Beyond Extreme: The Illusion of a New Climate Centrism
I don't know about you, but I'm sick and tired of media reporting that deceives the public about the climate crisis. Andrew Revkin disappointingly presented a grotesque distortion of reality recently as if it were news. He is a science correspondent for the New York Times and frequent author of quality work. However, in his article, Challenges to Both Left and Right on Global Warming, he paints concerned citizen activists as childish, irrational, out-of-touch, America haters who want to turn our democracy into a dictatorship. He does this by accepting a number of conservative frames.
To give credit where credit is due, the idea that environmentalists are "alarmists" trying to impose a Soviet model of government on the populace gained prominence through Michael Crichton's anti-climate crisis novel, State of Fear.
Revkin perpetuates a similar fiction by disseminating many of the lies concocted in conservative think tanks that demonize environmental activists. In their place, Revkin gives us free-market saviors, described as "environmental centrists," who claim markets can save us without causing any pain if we just provide government subsidies to private corporations to encourage innovation. His "moderate" voices in the environmental debate are neither scientists nor environmental leaders. They are:
- Newt Gingrich, architect of the arch-conservative Contract with America;
- Bjorn Lomborg, a statistician who skews results to support his anti-green agenda;
- Ted Nordhaus and Michael Schellenberger, so-called 'post-environmentalists' who criticize the environmental movement for promoting regulation.
The "center" Revkin is referring to is smack dab in the middle of radical "free" market elitism. To these "centrists," government regulation is always harmful. This conservative fairy tale overlooks the vital role that laws and regulations, such as the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act, have played in reining in corporate polluters. Further, they ignore that the "free" markets could not exist in the first place without laws, regulations, and government institutions, like the courts, to enforce them.
It is the excesses of market capitalism, the absence of community action through government regulation, that is responsible for the failure to deliver an adequate response to the climate crisis. Nevertheless, this is where Newt Gingrich, Bjorn Lomborg, Ted Nordhaus, and Michael Schellenberger come together. They all promote continued entrenchment in the exploitative market economy that, if left unchecked, will continue to drive humanity toward extinction. Free-market liberals and free-market conservatives have united.
How can Revkin lump these extremists together under the label "centrist?" Conservative think tanks have bombarded the media with stories that frame environmental activists as doomsday alarmists. At the same time, they have framed climate contrarians as "prudent skeptics" who "don't believe" the mythical tale of climate disruption. It appears that Revkin is passing on these distorted characterizations.
Should we take away all benefits of a thriving economy to keep the world from being destroyed? Should we wallow in denial as if global warming were not a problem? This false choice between "extremes" sets up the "moderate" position of recognizing global warming as a threat, but not doing anything that requires us to change how markets operate. Thus paying the biggest polluters with government subsidies seems like a reasonable compromise. (Newt Gingrich's history of taking money from businesses that benefit from the policies he promotes might make us suspicious about the motives behind this recommendation.)
Revkin deploys the He Said, She Said news technique to lead readers into accepting the false dichotomy he creates between anti-economy environmentalists and pro-economy "centrists." Then, he uses phrases like "rhetoric of catastrophe" and "entrepreneurial environmentalism" which give the misleading impression that environmentalists are bad and free-marketeers are good.
I've previously shown how linguistic analysis reveals deception in articles like this one through other works like When Climate Message is Strong, Attack the Messenger!, The 'Feel Good' Approach to Climate Distortion , and Climate and the Psychology of Loss. This trend of media irresponsibility has gone on too long.
We must get past this array of shallow deception. It is a disservice to humanity in the face of a real threat. Time is of the essence and we must be taking action. All of us must mobilize and act together. Now.
This is what Bill McKibben is doing with his Step It Up campaign. Betsy Taylor is hard at work with her 1Sky organization. Megan Matson is mobilizing thousands with her Mainstreet Moms action campaign. These efforts take advantage of the major glitch in free-market ideology, namely that it is incapable of recognizing the power of community.
These activists and the millions of people involved in their campaigns recognize that we are more than mindless consumers seeking to maximize our economic interests. We are people with families and friends whose well-being is threatened by the myopic profit motive driving the "free" market. This compassion for loved ones compels in each of us a sense of social responsibility that is absent among free-market "centrists." Our moral values are not for sale.
It is time to be the change you wish to see in the world. Luckily, you don't have to be a hero. It is not lone heroes who save the day when community fails. Rather, it is community that pulls together when moral leadership is absent. We don't have to wait for a hero to slay the dragon. It wouldn't work for global warming anyway. This is a problem that threatens all living things on this Earth. We all contribute to the problem and we must come together to solve it.
For starters, we could have a media that empowers people with reliable information about real alternatives for solving the climate crisis we face. Alternatives that include government regulations that limit greenhouse gases, community projects to promote sustainable practices, and the belief that Americans are willing to work together to make the world a better place. That shouldn't be too much to expect.
Joe Brewer is a fellow at The Rockridge Institute.