Climate change is a real problem. You have to be pretty stupid, delusional or misinformed not to see this. It’s not a matter of “believing” in the scientific consensus. Science and belief tend to go poorly together. I see a bunch of people lately who profess to “believe in science”, but faith is best reserved for religion. The nice thing about science is that it’s objective, as long as you properly follow the scientific method. An angry white male “God country and family” MAGA conservative and a blue-haired they/them “body positive” plus-sized feminist should be able to perform measurements independently of each other and arrive at the same conclusion despite hating each other’s guts.
Unfortunately, the idea of “believing in science” is these days used for all sorts of value judgments that don’t derive from scientific observations. If you don’t want to wear a mask or don’t want the government to have the right to shut down your business, it must be because you “don’t believe in science”. But there’s the thing: Science can’t answer philosophical questions for us. Science can determine whether masks can stop the spread of a virus or not, but it can’t decide whether your toddler should be forced to wear a mask if the child doesn’t want to, because that’s a value judgement.
Similarly, although science can be used to prove beyond any reasonable doubt that our climate is changing because of the gasses we pour into the atmosphere, it can’t decide for us how we should respond to it. It could be that we say to ourselves: “Well so be it, I don’t want to make the kind of lifestyle changes necessary to keep this planet habitable so let’s go out in a blaze of glory.” It could also be the case that we say to ourselves: “Let’s release a bunch of biological weapons that reduce the population sufficiently to reforest large parts of the globe and allow us to transition to a renewable economy more rapidly, as we spray aerosols into the atmosphere to buy ourselves some more time.”
These are very politically incorrect ways of responding to the situation, but you can’t use “science” as an argument to declare that these responses are wrong. Science doesn’t allow us to issue value judgments in regards to how we should act, it just allows us to draw conclusions about how the world works from systematic observations. Similarly, the relatively politically correct response of “empowering women and eating less meat” is not in any way a natural conclusion to draw from the scientific evidence, this is a response to scientific evidence, filtered through a particular set of ethical and moral convictions.
Unfortunately, we’re currently stuck with a situation in which we have seen no meaningful action to address climate change, at least nothing resembling the scale of interventions necessary to keep our planet habitable. In large part, this is a product of the fact that a significant section of the population doesn’t want to address the problem. During the time we squandered, about a third of the population was not convinced that climate change is the kind of problem we should aim to address in the first place.
Instead of asking: “Why have we failed to reach these people?” Climate change activists tend to be focused on self-righteous moral indignation. Consider Greta, who was asked what she would say to Donald Trump: “Honestly I don’t think I would have said anything, because he’s obviously not listening to scientists and experts. Why would he listen to me?”
This is a terrible argument. If you follow this logic, she should have never started her activism in the first place, because this whole argument can also be applied to all the people who went to her protests. They could have simply listened to the scientists and experts and done what they did after listening to her, but without her. She has had the success of reaching people and so if she wants to be successful in getting something meaningful done, it would require a willingness to cease preaching to the choir and try preaching to the unconverted.
If we look back at everything Greta has done since she started her protest, we’ll notice that she has spent all of her time, preaching to people who already agreed with her. We haven’t seen her plead with people who think this is all a globalist hoax (I’m sorry, it’s real), we have seen her talk guilt into people who already recognize the seriousness of the problem. In practice, that gets us nowhere.
I don’t really waste time talking about climate change to people who already recognize the problem. Rather, I spend my time talking to people about the seriousness of the problem, who generally don’t recognize the seriousness of the problem. That is, working class conservative men. They’re not going to applaud you and say yes and amen, in contrast to people who agree with you. But they’re ultimately the only people where talking about this subject is going to have some sort of meaningful impact on how we move on as a society.
And perhaps equally important, I try to walk the walk. I’m vegetarian, don’t own a car and stopped flying five years ago. You can’t solve the world’s problems on your own, but you can recognize how seriously someone takes them by looking at the actions they take. The world’s elite travel the globe by private jet, so it’s pretty obvious how seriously they take it: They pay lip service to whatever it is they’re expected to pay lip service to.
And in fact, that tends to be the pattern you see with a lot of people, who acknowledge that the problem is real. They acknowledge climate change is real, because that’s what you’re supposed to do to fit into your social context. Justin Trudeau would not have become prime minister if he ran on a progressive platform but ended his speeches with: “Oh by the way, climate change is a hoax, we’re about to enter another ice age according to some obscure Russian scientists so after this election I’m going to drill baby drill!” Rather, what people like Trudeau do is pay lip service to the woke agenda (some platitudes about gay marriage), while silently doing whatever works well for them in the short term (drill baby drill). There has been zero real effort by Trudeau to stop the exploitation of the tar sands.
