AIBU about how people are going about climate change activism

First and foremost, because it bears emphasizing: I am not denying the reality of climate change. It’s real, it’s human-driven, it’s impacting people negatively— this is all indisputable.

But oftentimes I find myself groaning at the claims made by climate activists. Like with the horrific fires currently raging in California and British Colombia— I find that people are quick to point fingers at fossil fuel companies for wastefulness, but completely neglect to mention how a deficit of controlled burns is what’s enabling these fires to get so big in the first place. Fires need fuel and prefer certain weather conditions. By setting controlled fires in inoptimal weather conditions for wildfires, the brush that fuels and helps spread fires is burned away in contained portions before an uncontrolled fire can get to it and cause chaos. Climate change makes controlled burns more necessary than ever, yet people are both decreasing them and increasing their condemnation of fossil fuel companies as if they alone were driving the problem. In my opinion, it ends up making climate activism come off as a big “whataboutism” to distract from a massive systemic failure to engage in good wildfire management practices. This hardly does the planet any justice and allows the incompetence to spread. And it doesn’t have to be this way— just look at Australia, which isn’t currently burning to the ground despite its wildfire season being equally impacted by climate change and capable of the same if not greater intensity as California’s!

And then there’s some of the people climate activists tend to uphold as model citizens to admire. People like Greta Thunberg, who isn’t herself a bad person but gets so overhyped that it’s obnoxious. Seriously, she yelled at some politicians, told kids to protest at schools (what that accomplishes, I don’t know— it’s not as if schools have any authority over big corporations. Maybe they want more educational resources dedicated to the climate?), and rode a boat (made of plastic, I should point out). That’s basically it. It bugs me that she hasn’t actually done anything of note to combat climate change or even combat climate denialism, but still gets propped up as an authority on the subject for… existing, I guess? It’s tacky and comes off as exploitive.

And there’s the doomsday theories. Undoubtedly, you’ve heard the worst predictions before— climate change will wipe out all (or at least most) life on Earth, climate change is creating swarms of destitute refugees seeking shelter from extreme weather and rising tides, and so on. These ones make me the saddest because I think they’re being pushed with the best intentions at heart. People are understandably desperate to get fellow humans to take climate change seriously, and sometimes, a little bit of apocalyptic fiction is just what the doctor ordered to mobilize large groups of humans to take action before stuff really does hit the fan. But the thing is, scare tactics have a dark side. Once a person figures out the scare in question is exaggerated or fabricated, they tend to put everything around and everybody who promoted the scare into question. If you’re a big fossil fuel corporation, this makes spreading climate denialism easy and efficient for you. The only thing you have to do to downplay the statistics that are actually alarming environmental scientists is put disproportionate emphasis on the extreme doomsday predictions as if they represent scientific consensus (rather than scientists recognizing a remote but present possibility that has been raised to them) on the matter, then rip that strawman to shreds. And if people never figure out that the scare was exaggerated or fictional? Well, now you have a skittish bunch of people who are accustomed to living in fear— so much so that they get fatigued of fright and become apathetic or become primed to seek out a replacement when the climate crisis abates (both of which are easily exploited by a demagogue). The ends justify the means is the usual excuse given for the scares, but in my opinion, the ends are fundamentally defined by the means which they are achieved. Use fear and BS to accomplish a goal, and no matter how noble that goal is, it will ultimately rely on maintaining the fear and BS it was built on to survive. Plus there tends to be an overtone of humanity being necessarily and deservedly “punished” for its hubris and greed by the effects of climate change. Besides being obnoxiously pretentious, impoverished communities tend to be hit the hardest by any environmental woes and the rich industrialists driving pollution are amongst the best equipped to deal with the effects of climate change, so the whole “punishment for humanity” angle comes off as blaming the victims.

Thing is, when I try to point these things out to people, they tend to respond with either condemnation or weird right wing conspiracy theories. I’m told that it downplays the seriousness of climate change to discuss things that are not at the heart of the problem (but related to it) when people are trying to talk about the main drivers and symptoms of the issue. Or the person just outright assumes I’m taking a denialist stance on climate change— which usually nets me either angry criticism or weird praise depending on the other person’s stance on climate change. I like neither response, as they both assert that I hold an opinion that I never meant to express (and actually disagree with!).

Still, when people keep assuming the same stuff about what I’m saying, I can’t help but wonder if it’s true. Where is the line between other people making a common but mistaken intellectual shortcut and me badly expressing an opinion? How can I criticize climate change activism or activist claims without courting accusations (or mistaken approval) of climate denialism?

