Another day, another mass walk-out from schools around the world, including throughout Australia, by children protesting about their elders’ inaction in the face of a climatic calamity that’s set to wreck their futures (apparently). This latest children’s crusade is a brainchild (no pun intended) of a 15-year old Asperger version of Pippi Longstocking, a little budding totalitarian called Greta Thunberg, who has built her protest into an international movement from the unpromising beginnings of a one-girl sit-in in front of the Swedish Parliament. Thunberg believes herself to be a scientific expert par excellence on the topic and unhesitatingly proclaims that “Neither the rich nor the poor can consume as we do now; in this situation we need some kind of rationing.” Her father, like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, believes humans need to stop flying and eating meat – and that we need to create a whole new political system to cope with the climate crisis. When the NSW education minister Rob Stokes told the children in his state not to wag and “Turn up to school. Don’t rob yourself of the opportunities to get a great, quality education”, Greta tweeted back “We hear you, and we don’t care. Your statement belongs in a museum.” And you belong in detention, the minister should have replied. Alas.
At the risk of sounding like a grumpy old man that I am and recalling “In my days…”, I am going to sound like an old man and do just that.
Kids these days are so un-, under- and mis-educated that staying away from school for a day will probably improve their learning outcomes (many a commentator have noted that Aussie school students should be striking instead about their education system being number 39 among the 41 developed countries, but I guess if the world is going to end it doesn’t really matter if you can’t read and write). The downside of all this systematic dumbing down and indoctrinating instead of educating of our children is that they have no idea they’re far from the first cohort to be facing an imminent man-made Armageddon; in fact the world has been ending one way or another for a very long time. You and your moral panic are far from special, dear kids.
Like all my peers – and parents of the Friday climate strikers – I have spent the first 17 years of my life growing up under the shadow of a mushroom cloud. It’s hard to believe that not that long ago in historical terms, the Soviets and the Western alliance have had tens of thousands of nuclear warheads aimed at each other in a stalemate of Mutually Assured Destruction. Despite the unquestionable deterrent value of countless atom bombs waiting to drop on you, the world has come close to nuclear annihilation on quite a few occasions, sometimes by accident, sometimes as a result of flashpoints in tnesion between the two blocks. It’s difficult to explain to someone who has never experienced the feeling of profound existential dread what it’s like to live every minute of your life not knowing if it could be your – and the whole human civilisation’s – last. Trust me kids, you might think your future is bleak because the temperature might be up by 1 or 2 degrees at some stage over the next few decades but it’s nothing compared to your future being bleak because the temperature might be up by 100,000,000 degrees sometime tomorrow.
At the risk of being guilty of horror one-upmanship, the nuclear war was going to be largely a northern hemisphere war. Due to the paucity of targets, as well as the global wind patterns that keep the air flows between the two hemispheres separate, Australia would have likely been spared the direct devastation (with a definite exception of Pine Gap and other American military installations) as well as the nuclear fallout. Sure, it would not have been much fun, what with the nuclear winter and all, but it beats being evaporated in a blink of an eye. I, on the other hand, was growing up in a large Central European city that would have been turned into Hiroshima times a hundred. The only good thing about nuclear death is that you never quite realise what hit you, so to speak. Other than that, I will swap “climate change” for “nuclear war” any time.
The parallels, such as they are, don’t however end there. What the climate strike reminds me of – and just as negatively – is the nuclear disarmament movement. It is just as pious, just as naive, and just as ineffectual as its Cold War predecessor. While the anti-nuclear activists in the West were ostensibly protesting against all nuclear weapons, they were for all practical purposes in favour of unilateral disarmament by their own side because there was no way in hell that the Soviet Bloc was going to be in any way swayed by the powerful moral arguments of the marching Americans, Brits or Germans. In effect, the nuclear disarmament people would have spent most time protesting about their own, or their allies’ missiles being stationed on their soil. Coincidentally, as the marchers in Berlin and London were protesting the American missiles, the nuclear disarmament movement within the Soviet Union was also marching – against the American missiles in Germany and the UK. It was a game that only one side would play. Fortunately, and thanks to political leadership by serious adults, in never became a game that one side actually lost.
This is what the climate strike of today is – a movement for the unilateral carbon disarmament. The kids in Sydney and Melbourne are waving their hand-drawn – and often misspelled – placards condemning coal as a killer and demanding Australia become 100 per cent renewable-powered by 2030. Quite apart from the complete disregard of any and all costs and logistical obstacles associated with such a policy, no one among the Friday walk-outs seems to be troubled by the realisation that even if a complete decarbonisation of Australia could be achieved in 11-years’ time it would make absolutely no difference for the global temperatures. This is because Australia accounts for a small fraction of CO2 emissions, whose disappearance will not be noticed in the absence of the rest of the world – particularly the biggest emitters like China, India and the United States – also following the suit. Which they won’t because they don’t want to commit political suicide. Continuing prosperity and progress depend on reliable and cheap energy, which at this point in time can only be provided by the fossil fuels (and the nuclear energy, which the climate activists don’t want to hear about). Coincidentally, the scientific and technological progress towards making renewable energy reliable and cheap also depends on continuing prosperity and progress secured by coal and oil. All those clamouring for Wind And Solar NOW!, no matter what price and supply, are putting the cart before the horse.
Like the unilateral nuclear disarmament, the unilateral carbon disarmament achieves nothing except giving the participants the warm glow of moral superiority while advocating for policies that will screw their own country without achieving any global benefits. All those who leave school because they feel so strongly about “their future disappearing in front of their eyes” should be made to live in the decarbonised Australia of tomorrow – today. Sensible parents will charge their striking children a $300 monthly electricity fee for the use of TV, computer and phone, with access being rare and intermittent to reflect the renewables’ inability to provide reliable base power. I’m so sorry, darling, you can’t chat with Brittany; there’s just no wind at the moment. That, and make them march on a Saturday morning instead. It’s all wonderful playing an activist when it doesn’t actually require anything from you.
Dear kids, your future might indeed be in peril, but it has little to do with temperature and a lot more with your knowledge (such as it is) and your beliefs.