A Generation Lost To Climate Anxiety

Tyler Durden's Photo
by Tyler Durden
Wednesday, Apr 17, 2024 - 01:40 AM

Authored by David Zaruk via RealClear Politics,

In a far-reaching new essay in The New Atlantis, the environmental researcher Ted Nordhaus makes a damning and authoritative case that while the basic science of CO2 and climate is solid, it has been abused by the activist class in service of a wildly irresponsible and unscientific climate catastrophism.

This reckless alarmism, saturated across the mainstream media and endlessly amplified by it, has had profound societal consequences. It has both distorted public understanding of the massive benefits the carbon economy makes possible and grossly exaggerated the risks of extreme events it allegedly makes more likely. 

As a result it has rendered reasonable debate on climate policy impossible, even as it has given cynical politicians an easy scapegoat for every social ill, drawing attention away from regulatory and institutional failures and laying blame instead at the feet of fossil fuel companies and other evil “emitters.” 

Perhaps most perniciously, as Nordhaus details, the doomsday prophesying of climate extremists has created hardened skeptics on one side who are increasingly suspicious of all public “expertise”, while at the same time infecting true believers on the other side with a crippling, pathological fatalism that has come to be referred to as “climate anxiety.”

Climate Anxiety

If there’s any flaw in Nordhaus’ damning and comprehensive analysis it’s that he undersells just how much damage the advent of “climate anxiety” has done already—and how much more it’s likely to do in years to come.

Yes, there’s the obvious cases of obnoxious and lawbreaking behavior, from climate iconoclasts defacing priceless works of art, to interrupting Broadway shows and sporting events, to gluing themselves to buses and holding up traffic on major thoroughfares.

But it runs much deeper than that.

Consider recent headlines: From Vox: “What to do when you’re completely overwhelmed by climate anxiety.” From The Guardian: “Climate anxiety adds to teenagers’ fears.” And the New York Times: “How Climate Change is Changing Therapy.” And perhaps most depressing of all, from the BBC: “Climate anxiety: 'I don't want to burden the world with my child.” The trend is so wide now that they have given it a name: birth strike.

And the data backs up the headlines—like the recent Finnish study of 6,000 subjects that showed people with “woke” beliefs have higher rates of depression. 

Developed countries are already facing real increases in mental health issues, many of them human-made and bound up in everything from the opioid crisis to the COVID pandemic. The manufacture of climate anxiety as an issue allegedly on par with those others is a dangerous distraction that draws resources away from solving these other mental health challenges.  

Innovative Solutions or More Activism?

Most of the real action on forestalling or mitigating the negative externalities created by the carbon economy is happening within industry itself. But instead of fueling a new generation of innovators and entrepreneurs to help produce these better, cleaner technologies, climate catastrophism has Gen Z curled up in a collective ball, while the likes of NPR tells its privileged listeners to "Let yourself feel the feelings — all of them" about our coming climate doom.  

Influencers like Greta Thunberg are motivating the young to pursue careers in political activism instead of research and innovation. It is easier to make the world angry through protest than to make it better by finding solutions.

Climate fear-mongering has created a dread so powerful it’s putatively putting people off of having children altogether, at a time when advanced countries are already facing precipitously declining fertility rates.

This bleak picture raises the question of exactly what’s in it for the eco-extremist purveyors of gloom. For Nordhaus, it’s akin to a religious mission. “Apocalyptic claims about an unfolding emergency, rather, serve a millenarian agenda”, he writes, “that variously demands that we abolish capitalism, bring about an end to economic growth, power the global economy entirely with wind and solar energy, feed the global population only with small-scale organic agriculture, and cut global emissions in half over the next decade or two.”

He doesn’t need to add that actually enacting that list of prescriptions would be both extremely unwise and largely impossible (and catastrophic). 

Political Opportunism

Nordhaus doesn’t go far enough. Because it doesn’t really matter whether drastic policy proposals would actually work if the real goal is just acquiring enough political power to dictate them. 

Left-wing political leaders have been using the specter of a “climate emergency” to justify the expansion of their powers for years—limiting consumer choice with product bans, picking winners and losers with boondoggle subsidies, and using lawfare to try and put energy companies out of business by abusing “public nuisance” laws, just to name a few. 

Even the political right is getting in on the action. Just recently a bipartisan group of U.S. Senators introduced the PROVE IT Act, a bill that pairs the Democrats’ long love of climate panic with Republicans' newfound love of protectionism and industrial policy.

Anyone who is paying close enough attention knows that these kinds of power plays are cynical, shortsighted, and counterproductive, but what we are collectively starting to realize is how much they’ve been enabled by the literal derangement of generations of well-intentioned folks by climate catastrophism.

The bitter irony is that there is good evidence the climate “experts” know better—like a recent study of 2,066 people that found that higher levels of scientific knowledge about the environment and climate change was associated with less climate anxiety.

When the famous teenage eco-activist Greta Thunberg snarled and sobbed at a UN climate conference that those in power had “stolen her childhood” she was absolutely right – just not in the way she thought...

All is not Lost

As the media reported children weeping in the streets during highly managed Extinction Rebellion or Just Stop Oil campaigns, shouldn’t there be some other direction for us to take? How can we motivate the next generation to be a force for innovation and positive change rather than feed them a steady diet of nihilism, hate, and anxiety? There are certain things that can be done to frame the future of humanity in a more positive light. 

Here are some ideas on how to stop malignant activism from eroding the hopes of humanity:

  • Young people need positive mentors who are standing up to the pessimism with positive solutions. Scientists, professors, influencers need to focus on developing answers rather than acrimony.

  • Positive stories need to be told. While the media focused on Greta as she sucked the hope out of the youth, other young people, like Boyan Slat, whose Ocean Cleanup achievements were legitimately inspirational, were largely ignored. Too bad the media is now funded largely by climate catastrophe foundations that promulgate pessimism. A new approach to media reporting, more transparent, more balanced, is overdue.

  • Tech, business, and medical research sectors have venture capitalists who provide competitions and seed capital for young innovators to develop their ideas. Many recipients leave university to develop their ideas into successful companies. Very little like this exists for environmental health researchers. Rather there are a large number of bitter, under-funded postdocs who amplify the negativism.

  • Tort reform in the US is necessary. Nordhaus highlighted how law firms were benefiting from the amplified public hatred of fossil fuel companies. Their lucrative anonymous payments to scientists, NGOs, foundations, filmmakers and the media via dark, donor-advised funds is poisoning an already toxic political arena.

  • There needs to be better communication on the achievements and success stories of capitalism. The idea that the only solution to these climate challenges is to dismantle industry, restrict global trade, and block free markets is simply ludicrous.

These are a few of the necessary steps to help the public find a balance between humanity and environmental concerns. On climate issues, there needs to be more hope than horror, more imagination than resignation, and more inspiration than anxiety. With better stories and more responsible storytellers, the climate narrative can be reshaped from one of bitter acrimony to a challenge for innovators to once again push humanity forward.