Owning the Weather

2011 May 20
by Ando Arike

In January 2006, I received an email from Robert Greene, who told me that he was a New York-based documentary filmmaker interested in using a just-published article of mine as the basis for a feature-length film. When we met the following month to discuss this, I was pleased to find myself talking to a brilliant and edgy aficionado of Chris Marker (Sans Soleil) and Werner Herzog, with an imagination expansive enough to see the connections between the global climate crisis, Wilhelm Reich’s “cloudbusting,” and John Ruskin’s notion of the “pathetic fallacy” — the connections I’d traced in my Harper’s article. Three years later, “Owning the Weather” began making the rounds at film festivals across the country and in Europe, and was featured at COP 15, the 2009 United Nations climate change conference in Copenhagen. A month ago, Robert wrote to inform me that the film is now online at Hulu, free of charge (with only a minimal commercial interruption)…

The film that Robert ended up making evolved into something quite different than the one we talked about in a Park Slope café that winter of 2006, bypassing the visionary (and some might say “crackpot”) aspects of Reich’s and Ruskin’s work. But in Robert’s stunning evocation of atmospheric events and focus on real-life proposals to geo-engineer a solution to global warming, Owning the Weather is visionary in its own right — a profound meditation on human hubris, and our folly in thinking that we are somehow separate from nature and in control.

In antiquity, hubris, or the sin of pride, was inevitably punished by the gods, but today, a godless age, our technocrats have forgotten the old warnings, and now imagine that from the heights of their Pentagon Olympus they are masters of all earthly creation — see, for instance, the Air Force report from which Owning the Weather took its name. As I wrote in my original January 2006 Harper’s article, “Owning the Weather: the Ugly Politics of the Pathetic Fallacy,”

John Ruskin’s objection to the pathetic fallacy was that it epitomized the falseness, hypocrisy, and bad faith in the modern relationship to nature, in which even the poets and artists, those sensitive flower children of the Gotterdammerung, were so alienated they could express their love and wonder only through kitsch and Disney caricature — and thus the merry daffodils rejoice, the angry seas rage, and the lonely wind sighs, humanized into triviality. If we can no longer believe that the sky, the oceans, and the forests are inhabited by a sacred presence that demands respect, and instead see nature, in Ruskin’s words, only as “a succession of meaningless monotonous accident,” ripe for our exploitation and destruction, we have become equally unable to understand or affirm our own proper place within Creation. The tragic irony of our egocentric disenchantment of the world is this: we may one day come to “own the weather” only to find that the weather has turned as ugly and rapacious as we.

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.