Extinction Rebellion is a group that has recently blocked some streets in London, vandalised some building, caused inconvenience to commuters and got some of its members deliberately arrested. All of this was done in the name of fighting man-made climate change.
As a group, Extinction Rebellion is of opinion that climate change is way bigger than any other problem facing mankind. Bigger than famines. Bigger than wars. Bigger than oppressive dictatorial regimes. And if we don't take an immediate action, we, as species, will go extinct. This is why the movement is called Extinction Rebellion.
However, the reality is precisely the opposite. If all of the "solutions" to the climate change problem that are proposed by Extinction Rebellion are implemented, the chances of us going extinct will increase, not decrease. And there are certainly problems that are way more urgent than climate change.
So, let's have a look what exactly is wrong with the Extinction Rebellion movement.
What do these people want
So, while protesting in London, the Extinction Rebellion movement wanted to get the government to declare a "climate emergency", in which they have partially succeeded. But otherwise, they want the UK to become carbon neutral by 2020.
But it's not only the government that Extinction Rebellion want to implement some drastic changes. The group expects ordinary people to do their part to.
It's not a big ask at all. Everyone should just become a vegan, stop heating they home in winter and stop flying. Surely, everyone can do that!
Eventually, the whole free market economic system needs to be destroyed and replaced with some other unspecified system. Because apparently we are destroying the planet just by doing day-to-day economic activities.
So, you may think, that the members of Extinction Rebellion have found some reliable evidence that if we don't make those changes, we are all dead. Let's see if this is the case.
What the claims of Extinction Rebellion are based on
You may be forgiven to think that the claims that the members of Extinction Rebellion make are based on science. After all, there are some scientists that endorse the movement and its main founders hold PhDs. But it's not quite as simple as that.
Gail Bradbrook, one of the group's key co-founders, may be mistaken for a competent scientist who knows what she is talking about. She had a PhD after all. But it's not the case, as her PhD is not related to climate science in any way. In fact, there isn't much information about her being interested in environmental activism before one life-changing event that she has experienced.
She flew to Costa Rica (that's right, flew) and ingested a high quantity of hallucinogenic drugs. According to her, she then got an insight from some "higher powers" that, with the way things are, the planet will become uninhabitable with just a couple of years.
Whether there was some higher power involved or she just went insane, it is that particular incident that caused her to start environmental activism at a scale. And it's those thoughts that she received during the drug trip that her climate alarmism is based on.
Environmental activism was not the only thing that the drug trip has inspired Gail Bradbrook to do. When she went back to the UK, she promptly ended marriage with her husband, despite having two kids together.
Apparently, marriages are environmentally unsustainable. So the spirits of the ancient South American tribes have told her. Or maybe there was more than just a drug overdose that she experienced in Costa Rica. Perhaps that some other things happen there that her ex husband is better off not knowing about. We will never know.
The other key co-founder of the movement, Roger Hallam, has attempted to start an organic farm. However, finding out the hard way that when you farm without a lot of modern technology, you are at mercy of weather, he hasn't managed to make anything good out of this venture. Instead, he got angry at the weather and started environmental activism to make sure the bad weather never happens again.
Roger Hallam is working towards a PhD. However, while Gail Bradbrook at least holds a PhD in a valid scientific subject of chemical engineering, Roger Hallam has PhD in radical activism, which obviously doesn't qualify him as a scientist.
The other founders are just the same. One is a middle class writer. One is a millionaire's daughter that regularly flies everywhere but tells us not to. None of them are actual experts on climate science.
There is also another noteworthy face of environment activism that is indirectly related to Extinction Rebellion. It is a Swedish teenager called Greta Thunberg. She has been involved in various global conferences about climate change and inspired climate strikes by school children.
She certainly has her heart in the right place and practices what she preaches. She is certainly a much better person than your average 16 years old and I have nothing but admiration for her.
There is only one problem with her. At the tender age of 16, there is simply no way she could have examined all the available data and came to independent conclusion about the state of the planet. Most likely, she simply accepted the emotional messages made by various environmentalist groups as a set of solid facts.
