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Let's talk backlash

17 Apr 2024 | News Roundup

If you want to push through a public policy that is novel, massive and potentially painful, it’s a good idea to talk people into it not push them out. A lesson climate autocrat John Kerry apparently forgot, as the Boston Herald put it, saying “Outgoing climate jet-setter John Kerry is again showing his “naked contempt” for transparency by refusing to reveal his staff in an office that has operated in the dark since its inception.” As did Justin Trudeau who, upon hearing that his minority coalition partners no longer back his carbon tax hikes, insisted “he doesn’t understand why NDP is pulling back from carbon price support” in the face of its extreme unpopularity. Then there’s also Climate Home News grudgingly admitting that “Lusaka’s angry taxi drivers” have a point about so-called “subsidies for fossil fuels” in that “In many cases, they are not just a hand-out to oil company shareholders but to ordinary people too.” There are not as many such subsidies as some would have you think. But even a successive cosmic reordering of the economy will impose major costs on some people, while one that fails will batter the populace. So best to level with them, get buy-in, and admit when things aren’t working, rather than sneering. Isn’t it?

CHN profiles a guy “who drove me around in his Toyota taxi on a recent trip to Zambia’s capital Lusaka to report on the country’s climate-driven drought” saying:

“He’s 29. He lives at home with his parents. He wants to get married and start a family but he doesn’t think he can afford to because the price of petrol has nearly doubled.”

We’re not sold on Zambia having a “climate-driven drought”. A drought, yes, but you’d have to know a lot more about Zambia’s meteorological history than anyone does, least of all CHN, to declare that now it’s different and worse. One relief agency insisted that:

“Zambia is experiencing unprecedented drought caused by El Niño with prolonged dry spell in February being the driest and hottest recorded since 1981. 84 out of 116 districts are affected with impact on food system sectors; water and sanitation; education and energy supply.”

But if it had a worse drought in 1981, we’re not buying man-made climate change as the cause. Besides, another agency said:

“Zambia has experienced several droughts in the past, with varying degrees of severity and impact. Some of the notable droughts in Zambia are listed below: 1991-1992 drought: One of the worst droughts in the country’s history, which affected over 4 million people and caused widespread food shortages.”

Yet another cautioned that “Drought is endemic to Zambia” before predicting that climate change would cause it there in future. And sure enough, if you are fortunate enough to have Google on your computer, unlike most journalists apparently, you can readily discover that:

“Single- to multiple-year drought episodes posed significant challenges for agrarian communities across southern Africa during the 19th century, and hence are widely recorded in a variety of historical documents.”

On the other hand, we do believe that Zambia’s government is rushing toward insolvency with subsidies that hurt the economy and favour the wealthy. It would be surprising if anything else were happening.

It’s not just Zambia. In Canada, as the Trudeau Liberals’ polling numbers head underwater, or dust if you’re into climate droughts, a poll reported that “69 per cent of respondents said they’re not in support of increasing the federal carbon tax, which is scheduled to increase on April 1.” Lecturing the citizenry that they’re too dumb to realize they’re actually making money off the rebate doesn’t seem to be helping for some reason. (Also there’s an interesting sociological aspect in that “Of the 31 per cent who were in favour of the April 1 increase, most were between the ages of 18 and 34, and lived in urban areas.” And presumably their parents buy the gas in many cases.) That the Trudeau people also muffed inflation isn’t helping.

In the New Statesman a headline on a Wolfgang Müunchau column said “Europe’s consensus on climate is crumbling” and asked “With farmers in revolt and the far right surging, is Ursula von der Leyen about to wreck her own green agenda?” To which one is tempted to respond that it’s the sort of thing these people do. But also that this “consensus” was always more imaginary than real. Ordinary people may have been bullied into silence, or lulled into it, by a complacent and economically ignorant ruling class, but it’s not the same as buying into the concept. As a characteristically scornful Bloomberg piece put it:

“At the COP28 climate summit in December, countries struck a historic deal, agreeing for the first time to shift away from fossil fuels. They also pledged to speed up their efforts “in this critical decade” to reach net zero by 2050. That promise is being thrown into doubt as politicians in the US and across Europe backpedal on climate goals – sometimes vowing to jettison them altogether – ahead of elections this year. On both sides of the Atlantic, voters are anxious about the cost of living, while green regulations are starting to affect the stuff of daily life – what cars people buy and how they heat their homes. Sensing discontent, right-wing leaders including Donald Trump and Alice Weidel of Germany’s anti-immigrant AfD party have bashed climate policies as a costly waste. Both Trump and the AfD have a history of denying the scientific consensus that global warming is caused by humans.”

