“Eco-hysteria”: A weapon Agaisnt Environmental Movements
“Eco-hysteria” has become a popular term in discussions about the environment and related topics such as pollution and sustainability. But what exactly is eco-hysteria?
The word “hysteria” comes from the Greek word for “uterus”. It originally referred to a female medical condition that was thought to be caused by disturbances of the uterus. In modern medicine, hysteria is understood to be a psychological disorder in which the patient’s physical symptoms are caused by their mind rather than their body. The word is also used to describe a state of excessive or uncontrollable emotion: for example, someone who is so panicked that they cannot think rationally could be called hysterical. There is a phenomenon known as mass hysteria, in which psychological or emotional hysteria manifests itself in the members of a population, usually beginning with one person or a small group.
Many opponents of ecological movements accuse environmentalists of spreading eco-hysteria: that is, of causing panic that is not (they claim) backed by scientific evidence. The overwhelming majority of these accusations are pointed at the climate change movement. The term “eco-hysteria” is sometimes paired with similarly negative labels, such as “radical environmentalists” or “eco-extremists.” The implication is that the “eco-hysterics”—that is, environmental activists—are trying to manipulate and control the public by infecting them with unfounded fears. Like mass hysteria, these anti-environmentalists believe that eco-hysteria is contagious and spreads quickly, even though there may be no real cause.
Many opponents of ecological movements accuse environmentalists of spreading eco-hysteria: that is, of causing panic that is not (they claim) backed by scientific evidence. The overwhelming majority of these accusations are pointed at the climate change movement.
For example, in an article posted to Canada.com, the Edmonton Journal argued that, despite what the public has repeatedly been told, global warming does not mean the destruction of the world’s polar bear population. Instead, it claimed, “constant scaremongering by scientists, environmentalists and the media” has caused people to see danger where there is none. The article concluded that the U.S. government supports the climate change movement for political reasons rather than scientific ones, “to pander to voters” who have been swept up in the eco-hysteria promoted by the media.
Who uses the term “eco-hysteria”? A quick Google search reveals that almost all mentions of the term come from conservative papers and websites. They may see the work of activists (for example, proposed measures to reduce humanity’s carbon footprint) as an attack on their way of life for no good reason. In addition to these, the term is also used by groups associated with big businesses, specifically those that are threatened by environmental protests against their sources of profit, for example mining, oil production, hydroelectric dams, and so forth. Labeling their opponents as “hysterical” is a strategy to discredit them and continue with practices that are not good for the environment. This is a deep-rooted method of dismissing people with inconvenient points of view; it is interesting to note that hysteria has traditionally been seen as a female affliction, and even today women are often brushed aside as being hysterical or over-emotional when they express anger over problems that affect them.
Both individual journalists who write about the problems facing our planet and also environmental groups get labeled as “eco-hysterical.” Examples of these groups include the Post Carbon Institute, Deep Green Resistance, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
The Post Carbon Institute is a think tank that provides a platform for the exchange of ideas about the current global sustainability crisis. While, as its name suggests, the Institute primarily focuses on energy-related challenges and climate change, its work encompasses “all of the major environmental, social, and economic issues facing the world in this new century,” according to its website. Its goal is to facilitate a shift in the way society operates until the world is no longer dependent on carbon-emitting forms of fuel. The Institute carries out its work through the production of books, articles, reports, and videos that allow its members to share their knowledge.
Of the five groups mentioned above, Deep Green Resistance alone may deserve the label of “radical environmentalists.” This organization advocates for the dismantling of industrial civilization, which it sees as the primary source of our planet’s destruction. With a four-phase plan, DGR aims to return humanity to “traditional subsistence methods,” that is, survival using the materials that are naturally available. Currently, DRG makes use of nonviolent tactics to promote its ideas and take steps toward its goals. In addition to environmental concerns, DGR also encourages solidarity among oppressed groups and promotes the rights of women, indigenous peoples and people of color.
The Center for Biological Diversity, based in New Mexico, is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to protect endangered species as well as the habitats of those species. It operates programs for the protection of endangered species, oceans, and public lands through the collection and analysis of scientific data and petitioning for legal protection of the aforementioned species. Other programs include awareness-raising about population growth, overconsumption, and sustainability through social media and grassroots campaigns, legal action, reports, and more.
The Natural Resources Defense Council is an advocacy group that combines “the grassroots power of more than 2 million members and online activists with the courtroom clout and expertise of nearly 500 lawyers, scientists and other professionals.” With headquarters in New York City and offices around the U.S. and in Beijing, China, the NRDC pursues environmental preservation policies. Not only does it push for laws regarding climate change, air and water pollution, clean energy, and endangered wildlife, but it also makes available to the public information about these issues. For example, its website is home to articles about which countries are responsible for the most carbon pollution, as well as what kind of seafood consumption is best for the environment.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was established in 1988 by the United Nations Environment Programme and the World Meteorological Organization to review and assess current scientific research on the topic of climate change. While the IPCC does not conduct its own research, its work is important because it produces well-written and well-reviewed reports based on published literature from around the world. Governments of U.N. member countries may base their environment-related policymaking on the contents of these reports.
With this knowledge about the term “eco-hysteria” and how it is used in the debate about our current environmental situation, it will be easier to notice when these words come up and, more importantly, to understand the motives behind their use.