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If this is victory

13 Jan 2021 | OP ED Watch

At least children in California are probably not worried that climate change will ruin the old-fashioned Christmases there. But if the LA Times is to be believed, they are choking, panicking and even killing themselves over it anyway. Possibly because of a slew of media stories telling them everything bad is caused by climate change and it is going to keep getting so much worse that their future has been stolen. Which do not seem to us to be cause for self-satisfaction.

Describing a middle schooler who gave up cross-country running in Sacramento because of terrible air quality, and discovered she had asthma, the Times chortled that “Neither the polluted air nor the wildfires punctuating Maddie’s adolescence are random. Both are being exacerbated by climate change, and the future they portend has left Maddie feeling helpless, anxious and scared.”

Chortled? Yes. The piece reeks of self-satisfied vindication. “Climate anxiety and other mental health struggles are rampant among Maddie’s generation, according to experts who warn that young Californians are growing up in the shadow of looming catastrophe — and dealing with the emotional and psychological fallout that comes with it.”

This is fearmongering of the worst sort. For instance wildfires in the United States are not getting worse at all so, they can’t be getting worse because of climate change. As for air quality in California, it is enormously better than it was in the 1950s. But far from introducing potentially reassuring qualifications even as mere possibilities, the Times piles on the panic:

“The scope of the problem is enormous. The Earth’s temperature has skyrocketed since the Industrial Age, fueled by human activity and accompanying greenhouse gas emissions. Dramatic reductions in those emissions, and in fossil fuel use, will be necessary to prevent temperatures from reaching a tipping point by 2030, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned two years ago. Without reducing those emissions, climate change will make natural disasters, food shortages and rising sea levels even worse, experts say. The world is not yet on track to make the changes necessary to ameliorate its worst effects.”

Kids, we are all going to diiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiieeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee. How are you feeling?

Bad. The result of this fearmongering is both very real and very harmful. As the Times itelf admits, right after making them, “Such dire predictions can affect mental health, particularly among young people. Polls have found that climate change-related stress affects daily life for 47% of America’s young adults; over half of teenagers feel afraid and angry about climate change; and 72% of young adults are concerned that it will harm their community. Climate depression played a central role in teenage activist Greta Thunberg’s political awakening, and according to Varshini Prakash — executive director of youth-focused climate activism group the Sunrise Movement — it’s not uncommon for her group to meet kids who have contemplated suicide over the climate crisis.”

Even if they are right about the problem, should the adults really be dumping it on the kids this way? What would such people have told children in the early stages of World War II? Would it have been: “Oh yeah, Hitler’s going to win, honey, we’re all going to the camps. Adults stink. Too bad.” Or would you have said “Leave the war to the grownups” even if after they were safely asleep you sat staring grimly out the window?

Certainly it’s what Greta Thunberg told her peers. She routinely portrayed adults as callous, uninterested, hypocritical and vile, even the powerful politicians eagerly rushing her onto the stage and applauding as she falsely claimed they did not care and were not trying to act. But the Times has a solution.

“Lifestyle changes ‘empower individuals to feel like they can act,’ said Abby Austin, 23, the political lead for the Sunrise Movement’s L.A. branch — echoing medical professionals who say that even small personal actions can help people feel like broader change remains possible. Getting involved with activism can serve a similar function. Many young Californians said volunteering with climate advocacy groups like the Sunrise Movement or for politicians who have made climate change a central plank in their platforms has given them a sense of purpose. ‘A lot of the people who are in Sunrise,’ Austin said, ‘are literally organizing out of climate anxiety.’”

Right. So first you scare them half to death, then exploit their distress to recruit them to your movement. It’s not something to boast about.

2 comments on “If this is victory”

  1. My generation grew up with the very real threat of imminent annihilation in a nuclear armageddon, but apart from nutjobs like those clustered around Greenham Common airbase, the vast majority of us came through with some mild anxiety, but nothing serious...

  2. ...Now, on the other hand, "political awakening" really is a metaphor that usually conceals more than it reveals. In fact, it usually refers to the opposite of what it implies. A political awakening is usually a plunge into a deep ideological slumber.

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