Forget about big North American and Swiss banks vanishing into thin air and threatening yet another wave of financial convulsions, the risk that the war in Ukraine could go nuclear, and the possibility (which allegedly worries those in the health business) that cunningly programmed virus hordes are getting ready for a new offensive against humankind. If the United Nations Secretary General António Guterres is right, most of us could soon be wiped out by “the climate bomb” which, according to him and many others, is ticking away and could soon go off unless we put an end to the economic activities they disapprove of.
Such predictions are based on the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change though, according to those who have gone through its thousands of pages, its findings are far less alarming than Guterres and activists who want to shut down just about everything appear to believe. Unlike the people who blame everything unpleasant that happens (major floods and the like) on global warming, many of its contributors are a bit sceptical.
Well-organised ecological enthusiasts have been with us for many decades. Their underlying message is that human beings are a rotten lot who, unless they are quickly brought to heel, will destroy the only planet that is currently available to them. Some would like to see the world’s population reduced to what it was before the Industrial Revolution ruined everything; they assume this would make life easier for polar bears and other animals, including insects with the possible exception of the ones Bill Gates and others think that, after being suitably processed, should replace beef steaks on the dinner table. In their view, fossil fuels will have to go, along with most agriculture using post-palaeolithic methods, because otherwise the world will turn into a pressure cooker. Some governments, such as the United Kingdom’s, have signed up for programmes to bring carbon emissions down to net zero by 2050 and are getting criticised by militants who think they should aim to do so by 2040.
Needless to say, the chances of the entire world suddenly giving up fossil fuels and relying on wind-farms, solar panels, tidal generators and hydroelectricity are not that great. One solution would be to multiply the number of nuclear power plants, but most keen ecologists – especially in Germany where a fondness for everything green has influenced attitudes for centuries – dislike them intensely. In any event, China and India have no intention of calling a halt to the building of coal-burning power stations. On the contrary, hardly a week goes by without more of them going into service. In other parts of the planet, doing what the international climate lobby, with people like Guterres fully on board, says will save us all from imminent incineration would mean forcing most people to resign themselves to a decidedly wretched future.
In North America and much of Europe, where movements demanding action to stop temperatures going up are more aggressive than elsewhere, many have come to see the enthusiasts of Extinction Rebellion and the like as the shock troops of a war which is being waged by largely upper-class folk against the rest of the population and think, for starters, that the “uneducated” should be deprived of petrol-fuelled cars, cheap flights to holiday locations abroad and a great deal else. By and large, this interpretation of what is going on is shared by the leaders of still relatively poor countries, including China, India and Russia, who accuse the West of trying to impose its own moral values, such as they are, on the rest of the world. Although most agree that global warming is a genuine problem, they are unwilling to impoverish themselves in an attempt to solve it.
Those worried by climate change, which they see behind phenomena like the extraordinarily persistent heat wave which smothered Argentina for weeks, are prone to overlook the fact that far fewer people now die from natural disasters than was the case a century ago, when the human population was a fraction or its present size and “anthropogenic” heating was not regarded as a matter of life or death for billions of us. This evidently means that economic and social development will do far more to ensure the survival of our species than anything involving the reduction of carbon emissions which, as we are constantly being reminded, would require the abandonment of many productive activities.
Argentina is not usually seen as an ecological criminal, but she would certainly be hard-hit if a UN-led alliance under Guterres or someone with similarly trenchant views managed to persuade the leaders of the “international community” that farming (with all those flatulent bovines and vast amounts of nitrogen fertilisers), as well as the production of fossil fuels, often using fracking, mining and so on, were evil and should be banned. Though some would dearly like to see this happen, opposition to the pretensions of the well-heeled climate lobby is dwindling as awareness grows that, for many millions of men, women and children, caving in to its demands would have a quite devastating effect.
Luckily for people in the firing line, the tide, after running in favour of ecological hard-liners for decades, has started to turn; in the country once called Holland but which is now named The Netherlands, understandably angry farmers, after protesting for years against policies designed to bankrupt them, formed a party which a few days ago did better in parliamentary elections than any of its rivals.
The ecological movement really took off when communism was losing steam and seekers after an alternative to the existing state of affairs had to come up with something else, the more radical the better. For them, battling “anthropogenic,” or man-caused, climate change fits the bill. Like messianic communism when they still believed in it, “saving the planet” from capitalistic depredations would justify the taking of extreme dictatorial measures. This pleased them, as did the willingness of so many lesser beings to put up stoically with the Covid lockdowns because it showed that, if you scared people enough, they would obey whoever happened to be in charge and snitch on neighbours who broke the rules by staying out of doors longer than was permitted by the local authorities. Unsurprisingly, warnings of an impending climate apocalypse have been getting more hysterical of late but, with economic difficulties reordering priorities, so too is the feeling among all but the most committed that dismantling essential parts of the economy would simply make no sense.