Well, I have not undergone any training on how to think critically until I was in university. Prior to this, I would just have accepted any expertly sounding opinion as a fact. And it's well known that teenagers are impressionable and therefore are easy to manipulate. Therefore, as noble and admirable as Greta is, she certainly should not be treated as an expert on the complex subject of climate science.
What about endorsement from real experts?
Some real climate scientists have endorsed the Extinction Rebellion movement. Does that mean that their claims about imminent global catastrophe are right after all? Well not quite.
First of all, environment science is not the same kind of exact science as material physics. There are many messy problems in environmental science that don't have exact answer to. Climate change predictions are based on computer models which are written in an ancient programming language by people who don't do software development as their main job, so their accuracy is questionable.
Of course, they will tell you otherwise, as they need to somehow justify multi-million dollar investment into supercomputers that run the models. But any knowledgeable person who will have a look at how these models are built and used will take the accuracy of those models with a grain of salt.
The professionals in other modelling fields, where things being modeled are way better understood and way less complex than global weather system will tell you how difficult it is to model things accurately, while the climate scientists will maintain that their models are exceptionally accurate.
Secondly, environmental science is highly politicised. As the assumptions in environmental science are not as easily testable as in environmental science, environmental scientists will take any opportunity to get as much publicity as they can. And, since environmental science is known for its low wages, exaggerating environmental problems may artificially create more demand for the work these scientists do, increasing their pay in the process.
After all, science is not always an objective way of getting to the truth, as many people imagine it to be. Scientists do sometimes have a hidden agenda.
Finally, vast majority of environmental scientists enter the field because they have watched various documentaries about a bad state of the planet and that inspires them to do their part to save it, before they even had a chance to study the all facts properly. This is precisely what I have experienced when I studied environmental science at university. More on that later.
So, environmental science is a field with a lot of bias. And environmental scientists have incentive to exaggerate any environmental problem to ensure that their profession is in high demand.
I am not saying that many of them deliberately do it, although some have been caught doing it. However, all conditions encourage environmental scientists to make any ecological problem look a lot worse than it is.
Is their plan going to work?
Over a week of protests, Extinction Rebellion have managed to block couple of streets in central London, vandalise some buildings and disrupt some commuters. They also managed to get over a thousand of their members arrested.
They have surely attracted a lot of attention, but they haven't managed to cause anywhere near as much disruption as they have hoped for. They certainly didn't bring the city to standstill.
However, Gail Bradbrook said that their campaign isn't over yet. She has since asked for the activists to stop repaying their debts, which is intended to collapse the "debt-based evonomy", as she calls it. That would include stopping paying their mortgage and any consumer loans that they have.
The question is, how likely is this to happen to a significant enough extent for the economy to take the hit? Well, it's not likely at all.
While many of Extinction Rebellion members have followed through with deliberately getting themselves arrested, this didn't happen in the numbers that the movement has hoped for. Also, most of them got arrested for very minor public order offenses. With exception of those who have been caught in the act of vandalism, they won't even get a criminal record. So virtually nobody's life and career have been affected in any negative way after the arrests.
With refusal to repay the mortgage, it's a completely different story. Here, you are running a very real risk of getting your house repossessed. And subsequent mark in your credit history will make even renting difficult, as the letting agencies and landlords do check your background. Therefore, there are unlikely to be many volunteers.
Yes, we had a global financial crisis in 2008 which was caused by excessively high number of people not being able to make payments in their mortgage. But the number of non-payers in that case was high, well above anything Extinction Rebellion can ever reach.
However, what if they somehow succeeded? Is this a compassionate thing to do where only the super-wealthy would take some losses, while the ordinary people would be unaffected? Well, not quite. And if you look at potential consequences of this plan to stop the global economy, you will see the true sinister and anti-human nature of Extinction Rebellion.
During the financial crisis of 2008, the global economy took a major hit. As the result, many people lost their jobs and the rate of suicide has increased. And this is because banks who offer the loans act as the engine for the economy. If they stop, everything stops.
