CJ Werleman says climate change activism can overcome the generational divide by focusing less on doom and instead identify the corporate culprits.
The generation that will spend the majority portion of their life dealing with the dire consequences of a rapidly warming planet have taken to the streets of the world’s major cities – from London to Sydney to Lisbon and beyond – in the past month to protest the US led international community’s stubborn resistance to resolving the world’s number one existential threat, as though their lives and the lives of their children depend on it.
The “debate” about climate change exists only within the world’s most influential echo chamber, otherwise known as the right-wing-media-industrial complex
“Why should we go to school if you won’t listen to the educated?” read a sign held by students standing on the steps of the US state of Minnesota’s capitol in St. Paul several weeks ago.
To be clear, when these protesting students refer to the “educated,” they are not referring to wild-eyed, ultra-liberal, and idealistic-minded college professors, or rather the very kind of academic long besmirched and ridiculed by anti-science pundits on the Right, and others who serve as hand-maidens of the world’s largest petroleum and mining companies, bur rather they are specifically and exclusively referring to the world’s leading climate scientists.
The Fake Debate Around Climate Change
Within this branch of evidence-based scientific enquiry, there remains no debate about either the causes or consequences of a planet that is skyrocketing towards a 2 degree Celsius rise in global temperature, a level not seen on this planet in more than 1.2 million years, and one considered a tipping point that’ll wrought devastating effects on economies, ecosystems, and societies around the world.
Despite the right’s unqualified refutation of global warming, the fact remains that almost nearly every prediction made by climate scientists more than three decades ago is upon us now.
The “debate” about climate change exists only within the world’s most influential echo chamber, otherwise known as the right-wing-media-industrial complex or a haven for “alternative facts,” with disinformation, misinformation, and outright lies that are meant by design to invoke skepticism towards irrefutable scientific evidence. In turn, this rabid, yet highly effective form of anti-intellectualism is amplified across social media platforms.
Despite the right’s unqualified refutation of global warming, the fact remains that almost nearly every prediction made by climate scientists more than three decades ago is upon us now: the earth’s temperature is rising, storms are intensifying, the equator is becoming wetter, and everything between 30-60 degrees north and south of the equator is becoming drier, as they forecasted it would, while the Arctic’s strongest and oldest ice broke up for the very first time last year, with the World Economic Forum calling this the “economic time bomb.”
But with Big Mining and Gas funded right-wing pundits and policy makers decrying climate change a “hoax” or liberal “conspiracy,” the political cover for inaction on behalf the world’s greatest carbon emitters remains stubbornly in place, even as storms and droughts intensify around us.
Last week, popular Australian conservative commentator Alan Jones, a 78 year-old man, shared a post on Facebook that mocked protesting students as “uneducated, virtue signaling little turds” in what can only be described as a patently idiotic attempt to conflate justifiable climate change concerns of young adults with a right-wing ageist trope that smears Millennials as “entitled brats.”
What Jones’ post reveals is the widening disconnect between younger and older generations on the threat of climate change.
What Jones’ post reveals is the widening disconnect between younger and older generations on the threat of climate change. In short, young adults get it and older people are less likely so, with a recent UN published study showing the vast majority (86%) of the world’s teenagers viewing climate change as a threat to their safety and well-being, and a Pew Research Center poll showing the older an American voter, the more likely they are to oppose regulations that combat climate change.
So, the question becomes this – how can climate change activism overcome this generational divide by convincing those who will long dead when the most devastating affects of climate change hit, consequences that not only include drought, famine, rising sea levels, intensifying storms, the death of all marine life, but also global armed conflict, with 16 of 27 empirical studies finding a “significant link between climate and conflict,” into accepting the science and supporting action to reverse it?
No doubt climate change activists in the US, Australia, and United Kingdom are faced with the hurdle of overcoming a ubiquitous Murdoch news media empire that is built upon pro-corporate propaganda, public relations spin, “alternative facts,” and shameless lies. Thus it’s no coincidence the aforementioned three countries rank as home to the highest percentage of climate change deniers in the Western world, according to a 2017 YouGov-Cambridge Globalism Project poll.
To reach older generation voters, climate change activism needs to sharpen its message by focusing less on forecasts and predictions of doom and destruction, no matter how accurate and fact-backed they may be, which while terrifying in their own right, do little to move people into acting now.
Who is to blame?
The messaging needs to identify and target a specific culprit.
It’s not enough to merely state climate change is a result of human causes. Invoking such a fact places blame on all of us, and thus making proposed actions against it sound like punitive action against ourselves. The promotion of carbon emission reducing practices for individuals, which include the installation of solar panels, encouragement of alternative means of transport, and the changing of household practices serve to emphasize this message, which tends to scare off older and more change-resistant generations.
Just 100 corporations are responsible for more than 70 percent of the world’s greenhouse emissions since 1988.
The truth of the matter is the culprit is neither you nor me, but a specific group of mega-corporations. In fact, just 100 corporations are responsible for more than 70 percent of the world’s greenhouse emissions since 1988, according to a 2017 report published by the Carbon Majors Database (CMD), with petroleum companies BP, ExxonMobil, Chevron, and Shell identified as the highest emitting investor-owned companies.
The report also notes that if these major oil and gas corporations continue extracting fossil fuels at the same rate over the next 28 years as they were between 1988 and 2017, then global average temperatures would be on course to rise by 4C by the end of the century, which would most certainly end life on this planet as we know it, putting an end to most marine life, a vast number of species that inhabit the land, and unleashing intra-state and inter-state wars almost everywhere as communities compete for ever-dwindling resources.
Our efforts must focus on reducing the amount of CO2 big corporations put into the atmosphere, rather than our own individual practices.Kip Anderson
When I spoke with Kip Anderson, director and producer of Oscar nominated documentary Cowspiracy: the Sustainability Secret, which exposes how the animal agricultural industry is not only responsible for nearly one-fifth of all greenhouse emissions, and how Big Beef corporations have used their financial clout to bribe pro-environment groups into not speaking out against its planet destroying practices, told me “our efforts must focus on reducing the amount of CO2 big corporations put into the atmosphere, rather than our own individual practices” while noting our individual carbon footprint is but a pittance compared to the world’s wealthiest corporations.
Right there is the key to shifting the political zeitgeist insofar as overcoming voter resistance towards resolving climate change.
Rallying the pitchforks around the world’s largest producers of CO2, namely the 100 faceless corporations that are responsible for nearly two-thirds of greenhouse emissions – is a far easier task than mobilizing action against the way we lead our ordinary lives.