Part VII – Post-Truth Climate Change: Make Our Planet Great Again
Editor in Chief
14 August 2018
French President Emmanuel Macron brilliantly mocked President Trump’s campaign slogan “Make America Great Again” at a summit on climate change last winter, asking the world to “Make Our Planet Great Again”. This was a rebuke to the only world leader that has denied the existence of climate change and pulled out of the Paris Climate Agreement. There can no longer be this sort of nonsense: the climate is warming because of human-made greenhouse gases. This special report has established numerous threats facing democracies, but no other poses such a widespread, enduring, and existential threat than climate change.
This article will submit a new hypothesis on how to convince skeptics and effectively slow global warming. This summer has epitomized the rapid warming with a global heat wave, including fires raging, people dying, and record temperatures across the world. Overwhelming evidence shows that a global temperature increase of two degrees from pre-industrial times will devastate societies worldwide. Yet, if governments continue to repeat this line, they will not succeed in their goals. A significant part of the population has not and likely will not engage in such a moral demand if it poses a threat to the normalcy of their current lives.
Rather, governments must create new political messaging strategies to engage these skeptics, convincing them that there are benefits to a greener economy and threats to their well-being beyond simply rising temperatures. This must be a post-truth campaign against climate change, not because politicians will be lying, but they must use politically motivating claims instead of scientific facts about the increase in temperature.
This is only logical. Politicians do not dive into the complicated formulas of how the economy could be affected by a particular policy, instead they tell their citizens about the jobs it will create, the stability it will bring, and the ideological basis for such a policy change. Politicians must frame climate change the same way.
So what are the political, ideological, and economic motivations for believing in and fighting against climate change? Increasing temperatures are only directly dangerous in that they often increase the mortality rate among the elderly and infants. It is the indirect effects that are the most dangerous. An overwhelming number of studies show that national economies will be burdened by climate change, reducing productivity. Migration, displacement, and war will increase in areas most affected. This will destabilize not only the directly affected, but wealthy nations that will be burdened with more migrants and requests for aid. Investment in new technologies that produce more jobs and are greener than current technologies will be better for the environment and the economy.
As was reported on in the last article in this special report, income inequality will rise. In the United States for example, the poorest regions, largely in the south, will be subject to falling crop yields and labour productivity. While the wealthier regions, largely in the northeast, could see improved conditions due to longer summer seasons, and less costly winters. In some regions of the U.S., GDP could decline by 20%, in others rise by 10%. Overall though, GDP could decline as much as 5.6%. In poorer countries, GDP could decline as much as 40%. This economic argument can be a political motivator across the ideological spectrum.
Yet, most skeptics are usually on the political right, which coincides with the ideological resistance to migration. Rising temperatures will result in broad migration from middle latitude countries, to northern or southern ones. Likely, as has been witnessed in recent years, migrants from these areas have moved mostly to wealthier regions like Europe. This could also mean more migration through Central America to the United States.
Not only are people going to move out of these region, but other countries will be drawn in. Inhospitable temperatures, reduced crop yields and drained aquifers will bring conflict. As evidenced by a drought in Syria that coincided with its civil war, exasperating the problem, and a near war between Egypt and Ethiopia over the Nile River’s water; climate change will induce war. Recent years have proved that western democracies are tired of fighting in wars and desire less migration, especially among those on the right. This would be an effective messaging campaign to win over skeptics and force right-wing political parties to change their policies, solidifying the fight against climate change.
Winning over skeptics is only half of the struggle; there must be significant change to world greenhouse gas emissions. The Paris Climate Agreement has set out achievable goals that nations have pursued, but some pursuits have been ideologically motivated. Both in the sense of the prevention of non-greenhouse gas producing technology and green technologies that are not as green as commonly believed.
Electric cars have been strongly encouraged by nations across the world, but if these nations get their electricity from dirty energy sources like coal, the cars can be worse than petroleum vehicles. Both solar and wind energies have been in the spotlight, but are unreliable at particular times of day and need to be used on a mass scale to produce significant amounts of energy. This can be effective in some reasons, but not others.
Nations should reassess nuclear power as an option. New nuclear plants, are several times more efficient and safe. The typical American station is now online 90% of the time, compared to 50% in 1970s. While plants are expensive to build, they are cheap to run and provide increased profits. Of course, the largest fear is of a meltdown like Chernobyl. This is almost completely due to false perception. There were only 4000 deaths from Chernobyl, which is the less than the annual death rate of coal miners – in China alone. Further, there has not been an event as catastrophic since, and public opinion is warming to the idea of more nuclear power; governments should capitalize on this change.
Transportation and energy production are a significant portion of greenhouse gas emissions. Yet, agriculture and livestock are much less discussed, but produce as much greenhouse gases as transportation. Encouraging the consumption of vegetarian/vegan diets or even eating chicken over beef or pork could dramatically reduce greenhouse emissions from livestock. Unfortunately, this is among the most difficult cultural shifts due to people’s reliance on meat. Thus, the new phenomenon of artificial meat production could dramatically reduce one’s carbon footprint as well. Besides livestock, new technologies that reduce the amount of water, labour, and petroleum-based vehicular usage in agriculture will drive down greenhouse gas emissions.
To properly address climate change as the threat it is, supporters must seek politically motivating reasons to convince skeptics and cannot be afraid to pursue non-mainstream solutions so long as they are effective at reducing greenhouse gases. While this report focuses on western democracies, climate change is truly global and it will take a global effort to solve the issue.