Therefore, if those activists did somehow manage to stop the global economy (which they won't), there would be consequences far worse than what has happened in 2008. In the best-case scenario, the consequences would be the same as of the Great Depression. In the worst case scenario, we are back to stone age with greatly reduced population, which will then be under a real risk of going extinct.
Is the climate change even real?
By this point, you may ask:
But climate change is real, isn't it? You are not one of those Global Warming deniers, aren't you?
Well, I don't deny that climate change is real. But I do have a problem with how it's often presented. And I have a real issue with climate scientists over-stating the accuracy of their finding.
This illustration comes from a Geography textbook for British schools:
So, British kids are being indoctrinated from young age that climate change is way worse than a global nuclear war.
Just let it sink in for a moment. An event that can pulverise all life on Earth within hours and increase temperature in places to over a million degrees centigrade is nowhere near as bad as an event that will take decades to increase the average global temperature by a few degrees. Are you seeing any issues here?
What is the real extent of climate change then? Well, the only honest answer is we don't know. Sure, the science behind greenhouse gasses is pretty solid. Sure, we have been pumping a lot of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere for the past two centuries, which is aught to have some effect on the planet's climate.
On the other hand, carbon dioxide isn't actually the main greenhouse gas on the planet. Water vapour, which is also a potent greenhouse gas, is way more prevalent in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. Even with all the quantities that have been released into the atmosphere, there is still by far more water vapour in there.
So, the question is whether the amount of CO2 that we currently have in the atmosphere is significant enough to affect the planet's climate beyond what the natural cycles will do. Some reputable scientists are skeptical about it.
Of course, there are far more scientists that support the theory of man-made climate change than the ones who don't. But that doesn't necessarily mean that the changes caused by human activities will be as catastrophic as groups like Extinction Rebellion claim. That merely means that it is likely that human activities have contributed to climate change beyond what the natural processes did on their own.
So, with all available evidence, we can confidently say that without human activity, the climate would change at a much slower rate. And that's, pretty much, the limit to our knowledge.
I have already mentioned how the climate predictions based on computer simulations are likely to be way less accurate than the climate scientists claim to be and how the scientists have an incentive to exaggerate their accuracy. But climate predictions is not the only area of climate science where the accuracy of the results is not what the scientists claim it is.
Climate science is a popular topic and some independent organisations do sometimes conduct their own research, completely independent of the mainstream climate science that is sponsored by governments. Many of such researchers are well-qualified scientists with years of experience behind them. And they have been finding problems with the methodologies used by mainstream climate science. For example, it was found that some of the increase in temperature that was measured over the years was due caused by urban heat island effect. This was observed when a particular temperature gauge was originally placed in countryside, while the nearby city slowly grew, until the gauge was being surrounded by an urban area.
However, even these independent researchers largely agree that at least some of the changes in climate can be attributed to human activities. And this is why I do accept the general theory of climate change, while rejecting the extreme views of climate alarmists.
The changes are happening and some of them might be fairly adverse in places. However, it is unlikely that any major cities will go under water in the near future and that large swathes of productive land will become uninhabitable. In fact, there are also places that will benefit from climate change.
It would just be illogical to assume that a temperature increase by a couple of degrees will be universally bad all over the globe. Some colder climates can benefit from warmer weather. Therefore, while accepting climate change as something real and something that will have adverse effect in places, I do think that there are global problems that are far more important.
And remember that there were plenty of environmental alarmist claims that we're made since 1960s. Every single one of them failed to come true.
Who am I to make such claims?
You may ask, who am I to make such claims? Am I just some random guy who formed his opinion by reading a couple of articles from Daily Mail or some right wing political forums? Well, I have to disappoint you on this. I am a former environmentalist with a Masters degree in environmental science from a reputable UK university, so I do know a bit more about the environment than an average person.
Back in the days, I was a pretty hardcore environmentalist. After watching a few documentaries made by organisations like Greenpeace and after seeing the extent of fly tipping problem in the city where I lived, I have decided to pursue a professional career in environmentalism, whether it would ne as environmental scientist or environmental policy influencer.
