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The Front Pages of Christopher P. Winter

Rebutting Christopher Caldwell

Christopher Caldwell, the author of Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam, and the West, had a column in the New York Times on 2 August 2019. Its title is "The Problem With Greta Thunberg's Climate Activism". I wrote a rebuttal, but had trouble cutting it down from the original 564 words to the recommended 150-175 for a letter to the Times editor. (The letter ended up at 153 words.)

I decided to put the original on the Web. So here it is.1

Mr. Caldwell expends a good deal of verbiage telling us that Greta Thunberg's climate activism is wrong — but he never tells us exactly why.

Is it because she's only 16 years of age? That seems to have something to do with his dismissal of her. Yet he writes, "Intellectually, she is precocious and subtle. She reasons like a well-read but dogmatic student radical in her 20s." To me, that would indicate she should be listened to.

Is her presumably dogmatic position misguided? Mr. Caldwell seems to think it is, again without telling us exactly where she is in error. He writes, "With questions of global warming, the problems of credibility are already large, even without fresh incitements to politicization. Sometime after the age of 16, most people learn that not even the members of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change are above self-interest and human error."

So not only is Greta Thunberg in error, in Mr. Caldwell's view; so are the reports of the IPCC on which she bases her call to action. If so, Mr. Caldwell should be able to refute her easily with his more realistic position. I wonder when Mr. Caldwell will get around to making such an argument.

Perhaps Mr. Caldwell's objection springs from the way Greta Thunberg and other "climate agitators" treat their opponents. "Increasingly, climate agitators want action, not distraction," he writes. "That often requires demonizing anyone who stands in the way." He cites individual writers in Germany and The Netherlands who would shame people for flying or for driving SUVs. These individuals are hardly a representative sample of those who urge faster action on climate change.

What motivates Mr. Caldwell's column, as far as I can see, is a desire to maintain the status quo with regard to energy generation and use. While he acknowledges that climate change is a serious issue, he doesn't seem to understand how serious it is. He ends his column with, "But to say, 'We can't wait,' is to invite a problem just as grave."

This equally grave problem is left undefined, but apparently Mr. Caldwell feels action on climate change will somehow subvert the democratic process. "Democracy," he avers, "often calls for waiting and seeing."

Well, we "climate agitators" have been waiting and seeing for decades now. We waited through the 1979-1989 decade after the Jasons introduced their prescient report "The Long Term Impact of Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide on Climate" — waited as a political consensus began to form in the U.S. and then saw it fall apart as reactionary forces exerted their influence.2

We waited as the scientific evidence for the reality of climate change grew steadily more compelling — only to see it disputed and distorted by the reactionaries. Among their tactics were accusing those arguing climate change is a serious problem of fearmongering and (like Mr. Caldwell) of demonization. Fearmongering? Try the persistent claim that any action on climate change would destroy the economy. Demonization? Try the charges that climate scientists were faking data to keep the grant money flowing, or that those proposing ways to cut back on greenhouse gases were out to steal away Americans' freedoms.

Mr. Caldwell says it is wrong to treat climate change as an emergency. In his second paragraph, he tells us 13 percent of Americans don't believe human activity is responsible for it. That means 87 percent do regard it as human-caused. Anyone who respects democracy should see that as a democratic demand to treat climate change seriously and stop politicizing the issue. It should be clear that the longer we wait, the worse the outcome we will see becomes. The time for action is now.

1 In the interim, I've expanded the word count beyond 564.
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This page was last modified on 5 August 2019.