting ways of doing things.
"At the root of eco-pessimism, then," Desrochers discerns, "there is always a deep-seated disillusionment with technological, economic and social progress. So faith-like is the disillusionment, so ingrained is the misanthropy, that no amount of good news can dispel them ... Climate change isn't the first eco-apocalyptic idea and it won't be the last."
Desrochers quotes with approval biogeographer Philip Stott's observation that "every age has viewed climate change cataclysmically, as retribution for human greed and sinfulness".
Yes, in spite of the sturdy construction of my bubble (so many beliefs contrary to my own ricochet off it like little hailstones off a cubby house's roof) there is something bubble-penetratingly persuasive about the diagnosis that faith-like climate change zealotry/evangelism often has a quasi-religious feel.
Perhaps those of us who are thinking atheists, imagining ourselves especially alert to the ways in which religion unbalances believers' minds, should be wary of what it is that makes us such disciples of the haloed Greta Thunbergs and David Attenboroughs.