Climate strikers need to grow up

From Greta Thunberg to Extinction Rebellion, climate-change activists are espousing mindless catastrophism.

Andrea Seaman

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Topics Politics World

From Sydney to London to New York, thousands of children, alongside many adults, went on a so-called climate strike last week. They demanded ‘urgent action’ to combat ‘climate breakdown’.

Hyperbole was the order of the day. Addressing protesters in London, Guardian columnist Owen Jones warned the planet was succumbing to ‘murder!’. Protesters’ placards, from ‘Don’t fucking kill us’ to ‘Act now or we will die’, echoed Jones’ dire warnings. Meanwhile, teen eco-prophet Greta Thunberg had just told US Congress that climate change is ‘the biggest crisis humanity has ever faced’.

These people really need to take the advice of an old geography teacher of mine. Although passionately convinced that climate change was happening and posed a serious threat, he nonetheless warned us against abandoning our critical faculties. This, he said, too often leads to worst-case thinking and catastrophism.

Sadly, too many public voices indulge in precisely this. Take, for instance, the following Guardian report, which declares that ‘the world’s insects are hurtling down the path to extinction’. Francisco Sánchez-Bayo, a scientist at the University of Sydney, bases this prediction on the fact that the total mass of insects has, over the past 25 years, been falling at an average rate of 2.5 per cent per year. So, he concludes, ‘in 10 years you will have a quarter less, in 50 years only half left and in 100 years you will have none’.

Yet the same article acknowledges that insects remain ‘by far the most varied and abundant animals, outweighing humanity by 17 times’. Variations in the global insect population are not reducible to mathematical worst-case scenarios. Sure, insect populations might have declined in some areas. But such declines are often a prelude to their renewed rise due to the reduction of the number of predators reliant on a steady diet of particular insects. To say that there will no insects at all in a hundred years is to extrapolate from a contemporary data set, and project – or rather imagine – the worst possible future scenario.

This kind of mindless exaggeration pervades the climate-change debate.

My schoolfriends and I were fortunate enough to have been taught by a geography teacher who was intellectually honest enough to keep his ideology out of the classroom. Too many teachers in the Western world are compelled by government guidelines to scaremonger about climate change. Thunberg herself says she experienced a quasi-divine revelation about how the world was going to perish when she was exposed to a propaganda film about climate change.

Such attempts at brainwashing children in schools are reminiscent of authoritarian regimes. Teachers are encouraging children to embrace fearmongering. When a teacher nods at a child’s parroted claim that climate change will cause Armageddon, children are being authorised to repeat this outside school as if it were true. Thus Thunberg can freely postulate all kinds of exagerrations and untruths, such as climate change will ‘most likely lead to the end of our civilisation as we know it’, or ‘up to 200 species’ are ‘going extinct every single day’. And those adults who have fed her all this then nod along, as if it’s the first time they’ve heard it.

Given Thunberg has not attended school recently, perhaps that explains why she knows so little about ‘our civilisation’. If she cared to learn a bit of history, she would know that modern civilisation has proved highly successful at surviving and massively improving the existence of humanity and the natural world.

Yet, there is hope. Not all students succumb to the simplicity of worst-case thinking and black-and-white moralising. Thunberg herself recalls how her classmates looked ‘concerned’ when they watched the film about climate change at school, but, ‘when it stopped, they started thinking about other things’. Thunberg was outraged at their perceived complacency. But it is good to know that most schoolchildren refuse to let themselves be consumed by the climate-fire-and-brimstone efforts of their teachers.

Too many others, from Thunberg to Jones, have embraced the catastrophism and worst-case thinking of the environmentalist movement. They happily think in moralising, black-and-white terms: either we act now or nature will quickly take us to hell in a handcart; either you’re with us or you’re against us (and nature). But climate change is not a black-and-white issue. There needs to be critical thought, reflection, and, most of all, debate. Which is precisely what Thunberg, Extinction Rebellion and the rest are opposed to.

Andrea Seaman is a writer based in Switzerland.

Picture by: Getty Images.

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Comments

Andrew Clitheroe

26th September 2019 at 4:57 pm

The correlation between conservatism and climate science denial is fascinating, in a blackly ironic way. I do wonder what might have been – how much more unified and effective our efforts now – had the left not tried to save the whales all those years ago. It didn’t have to be that way – Conservatism could have easily claimed conservation and responsible, moral stewardship for its own. If anything it would have been a better fit. But here we are, with identity politics the sole reason conservatives are digging in their heels: the libtards just can’t be allowed to have been right about something first. A Doctor Strangelove for the 21st century, where people scoff at climate change alarmism and bemoan the brainwashing of children as they holster a sidearm to take to church; preach personal responsibility from one side of their mouths and “what about China?” from the other – stage-four cognitive dissonance with prescription-strength hatred of liberals as the only palliative.

