The aim of activists now is not to engage with political opponents but to attempt to put them beyond the pale.
It is steadily becoming clear where the woke brigade will go once the current moral panic over racism has run its course (which can’t be long, following the news that London estate agents have stopped using the term ‘master bedroom’ to avoid its connotations with slavery). A week ago Andrew Willshire wrote here of how the activist group Hope Not Hate has now decided that climate change ‘denialism’ is now a hate crime.
Now comes another sign that climate change is becoming the next woke battleground. Earlier this week, an environmental campaigner, Michael Shellenberger wrote a mea culpa on the website of Forbes.com. ‘On behalf of environmentalists everywhere I would like to formally apologise for the climate scare we have created over the past 30 years,’ it began. ‘Climate change is happening. It’s just not the end of the world. It’s not even our most serious environmental problem.’
Shellenberger, who has been campaigning against the destruction of the rainforest since the age of 16, has not given up his campaign. On the contrary, that is the very reason he has changed his mind. Previously, he worked as an advocate for renewable energy – persuading the Obama administration to invest $90bn (£72bn) into renewables, he says. But he has now changed his mind. He has calculated that at present, 0.5 per cent of land on Earth is used for the production of energy. If the world switched to 100 per cent renewables, however, we would have to use 50 per cent of all land on Earth for wind farms, solar farms, growing biofuels or forest plantations to feed wood-burning power stations and so on. The devastation this would cause has led him to the conclusion that if we are going to reduce carbon emissions the only practical way is via nuclear power.
Now you may or may not agree with that conclusion. Personally, I have serious misgivings about using nuclear fission to provide the world’s energy needs, given the economic devastation that another Chernobyl or Fukushima would bring to a densely-populated country. Nuclear fusion, if we could get it to work on a commercial scale, would be a different story – although everyone has been promising that for the past half century, and there is a limit to how many billions you can throw at a technology in the hope of a breakthrough.
Anyway, that is by the by. What is surely true is that the world’s future energy needs, and the extent of the damage wrought on the climate by man-made carbon emissions, are areas of legitimate debate. If you do disagree with Shellenberger, you have every right to do so. But that is not, of course, how woke politics functions. The aim now is not to engage with political opponents but to attempt to put them beyond the pale, to try to delegitimise their opinions by making out that they belong on some far-right fringe from which the general public needs to be protected.
‘I know that the above facts will sound like “climate denialism” to many people,’ Shellenberger wrote prophetically in his Forbes piece. Not half. His piece has now been taken down by Forbes. A US journalist who tried to find out why was issued only with the following statement: ‘Forbes requires its contributors to adhere to strict editorial guidelines. This story did not follow those guidelines, and was removed.’
It is not hard to decode: a bunch of climate alarmists decided that Shellenberger is inconvenient to their cause and have tried to cancel him by complaining to the website – and the website caved in. Fortunately, Shellenberger has reposted his piece, so you can still read it here – and judge for yourself what ‘editorial guidelines’ Forbes judged it to breach (after initially passing it for publication).