When I started my degree, I have noticed that vast majority of the students on my course had similar views to mine. They have decided that the planet is in the bad state before they even had a chance to study the validity of those assumptions properly. And old habits die hard. This is why environmental science is a field that is biased towards environmental alarmism. And this is also why alarmist claims coming from environmental scientists should be taken with a grain of salt, unless they can back them up with solid evidence (which they should be able to do for a solid scientific theory).
All was good in my course until I have obtained Bachelors degree and signed up to do Masters. Nothing until this point have persuaded me against the assumptions made by alarmists. I even became a member of Green Party before I started my Masters.
However, while I was doing my postgraduate degree, things started to slowly change. This is when Climategate happened. Email correspondence between climate scientists in one of the key UK institutions was leaked to the public after their server was hacked.
Although certain quotes from the emails have been taken out of context by some popular commentators of the time, there was enough evidence of real unethical behaviour by scientists of that institution. For example, they have used so-called "Mike's Trick" to combine two otherwise unrelated data sets so the historic average temperature increase looks bigger than it really is. They have also talked about how the process of publishing peer reviewed publications often depends on politics inside the scientific journal rather than the scientific rigor alone.
As someone who has recently been schooled on modern scientific method, I could not just ignore Climategate. However, I didn't become a full-blown skeptic back then.
There was a series of events inside the classroom that somewhat increase my skepticism. For example, any scientific theory could be rationally criticised if it had gaps. That did not, however, apply to the theory of anthropogenic global warming. Those who attempted to do it, myself included, had their marks deducted, even when they have followed all the rules of the modern scientific method and backed their arguments up by references to reliable sources.
On some occasions, the lecturers would have attempted to trigger the feeling of guilt in the students instead of just teaching them dry scientific facts. On one occasion, for example, a lecturer asked us whether we valued a life of someone in Britain as high as a life of someone in Bangladesh. When people in the class said yes, he said that we should just kill ourselves then, because people in Bangladesh are dying as a direct result of our actions. He did not elaborate what was that that we did in Britain that was a cause of deaths of people in Bangladesh. He expected his words to be taken as a gospel.
Our official text books weren't any better. One text book on conservational biology was authored by someone who obviously didn't know how economy worked and made completely erroneous assumptions about it. For example, he stated that it would be in the interest of wealthy people to just kill some rare species off and freeze their meat. This would then make the meat really expensive due to it being very rare and completely non-renewable.
The reality, however, is quite the opposite. There were enough cases where a rare animal became abundant precisely because its meat was in high demand. Entrepreneurs would start farming such animals or improving natural habitats for them, until the population has a chance to recover. And, to the best of my knowledge, there wasn't a single documented case of species being deliberately killed off, so profit can be made from their frozen meat.
By the time I've graduated, I realised that not only the environmentalist movement, but even the environmental science itself were a little bit cult-like. Needless to say that by that time I no longer was a member of Green Party. Despite this, as my goal at the time still was to use my full potential to contribute to a greater good, I still chose a career that was related to environmental science. After all, there were enough well-proven environmental problems to be solved.
However, one thing that I started doing a lot is reading literature authored by people who opposed the orthodox environmentalist views. In any other field of science, this would have been called "doing research". In environmental science this was called "heresy". I have already mentioned how bringing these ideas up in any of your university assignments would almost guarantee getting your marks reduced, even when the ideas were originally proposed by reputable scientists.
As I was reading a lot, I found out that many prominent environmentalist have changed their mind about many alarmist claims. Patrick Moore, a co-founder of Greenpeace, has left the organisation he founded and had been since speaking up about exaggerations made by its members.
Bjorn Lomborg used to be an active environmentalist. However, he has never allowed himself to be completely brainwashed by environmentalism and retained an open mind. This helped him to follow the truth, no matter where it leads. As the result, he has concluded that, although there are some real environmental problems, the proposed solutions to them are ineffective at best and harmful at worst. For example, implementing Paris Agreement may be much more expensive than the consequences of climate change would be without any mitigating measures in place.
