Three weeks ago, on 15th February, Greta Thunberg burst onto the world scene with the Student Climate Strike. Next Friday she and her collaborators aim to do the same but bigger. Whatever else you think of the operation, and its many adult cheerleaders, this instance of Google My Maps showing the global extent is both colourful and impressive.
Two days after the original strike in the UK I found myself on Twitter coining the phrase that becomes my title now:
Note the surprise agreement. There was also this yesterday:
I’m not used to that kind of thing in the climate wars, to be frank. Maybe I got polite. Or went soft. Anyhow, the thrust of both conversations will play a part in what follows.
Before I outline some ways in which I think it would be valuable, for the world’s sake, for Greta to be educated, let me single out another response to her I found from January:
I like the respect shown to Greta there but I don’t think suggesting that video as potential education hit the mark. (I’d prefer Richard Lindzen at the GWPF in October if it has to be about the science. Because, as ever, the canny veteran doesn’t commit to warming being down to the Sun or any other single cause. The scientific method tells us that we don’t yet know.)
Since 17th February I’ve been thinking about how I would educate Greta. Finally, I think I do have something to say. There are four stages in her possible enlightenment for me now:
- The Guenier
- The Gates
- The Drake
- The Ring
As you’ll see these are going to be sketchy and category-based, to get the precocious youngster to think. And I hope the materials I point to in the process may even stimulate the grey cells of other readers.
In my world, Robin Guenier gives the budding young climate thinker the choice of being a realist or not. As a barrister, he doesn’t claim to know enough to judge the science and takes the IPCC as read before he begins to argue. That doesn’t stop him being accused of being a denier, as happened hilariously on The Conversation five months ago. But that’s all I have for Greta from Guenier. Is she going to become a realist?
Bill Gates’s comments on renewables in December are fascinating in many ways, not least how he divides the world of energy pundits, young and old, into three:
The three options according to Gates, as simplified by Drake:
- Climate denial
- The “climate change is easy to solve” group.
I’m assuming Greta is unlikely to sign up for the first group. But Gates says the third one is a bigger block to making progress even than me. Is Greta going to end up agreeing with that? (I recommend the full video. H/t David Rose for alerting me to it.)
This is bound to take longer than the other sections.
This was my tweet on the day of the original strike – well, in the early hours of the following morning UK time – that led to a fruitful discussion with another software engineer, Jason Green, as evidenced above:
One more time with emphasis: “Chances are, based on polls, neither they nor their teachers do.” I’m going mainly on the copious research of Hans Rosling and family there.
A younger collector of such stats, Max Roser, had tweeted his colleague’s findings less than half an hour before. There’s much more of the same at his outstanding Our World in Data. My assumption is that Greta, so far, won’t be a heavy visitor to that site. Not only that, when the right questions are posed by responsible pollsters, much older people in the West are shown to be incredibly ignorant of this kind of good news.
One person who didn’t miss the significance was Ben Pile in Spiked two days later in an excellent piece called Stop scaring kids stiff about climate change:
In 1992, when I was still at school, 13-year-old Severn Cullis-Suzuki read almost the same script to the UN’s Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit. She claimed to be fighting for future generations. Twenty-seven years on, Cullis-Suzuki and I are now part of the generation of grown-ups who are said to have failed the young.
But have we really failed them? Nine per cent of children born in 1992 did not reach their fifth birthday. By 2015, that number had halved: approximately 10,000 fewer infants die per day than in the 1990s. The average child born in the world in 1992 had a life expectancy of 64.5. Children born in 2015 have a life expectancy of 71.43. The world is improving for future generations on almost every conceivable measure. And this is largely thanks to the very economic development that is held responsible for climate change and therefore for endangering these children’s futures.
But, important though all this is, the Drake level of Greta Thunberg’s putative education, for the purposes of Cliscep, is much narrower. It goes back a month more, as pointed to in the comments of my post Project Fear:
I was very happy to echo Lomborg in the days of Thunberg because I’d been trying to point people to this extraordinary time series since November-December 2011.
The more I go on I feel that this is the key climate time series. Any organisation that gets involved in the debate on policy should mention it – and explain how exactly they feel this graph will be reversed in future, with us reaching 1920 levels again in … when? 2120? It should be front and central.
So the three simple categories I would like explained to Greta are:
- Those who don’t know how deaths from extreme climate events have gone since 1920 (which I imagine includes a fair proportion of sceptics, even today)
- Those who never mention it
- Those who both know it and mention it (like the great Bjorn Lomborg).
In the course of such an explanation she would at least be moved to group 2. She might also find this video of Lomborg talking to Peter Robinson helpful, released in the last week:
Among other things, Lomborg explains that hurricanes (and cyclones), the most damaging of climate extremes, will go from costing 0.04% of world GDP to sort out today to 0.02% in a hundred years. And that’s based on them getting twice as bad due to the global warming he expects to be in the pipeline. I doubt that part of his numbers very much. But look at how insignificant the projected doom is. We have to be really careful how we quibble, lest young guns like Greta miss the big picture.
I’m referring here to the four broad categories described by Edward Ring in his excellent The Politics, Science, and Politicized Science of Climate Change last weekend:
- Socialist Environmentalists
- Liberal Environmentalists
- Libertarian Environmentalists
- Practical Skeptics
Which of the four is the place for an idealistic thinker like Greta? She must decide. Thanks to Judith Curry for the pointer. Worth reading indeed.
There really isn’t one. Greta has to make up her own mind. But I feel we sceptics need to be extremely flexible in the way we argue, as she and her generation emerge from Winston’s “no heart” into the “no mind” phase. Or whoever it was. (Thanks in passing to Joani Walsh, brave independent journalist, for reminding me of that one on Tuesday.)