In an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal Monday, Steven F. Hayward, senior resident scholar at the Institute of Governmental Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, declared that climate change as a pre-eminent policy issue has officially “run its course.” And if you’re looking for someone to blame, he suggests, don’t look at President Trump, look instead at left-wing activists who’ve let their social justice and “green utopian vision” sabotage viable solutions.
“All that remains” of the climate change political movement, writes Hayward, “is boilerplate rhetoric from the political class, frivolous nuisance lawsuits, and bureaucratic mandates on behalf of special-interest renewable-energy rent seekers.” Most national governments, he explains, have been steadily “backing away from forced-marched decarbonization.” The arc of climate change as a policy priority, he declares, can officially be dated from 1988 to 2018.
But while the issue has run its course in the early years of Trump’s presidency, he notes, Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris Agreement “merely ratified a trend long becoming evident.” No, Trump isn’t to blame for the demise of the issue; in the end, the self-defeating ideological agenda of social justice and climate activists have finally buried it.
“The descent of climate change into the abyss of social-justice identity politics represents the last gasp of a cause that has lost its vitality. Climate alarm is like a car alarm—a blaring noise people are tuning out,” writes Hayward. And this collapse of the movement, he explains, was utterly “predictable.”
Citing political scientist Anthony Downs’ 1972 article for the Public Interest, “Up and Down With Ecology: The ‘Issue-Attention Cycle,’” Hayward lays out the five stages of a political movement, with which climate change has tracked perfectly. It’s now suffering the inglorious fifth stage:
- Stage 1: Experts and activists call attention to a public problem.
- Stage 2: The “alarmed media and political class discover the issue” and often stir up “euphoric enthusiasm … as activists conceive the issue in terms of global peril and salvation.”
- Stage 3: The “hinge,” characterized by “a gradually spreading realization that the cost of ‘solving’ the problem is very high indeed.”
- Stage 4: The “gradual decline in the intensity of public interest in the problem.”
- Stage 5: A “prolonged limbo—a twilight realm of lesser attention or spasmodic recurrences of interest,” which often involves “painful trade-offs” that activists simply aren’t willing to make.
Climate change is clearly in this fifth and final stage, he explains, where activists are blocking viable solutions as a result of their ideology, including social justice activism and their “utopian” environmental vision:
A case in point is climate campaigners’ push for clean energy, whereas they write off nuclear power because it doesn’t fit their green utopian vision. A new study of climate-related philanthropy by Matthew Nisbet found that of the $556.7 million green-leaning foundations spent from 2011-15, “not a single grant supported work on promoting or reducing the cost of nuclear energy.” The major emphasis of green giving was “devoted to mobilizing public opinion and to opposing the fossil fuel industry.”
If scientists want to be angry with anyone, he writes, they should direct that anger at the Left for politicizing the issue and the international policy community for narrowing what it deems to be acceptable responses.
“Treating climate change as a planet-scale problem that could be solved only by an international regulatory scheme transformed the issue into a political creed for committed believers,” he concludes. “Causes that live by politics, die by politics.”