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Vox populi

20 Jul 2022 | OP ED Watch

People generally like to claim that people are on their side. There are exceptions, like the Athenian statesman Phocion who, Plutarch recounts, once reacted to audience applause by turning to ask his friends “Have I inadvertently said something foolish?” But he died in 318 BC and even then was regarded as an outlier. When it comes to climate, it’s typical to say the populace has spoken and wants action. But as we recently noted, polls don’t capture intensity or sincerity of views. With Joe Manchin bringing down Joe Biden’s climate bill, the New York Times “Climate Forward” insists the public disapproves, saying “Republicans have been solidly against climate legislation. Never mind that a majority of Americans, in poll after poll, want the government to do more to address the risks.” But you could also take the view that the popular uprisings in the Netherlands and Sri Lanka are a more reliable measure of what people really think, and that if Americans’ displeasure with soaring gas prices is a genuine political crisis, unlike the death of Biden’s climate bill, the public are not on board with chattering class alarmism.

News stories are still tiptoeing around the way in which the outgoing Sri Lankan President and Prime Minister’s Green New Deal style policies precipitated the crisis, preferring to blame “deep tax cuts in 2019… and heavy borrowing from creditors such as China on splashy infrastructure projects that failed to generate revenue.” In which case in Canada we’re safe. But actually as Michael Shellenberger details, it was the imposition of organic farming that devastated agriculture, causing crop losses on 85 percent of farms and leaving a third of them dormant that crippled exports and triggered the financial disaster.

Statista said “Months of largely peaceful anti-government protests have taken place on the South Asian island, following an economic downturn that saw fuel and food shortages, power outages and soaring inflation rates. Demonstrators accuse the president of corruption and mismanagement, which they say has led the country to economic collapse.” After citing the bleakly humorous statistic that confidence in the government had plunged since January which can’t have been easy since it was already down to 10%. But it managed, to a barrel-bottom-scraping 3%.

The New York Times delicately suggested that “Protesters blame the Rajapaksa dynasty for the mismanagement of the country’s economy, which is essentially out of money and running low on fuel, food and essential medicine” without getting into the sources or nature of that mismanagement. And closer to home, NBC explained the defeat of Biden’s climate bill with “Rising prices, party infighting and the aftershocks from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have undercut the president’s plans to speed an energy transition.”

The lessons are slow to be learned. Parker Gallant recently expressed amazement that NATO seems determined to destroy its military capacities, as the EU is determined to destroy its economies, in the name of fighting climate change. But if you think losing a factory upsets people, try losing a war.

American public opinion is divided, of course. As Malcolm Muggeridge observed as a repentant sinner, pundits and politicians who say things like “Canadians are telling us” or “the people of this country demand” are living in a cheesy fantasy world into which we ought not to enter. Some Canadians are saying one thing, others something different, and yet others never even heard of the issue. Reminder: After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, one member of Congress voted against a declaration of war. You never get unanimity, partly because a lot of people are ignoring the things public policy zealots think are on everyone’s mind. But sometimes you get a trend, and not the one you wanted.

NBC reacted to the Manchin story ponderously with:

“Democrats are sounding dire warnings after Sen. Joe Manchin tanked their hopes of acting on climate change. ‘We’re all going to die,’ House Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth, D-Ky., told reporters when asked about the consequences of Congress failing to act. Yarmuth’s remarks on Friday captured the cocktail of anger, frustration, resentment and powerlessness that many Democrats felt after Manchin, D-W.Va., took a one-man wrecking ball to what’s left of President Joe Biden’s agenda, dealing a heavy blow to their big policy ambitions and further complicating a tough midterm election landscape for the party.”

But if the public is with them on climate change, why does the issue not work for them in elections? Seems kind of odd.

Perhaps it’s time climate alarmists, especially those in positions of authority or influence in the state or the public discussion, stopped patronizing and insulting the doubters. For instance Blacklock’s Reporter reports that the Canadian federal Department of Health (and yes, constitutionally health is a provincial responsibility here) “is hiring publicity agents to draft hashtags in promotion of “Clean Air Day” on complaints the federal observance has a low profile after 23 years. The department will pay an undisclosed sum to marketers to ‘engage the public,’ the department said yesterday... Publicists will be paid to talk up Clean Air Day on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.” As with the warnings not to eat laundry pods, do they really think we’re too dumb to care about air pollution but smart enough to be swayed by their expensive hashtags? Maybe they could concede that we care about the environment, and the economy, and are better at telling real from imaginary than they are.

Instead the BBC, and bear in mind that it’s a government organ, conceded that some odd people dislike activists obstructing traffic, vandalizing art and otherwise seeking to hijack democracy and then went out to interview the lawbreakers sympathetically. If “social peace” concerns you, it might be the wrong approach. And National Geographic won’t stop hectoring readers about climate, including a piece saying:

“Climate anxiety is widespread among youth – can they overcome it? Millennials and Gen Z have grown up on a different planet with tougher choices than their parents. Accepting that is the first step in avoiding despair.” And then it talks about how “Katie Cielinski and Aaron Regunberg are millennials. But they regard themselves as climate change babies. They came of age as the world was first awakening to the catastrophic impact that people were having on the environment. Before marrying in 2017, the couple wrestled for nearly a decade with the ethical quandary of whether to bring another human onto an already crowded planet. Katie argued for raising a climate ally, somebody who would fight for a healthy planet, but Aaron feared for the future their child would face.”

Oddly, the big downturn in fertility happened decades before these young people came along. It was the Boomers who turned their backs on their parents’ fertility. But why let facts get in the way? Including a survey claiming that in Europe, older people are more committed to climate change than these anxiety-ridden youth. iNews claims that “More than a quarter of young Europeans believe that climate change is either not caused by humans or not even happening at all, a study has found. Despite stereotypes that young people are more likely to be worried about climate change than their elders, in five of six European countries analysed, older people were more concerned about the phenomenon.”

For our part, we remain skeptical of the utility of polls even if they seem to bring us comfort. But politicians who think people will put up with endless hardship over trace amounts of a trace gas, a very minor increase in temperature over 150 years, and hallucinations of deteriorating weather may well discover that yes, they just said something very foolish and worse.

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