Michael Shellenberger: Infantilization Of The Apocalypse

Why have climate activists made temper tantrums their primary tactic?

Dumping milk onto floors. Hurling food onto walls. Refusing to eat. Gluing body parts. Throwing paint. Refusing to leave. Threatening to pee and poop in your pants. Screaming accusations. Are those the behaviors of a toddler’s temper tantrum? Yes. But they’re also the dominant tactics of today’s climate activists.

Consider the case of Gianluca Grimalda. On October 19, Grimalda, along with 15 other members of a climate activist group called Scientist Rebellion, glued himself to the floor of the visitors center next to a Volkswagon factory in Germany. The VW security guards brought pizza to Grimalda and the other activist scientists, but Grimalda felt disrespected and so he declared a hunger strike in retaliation.

Grimalda immediately expressed outrage at his treatment. “VW told us that they supported our right to protest,” he complained on Twitter, “but they refused our request to provide us with a bowl to urinate and defecate in a decent manner while we are glued, and have turned off the heating.”

Many were quick to point out the childish nature of the protest. “I’m a serious scientist protesting against fossil fuels,” wrote one user. “Now turn the gas heating on and bring me my potty.”

Gianluca Grimalda (far right) and other climate activists protest at the visitor center in Volkswagen

The activists say that such childish tactics were necessary. Grimalda tweeted that he and his colleagues are protesting “until our demands to decarbonise the German transport sector are met.” On Sunday, after climate activists in Germany threw mashed potatoes on a Monet painting, they screamed at the nearby museum-goers. “We won’t be able to feed our families in 2050” because of climate change, they alleged.

But Volkswagen already agreed last year to end the sale of vehicles with internal combustion engines by 2035, and the UN Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO) predicts rising yields under even very high temperatures so long as farmers keep using fertilizer, irrigation, and tractors. That is, yields will continue under climate change so long as farmers don’t take the advice of climate activists.

The activists who keep degrading precious works of art, and themselves, claim to be concerned about food and energy supplies, but in opposing oil, gas and fertilizer production they are actively reducing both. Over the last several months, I have described the demands of climate activists as fanatical and pointed to a large body of evidence suggesting that nihilism, narcissism, and feelings of personal inadequacy are the primary motives.

But nihilism, narcissism, and personal inadequacy alone do not explain why climate activists have chosen temper tantrum tactics. After all, the greatest protest movements of all time engaged in far more grown-up and dignified tactics. Think of the Salt March led by Gandhi, the Montgomery Bus Boycott led by Martin Luther King, and the anti-whaling protests of Greenpeace.

Where protesters in the past asked to be treated like adults, climate protesters today demand to be treated like children. Civil rights activists in the 1950s sat at lunch counters and demanded to be treated like full adults. Notably, it was racist counterprotesters who poured milkshakes over them. Today, it’s the protesters who are spilling milk and throwing food.

Why is that, exactly? Why have Left-wing activists regressed in their tactics? The people in the protests are themselves apparently dignified people. Grimalda is an economist who works at the Kiel Institute for the World Economy. He has published for the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science, Nature Communications, and other prestigious publications. Why, then, are he and his colleagues acting like babies?

Role Reversal

Racist counterprotesters dump milkshakes over a white social science professor and his black students sitting at the “Whites Only” counter in Woolworth’s store lunch counter in May 1963 in Jackson, Mississippi (left). Climate activists dump soup over Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers” in October 2022 (right).

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