So, by the time I found my graduate job, I was even more skeptical about the popular claims made by environmentalist alarmists. However, things just got worse after I found the job. I started working for a water and environmental engineering firm. And most of the work that we did was sound and genuinely useful. However, there were some parts of it that made me concerned.
At the time, a documentary entitled "Great Global Warming Swindle" came out that tried to present a proof against the theory of anthropogenic climate change as the whole. The documentary was largely debunked, but I found at least one of its claims to be true based the first-hand experience working in environmental industry.
One of the guest experts in the documentary claimed that scientists in various fields are given incentive to talk more about anthropogenic climate change than necessary, even when their own research has nothing to do with it. For example, if someone would submit a proposal on researching mating behaviour of squirrels, they would be unlikely to receive any grant. However, if the research would be about how climate change affects the mating behaviour of squirrels, the funding would be almost guaranteed. And this is exactly what I have experienced when I saw how a mention of climate change in a project report can unlock additional public funding, even when it wasn't even related to the purpose of that particular project.
There was also one incredibly useful thing that I have learned about hydrology while working in the industry that makes me far less panicky when I see on the news how some natural disasters are supposedly caused by climate change. For example, there may be an estate that gets severely flooded that has never been flooded before. This is where climate change would seem to be the most likely cause. After all, nothing else has changed, right?
However, at the closer examination, it becomes apparent that the flooding of such extent was completely expected to happen eventually. In hydrology, there is a concept of "one in x" flooding, where "x" represents a number of years in which the flooding of such magnitude is likely to occur. So, let's imagine that we are dealing with "one in 40" flooding event on an estate that was built 35-40 years ago. This would explain why an entire generation of people grew up on the estate without any floods happening there. Floods in that area would have occurred in the past, but the last one happened before people moved into that area, so nobody would even remember it.
There are some real environmental problems
Although I do believe that anthropogenic climate change is a real issue, I also believe that it's not the biggest environmental problem out there. In fact, paying too much attention to somewhat controversial theory distracts us from environmental problems that are way more urgent. Ocean plastic is one of such problems.
The plastic that we consume and discard on day-to-day basis ends up in our watercourses, which carry it to the oceans. Ocean currents then make it accumulate in particular places, such as Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
The biggest problem with plastic is that it never degrades. Well, it does degrade, but it takes thousands of years. So, in practical terms, it never degrades. This means that your discarded shopping bag will keep chocking turtles for many years to come.
And the worst offenders are the developing countries. Yes, in the Western world, quite large quantities of plastic make it into the oceans. However, people living in the developed countries are aware of the problem and are trying to recycle as much as they can.
In countries like Philippines and Indonesia, on the other hand, there are literal rivers of plastic. So, you don't have to feel guilty about this plastic straw that you've chucked in the bin. It will have virtually no impact compared to this:
The key difference between developed and developing countries is the level of wealth. So, perhaps, the reason why people in certain parts of the world dump a lot of plastic in the watercourses is because they have more urgent problems to deal with than the state of global oceans? Maslow's hierarchy of human needs certainly supports this theory.
So, instead of focusing our efforts on releasing less CO2, perhaps we, as the global community, can focus on helping currently poor nations to become wealthy? If people of those nations will become as affluent as people in the West, perhaps they will start caring about the environment just as much and the global plastic problem will be eventually solved?
Ocean plastic is not the only environmental problem that, I think, is more urgent than climate change. The paradox is though that the other problems, if targeted specifically, will probably solve the climate change itself.
You can fight climate change without fighting climate change
A lot of CO2 gets into the air as a product of combustion engines. And it's not the only thing that combustion engines produce. Air pollution is a real problem in most of the cities worldwide. But, unlike CO2, air pollution is not controversial at all. It's something you can actually see and smell.
For example, you may notice that your front door and your street-facing window frames get gradually covered in some dark soot. Well, this comes from the car engines. And this is the stuff you breath in the town or city you live in. As it gets onto your door frame, so it gets into your lungs.
