from the world's big
The 17-year-old climate activist gets a lot of criticism online. Which of those critiques hold water?
- On Tuesday, Thunberg gave a speech at an event in Davos, Switzerland.
- She mainly spoke about the failure of world leaders to act on climate change.
- Also speaking at Davos was President Donald Trump, who didn't mention Thunberg by name, but dismissed the "prophets of doom" who are calling for increased climate change policies.
'Young people aren't really willing to make sacrifices'<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjU5NzI0My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMTE3ODcxOH0.-hN_P2KxO4L9Z2h_lbWjtULXhcRFXAot9EvTKoUhC5Q/img.png?width=980" id="679e0" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="0e5265aa2c7b65ccf3e4b80f8d454c91" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" /><p> There are a few common critiques of Thunberg in this comment: <em>1) Greta is all idealism without concrete pragmatic solutions; 2) the world needs to keep producing fossil fuel for power; 3) young people aren't willing to make sacrifices to reduce emissions. </em><br> <br> The first critique has some truth to it, while the second seems like a <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/There_is_no_alternative" target="_blank" style="">"there is no alternative"</a> fallacy. But let's focus on the third argument, which says that young people <em>say </em>they care about curbing climate change, but they aren't actually willing to make the necessary sacrifices. Is that true? </p><p>A 2019 <a href="https://www.kff.org/report-section/the-kaiser-family-foundation-washington-post-climate-change-survey-main-findings/" target="_blank">survey</a> from <em>The Washington Post</em> and the Kaiser Family Foundation provides some clues. The results showed that:<span></span> </p><ul> <li>Almost two-thirds of teens who believe in human-caused climate change (55% of all teens) said they think they can help make a difference when it comes to reducing the effects of climate change.</li><li>41% say they've taken action to reduce their own carbon footprint. </li><li>About 25% report engaging in some type of political action in the past 3 years to express their views on climate change, including 15% who say they've participated in a school walk-out, 13% who have participated in a protest or rally, and 12% who have contacted a government official.<span class="redactor-invisible-space"></span></li></ul><div>But other research suggests that even people who care about environmental issues, and who take steps to mitigate their carbon footprint, are less likely to make lifestyle changes if they're <a href="https://apnews.com/2bc031a23cff40f684cd8b458e339226" target="_blank">inconvenient</a>, such as reducing AC use in the summer or using public transportation instead of driving. Even if it turns out young people aren't willing to make sacrifices, that argument might be missing the point. </div><div>It assumes that personal sacrifice and responsibility are the main — or only — routes to reversing climate change. Sure, using plastic straws or learning to go without AC in the summer might make a <a href="https://thehill.com/opinion/energy-environment/434601-personal-responsibility-is-not-enough-to-fix-climate-change" target="_blank">small dent</a>. But focusing solely on personal sacrifice takes the onus of responsibility off of industries and governments, and places it onto less powerful consumers. If the international community is going to significantly reduce emissions, it's going to require major actions on the part of both consumers and industry, possibly including global <a href="https://foreignpolicy.com/2018/09/12/why-growth-cant-be-green/" target="_blank">hard caps</a> on resources.<br></div>
Greta's voyage across the Atlantic Ocean was hypocritical<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjU5NzM3NC9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNDM4MDEzN30.sBv3YPZVjEMpokNnyjH7O6VtiGU_FLzLLb-eUDDYsrY/img.png?width=980" id="16729" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="7fd9dcd05813f3ce752a82eab337ff36" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" /><p>To attend a United Nations climate summit in New York City on September 23rd, Thunberg sailed from England to the U.S. on an emissions-free sailboat called Malizia II. Thunberg, who has helped to promote the "flight shaming" movement, was criticized because several crew members scheduled international flights just to facilitate the voyage. The general thrust of arguments like these is that Thunberg is a hypocrite who's unwilling to make the sacrifices she's calling for, or at least that she's naive to think she can operate in the modern world without leaving a carbon footprint. </p><p>Are these critics right to call out her supposed hypocrisy? Or is this a type of <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whataboutism" target="_blank">whataboutism</a> that distracts from the core issue?</p>
