A wakeup call was unexpectedly delivered by Oxford professor Andrew Parker, the bursar of St. John’s College, who wrote to two protest organizers demanding “immediate” divestment from fossil fuels that “I am not able to arrange any divestment at short notice. But I can arrange for the gas central heating in college to be switched off with immediate effect. Please let me know if you support this proposal.” Alas, the students seemed unable to comprehend his note. One of the protest organizers said “I think [the offer] will reflect poorly on the college” while the other said: “This is an inappropriate and flippant response by the bursar to what we were hoping would be a mature discussion. It’s January and it would be borderline dangerous to switch off the central heating.” Gosh. It’s borderline dangerous to switch off the central heating in my dorm. But do it for the entire British economy and what could go wrong?
The collision of reality with climate activism inevitably descends into farce. Newspapers from New York to Jakarta report that “Teen climate activist Greta Thunberg said on Instagram on Wednesday she has applied to register her name and that of the Fridays For Future movement she founded in 2018” in order to prevent people from making unauthorized use of it. As she has every right to do. But her announcement includes a classic fantasy-meets-real-world line: “I assure you, I and the other school strikers have absolutely no interest in trademarks. But unfortunately it needs to be done.” As can be said about a great many things. Like generating power so we don’t all freeze in the dark.
The actual announcement is characteristically snarky, starting with the word “Imposters”. But it is also mostly sensible, talking about the way people have pretended to be her or to represent her. And we have no sympathy for those who do either. We’re even a bit unhappy about the adults doing her Facebook posts for her without saying.
Where we have a problem with her stand is that she is contemptuous of other people’s reality issues like needing to get to work or heat their homes. And disdaining the institutions of capitalist society that have made it possible to do these things better and more easily than ever before, including profits and property, intellectual or otherwise, until suddenly she needs them, at which point she carves out a giant exemption from her moral crusade for herself.
Being an idealistic youth, she is naturally a communist. The Instagram post says “Fridays For Future is a global movement founded by me. It belongs to anyone taking part in it, above all the young people. It can - and must - not be used for individual or commercial purposes.” On the other hand, it’s going to make a boatload of money whose use she will control. In a saintly way, you understand.
Her announcement includes further reality-based moments about tedious things like her foundation turning out to be complicated. Again, she renounces material things. But as Leon Trotskii once said, “You may not be interested in strategy, but strategy is interested in you.” Thus her foundation “is strictly nonprofit of course and there are no interests in philanthropy. It is just something that is needed for handling money (book royalties, donations, prize money etc) in a completely transparent way. For instance, taxes have to be paid before we can give them away to specified purposes and charities. This takes a lot of time and work, and when the foundation is fully up and running I will tell you more.”
Wow. Maybe skipping school to engage in public affairs has taught her something about the adult world after all. Like how the people who skipper your yacht have to get to New York somehow? And food has to be grown using powered machinery? And people need money to buy it? And time is scarce?
Unfortunately, as someone once said, “Our main enemy is physics.” Well, it and economics. And reality.