That’s the other issue we face. Sure, about a third of the Western voting age population has generally been utterly unwilling to acknowledge that we have a problem. But look among your own progressive ranks and you’ll find that “the imminent destruction of our planetary support systems on which we depend for our survival” ranks up there in importance with issues like “gay marriage”, “racist halloween costumes” and other progressive pet peeves. The left hasn’t held its own leaders accountable.
If you think that keeping global warming below 1.5 degree Celsius is as important as making sure that nobody wears a racist Halloween costume, or that cannabis is legal, or children wear masks in school, then you don’t comprehend the seriousness of the issue we’re dealing with. And thus for all practical matter, there’s no meaningful difference between you and a “climate denier” on the right. The only difference is that you have the right fashionable and socially acceptable opinions.
A lot of the climate skepticism on the right, is merely a product of how seriously the left seems to take climate change. It seems a little too convenient to them that the solution to climate change is the sort of stuff leftists already like (“empowering women”, not eating meat, shutting down working class blue collar jobs that end up overseas in third world countries, etc), while most of the people who seem most concerned about climate change have the highest carbon budget.
Find me for example, a young progressive leftist, with all the right fashionable opinions about climate change, refugees and the LGBTQI+ community, who hasn’t traveled around the world. With every intercontinental flight you burn a small African village worth of carbon. And so, your “racist Republican Uncle Bob” who “denies climate change” looks at your photo’s in Machu Picchu on Facebook and find himself convinced that you don’t really take this problem seriously, you just pay lip service to it because that’s what you’re supposed to do in your own peer group to fit in.
You convince people by making sacrifices. But the only sacrifice that most young progressives seem willing to make is to forego having children, which very conveniently happens to fit in with their other desire, the desire to avoid taking on any sort of serious long-term responsibilities in life. In my experience, there’s one guy out there who has proved capable of making conservatives take ecological problems seriously: That guy is Ted Kaczynski.
The reason is pretty simple. He wasn’t just eloquent, idiosyncratic and intelligent. He walked the walk. He lived in a wooden shack in the forest, where he hunted rabbits to keep himself fed. He didn’t get involved in all sorts of irrelevant leftist pet peeves. He focused on the problems that genuinely matter: Artificial intelligence, genetic technology and carbon pollution are the sort of things that pose an existential crisis for humanity and life on Earth as a whole.
Unfortunately, climate change activists have succeeded in turning climate change into one of many progressive pet peeves of secondary importance. It’s seen as racist to discuss overpopulation in Africa (it will somehow solve itself when the women are educated), the world should have no borders (at least until COVID showed up), the police should be abolished (at least after we no longer need them to enforce social distancing guidelines) and travelling is very important to “broaden your horizons”. That leads to the kind of situation where we’re just not going to solve the problem.
Climate change activists don’t really make an attempt anymore to convince the people who are naturally skeptical of their intentions. Rather, those are just bad people to them. They prefer to focus on shaming the people who already agree with them. I remember attending an Extinction Rebellion protest, where the plan was made to storm into some electricity company’s headquarters. Everyone laid dead on the floor, before the director showed up and explained that they’re already doing everything they can and should have taken the basic effort to take a train to Rotterdam and protested in front of the coal plants there.
That tends to be the pattern we see. Climate change activists preach to the choir, pushing guilt on people who already feel guilty. The skeptics rightly ask Greta: “Why don’t you go to China?” That’s a sacrifice, something that takes guts, because you’re not going to face thunderous applause there. In fact, Greta never really seems to discuss China altogether. Like most activists, she prefers to push guilt on the sort of countries that are already susceptible to her message. Those countries might build a handful of extra solar panels and wind turbines, push up their electricity prices and thereby encourage their remaining manufacturing to shut down and be replaced by the Chinese.
And that’s why climate change activists get nothing done. Climate change activism never manages to move beyond the archetypal image of the idealistic young girl who makes her wealthy father feel guilty. That might be a heart-warming image to some, but it’s not how you solve an existential threat.
At this point, in 2021 AD, I think we can reliably say that the threat won’t be solved. We’ll merely face more of them same: Teenage girls who rage at wealthy old men, as the world’s poorest die of hunger and privileged hip progressive Western youth compensate their carbon emissions as they fly to the other side of the globe, by donating to a charity that promises to hand some African woman dying of hunger in a drought a more efficient wood stove that requires less fuel.
There’s a special place in hell reserved for those responsible for this. It’s not the ones who denied the problem. It’s the ones who understood the problem is real, but who chose to act on it in a manner that made them popular in their own peer group while alienating the people whose support we needed the most.