Discover more from THE FREEDOM BLOG
You Lost Me When You Said, “Our Planet is on Fire”
Numerous influential public figures have recently been calling our attention to the dangers of climate change, arguing that we must take swift and drastic measures in order to bring climate warming and its knock-on effects under control. In a recent tweet, mayor of London Sadiq Khan wrote, “Our planet is on fire. We can be the generation of leaders who truly get the enormity of the task, or dither and delay until it’s too late.” Attached to his tweet was a picture of the planet on fire, compliments of the Evening Standard. And then there was the foreboding message by the UN Secretary General that “the era of global warming has ended; the era of global boiling has arrived.”
The proliferation of doomsday messages about planetary demise, “global boiling,” and the planet being “on fire,” is more conducive to contagious fear and dread than a balanced, rational debate about climate policy. Relentless fear-mongering promotes a form of public hysteria and panic that is likely to undermine efforts to decide political and economic interventions on rational grounds, with proper consideration of the likely costs and benefits for economies, societies, and nature.
Click here to unlock subscriber-exclusive posts and support my work with a paid subscription.
Public debate about climate change and climate policy must be conducted in an atmosphere of respect and in a manner that is genuinely calm and dialogical rather than hurried and reactionary. Otherwise, we may very well head down the dark path of knee-jerk, emotionally exhilirating, but poorly thought out and potentially destructive policy responses - the path we took, sadly, in response to Covid-19.
Climate change is a permanent feature of life on earth, and it is influenced by a mix of human and natural causes. One need not take any particular position in the climate debate to understand that incendiary and emotionally charged claims such as “the planet is burning” or “we are now in an era of global boiling” are unhelpful. Such claims activate our worst fears, and the more our fears are played on, the less capable we are of assessing our predicament in a balanced and thoughtful manner.
If, as many climate scientists argue, the harmful effects of climate change can be mitigated by changes in human behaviour, then competing policies must be assessed on their merits, and in view of their likely costs and benefits, not whether they provide a satisfying spectacle for the public. But this sort of dispassionate deliberation is simply not possible in an atmosphere of terror, panic, or dread.
Indeed, the weaponisation of fear and terror that we are seeing in the climate debate may even be counterproductive for those who seek far-reaching climate mitigation measures. After all, to the extent that a fear-based discourse presents a situation that is dire and apocalyptic, it is likely to dishearten and demoralise citizens. If the world really is already “burning” before our eyes, it is hard to see how any realistic human intervention could pull us back from the brink of planetary disaster. As the newly appointed head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Jim Skea, put it in an interview with Der Spiegel reported on DW News,
If you constantly communicate the message that we are all doomed to extinction, then that paralyzes people and prevents them from taking the necessary steps to get a grip on climate change…The world won't end if it warms by more than 1.5 degrees..It will however be a more dangerous world.
Regardless of how we assess the threat of climate change, its underlying causes, and its possible solutions, hopefully most of us can agree that “end-is-nigh” narratives laced with fear and doom are not especially helpful at creating an atmosphere conducive to calm consideration of the problem of climate change and prudent responses informed by a careful assessment of competing solutions.
If you have not done so already, please consider upgrading to a paid subscription. Your subscription will help me keep offering an alternative voice to BBC, CNN, New York Times, etc - a voice alive to the perennial values of a free and self-governing society.