What parent hasn’t experienced this situation? Due to circumstances outside your control you are going to be late for a family commitment. You got out of the house late, or an accident on the highway has you stuck in traffic. In either case, you simply aren’t going to get to that commitment in time and from the back seat comes a plaintive cry: “dad, you have to drive faster, we are going to be late!”.
We all know that a child who is going to be late for their soccer game, doesn’t understand that all the cars are moving at the same speed and there is nothing you can do. They are concentrating on their own issues. They don’t understand what it will take to get to our destination. They only want to get there faster because “our coach said we HAVE to be there by 5:15 pm“.
We have all been that parent. We can cajole. We can try logic. But all we get from the backseat are complaints that we are not going fast enough and are going to be late. As parents did we appreciate those moments? Of course not, we are doing our best and are struggling within the limitations of the world around us.
Well that is what it likes to be an environmental professional being lectured by the children of the Climate Strike about energy policy. They are the metaphorical kids in the backseat, demanding that we go faster without any realization of what it will take to achieve the outcomes they seek.
Now I know a lot of you are going to say that my analogy trivializes the risks associated with climate change and my response is that you are missing the point. Demanding that we “drive faster” while providing no other insight as to how to achieve that goal simply does not help. Like the coach example, they often point out that their position is supported by the IPCC. But the IPCC projections won’t bend space-time to allow us to reach our goals on time.
I know people talk about moving the Overton Window and “enhancing public awareness”, but the reality is that polls agree we are already at a state where people want to fight climate change. The hard part is figuring out how we can achieve that goal. I keep listening to the demands from the Climate Strikers and it is all about stopping all fossil fuel use now and blaming the previous generations for the conditions of the present. I read that:
What Thunberg and her fellow protesters want from their governments is to “keep fossil fuels in the ground, phase out subsidies for dirty energy production, seriously invest in renewables and start asking difficult questions about how we structure our economies and who is set to win and who is set to lose,”
What I don’t hear is a recognition that we currently have a transportation (and thus food supply) system that is utterly dependent on fossil fuels and will be for the next 20+ years. We simply don’t have widely available fossil fuel-free options for transport trucks, container ships, cube vans or airplanes. Were we to “keep fossil fuels in the ground” our food supplies would quickly dry up and people would starve. This means to fight climate change we need to figure out how to address non-transportation uses while we innovate in the transportation field.
In addition, climate change, while an important priority, is not the only priority for world governments. Climate change has the potential to kill millions in the future, but energy poverty is killing millions today. We live in a world where 1.1 billion people live in energy poverty and each year 4.3 million people a year die from preventable indoor air pollution directly resulting from that energy poverty. Governments in developing nations are going to prioritize the health of today’s people over those of tomorrow.
The thing climate strikers have to understand is that there are no short-cuts to cutting our carbon emissions. It is easy for climate strikers and their activist supporters, who go to bed well-fed and warm in Canada and Europe, to tell the world they should use less energy. But the governments of China and India still have deep poverty and hardship to fight and will ignore those cries because they are dealing with louder and more pressing cries of citizens who need food and shelter today.
The climate strikers talk about how our emissions are going to condemn them to a life of squalor and misery, except that is not true. Kids today enjoy their lifestyles because generations before them built the world we have now. We have a smaller percentage of humans living in abject poverty than we have had in history. By virtually any measure you can identify the lives our kids enjoy is better than the lives their great-grandparents lived.
Moreover, if we actually implemented the changes they demand these same children would be on the streets protesting those changes. Any attempt to completely change-over our economy, in the timeline presented, would necessarily take massive resources away from other priorities. It would mean less money for schools, universities, hospitals, sports facilities, roads and sewers. As long as the battle is in the abstract these students are all for it, but tell them that they won’t have seats in university, that the sports and music programs in their schools are being shut down and that their grandparents can’t get the surgery they need and all of a sudden priorities change.
There is a reason we don’t leave complex policy decisions to well-meaning children, it is because while they may be well-meaning they are not trained to understand the consequences of their demands.
Consider Ms. Thunberg’s recent trip across the Atlantic. No one can deny that the young lady endured discomfort and not insignificant risk to cross the Atlantic in a sailboat. But unfortunately her journey typifies the empty symbolism of the Green movement. You see, her highly symbolic trip actually resulted in higher emissions than if she had simply jumped on a trans-Atlantic flight with her dad.
Assuming she took an economy flight with her dad, the return trip would have resulted in 4 total Atlantic crossings (2 each way). By sailing, however, the trip has resulted in a minimum of 6 crossings as two crew that traveled with her on the ship to the US will be flying back to Europe, while 4 crew from Europe will be flying over the help bring the sailboat home. The net effect of this trip was a substantial increase in total emissions for the trip.
This is what happens when you seek simple solutions to complex problems. It was a gesture, but one that generated a net excess of emissions. Just like clearing rain-forests to build palm oil plantations for biofuels; cutting US low-land forests to provide wood pellets for UK power plants; and shuttering nuclear plants in Germany and then needing to use more coal to replace the lost nuclear power. All these bad ideas were implemented because well-meaning people suggested solutions but didn’t understand the complexity of the problem they were attempting to address.
Now I recognize that we need to raise the bar when it comes to our fight against climate change. We need to do more, but as someone who has been working to bring about change I have had just about enough of being blamed for things outside my control and being told it’s my fault that we are not going to meet a deadline that literally didn’t exist when we were designing our plan to meet a different deadline.
So no it is not misogyny, it is simple frustration at being told again and again that we are not doing enough by people who don’t understand the topic enough to understand what it will take to achieve this goal.
Do I resent the climate strikers? No of course not. I am simply tired of being told I need to drive faster by individuals who don’t yet understand how to drive.