MY teenage daughter joined a schoolchildren’s climate strike a couple of weeks ago. I should add that she wasn’t skipping school. It was her half-term holiday, and she was with me in Brussels.
She had looked up some old friends in that rainy city and, hearing that they were planning to march from the Gare du Nord to the Gare du Midi to protest about global warming, she decided to tag along.
As UK CO2 falls for the 6th year in the row, Daniel Hannan explains why it’s not easy to save the planet
The strikes are spreading all over Europe, inspired by a 16-year-old Swede called Greta Thunberg, and my daughter was moved by how strongly the demonstrators felt.
Then again, if you believed you were marching for the survival of the human race, you would feel strongly.
The interesting question is whom the youngsters think they are marching against. I mean who, in their imaginations, wants to eliminate the human race?
It is worth looking at some data. Many of the kids, led by Greta herself, argue that governments are “doing nothing” to reduce carbon emissions. Not that they are failing to do enough – which is a legitimate argument – but that they are doing nothing.
Yet figures published on Monday show an astounding decline in Britain’s CO₂ output. According to statistics released by Carbon Brief, 2018 saw the sixth consecutive fall in the carbon pumped by Britain into the atmosphere
Total emissions are down by 39 per cent since 1990, a record unmatched by any other major country. With the exception of 1926, the year of the General Strike, you have to go back to 1888 to find a lower level of carbon output.
Given the rise in our population in the meantime, that figure is even more impressive. In per capita terms, we have now reduced CO₂ emissions to the level of 1858.
You can of course argue that there is still more to do. But “doing nothing”? Seriously? Yet that is indeed the claim being made by eco-activists. They are asserting that governments, including ours, are deliberately wasting time for some reason that no one ever quite explains, but that vaguely has to do with “putting profits before people”.
Listen to the way in which the London marchers explained their behaviour in a video put out by the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn.
One after another, the young people claimed that they were protesting against people who were quite happy to wreck Planet Earth.
Britain has seen huge reductions in its CO₂ emissions because, under Margaret Thatcher, it stopped subsidising unprofitable coalmines.Daniel Hannan
“The government doesn’t really care about our future,” said the first demonstrator. “They’re just trying to waste time,” said the second. “I really care about it, because it’s gonna be my kids who wake up and the world’s in pieces,” said the third. “We’re the ones who have to live here,” said the fourth.
And where do you suppose the rest of us will be living? I mean, I get that it is tempting to demonise your opponents, but not wanting their own kids to survive? That’s not exactly setting the bar high, is it?
To be fair, most of us see the world in black-and-white when we’re in our teens. Think back to what you used to read or watch at that age. Young adult literature doesn’t really go in for shades of grey, does it? J.K Rowling doesn’t try to explain what makes the Malfoys nasty. Their nastiness is a given.
Some youngsters extend their Harry Potter view of the world into politics, diving the world, not into Leftists and Rightists, but into goodies and baddies. Why would someone want to poison the seas or burn the rainforests? Because – weren’t you listening? – they’re baddies.
Most of us eventually learn that life is more complicated than that. For example, Britain has seen huge reductions in its CO₂ emissions because, under Margaret Thatcher, it stopped subsidising unprofitable coalmines. At that time, the sort of people who now march against climate change were marching against the closures.
Splash News The strikes are spreading all over Europe, inspired by a 16-year-old Swede called Greta Thunberg
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The reason that the United States (the ultimate baddie for many of the demonstrators) is also seeing a sharp fall in its carbon output is that it is has taken up large-scale fracking – again, a technology that many of the marchers hate.
But rehearsing these arguments means acknowledging that things aren’t always simple. It means understanding that there is a trade-off between opportunities for deprived communities and carbon output. It means grasping that most carbon emissions come from China and India. It means recognising the contradiction between “mining coal good” and “burning coal bad”.
Most of the marchers will come to understand these things. But some will carry on telling themselves that people who disagree with them are, like the Malfoys, just evil. A few will never grow out of their teen certainties at all. After all, Jezza, who put the marchers’ video together, is 69.
Alamy Live News Most of the marchers will come to understand the contradiction between ‘mining coal good’ and ‘burning coal bad’
Thousands of school kids risk costing parents £60 in fines after going truant from class in mass climate change strike
Daniel Hannan is MEP for the South East