Distortion, Panic, and Blame Hinder the Study of Climate Change and Human Progress Towards its Resolution

Jack P. Carroll ’24

Staff Writer

In recent times, my social media feed has been flooded with the image of the Metronome digital clock in New York City counting down the amount of time us humans have to reduce greenhouse gas emissions before global temperatures rise 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. After which, irreversible damage to the environment is anticipated to plague the well-being of our planet–increased sea levels, forest fires, and mass extinction among many of the forecasted consequences.

While this rather ominous image has proven to be effective in evoking fear amongst millennials, as well as younger persons such as myself, the “Climate Clock” has done virtually nothing to encourage critical thinking about this incomprehensibly complex matter that cannot, as many people tend to believe, merely be resolved by further posting copy-and-pasted climate statistics on Instagram.

In order to truly grasp the deep complexity of the climate change crisis, as well as objectively consider the various methods through which it can be effectively addressed, a thorough and comprehensive analysis of the matter that gives consideration to new and creative solutions that are not typically included amongst mainstream and partisan speaking points are required for a serious and productive discussion. 

First, insofar as the government is concerned, it has been repeatedly stressed amongst members along both sides of the political spectrum that the government does, in fact, have a legitimate interest in mitigating the negative environmental effects of burning fossil fuels. However, the solutions that have been proposed in recent times at both the state and federal level have been ineffective in producing feasible goals that draw widespread support.

The whimsically developed “Green New Deal,” for example, amounts to nothing more than a wish list that aims to supply 100 percent of the power demand of the United States through clean energy in the short span of a decade. This particular piece of legislation, as was once pointed out by the former President of the environmental organization Greenpeace Canada, Patrick Moore, would “lead to the end of civilization.” This, he noted, is due to the plainly obvious fact the mass production of electric transportation–that is capable of replacing the use of fossil fuels of an entire national and global economy–cannot possibly take place within the short time framework set forth by the proposal.

Nevertheless, one still may argue that the Green New Deal is only one piece of legislation and is by no means representative of the utility of other governmental efforts that are currently in place to advance reusable energy that are, in fact, effective in combating the climate change crises.

Such a claim, however, would still be wrong.

As was once pointed out in a TedTalk by Bjorn Lomborg, who is the founder of the leading environmental and economic think tank, the Copenhagen Consensus Center, for every dollar that is spent on subsidiary governmental policies, to fund solar and wind energy for example, only three cents worth of climate damage is avoided.

In response to the previously revealed data, one may then desperately exclaim, “If subsidizing clean energy systems is not efficient what are the alternatives? Are we just supposed to let our planet fall apart?”

The answer is no.

In fact, in the previously mentioned TedTalk, Lomborg, who frequently collaborates with some of the world’s leading economists, went on to reveal that directly funding environmental research can generate a far greater return on investment (as measured by the dollar amount of environmental damage that is avoided). Lomborg specifically revealed that for every dollar invested in climate research, eleven dollars’ worth of damage related to climate change can be avoided.

In addition to allocating funds for climate change research and innovation, one promising and seldom discussed policy proposal, that is worth noting, was once heavily advocated for by the late Nobel Laureate and libertarian economist Milton Friedman. In his renowned 1980 novel Free to Choose, Friedman calls for the enforcement of “market discipline” in order to decrease pollution. More precisely, Friedman advocated for the imposition of a tax on corporations per unit of pollution. By making it costly for corporations to damage the environment, Friedman’s proposal sought to incentivize private companies which pollute to develop cost-efficient and alternative methods of disposing environmentally damaging waste.

Furthermore, in a panel discussion at the University of Cambridge, the renowned clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, Jordan B. Peterson, who once served on a United Nations committee for Global Sustainability, further highlighted alternative economic solutions put forth by Lomborg that are not included in mainstream discussions about climate change.

