IPA Today

The Left’s Selective Catastrophising

Written by
7 December 2022
Originally appeared in The Spectator Australia

Catastrophising comes easily to climate change activists.

Our new monarch, King Charles III, declared in 2009 we had only ‘100 months to act’ before global warming becomes irreversible. Democrat Senator Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez announced in 2019 that climate change will ‘destroy the planet’ in twelve years. Hysterical teen activist Greta Thunberg scolded us in her famous speech at the 2019 UN Climate Summit that, ‘People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!’

And true to form, Secretary General of the UN António Guterres warned at the latest global climate talkfest in Egypt, COP27, that humanity faces ‘collective suicide’ from climate change.

But when it comes to the risks of a catastrophic nuclear war, the same activist class are far less prone to hysteria.

In September, the Ukrainian army launched a dramatic counteroffensive in the Kharkiv region, crushing the Russian invaders and liberating over 500 settlements and 12,000 square kilometres of territory.

However, overshadowing this achievement was the fact that Russia is armed with thousands of nuclear weapons. Any escalation of the conflict risks spiralling the world into a nuclear apocalypse. In response to the Ukrainian offensive, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the mass mobilisation of 300,000 more soldiers and warned he would ‘use all the means at our disposal’ to protect Russian interests. A veiled threat to retaliate with nuclear weapons, followed by the ominous promise that ‘this is not a bluff’.

This was alarming rhetoric. It frightened tech billionaire Elon Musk into proposing peace terms to end the war. He suggested new UN supervised elections in the disputed territories, that Crimea be formally passed to Russia with secure rights to water, and that Ukraine become neutral. ‘This is highly likely to be the outcome in the end – just a question of how many die before then’ Musk claimed.

Given their concern for the fate of the planet, it might have been expected that the Left would agree with him.

Instead, Putin’s threats have been ignored and Musk denounced as a Russophile appeaser. US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin dismissed Putin’s threats as ‘sabre rattling’ and assured us he didn’t ‘see anything right now that would lead me to believe that [Putin] has made such a decision [to use nuclear weapons]’. Nothing to worry about here folks. Musk’s proposal was ‘sophomoric’ declared the Washington Post, he’s a ‘chaos agent’ agreed the New York Times.

But history suggests that the longer wars last, the more they escalate. It was after a year of trench warfare in 1915 that the German army tried their hand at poison gas, unrestricted submarine warfare, and bombing cities. In the second world war, the conflict did not start with death squads, gas chambers, ballistic missile attacks, and atom bombs. Those things came later. The longer the Ukraine war drags on, the greater the risk of escalation or a catastrophic miscalculation. Just recently a missile fired into Poland, a Nato country, was incorrectly thought to have been fired by Russia, briefly causing trepidation around the world.

Of course, assuming the worst-case scenario that we are on the brink of plunging into a nuclear apocalypse is not how this, or any issue, should be approached. There are costs to appeasing Putin, just as there are risks in continuing to defy him. The lives of Ukrainians in occupied territory, rewarding Putin’s aggression, and the precedent of giving in to nuclear threats are all legitimate factors that need to be carefully considered.

Yet, in stark contrast, with respect to climate change, the Left rarely, if ever, calmly balance the costs of climate action against the perceived benefits.

For example, the so-called ‘green’ technology of solar panels and wind farms is highly extractive, requiring vast quantities of lithium, cobalt, rare earths, and other minerals. Manufacturing them is energy intensive and disposing of used panels and wind turbines potentially toxic.

It is far from clear whether the preferred cure advocated by climate alarmists won’t be environmentally worse than the disease, but the Left is madly rushing to tear down our reliable energy production sources anyway.

Why does the Left catastrophise climate change and demand extreme, untested, and potentially costly and dangerous ‘climate action’ whilst downplaying the risks in Ukraine and advocating for the indefinite continuation of the war?

One might be tempted to conclude that what is consistent in both approaches is that they both increase state power. Greta Thunberg herself gave the game away recently when she called for the overthrow of ‘the whole capitalist system’ which she says is responsible for ‘imperialism, oppression, genocide’ and ‘racist, oppressive extractionism’. A green world must be a socialist world apparently.

War is also great for centralising state power. Increased taxes, state control of key industries, government propaganda efforts, protectionism, and extra powers to the defence, intelligence, and foreign affairs establishment all follow in the wake of warfare. Any socialist would be delighted with such opportunities, so long as there is the fig leaf of seeming to resist a white colonising patriarchal invader, rather than facilitate one.

This theory for explaining the selective catastrophising of the Left would seem to be borne out by the responses to the Covid pandemic. The risks were exaggerated to the extreme, thus justifying the most invasive state interference in people’s lives in the form of lockdowns, business, and school closures, and mandates.

When people questioned the costs of these measures, they were denounced for putting the economy ahead of the lives of the elderly. Yet green climate policies will almost certainly increase the cost of energy, meaning fewer people will be able to heat their homes in winter and cool them in summer. This particularly affects the elderly. Many elderly Australians will become vulnerable due to the green energy policies being pushed by the Left. However, measures to protect the elderly from Covid greatly added to centralised state power, protecting them from the cold, dark consequences of a green future interferes with the Left’s utopian socialist agenda.

All elderly people will be equal in this utopia, but apparently some more equal than others.

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John Storey

John Storey is a Research Fellow at the Institute of Public Affairs.

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