Gerard Barry

27th September 2019 at 9:12 am

Not all conservative-leaning people deny that climate change is happening. What we object to is the hysteria and scaremongering. What we object to is the double standard where it is considered acceptable to spread panic about the issue when open and honest disccusion about other important issues (e.g. demographic changes caused by immigration) is deemed politically inccorrect. What we object to is people who know nothing about the subject (e.g. those in the media, politicians and naive, clueless teenagers) talking so much about climate change when we all know that msot of them know jack-shit about it. What we object to is radically left-wing parties like the Greens (especially here in Germany) hijacking the issue for political gain and using it as a vehicle to seize power and implement their radical agenda (e.g. open borders). We’re also not convinced that the consequences are as serious as we’re told they are. We’re also too busy living our everyday lives to add climate change to our long list of worries. We’re also not sure how exactly we can combat climate change – and we’re not hearing much in the way of concrete proposals from the “climate change activists” either. We’re also sick of listening to politically correct hypocrites who smugly talk about climate change in order to show how enlightened and progressive they are while they continue to fly on aeroplanes, drive cars, etc. And, last but not least, we’re aware that the life of every single person on this planet is finite anyway so what’s the point worrying about something we cannot change? We’re here for a good time, not a long time.

Andrew Clitheroe

27th September 2019 at 2:44 pm

I appreciate the well thought-through reply. I shall try to do it justice.

First objection: that it’s okay to ‘panic’ about climate change but not have ‘open and honest discussion’ about immigration. This is precisely the kind of identity-politics fuelled cognitive dissonance I’m talking about – what sense does it make to downplay climate change because ‘we’re here for a good time not a long time’, and then call demographic change an important issue? What do you think hundreds of millions displaced by climate change is going to do to immigration?

Second objection: that media, politicians and Greta talk about climate change despite ‘us all knowing’ they are ignorant. This is, again, identity-politics-fuelled backwards reasoning. If Greta were bombing around the world on a panda-powered Concorde saying climate change is no big deal, you would be the first to applaud her good sense. It is my overwhelming personal experience that those who downplay the severity of the threat, our responsibility for it and our ability to tackle it do so in ignorance or denial of the best and most well-supported facts and theories at our disposal.

Third objection: I can wholeheartedly sympathise – but as I’ve said elsewhere: it’s not the fault of the Greens that climate change was left unattended for them to monopolise. Nobody had to arm-wrestle the right for first dibs. The moment people with flowers in their hair started blockading oil tankers you ran for the hills. And started strip-mining them. Nobody’s stopping the right wing making the issue of climate change front and centre. Not only is it the best insurance against future deluges of migration but it’s proving an incredible source of new jobs and opportunities for growth! Where are the conservatives pushing alternative energy, fusion research – it’s all gravy! Right there on the plate. Just muscle those wimpy liberals out of the way and get it done.

Third, that you aren’t convinced the consequences are as serious as you’re told. Again I think this comes down to trust, or rather who you trust, and you don’t trust liberals and you’ve convinced yourself it’s only liberals doing the talking. As I pointed out elsewhere, predictions from 1980 have turned out to be conservative. Insect populations are crashing. Animal fish and bird populations are crashing. Extreme weather events are doubling and trebling. That’s not the future, that’s right now. The reason many of us haven’t seen a great deal of difference in our day-to-day lives is simple: by and large we don’t live surrounded by nature – or the nature we do see is managed and protected – gardens and parks, farmland etc. We go out into the countryside and see the rolling fields and think ‘nature’ – when often we’re looking at a near-desert, biologically speaking. And that’s nothing compared to the damage happening over the horizons we never cross.

Fourth: that you’re just too busy to worry about it. I get that. It’s hard to consider this an overriding concern but if the science is right then literally everything else is rearranging deckchairs. Both Mars and Venus had temperate periods in their pasts, and there is absolutely no reason whatsoever why Earth can’t follow in one of their footsteps if the right amount of the right chemicals are introduced to the atmosphere.

Fifth: that you’re not exactly sure what to do. Maybe listen to those damn liberals a bit? Demand investment be shifted from fossil fuel extraction to renewables and fusion, to bringing better, more eco friendly batteries (graphene etc) to market. Demand investment be made in carbon capture – macro-scale planting of trees could draw down a massive chunk of all post-industrial CO2 as well as giving animals, insects and birds a boost. There are carbon tax options that don’t burden the consumer; look into supporting those. We need to pull big, big levers. I know that whole government-picking-winners thing isn’t your bag, but we are in a situation where too many people are thinking “No point me changing because not enough other people will.” It’s called market failure.

