At one of many whee-let’s-skip-school-and-insult-the-adults youth protests in favour of the Green New Deal or something, the Associated Press cheerfully reports Warsaw protestors carrying signs saying “Make Love, Not CO2.” It’s a cute invocation of Vietnam-era student activism even if it invites Reagan’s riposte about the “Make Love Not War” protestor who didn’t look capable of either. But it raises the question just how little these kids actually know about science if they don’t know we breathe the stuff out, especially while exercising.
Predictably the AP story substitutes cheerleading for reporting, stating as sober fact rather than the exaggerations of one side in the debate that “Unless emissions of heat-trapping gases start dropping dramatically, scientists estimate that the protesters will be in their 40s and 50s, maybe even 30s, when the world will reach dangerous levels of warming…” Likewise, after estimating a turnout of thousands of protestors in more than 4 dozen cities in Spain, it intoned “The country is vulnerable to rising sea levels and rapid desertification.” And despite the Paris Agreement “the world has already warmed by 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees) since [pre-industrial times] and is on track for an increase of 4 degrees Celsius, which experts say would have far-reaching consequences for life on the planet.”
Since the civil rights and Vietnam war era journalists have increasingly seen themselves as participants not observers and as preachers not critics. But it’s still a bit weird to have a major news agency uncritically quote an eight-year-old (Havana Chapman-Edwards, protesting outside the U.S. Capitol) as an authority on science and economics. Even if she was inspired by a 16-year-old who might conceivably have studied basic chemistry in high school if she weren’t too busy sitting outside the Riksdag because like so many teens she already knows everything (she says at eight she knew the science was settled), on which basis she has spoken at the Davos World Economic Summit and the UN climate summit, done a TEDx talk and “been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize”. That teen, Sweden’s Greta Thunberg, told a Stockholm rally we face “existential crisis, the biggest crisis humanity ever has faced and still it has been ignored for decades.”
Ignored? Seriously? Does this person not read newspapers while skipping school and hobnobbing with the rich, famous and influential? Does she not see that virtually every politician is pledged to stop climate change, that it was a major part of Barack Obama’s presidential run including his declaration on clinching the 2008 Democratic nomination that “this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal”? Does she not know that Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth has been shown to two generations of schoolchildren by now and won him a Nobel Prize? What sort of drivel is it to claim climate change “has been ignored for decades” even as teachers and politicians cheer you on for cutting class to fulminate about it and the UN secretary-general says students inspired by you have inspired him to call a special September summit on “the climate emergency”? And who reports this strange verbiage without raising even the slightest doubt about the speaker’s knowledge of current events and politics, let alone science and economics?
The protests had the usual grab bag of vacuous slogans including “We don’t want to die” and “Stop denying the earth is dying” plus denunciations of Emmanuel Macron for not caring enough about climate. Mind you to give credit where due, some students in LA went about chanting “What do we want? Science! When do we want it? After peer review.” Though regrettably they seem to have made up their minds without actually learning about the complex and highly uncertain science behind climate change.
Fundamentally the problem with the voice of youth here is that these kids don’t grasp that the alarmists won the political debate 20 years ago. The lack of action since then is entirely due to their inability to propose policies that don’t cause far more harm than good, especially for those in poor countries whose plight is normally front and centre at progressive rallies. And today’s eight-year-olds, and even fourteen-year-olds, just have too little experience, wisdom or knowledge to contribute anything useful to this problem.
Like, regrettably, the adults cheering them on for their superior understanding instead of praising their idealism then handing them a book.