Climate debate heating up as hard data underpins green movement

Movement is now supported by army of millennials alert to dangers of climate crisis

“The #FridaysForFuture movement may force parents to fork out a lot more money on sitters or skip work themselves on Fridays.” Photograph: Alan Betson

“The #FridaysForFuture movement may force parents to fork out a lot more money on sitters or skip work themselves on Fridays.” Photograph: Alan Betson

 

Could the latest mobilisation of the green movement, uniquely characterised by its autonomy, actually force the hand of policymakers with their heads in the sand?

There is a quiet confidence in the green lobby that was missing in previous incarnations. In the past, it has always been about visibility. How many come out to protest, how many signatures on a global petition. Everyone feels good for a couple of days then it’s business as usual.

The new movement has some additional tools at their disposal. Armed with hard data, access to global communications networks and some very wealthy and influential supporters, the latest movement is being propped up by an army of millennials who know only one narrative describing their future: doom and gloom.

The Guardian recently updated its style guide by replacing terms frequently used in environmental reporting that were deemed inaccurate and no longer fit for purpose.”The phrase ‘climate change’, for example, sounds rather passive and gentle when what scientists are talking about is a catastrophe for humanity,” said editor-in-chief Katharine Viner.

So instead of “climate change” the preferred terms henceforth are “climate emergency, crisis or breakdown”. “Global heating” is preferable to “global warming” and “climate sceptic” will be replaced with “climate denier”. (The Oxford English Dictionary defines a “sceptic” as “a seeker after truth; an inquirer who has not yet arrived at definite convictions. Healthy scepticism allows someone to accept as fact that which has been proved beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Mountain of data

Faced with a mountain of data all pointing to fossil fuel consumption, various industrial practices and dairy farming as the biggest contributors to climatic changes in the global environment, the ‘con artists formerly known as sceptics’ refuse to accept the body of evidence before them, a human tactic that smacks of denial by anyone’s standards.

One could argue this move by the Guardian is merely the posturing of a left-leaning peacock that can’t affect real change beyond the words it has power over.

Still, it’s a significant retort to many powerful groups in society working hard to downplay the severity of the climate crisis.

And the Guardian’s decision to do this is but one independent action being taken among many – by individuals, groups and organisations – who all have the same goal but are far from a centralised entity.

Michael Bloomberg just made public his decision not to compete in the race to become the Democrats’ presidential candidate to face Donald Trump in 2020. Instead he has announced he will provide $500 million to help eliminate coal-powered energy plants in the United States and boost other green initiatives. This sizable chunk of change would inevitably have gone towards an election campaign and Bloomberg believes the potential return on all that green is substantially larger if he stays out of politics. In an interview he said he would use the money to outsmart Trump’s regressive energy policies from the outside.

While youth protests about anything tend to be the soft news segment reported at the end of the six o’clock news, used to end the programme on a lighter note (that is, if no pandas have been born that day), the recent massive global youth-led protest to highlight climate change was something worth paying attention to.

About 2,300 school strikes took place in more than 130 countries with reports suggesting more than a million students got involved. Activists believe it may have been the largest demonstration for environmental action in history. And they will likely continue sporadically, given how successful the pilot strike was. The #FridaysForFuture movement may force parents to fork out a lot more money on sitters or skip work themselves on Fridays. But how many days of school would our children need to miss before mom and dad decide to back them in their campaign and force political leadership into action?

Private enterprise

Perhaps the most significant sea change relates to private enterprise. Businesses like numbers. And the numbers for fossil fuel consumption don’t look good. That’s why energy companies and businesses in other sectors have been quietly diversifying their investment portfolios out of harmful energy sources and into renewables, not because they have necessarily joined the Green Deal movement but because it makes economic sense. Even billionaire Warren Buffett just purchased the largest solar farm in Texas for more than $300 million. He tends to have his finger on the investment pulse.

Is there anything behind all this? Or am I guilty of seeking out connections between unrelated phenomena just to suit my own personal biases? It’s an easy mistake to make.

But if it is, other, more qualified commentators are mistaken too as several experts perceive this to be a movement with the tools to make change rather than simply complain about it.

“In my view, it’s absolutely real,” says Jennifer Francis, senior scientist at Woods Hole research centre in Massachusetts. “One reason for the new green movement relates to the spate of extreme weather events in recent years that bear a clear fingerprint of climate change. They’re costing countries a lot of money (more than $300 billion in the US in 2017 alone), ruining people’s lives and making the public sit up and take notice.

“Scientists are better equipped to more accurately determine the role of climate change in many types of extreme events, and the facts are being more widely and clearly communicated to the public. The pseudo-debates about whether humans are causing climate change have quietly retreated from mainstream media. The enormity of the problem is sinking in.”

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