Children shouldn't lecture the public about climate change<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjU5NzUxMy9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MjI2MzY5M30.HUKFbSJhY_kVOQeTVeoAHBXTMcLMIDrFXY0iy3Phays/img.png?width=980" id="9f650" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ab0cfaa67bf85112be39dd0ec186a831" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" /><p>Should the public be interested in what a teenager has to say about climate change? To answer that, you have to balance two key points. One is that Thunberg is a teenager who's not a scientist and doesn't have anything particularly novel to say about climate change or policies that might mitigate it. Climate science is complex. It takes years of study to understand the intricacies of how the climate works, and though scientists generally agree that human activity is warming the planet, they still have much to learn about the extent to which things like greenhouse gas emissions affect, say, storm patterns in the Caribbean. </p><p>Thunberg is not conducting such research. Rather, she takes research from climate scientists (mainly the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), and uses her pretty impressive rhetorical abilities to animate the public, especially young people. </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;"><span></span>"Speaking as a climate change scientist who has been working on this issue for 20 years and saying the same thing for 20 years, she is getting people to listen, which we have failed to do," Saleemul Huq, director of the International Centre for Climate Change & Development in Bangladesh, told <a href="https://www.nbcnews.com/mach/science/climate-scientists-say-greta-thunberg-s-efforts-are-building-real-ncna1059321" target="_blank">NBC News</a>. "I thought it was the most powerful speech I've ever seen."</p><p>But even if Thunberg is getting people to care about an important issue, that doesn't necessarily mean she's doing it in a productive way. (For example, Thunberg has said, and reiterated at Davos, that she wants people to "panic" about climate change.) What's more, it's possible that she is over-relying on the projections of the IPCC, which doesn't have a <a href="https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2010/02/more-problems-ipcc/" target="_blank">perfect track record</a>. </p><p>Still, there's another angle to the "she's only a child" critique — one that has to do with the main stakeholders of the future of climate change. If mainstream predictions are correct, Thunberg and those her age are likely to suffer far more from the downstream consequences of climate change, compared to the industry leaders and policymakers working in 2020. Given that young people will inherit the world and societal structures that today's policymakers build, it seems unfair to say that their opinions — even if underdeveloped, or based on emotion — count for nothing.</p>
By not taking emergency action to combat climate change, we're gambling dangerously with the future.
- The climate crisis concretely means facing many implicit hard-love tests.
- Who, or what, do you love (or hold sacred)? Really love. Love enough to sacrifice to protect? Or do you choose to protect your children, or your cherished way of life, only if it's cheap and easy, and if it doesn't interfere too much with your lifestyle?
- "The bigger your carbon footprint, the bigger your moral duty."
If you knew a flight had a coin-flip chance that it would crash, would you put your kids on it? An analogy to flight risk grants a better grasp of what the climate crisis concretely means. And it highlights an implicit hard-love test that many of us would rather not face.
By not taking emergency action on the climate crisis, you basically "gamble your children's future on the flip of a coin," as Greta Thunberg says.
The "united science" (as Thunberg calls the international consensus described in IPCC reports) has focused on slightly better odds — for a 67% chance of avoiding climate-crash "Hothouse Earth" conditions we must keep total future emissions below ~360 gigatons. That's a tiny remaining carbon budget, which at our current (still-growing and record rate) of ~42 GT per year will be gone in ~8 years (the 50:50 numbers are ~10-12 years).
All the climate numbers you'll see mean the same thing — we must cut emissions fast. And this can only be done by large changes to the way we live. And those changes have to be fast, and starting from the top. As Thunberg says, the richer you are, and "the bigger your carbon footprint, the bigger your moral duty."
Climate change: We need bipartisan action before it's too late | Daniel ...
Countering these doomy-gloomy facts, many optimists will say they've heard we're making great progress with electric cars, and clean energy (cheaper than coal), and plant-based meat alternatives, etc.
But here's the concrete reality — global gas-guzzling SUV growth will wipe out all electric vehicle gains (e.g., for every electric vehicle in the UK, 37 SUVs are sold). Whatever the clean-energy cheerleaders say, only ~18% of new investment goes to clean energy, and 82% is still going into dirty projects (clean = $332 billion of total $1.8 Trillion). And U.S. meat eating grew to a record 220 lbs each this year. We have a long way to go.
There are a lot of details and numbers we could quibble over, but given what scientists know about the risk of vast irreversible climate disruptions "to err on the side of danger is not a responsible option" (so wrote Professor Tim Lenton in Nature, recently).
Behind all the complexities there's a clear truth: The basic "equation is simple: fewer emissions equal a more hospitable climate."
That brings us to the hard love-test questions: Who, or what, do you love (or hold sacred)? Really love. Love enough to "sacrifice" to protect? To expend resources to protect?
Or do you choose to protect what you say you love only if it's cheap and easy, and if it doesn't interfere with your lifestyle? What is it worth to you to help your children, or your cherished way of life, to survive (and thrive)?
The consequences of our climate-cooking habits will burden all future humans.
- Do we have a duty to be "good ancestors"?
- Creating a legacy of a climate-worsened world is like shooting your kids in the foot.
- Who are you free to harm? If not any one else, then surely not everyone else? Third-hand carbon counts as an ambient harm that will burden all future humans.