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Most bushfires seem to be caused by arsonists, not climate change. Every single year in Australia, the police arrest at bare minimum a dozen people in perth for arson during bushfire season.

As for activisits. They drive me crazy. I get they want to get things changed. Fine. But don’t make it impossible for people to get to work. It is the government, not Jane Doe from the local McDonald’s, that needs to act on climate change… so why should you put Jane Doe’s job at risk?

And it isn’t even the Australian government that is the biggest contributer. In 2018, China put out 10GT and the US put out 5GT. Compared to them, Australia with it’s 0.42GT is miniscule. So why are you throwing yourselves on the streets of Perth, melting ice and blocking off traffic for hours on end?

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I think the scientist are not communicating the actual risks properly. Mostly because they are used to dealing with statistics so they forget that other people don’t know what it means to have an uncertainty range around a risk of mass genocide. Not all of the doom scenarios are scare tactics, some are simply accurate. At some point, not telling people about the realistic doom scenarios is lying to them.

For example, the mass refugees are unlikely to be avoided if we don’t follow the guidelines, since most projections currently point towards 1-2 meters of sea level rise. At the very least this means that parts of the Netherlands must be evacuated this century. And remember: While that is quite a low country, it is not the only low country and this is the country with the world’s best water management technology. This is currently being discussed in the Netherlands: Where not to build since they expect to lose those regions within decades.

On the other hand, some of the doom scenarios are ridiculous: Climate change is very unlikely to take out more than 10-30% (by species, not by mass) of life on earth by my reckoning, with a lot of overlap with other man-made extinctions to the point where you can’t tell the difference. “All life going extinct” is certainly not going to happen, and “most life going extinct” is very unlikely. Generaly speaking the planet and biosphere will be fine, it is specific species (including ourselves) who are in trouble. If climate change gets bad enough to cause mass extinctions worse than human pollution is already causing, it will mostly hit pollinators and pollinated plants, because they are tightly bound to each other and the pollinators are already weakened severely. There are a lot of other species with only a few small populations who will die out too, simply because small populations are more sensitive to increased deaths for math- and genetic variance (adaptability) reasons.

I too hate the “deserved punishment” overtone, it doesn’t help.

To your second to last paragraph: Yeah, immediate assumption of the worst possible reason has become de rigeur. It is annoying, though I catch myself doing the same as well. Can I ask everyone to point it out to me when I’m doing it again? I’m trying to quit that.

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If I recall correctly, a lot of the fires in California are started by people too. Not arson, though, just plain old stupidity. I still contend that climate change contributes to fires by helping to sustain and spread them (as higher temperatures on average are apt to do), but acting like this is solely an unavoidable consequence of climate change is both false and enables incompetence to go unchecked.

(I will have to check, but I think the biggest blaze in California in 2019 got started by a friggin’ gender reveal party of all things. Apparently the party planners thought it was a good idea to do their own pyrotechnics for the reveal— for a party during wildfire season! I know it wasn’t intentional but I’m still shocked and horrified that nobody got arrested for that. When the stupid is that big and deadly, benign intentions should net you a reduced sentence, not a clean slate.)

The blocking traffic thing is especially dumb because in doing so, they actually keep people driving for longer periods of time as they have to reroute, meaning that they consume more petrol and emit more carbon per ride. I can also think of more than a few impoverished countries that would love to have enough access to water that they can afford to melt it away— the wastefulness is practically the epitome of activism from people who don’t experience the negative side of what they’re fighting.

And I’m surprised at how well China’s kept the heat off itself for its environmental woes. Say what you will about the US but at least it gets called on its BS and lets people complain about it. China’s inability to own its failings is going to bite it hard one day, sure, but I feel like the rest of the world is going to have to suffer for it too and it’s terribly unfair.

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China is convenient. Countries can outsource manufacturing to that country and claim they’re heading to net zero carbon emissions. The reality is, of course, that they’re outsourcing a sizeable portion of manufacturing emissions.

don’t forget China is a commuist dicatorship.

I mean look at the mess Canada’s in every since Canada arrested a Huawiu excutive. That Chinese arrested two “Michaels”…only one who has appeared in court (without proper defense).

off-topic: Sometimes I mean to write a blog post about what its must be like to live in a society where you can’t trust anyone-and I mean anyone.