The Corner

Politics & Policy

The Impasse in the Debate About Climate Change

From the last Morning Jolt of the week:

The Impasse in the Debate About Climate Change

We’re at an impasse.

For years, Professor Glenn Reynolds, a.k.a. the Instapundit, has examined high-profile climate-change activists and responded skeptically, “I’ll believe it’s a crisis when they start acting like a crisis” — i.e., if they believe the problem can only be solved with punitive measures like higher energy costs, but refuse to make any discernable sacrifices themselves.

There’s no shortage of glaring contradictions. When the Paris Conference certified itself as carbon-neutral, they didn’t count the carbon emissions of the 40,000 attendees traveling to and from the conference. One round-trip flight from New York to the West Coast or Europe has a warming effect equivalent to 2 or 3 tons of carbon dioxide per person. Richard Branson, who owns an airline, spoke at a march about climate change recently. Self-described environmentalist Leonardo DiCaprio continues to crisscross countries in his private jet. Al Gore made $500 million selling his television network to Al Jazeera, a network owned and funded by the Qatari royal family, which enjoys the world’s third-highest oil and natural gas reserves. Gore has a giant home in Tennessee, although maybe not as big as Thomas Friedman’s 11,000-square-foot mansion in Maryland; he wrote in one of his books the construction of the giant house “prevented it from being redeveloped into a subdivision of a dozen more houses.” He’s willing to live in luxury to avert the carbon footprint of those other families.

The celebrities are the most glaring examples, but you can find non-famous cases of environmentalist hypocrisy, too. Residents of Park Slope, Brooklyn filed a lawsuit against a bike lane. Cape Cod, Massachusetts residents fought the construction of a wind farm off the coast. Berkeley, California residents fought the establishment of bus-only lanes on roads.

Now, in the years and years Americans have been debating climate change and what to do about it, have you ever heard an environmentalist say, “You know, you’re right. We really do look like we’re not practicing what we preach. We really do look like we’re telling other people to make sacrifices we’re not willing to make ourselves. The glaring hypocrisy of these figures really undermines the message we want to communicate”? If so, please point out those statements; I haven’t found many.

Environmentalists and climate-change activists know that a lot of people on the Right see them as egregious hypocrites, and they don’t care. To them, this is getting wrapped up in petty details; when the core of your argument is “the fate of the planet and humanity itself is at stake!” you can hand-wave away a lot of the details.

Environmentalists fume at the average voter’s inability to see the big picture and the long-term consequences. They think Americans are insufferably entitled, way too focused on their own individual material and financial circumstances, unwilling to see how their decisions collectively impact everyone else, and stubbornly resistant to data, numbers, and bad news. They insist that the collective shrugging belief that someone else will solve the problem someday is willful blindness. They fume that the status quo is one of worsening circumstances, but moving so slowly and gradually that most people can ignore it. By the time the crisis is really visible, it will be too late; the only way to mitigate the problem at that point will be drastic unpopular action and widespread sacrifice. They believe that whatever pain they’re proposing now, it’s exponentially milder than the pain that awaits us if we do nothing.

Perhaps we should have a little sympathy. When they talk like this, they sound a lot like us conservatives when we talk about the ticking time bomb of our entitlement programs and the need for reform.

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