Evidently there’s this coordinated movement to bring down “the system” worldwide and replace it with peace love and trust. Oh, that again, you say. But its latest incarnation is “Extinction Rebellion” and it uses the climate crisis for leverage especially with idealistic youth though its real targets are “a toxic system of that [sic] has infected the ways we relate to each other as humans and to all life… exacerbated when European ‘civilisation’ was spread around the globe through cruelty and violence (especially) over the last 600 years of colonialism” and it targets white supremacy, patriarchy, Eurocentrism, heteronormativity, class hierarchy and blah blah blah. Among other things its members took off their clothes in the British Commons visitor’s gallery. Strange how often social justice seems not just to legitimize but positively to mandate indecent exposure. Not that there’s an (insufficiently) hidden agenda here.
The environmental movement has a long and in many respects highly respectable pedigree, going all the way back to early conservationists alarmed at the loss of species and habitat in the 19th century. By the mid-20th, it was focused on very real issues of air and water pollution that saw the perpetual haze over cities like Los Angeles and London’s “pea soup” fogs a reliable subject for comedy. But these problems weren’t funny. They killed people, ruined health and if they kept getting worse portended genuine calamity.
The result was an awakening to issues from particulates to pesticides, and huge improvements in nearly every measurable indicator of environmental quality in the Western world. Oddly, the situation was disastrous in the Soviet Union back then as it is in China today and environmentalists had surprisingly little to say about it. Which brings us to the problem.
Like any successful reform movement, environmentalism was a ripe target for a takeover by extremists who did not think in terms of practicalities but of smashing things up, who did not believe in tradeoffs, and whose core motivation seemed to be less concern for nature than hostility to people, as Greenpeace co-founder Patrick Moore has famously complained in explaining why he left the group. (He also says they became resolutely anti-science, culminating in their campaign to ban chlorine, the “devil’s element”, as if they could edit the periodic table by sheer effort of will and in disregard of its presence in salt as well as its vital role in creating clean drinking water.)
In some sense it is easy to laugh at the undressed, unfocused rantings of Extinction Rebellion. But when the climate issue is hijacked by people like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez or even a huckster like Al Gore it ought not to be funny to those who think it should be taken seriously and want to put forward practical solutions.
What to make, then, of the strange reaction among environmentalists to a BC firm that claims to be developing a cost-effective way to remove CO2 from the air. Cost-effective here means for under $100/tonne, well below the level of carbon tax many people think necessary to meet various emissions targets.
We have our doubts about the technology, not least because it turns it into a solid only to turn it back into a gas, using lots of energy at every step, and the ultimate plan is to turn it back into a fuel that, when used, will release you-know-what. It sounds a bit like a perpetual motion machine (and the plan to liquify the CO2 and stuff it somewhere just sounds futile). But what’s truly revealing is that some environmentalists are bitterly opposed to this process because if it works we can keep burning fossil fuels without CO2 emissions. They are worried this will detract from the sense of urgency to stop using fossil fuels. But it will only do that because it actually eliminates one of the harms of using them, and a diminished sense of urgency would be entirely rational under the circumstances.
The green reaction reveals that they want the world to cut fossil fuel use for the sake of cutting fossil fuel use, not as a means to some other end. Which sounds not like a rebellion against extinction as much as a rebellion against existence.