The climate of fear

It’s been fascinating, and very revealing, to see the attitudes towards the young people taking part in the climate protests yesterday laid bare in the media, both social and mainstream.

So far, I’ve seen the protesters accused of simply wanting a day off school. Well, maybe, but every cause attracts people who just want to tag along and that doesn’t undermine the message.

One of them was criticised for holding a water bottle from a chain cafe. What are they supposed to do? Pop down to the Thames, cup their hands and put some water in their pockets for later? The idea that you can’t care about the state of the environment unless you shun everything about the way the world works is nuts. Ian Hislop made Louise Mensch look pretty foolish on Have I Got News For You a few years back when she suggested that a man protesting about the financial sector was ‘accepting everything capitalism had to offer’ by having a cup of coffee from Starbucks. This is the same as the nonsensical argument that says you can’t express sympathy for the plight of migrants without volunteering to put half a dozen people up in your own house.

They’ve been accused of not understanding enough about the subject. That doesn’t stop many adults.

They’ve been told they’ve been brainwashed. Right-o, Daily Mail readers.

Some of them were criticised for using cardboard to make placards. But cardboard is recyclable.

They’ve been accused of being hippies who will probably end up taking drugs. Weird argument.

They’ve been accused of swearing. So fucking what?

And they’ve been accused of not having a solution to the climate problem – the same climate problem that some insist doesn’t even exist, or isn’t exacerbated by human activity. The implication here is that if they can’t offer a concrete solution they should stay quiet. This is possibly the stupidest argument of all. For a start, they’re schoolchildren. It’s not their job – yet – to set or implement Government policy. They can’t even vote but they will be able to soon, and the fact that so many of them are aware of the environmental challenges facing their generation and the ones that will follow them is heartening.

I won’t list them by name here, but it’s interesting that the most vocal critics are all the sorts of people you’d expect them to be. And it strikes me that the accusations and criticism are all motivated by the same basic emotion. Fear.

Fear that young people might not fancy accepting things as they are. Fear that they might recognise some of the failings of the society they are being asked to inherit. Fear among older people that their own complacency and acceptance might not have worked out to be in their own interests. And ultimately a fear that they might have to change their behaviours or make some sacrifices.

The climate debate is exhausting and I’m not going to get into it here other than to say that arguing about whether or not it is man-made is really a waste of time. It is peculiar, though, that the consensus of 90-plus per cent of climate scientists is dismissed by so many people.

What is not in dispute is that the climate is changing and our environment is littered and polluted in all sorts of ways. A huge belt of the planet is getting hotter and less habitable. In the developed world the answer to that is to install air conditioning everywhere, making the problem worse. In the less developed world the answer will inevitably be migration, which has significant consequences for parts of the developed world.

But the thing is, it really doesn’t matter what is causing the ice caps to melt, the sea to rise, the insects to die out. There are about 60 harvests left (or 40, or 100 depending on who you read, but still not many). When the drinking water runs out or the crops fail to grow or great stretches of land are flooded it’s really not going to matter what caused it to happen. But if there is a chance that changing things may alleviate the problems why would any sensible person reject that idea with a bitter soundbite?

Seeing the politicians, columnists and commentators attack the schoolchildren for having the temerity to express an opinion tells us plenty. They may as well say, ‘Pipe down pipsqueaks and know your place.’ And that’s a short-cut to losing the argument.