Bill McKibben, Climate Change, and Who’s the Real Enemy?

images-3Bill McKibben (leading climate change activist) now decrees that a cause needs an enemy to mobilize against. Apparently climate Unknownchange deniers are not a big enough enemy, so McKibben solemnly proposes that the oil and fossil fuel industries be declared the enemy, to moralistically crusade against. He says searching and drilling for oil is wrong and should stop.

Unknown-1This might make more sense if that pied piper and his followers stopped using it. Stopped driving cars, riding buses or trains or planes; stopped heating or air-conditioning their homes; or using any electricity, which is mostly generated with fossil fuels like oil or coal (so even electric cars still actually use those fuels). McKibben talks as though oil drilling is solely for (horrors!) profit; as if our using oil were irrelevant; as if we’d quit if the evil oil companies just bowed in contrition and stopped foisting it on us.

Unknown-2If only we could wave a magic wand and convert to all-renewable fuel use, with economic efficiency. Of course that’s the rub. We could displace all fossil fuels tomorrow — but at horrendous cost.

Pish tosh, McKibbenites might say, planetary health trumps money concerns. However, money buys food and other conveniences of life, and in a world where too many people still endure poverty and hunger, they’re the ones who’d suffer the most. McKibben and friends may shed Unknown-3crocodile tears about the plight of the world’s poor (“victims of capitalism” they imagine), but when it comes to their climate obsession, the world’s poor are thrown under the bus.

In fact, McKibben has actually said economic growth is a bad thing; and even technological progress we’ve had enough of, it should all be stopped. A breathtaking idea when in the past few decades economic growth, accelerated by technological advancement (and our use of energy), has lifted billions from poverty.

imagesPish tosh comes the retort; the problem is too many rich. Just redistribute their wealth to the poor; problem solved. But we live in the real world, and if this “solution” were actually implemented (not bloody likely), then afterwards why bother making efforts and investments to produce wealth? We’d have equality all right – equal poverty. At least it would remove that splinter (rich people to envy) from the left eye.

But back to the original point of declaring war on oil companies. We have enough demonization of “enemies” in our political discourse. Should we make “enemies” of those who produce commodities we all use and need, in fact a vital underpinning for our whole living standard? As if we could or should give up modernity itself. Some like McKibben romanticize an agrarian past; but that pesky point of poverty again poops on their party. Before modernity, the vast majority lived in wretched squalor. We’re not going back there.

images-1The  fixation on curbing atmospheric carbon to combat global warming goes hand in hand with the McKibbenites’ bizarre vendetta against, once more, economic growth and the whole industrial economy. Despairing of actually slaying that dragon, they hope at least to put it on a starvation diet (for some human beings, alas, that would be literal), by cutting its energy supply. This (a) won’t happen and (b) would be bad for human progress if it did, but also (c) won’t solve the climate problem. If tomorrow we slashed carbon emissions to zero, scientists’ climate models show temperatures still rising, and rising only slightly less than if we do nothing. Yes, we should nevertheless try to limit carbon as much as possible, but to combat climate change a more rational strategy would shift the focus to preparedness, mitigation and adaptation, and exploration of geo-engineering (like adding particulates to the upper atmosphere) to recool the planet. All this will cost money, so anything impeding economic growth (like capping emissions regardless of the economics) would be self-defeating.

These realities McKibbenites don’t want to hear, because they detract from their anti-industrial, anti-technology, anti-growth, anti-progress, and ultimately anti-human crusade.

images-2Finally, climate change is not our biggest challenge. People’s future lives will be impacted far more by those age-old but prosaic nemeses of poverty, disease, and ignorance. Our chief weapons against them are economic and technological progress – fueled by energy use. This is humanity’s main battle. Which side is McKibben on?

POSTSCRIPT: Just after posting this I got the latest Economist, focusing on world poverty reduction. Great strides are chronicled. “Most of the credit,” The Economist says, “must go to capitalism and free trade, for they enable economies to grow – and it was growth, principally, that has eased destitution.”


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8 Responses to “Bill McKibben, Climate Change, and Who’s the Real Enemy?”

  1. Gregg Millett Says:

    I lean toward the McKibbenites but, as usual, you make a good argument. I see material moderation and more equal distribution as the significant problems — and I personally gave up the “back to the land” life for a comfortable lifestyle in the most fortunate place in the most fortunate times on the planet.

  2. WhamaJama Says:

    My son just bought an eclectic car. It is rated at 118 MPG. If his electric supplier provided him 100% renewable power, it would be even cleaner. Bottom line, it is a pricing problem. If you increase the price of fossil fuels, even slowly over time based on a firm schedule, you could alleviate the problem because smart people would figure out where how to do more with less. This itself is a desirable end even if climate change were not real. The fact of the matter is despite the rhetoric, 99.999% of scientists are sure this is a problem with planetary ramifications. You cannot decry religious fanatics failure to accept the proof of evolution and then “pish tosh” climate change. It makes you look, well, “irrationally pessimistic”.

  3. ramblingdon Says:

    Excellent Article, and a Good REad. Thanks.

  4. rationaloptimist Says:

    To Whama: I am NOT “pish-toshing” climate change. I recognize its reality and seriousness. And I said we SHOULD strive to reduce carbon. I agree with you that pricing is a big part of the answer — not McKibben’s approach of demonizing energy companies and trying to stop the economy.

  5. Kurt Carson Says:

    Diverting a second of your life to keep the planet cool is a tell tale sign of mental illness. You cannot change the cyclical heating and cooling of the planet. Nothing you do or don’t buy, do, or think will change the weather at all, not even a little, little bit. You could dedicate your life to burning tires on the beach and it won’t change a thing. Or you could commit suicide, a preference of McKibben’s I am certain, and the planet will not remain cooler. The entire effort of the Global Warming scammers is actually coming out of Marx’s pocket. It is all about destroying the producers. It is the mental illness of modern socialism.

  6. rationaloptimist Says:

    Kurt, true, what any individual person does will not “change the weather.” But what the 7 billion human beings collectively do does have an impact on climate. Climate change is not a scam or hoax. But McKibben & his like are wrong about our best response to it.

  7. Rob Tromp Says:

    You seem to imply that climate activists don’t take personal steps to curb their energy footprint. This is largely false. I can personally attest to moving from a remote upscale suburb to inner city to lower our family’s carbon footprint – not because I couldn’t afford the commute or I really wanted to live closer to work, but primarily to do my part to be a better ecological citizen of this planet. I know many other people who have done the same. Just because the climate deniers are largely a bunch of greedy, blindered fools, don’t assume the same attributes apply to the other side.

  8. rationaloptimist Says:

    Rob, I don’t doubt that many people strive to be ecologically responsible. But my point is that unless we are prepared to do without fossil fuels altogether (including electricity made from them) then it makes no sense to consider those who supply that energy “enemies.”

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