What in the World: Climate proselytization

The world is warming over time. A majority of scientists think this will likely cause widespread destruction. Climate data appears to indicate this phenomenon is at least somewhat impacted by the actions — and inactions — of man. However, some folks just do not seem to care, or call climate change a hoax. What does a climate-conscious Lawrentian do in the face of such willful ignorance? As much as Green New Deals and shouting on street corners can be exciting or cathartic, this writer would humbly suggest a softer, more collaborative touch. 

I made a quick survey of things as they stand and where the folks are who need to be convinced by an activist. Millennials and Gen Z generally are sensitive to climate change and pollution more generally. An Amnesty International survey of those aged 18 to 25 found 41% consider climate change the number one threat facing the world. Interestingly, Gen Z conservatives and libertarians — often pilloried for being big business-hugging green haters — were found by Pew Research to have a significant 47% agreement that they had observed the negative effects of climate change personally. 

Furthermore, these right-leaning Gen Z people (41%) felt that government climate policies did more good than harm while acknowledging the economy would likely suffer as a result (46%). Compare that to their boomer counterparts on the right who clocked in at 29% and 54% respectively. Now you may be thinking, “Those numbers are hardly impressive, none of them even grade above 50%.” Toss aside that defeatist attitude. 

There is, as evidenced above, discernible progress inter-generationally. Instead of being a nakedly partisan issue as climate change has become among the older generations, a Gen Z of most any political stripe can find common ground with their peers that global warming exists — at least to some degree — and there are ways to reduce one’s personal contribution to warming and useful debates to be had about macro solutions.

Climate change proselytization has exhibited two major strategic flaws in the last decade and a half. The first is some climate activists’ doomsday predictions that would be more at home on an end-of-time preacher’s channel, where for a small donation of $99.95 you too can know when Christ will return. Much like these dubious reverends, climate activists can fall prey to their worse impulses by making grossly inflated claims about climate change’s impact, usually by making bold predictions that are proven false.

An example of emotion-provoking alarmism gone awry occurred with Glacier National Park sheepishly having to replace signs that erroneously stated their signature glaciers would be entirely melted by 2020, according to CNN. Master of hyperbole, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, famously stated in 2019 that it is her fear that “the world is going to end in 12 years if we don’t address climate change,” according to USA Today. A large part of convincing people you are right is to not say or do boneheaded things. These two examples make a serious concern seem laughable, unserious and meme-worthy. 

The second stumbling point for climate activists is their prescribed macro solutions. This is where climate activists fail most grievously if their goal is to create a worldwide movement that incentivizes carbon output reduction and finding alternative fuel sources. The best way to get people to do what you want them to do is to convince them that their lives will be materially or socially better for having met you. What do unserious activists do? Propose legislation like the “Green New Deal” that is a laundry list of quality of life reductions. 

People like their cars, they like meat and they like taking vacations. What folks rarely get excited about is public transportation and premiums on hamburger patties. You may think, “So what, if they will not change voluntarily? Then the government will force them to one way or the other.” Not going to win many over that way, I can assure you. The second activists start sounding like nags, there will be a natural resentment of them and a reactionary element will spring forth. 

So what can one do? You genuinely care about the planet, others seeming not to give a darn discourages you, especially when they seem to be the ones with all the power — both economic and political. Do the easy stuff. Limit your use of non-essentials, buy from businesses who care about the same things you do and when you meet someone who seems unconcerned about the fate of the planet, ask and listen to why that is. Speak little and listen a lot. There are few people who genuinely do not care about the planet. Understand that “climate change” as a term has political baggage. The health of our world is not inherently left or right-wing and each has something to contribute.

I applaud the left for their ability to make people care. I think their emotional messaging on the subject — when correctly tempered — is admirable. Their shortfall is thinking that onerous and regressive policies will reduce emissions meaningfully. On the right, I worry we look too often at the left’s concerns for the climate and instead of acknowledging the future threat, use the far left’s alarmism to dismiss the matter whole hog. What conservatives correctly offer are policies to alleviate cost-jacking and useless regulations on nuclear energy. Nukes are for now the best means of clean energy and the right’s defense of the market’s ability to provide solutions is praiseworthy. 

Everyone has something to contribute, so look for the common ground even in fallow soil. Agree? Strongly disagree? Let me know at abell@lawrence.edu. Care to discuss current events in a small group setting, with an emphasis on healthy and productive debate? Email me to join The Twaddlers, Lawrence’s premier current events club.