The good thing about it is though that if you implement environmental policies specifically to tackle air pollution, those will curb the emission of greenhouse gasses as well. The same combustion process that produces the CO2 also produces the visible soot, so if the transportation becomes combustion-free, both of the problems will be solved.
The same applies to the factories. The industrial processes that cause acid rains also pump greenhouse gasses into the environment. So, the policies that are targeted at stopping the acid rains are guaranteed to limit the production of greenhouse gasses.
As the problem of air pollution seems so obvious and it's so obvious that tackling it will tackle climate change, it makes you wonder whether climate change wasn't deliberately chosen as a red herring.
The truth of the matter is that if we specifically targeted obvious environmental problems that take no effort at all to convince people that they are real, then some of less visible and more controversial problems, like climate change, would be solved automatically. Makes you wonder if climate change wasn't deliberately chosen as the focal point specifically because people who influence environmentalist movement don't really want certain environmental problems to be solved. Perhaps, they realise that, once the major environmental problems are solved, their movement will no longer be needed and they are fearful of it on a subconscious level.
Technology and free market will fix them
Yes, there are some real environmental problems. But no, going back to stone age won't solve them. First of all, people won't be willing to give up the conveniences of modern life. Secondly, even if it was possible to force people to give up the modern conveniences, doing so on a large scale would just wreck the economy and make things worse for virtually everyone. Who would care about saving the planet when everyone will be preoccupied with where their next meal would come from? We already saw how poverty in developing countries causes people to care less about the environment.
The real solution to our environmental problems will come from technological innovation. And it's actually a good thing that environmental problems are often featured on the news. Entrepreneurs are always looking for relevant problems to solve and when a realisation about environmental problems spreads out among the population, it becomes an urgent problem for entrepreneurs to solve.
This is why we already have Tesla - an electric car that produces no green house gasses while being operated. This is also why we have largely ditched coal-fired power plants in favour of much cleaner options.
So, the solution for climate change would not be to fly less. It would be to popularise the concept of non-polluting air travel and create enough customer demand for it. After all, fully electric planes are already possible. If there was enough consumer demand for them, they would have gone mainstream.
Why am I so confident that technological innovation would solve environmental problems? Well, this is how exactly all the environmental problems of the past were solved and there is no reason to belive that it won't work in the future. river Thames was a huge open sewer before a proper sewage system was constructed. New York City was almost permanently covered in toxic smog, until environmental regulations were put in place and inventors were given incentives to improve industrial and transport technologies.
Of course, some environmental regulations may be necessary to force old polluting technologies to be replaced faster. But it won't be people ditching those polluting technologies that will cause the real change. It will be inventors who will replace those technologies with better ones.
As of the subject of plant-based diet, self-righteous vegans often get it completely wrong. As much as they'll tell you that eating meat is bad for the environment, importing avocados from Mexico to Britain comes with way more negative environmental impact than just eating locally-raised beef. So, while there may be some valid reasons for becoming a vegan, doing it to save the planet is definitely not one of them.
While there are some real environmental problems, climate change is unlikely to be the worst of them. And there are some environmental problems, such as air pollution, that, if targeted specifically, will have side effect of solving the problem of anthropogenic climate change.
Regardless of whether the climate change is as bad as some environmental alarmists claim it is, the solutions proposed by activist groups like Extinction Rebellion will do nothing to solve it. At best, those "solutions" just won't attract enough support. At worst, they will have consequences so negative, that everyone will simply forget about the climate change due to some much more urgent problems that will then appear out of nowhere.
In any case, the view that the climate change is the biggest environmental problem doesn't even come from science. It was a hallucinogenic trip that inspired Extinction Rebellion into existence.
And there was another important point that I wanted to raise. Many people disagree with Extinction Rebellion activists, but they are too afraid to raise their voice. What I want to tell you is that you shouldn't be afraid. Extinction Rebellion is nothing but a bunch of self-righteous bullies and standing up to bullies is a good thing.
Now, if you excuse me, I need to finish my kebab before getting on my next flight, which is the 18th flight for me in the past four months.
Written by Fiodar Sazanavets
Posted on 6 May 2019