Boo Trump! Boo deniers! Boo people upset that they can’t afford stuff because the supposedly marvelous we-all-win green transition is whacking living standards without improving the weather. And just possibly normal people know more than their supposed betters assume. As The Telegraph reported:

“Doomsayers warn that Britain is returning to the bad old days of the 1970s – yet by one measure, we are already there. The country’s energy usage has tumbled to its lowest level since the era of Edward Heath’s three day week, official figures show. In 2022, excluding the 2020 Covid lockdown, the country used less energy than in any year since at least 1970. This figure includes energy generated from all sources including coal, gas and renewables.”

From all sources. It’s not that renewables have replaced dirty old fossil fuels. It’s that the promise that they would was not kept, indeed was fatuous. And it’s not the ignorant deniers of conventional wisdom who were wrong. It’s the self-satisfied elite. And stubbornly, smugly wrong. Even a publication like the Times, once regarded as a hotbed of stuffy reaction if not libertarian conservatism, recently complained (or rather its “Environment Editor”, armed with a B.A. in English literature from the University of Manchester, complained) that:

“Earth was 1.5C warmer over the past 12 months than before the industrial revolution, for the first time. Experts said the milestone was a reminder of the urgent need to cut the carbon emissions driving climate change.”

Or not, if life went on as usual despite the hair-on-fire reactions of the smart set. And even among the smart set, the fact that trendy companies facing shrinking profit margins are purging their ESG staff while investment firms flee from the supposedly alluring green field is an indication of just how wrong the conventional wisdom has been, and how broadly.

One author in the Wall Street Journal seemed to blame voters, who said they wanted green policies and then weren’t willing to pay through the nose for them. But while there may have been a tinge of hypocrisy and even virtue-signaling in some poll responses and indeed votes, there’s also the problem that they were told it wouldn’t hurt, and when it did, they were told to stop whining. Which is not a good way to win friends and influence people. The article concluded:

“It’s a note of caution for those of us breathing a sigh of relief at recent net-zero reversals. Voters are growing clearer-headed about what they aren’t prepared to pay to avert climate change. Yet true sanity won’t arrive until they’ve decided they also don’t care.”

If the people who do care want to get something done, they need to get off their high horses, concede that the audience has legitimate concerns, and bring them in as partners not as subjects. We’re not saying it would be easy, or even possible, let alone that we’re in favour. But we are saying if they want to keep going, they need to try.

7 comments on “Let's talk backlash”

  1. “Earth was 1.5C warmer over the past 12 months than before the industrial revolution"
    I should hope so too. The industrial revolution started sometime during the eighteenth century, right in the middle of the Little Ice Age, which was probably the coldest period in the last 10,000 years. Don't these journalists have any brains whatsoever?

  2. It's not always that people don't care.It's that many people want others to do the sacrificing.The "Committee to Unleash Prosperity" claimed recently
    to have polled 1000 wealthy people(150K/yr) and 1000 more ordinary people about rationing or sacrificing for enviro causes.Far More elites were
    in favor of such measures,seemingly because they would be far less affected.A 20 cent a liter increase in fuel is gonna affect someone making 50K
    far more than it will someone earning 150K a year.

  3. When glaciers covered the Northern half of North America the Sarah desert was a paradise, now these Northern countries are the bread basket of the planet but Africa is a dry, unfriendly climate. All of this occurring 10,000 years ago! Manmade climate change? Feh!

  4. “Earth was 1.5C warmer over the past 12 months than before the industrial revolution"
    So the editor of the Times believes that someone knows the global mean average temperature in 1750 to the nearest tenth of a degree. Wow! My cat is smarter than that!

  5. Indeed (although cats are decidedly smarter than most humans anyway, which is why they rule the roost!) Digital themometers are often credited with '2.5 digit' displays, which does not quite mean that the last digit is sliced in half, merely that the decimal portion can only be zero or 0.5, giving an entirely spurious impression of a 0.1 degree accuracy, when you are lucky to actually be within 0.5 degrees of the actual temperature...!

  6. I was going to mention John Kerry, the biggest climate moron. I still se the interviews where he said "Carbon sits on top of the atmosphere like a blanket. That is a story for kindergarten. No on national TV.
    I have since proven wrong, adults believe this rubbish.

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