In the discussion, Peterson referenced research conducted by Lomborg and several Nobel Laureate economists that concluded that climate change can be combated by increasing child nutrition in developing countries. In conjunction with Lomborg’s findings, Peterson notes that his independent research has revealed that once a nation can get the GDP of its people up to $5,000 a year, then the population will then begin to care about serious environmental issues such as climate change. These findings are further supported by Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs which suggests that humans are incapable of attending to seemingly abstract issues that do not immediately harm their well-being–such as the effects of climate change–until they have satisfied their most basic and utmost important survival needs.

In contrast with the nonsensically developed “Green New Deal ” and its rather humorous and fanatical policy agenda, the previously described environmental policies and agendas are more effective in producing feasible goals and delivering incremental progress in the human response to climate change in the forthcoming years. 

It is also crucial to note that these efforts–if they are not in effect in the U.S. and other countries to some degree, as I would imagine (or hope) that they are–would be complemented by the greatest period of clean energy research and development in modern science.

Take Elon Musk, for example, the CEO of SpaceX and Tesla Inc., who recently announced the possibility of the introduction of a $25,000 Tesla electric motor vehicle into the marketplace in only a three-year time span. Also, do not forget Marshall Medoff: the 81-year-old scientist who, with no formal education or college degree, developed a method of extracting cellulose from biomass as an alternative to burning fossil fuels. It is especially worth noting that Medoff, who appeared on 60 Minutes in 2019, made this ingenious discovery while isolated in the garage of a storage facility for 15 years–a testament to his dedication to the progression of modern science and the future prosperity of mankind.

Given the praiseworthy accomplishments and ingenuity of the previously noted figures, as well as dedicated researchers such as Lomborg, Peterson, and Friedman amongst a list of many others–it is absolutely devastating that this expansive network of promising and creative ideas has become lost in the never ending cycle of hysteria that is constantly purported by the media and long-term climate change predictions–which, as Peterson noted from his time studying climate change forecasts while working for the United Nations, become increasingly unreliable and faulty the further ahead in time in which one reviews the predictions.

The lack of acknowledgement and appreciation to and for these genius developments, especially amongst people of my age group, further demonstrates how climate change has, unfortunately, become another mechanism for younger persons to depict the amazing scientific and societal accomplishments of past generations–that we have now discovered are in need of replacement–in an evil and reprehensible manner. As in the case of the “Climate Clock” and its widespread circulation on social media, one can rightfully infer that the climate change controversy has also facilitated the rise of effortless forms of digital activism that provide younger persons with an expedient pathway to morality as well as popularity amongst one’s “woke” peer group.

Also, before posting emotionally-charged climate change posts that mercilessly blame corporations such as ExxonMobil—whose gasoline products are used to transport the goods and services that our lives literally depend upon—the individual must consider how his carbon footprint and how his habits and lifestyle contribute to the pollution of the atmosphere.

Perhaps we don’t need to leave our television turned on all day; maybe our iPhone doesn’t need to be charging every time we’re not using it; it might be productive to consider turning off all of the lights when we leave a room.

By making some of the previously listed decisions, one who is truly concerned about climate change will be able to make immediate change in one’s own life and even persuade others to follow suit, as well.

To others who are concerned about the long-term negative effects of climate change, I urge them all to actually think before posting that emotionally-charged post that makes preposterous demands–such as the end of capitalism (whatever that means) or a 90 percent income tax on the infamous “1 percent” (as if they wouldn’t just leave the country and transfer their money into offshore bank accounts)–that do nothing to push the climate change discussion forward. Such low-resolution thinking gets us, as a global society, absolutely nowhere and only leads to further individual humiliation, as well as political and societal division.

Instead of mindlessly advocating for some of the absurd demands that were previously noted, we should encourage one another to use the potential that each of us possess as individuals to become competent and productive members of society who are equipped with the proper knowledge and expertise to resolve these distressingly complex and pressing global issues.  

The individual does not have the capacity to change the world for the better if he cannot take responsibility for his own life and acquire the strength and competence to overcome the immediate problems that lie in front of him.

As was once stated in a genius manner by Peterson: Clean your room.

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