How to do environmentalism, and how not to do environmentalism
A tragic dissonance has emerged in most popular climate arguments: a childlike refusal of accepting the lesser of two evils, of trading off one goal for another. The more ardently you push climate policies, it seems, the more strongly you hold romantic and unrealistic beliefs about how we can repent for our environmentalist sins. In impossibly short times, it is believed, we can effortlessly transition to 100% renewable energy; overhaul society completely, but at no cost whatsoever; and our restrictive climate policies will even boost our economies and create jobs!
You must presume that the world is a pretty sinister place if greedy capitalists, supposedly in it for the money, are all leaving these “obvious” opportunities on the table.
Never mind that renewables ‒ or more aptly called “unreliables” ‒ can’t power a modern civilization, that their intermittency problem is light years behind where its proponents assume it to be, that they’re not energy-dense enough to provide us with the energy and electricity we want. Without the amazing help of fossil fuels we couldn’t do half the things we’re currently doing ‒ living, eating, flourishing, helping, traveling (well…), producing.
None of that matters; we need to fix the climate, activists say, and quell CO2 emissions urgently. But while we’re at it we must also ensure equal gender representation on corporate boards, and shut down tax havens, and confiscate the rich’s productive assets. And naturally, end racial inequality, and most certainly regulate who may use a public bathroom carrying this or that gendered sign on it.
A cynic, perhaps reaching for a tin foil hat or the closest religious text to understand how this could possibly make sense, would conclude that catastrophists are not really addressing the problem they say they are. Alternatively, climate change can’t be that bad if the same Green New Deal bill that saves humanity is littered with minimum wage laws and paid maternity leave and a range of other social policies that just happen to align with what the hard-left has long wanted.
But we don’t have to be cynics to derive this conclusion: its proponents freely and openly say so. The British organization ‘Extinction Rebellion,’ whose infamous promoters chain themselves to trains and block London roads for media attention (or sling fake blood at buildings), happily confess that they do things that feel right rather than what would have material impact for their cause.
For years, people like Naomi Klein, the author of This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate, have said that their goal is to destroy capitalism ‒ and climate change just happens to be the best tool and best argument she has found. Simon Hannah for OpenDemocracy describes capitalism as having a “’parasitoid’ relationship to the Earth.” Capitalism, he writes, “is simply incompatible with social justice” and the climate change issue offers a vivid illustration of this.
If you’re concerned about these other societal problems ‒ which you could be as they are serious concerns in their own right ‒ then you’re also unavoidably telling me that you don’t think the climate crisis is existential or even that bad. After all, if you think climate change will kill millions or billions of people, why would you bother, for instance, throwing everything and the kitchen sink at a coronavirus the mortality of which is a rounding error compared to the apocalyptic climate future you see? (When faced with claims of mass death, always ask how exactly that’s supposed to happen as we’re safer, richer, better fed, and better protected against the powers of nature than ever before).
The worse and more unavoidable the damages from a changing planet are, the more acute does a rapid transition to nuclear power look, and the greater the merits of geoengineering ‒ for instance, artificially spewing out sulfur into the high atmosphere, mimicking large volcano eruptions of the past.