Joel Bennett

10th November 2019 at 12:34 am

@Andrew Clitheroe

Funny you talk about correlations. Here’s another set –
shaming culture, climate panic, population control (sorry – womens “healthcare”), dietary control policies (i.e. Vegan lobby), animal “rights” over human life, “carbon” taxation, elevation of “minority” rights, Remoaner, political correctness, self-determined personal pronouns, gender diversity/mutilation and mandatory brainwashing of children to believe all of the above is a “great idea” through public school system

That’s right – the Totalitarian Left, who are apparently completely “bewildered” why anyone would object to their social engineering project, when it points to a future of our children being told where to live, what they will live in, what they will eat and how much, whether they can travel, “when” they will live and eventually for how long.

HMMMM… how would anyone need to dig in their heels faced with the lunatics running the asylum?

And just on the subject of predictions 40 years ago being “confirmed” now? Well, that’s a nice story, except you left out the predictions 40 years ago were along the lines we’re all going to “freeze to death”, “massive sea level rises”, etc.

In other words – climate fear mongering rhetoric entirely inconsistent with “it’s getting hotter…. ummmmm…. slightly… and we need to PANIC people” rhetoric of todays “extremely knowledgeable on the subject” teenagers.

Joel Bennett

10th November 2019 at 12:44 am

And let’s not forget of course, very famously and in large part backed and promoted by what seem to be quite often, well travelled multi-home owning and book publishing we-can-afford-to-be hypocrites

Alex Ander

24th September 2019 at 2:45 pm

Climate change – also known as observing that it is warmer in the summer than it is in spring, autumn and winter…..

Michael Lynch

24th September 2019 at 8:29 am

Are you going to get seven billion people to act as one to defeat climate change? I very much doubt it. China and India are not going to stop burning coal like it’s going out of fashion just because Greta grimaces at Trump. Australia, land of the new woke, is the second largest exporter of coal (some 379 million tones between 2016/17) – mostly to China. Germany imported 51 million tonnes in 2017 for their relatively new power plants so Merkel says one thing and does another! The list is endless so good luck with your efforts, Greta, but you are shouting into the wind.

Jerry Owen

24th September 2019 at 8:18 am

We tend to travel abroad in early to mid September to a hot island somewhere, and we have just come back from one yesterday .. and as per usual it was colder and wetter when we arrived home as is usual for our September returns, it is part of our seasonal change.
We should not lose sight of our own personal senses, mine tell me that the earth isn’t on fire, my senses tell me that it is business as usual. Yes, it’s a microscopic view but the point is that we should all have faith in our own awareness of our surroundings, more self reliance and self believe in oneself is something we should all positively fight to retain.

Andrew Clitheroe

26th September 2019 at 4:08 pm

You make an interesting point – interesting in that you identify precisely why people are wrongly skeptical of climate change and the need to tackle it.

We cannot personally detect climate change – gradual global warming – because our senses are swamped by – are attuned to, even – the noise of short-term temperature changes. Seasons, weather, walking in and out of buildings. If you were to sit in a room for a week while I fiddled with the thermostat, making the room alternately hot and cold and warm, there is no possible way you would be able to tell me whether the average temperature on Friday was a degree higher or lower than that on Monday. And that’s a whole degree over a period of just a week.

We have a little projector for watching movies on – cheaper than a big telly and (I think) easier on the eyes. We got it three or four years ago and I know for a fact that the bulb has dimmed subtantially over that time, because that’s what projector bulbs do. Yet it seems just as bright as ever to me. Our senses are wonderful but they are simply not up to the job of monitoring global average temperatures across decades.

Since 1980 floods have quadrupled. Extreme temperature events, droughts and forest fires have doubled. Storms have doubled.

Someone else here was talking about predictions from back in the 1980s. Well, here’s how those predictions stack up forty years later:

http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2012/04/evaluating-a-1981-temperature-projection/

Tim Hare

24th September 2019 at 7:32 am

The appeal to urgency seems rather misplaced. The end of civilization as a result of doing too little about climate change will not be with a bang but with a whimper. These people act as if one day we will be seven billion and the next day we will be extinct. They are all worried about their own death more than any real concern for the planet.

We are urged to act now for our children’s sake but our children and the next foreseeable generations will carry on as they have in the past. Those who lament now will not be around to feel any pain so it makes no sense to argue for something which you will never feel. No one will die as a result of climate change.

Perhaps we don’t care enough about climate change since it will not affect us. Nor is it likely to affect our children. The reality is that no one is in any real danger now. Arguing for more action on the basis of what may happen to future generations is an emotional argument. We do not know what future generations will want or if they will even exist.

Andrew Clitheroe

26th September 2019 at 4:14 pm

“No one will die as a result of climate change”

That’s a bold claim. To what degree of change would you say that holds true?

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