A Savonarola for our own times

He appears on our television screens wearing a hood, looking like a medieval Franciscan monk. In fact, he even talks like Girolamo Savonarola: «There won’t be any fish left in the sea. The rain forests and clean air will be a thing of the past. The polar ice caps will be gone, oceans will rise, entire countries will disappear. Life will change in ways you can’t even imagine. There could be famine, worldwide epidemics. Life expectancy will be lower.» This is precisely what was said by the Catholic monk, the enemy of the Medicis who, upon taking power in Florence, carried out the Bonfire of the Vanities, burning Renaissance works of art. In the advertisement by Greenpeace, the young boy warns the world: «You have to choose sides, either you are for my future or against it, you’re either a friend or an enemy.» Just as US President George W. Bush said regarding the war on terror. The truth is that there are plenty of meteorological phenomena that underline the pessimism expressed by the hooded boy: dry winters, hot summers and so on. The same thing happened with Savonarola’s prophecies. God had assured him that profiteering, luxury and tyranny were polluting the human race and therefore he predicted famines and flooding. An epidemic of syphilis broke out in Florence in 1490 and in 1494 the French army seized the city, overthrowing the Medicis. Savonarola prevailed as leader and until 1498 purged the city of Botticelli, Michelangelo and all the great Renaissance masters. All forms of messianism are dangerous, whether they refer to God, to an idea or to nature. And messianism, along with the threats made by the young speaker on Greenpeace’s advertisement are a very poor beginning. The worst crimes in the history of humanity have been committed using the same formula: belief in an absolute truth (which certain conspirators are trying frantically to conceal) and a sense of urgency. »The end of the world» has always been the best argument for any kind of fundamentalism, and there are always phenomena that «justify» predictions of doom. We are very much afraid that, at least from the semiological point of view, a sector of the environmental movement has begun to embrace messianist concepts. «We won’t be cute, we won’t be patronized,» continues the boy in the ad. Meaning what? If we don’t repent, what will Greenpeace do?