Yesterday we witnessed the biggest climate protests the world has ever witnessed. Millions of people around the world protested, demanding that our political authorities take the measures necessary to ensure that we bring global warming to a halt. There are many reasons to be cynical, but none of these weigh up against the benefits of protesting. I want to look at some of the common arguments I see against protesting, as well as some of the arguments I have entertained in my own mind. I’ll explain why I do not think these arguments matter, why they do not change the fact that we should protest.
It is already too late
There is a degree of uncertainty in regards to how fast our actions will cause the Earth to warm up. As a consequence, we can not rule out the possibility that perhaps it is already too late at this point to stop catastrophic damage from global warming. Perhaps the actions we have taken so far will ensure that billions of people die in the upcoming catastrophe. If so, then it is still important to convey the message to our own children, that we do not wish to burden them with the cost of our wealth and opulence, that we are willing to do everything it takes to ensure they can live happy lives. In reality however, global warming is not a switch that can take just two positions. If we fail to keep warming beneath 1.5 degree Celsius, we still have an opportunity to save millions of people. Even the difference between two and three degrees of global warming would mean that numerous species have the time to adopt to the changes we impose, that would otherwise perish.
I am not the right person
Perhaps you fly around the world, perhaps you eat meat, perhaps you have a car. You fear that tree-hugging hippies would scoff at you, that you would be perceived as a hypocrite. But this is not how this works. We are all on a road to further understanding, those who are further along in their understanding of our predicament simply see earlier versions of themselves in you. There is no desire to shame people here. Instead, what I mainly notice is a desire from the other side, to encourage inaction through appeals to moral purity. “If you are so worried about global warming, why don’t you just stop breathing, you emit CO2!” When you attend the protests, you are attending a gathering of flawed human beings, who have gathered in an effort to reign in the damage that all of us are contributing to.
I would not fit in/I do not want to fit in with these people
There are people who are protesting around the world, a lot of them will inevitably have ideas and opinions about life that would leave others feeling deeply uncomfortable if they knew about them. This does not matter.
If you are conservative, if you are progressive, if you are a nationalist or a globalist, Brexiteer or Bremainer, right wing or left wing, capitalist or socialist, rich or poor, if you are gay or straight, trans or cis, black or white, religious or secular, these differences do not somehow make you unwelcome to join the rest of humanity in expressing gratitude for the living world that we inhabit and expressing the desire to preserve its beauty and vitality for future generations. As long as your intentions are good and you come with no ill will towards the other protesters, then you are welcome. The things that divide us as people can wait for another day.
One of the many benefits of the protests is that although we inevitably have fundamental differences as people, we are all reminded of what we have in common: We live out our lives on a beautiful planet that we wish to preserve for future generations. Our children and grandchildren will live out their lives in a world with much less material wealth, where people will be competing for food, water and shelter. When these children become adults faced off against each other in a harsh competitive world, days like these will help them remember what they have in common, which will help them to avoid repeating some of our worst mistakes.
Protests are ineffective
I am a disillusioned man. I was once a thirteen year old boy, who witnessed the largest protests the world had ever seen, against the Iraq war. The war nonetheless occurred, it turned into the disaster that protesters expected it would, those who were responsible for starting it went unpunished. But the protests were not in vain. They demonstrated to the people of Iraq that millions of people were willing to take the effort they could, to prevent the misery that was about to be imposed on them. The nature of political power makes it difficult for average people to influence the course of events.
So if you ask me if these protests will be enough to convince our governments to take the climate crisis serious, my answer would be no, probably not. But the children who are protesting are still young and hopeful, they have made great sacrifices and we should demonstrate our solidarity with them. The protests that are happening now are bringing people together, raising awareness of the crisis and laying down the social infrastructure that will make it easier for people to take effective actions against the escalating climate crisis. The protests are a step in the right direction. Many political revolutions, both violent and non-violent ones, initially began with peaceful protests that were ignored or suppressed by governments.
Global warming is not a real crisis
There are of course still people who do not think that global warming is a genuine crisis. They think that perhaps global warming will be good for us, or perhaps it is not caused by humans, or perhaps the world is actually not warming at all. Often they believe a mixture of these three ideas. I can not explain the whole nature of the problem here, that would take a lot of effort and has been done very well by other people. What it comes down to is that human beings are doing something that is unprecedented: We are burning fossil fuels at an extremely rapid pace and thereby changing the atmosphere much faster than animals, plants and other lifeforms can properly adjust to. The problem has been very thoroughly studied and there is no genuine disagreement left among scientists who have studied the issue, even though there are plenty of other subjects on which they vehemently disagree.
It is also widely understood that the carbon pollution we are causing leads to many different harmful effects to nature, of which global warming is just the biggest one. The oceans suffer acidification from our pollution, the bees are suffering from the reduction in protein content of pollen caused by increased CO2 in the atmosphere, etc. If you want to properly understand how we can be so certain that our human activities are causing a global crisis, I suggest visiting skepticalscience.com, where the issue is well explained. People who are telling you dumb one-liners like “CO2 is plant food” are generally ill informed, but some of them are paid to sow disinformation.
I encourage everyone to join the global climate protests. I will be protesting with some friends in the Hague on 27 September, which is when the big protests are held in the Netherlands. I expect that you will look back at this years from now and will be proud and happy that you took the effort to help address this global problem.