By John McClaughry
Get ready for the “Global Climate Strike.” This will occur in Vermont, and around the world, on Sept. 20 and continue with “actions” throughout the ensuing week to publicize a frightening “climate emergency.”
The Climate Strike activists have been taught to believe that the Earth is relentlessly heading toward a climate disaster. This is said to be proven by “science,” evidenced by whatever calamitous weather event just appeared on your television screen.
More than half of this trend since 1950 is said to be due to the emission of greenhouse gases by human activities, notably the combustion of carbon fuels to provide electricity, transportation, and home and industrial process heating.
Already the concentration of carbon dioxide in the planet’s atmosphere is over 4 molecules per 10,000, compared to 2.8 in the 19th Century. Twelve years from now or by the end of this century — estimates vary— the climate will pass a “tipping point” and soon thereafter become uninhabitable. So they say.
The climate activists are striking to demand that governments mandate the rapid replacement of coal, gasoline, diesel, heating oil, natural gas and propane with renewable energy — wind, solar, hydro and biomass — no matter what the cost. This, they believe, will slow and eventually put a stop to “climate change.” (Why not rely on emission-free nuclear energy? Never mind.)
The Vermont climate strike movement is led by Bill McKibben’s 350VT and VPIRG, plus Extinction Rebellion and the Climate Disobedience Center. Its chosen technique is to persuade high schoolers to walk out of their classes on Sept. 20 and join workers walking off their jobs in demonstrations in towns across the state. This will heighten public awareness of the urgent need for banning the combustion of fossil fuels — let that one sink in — and achieving “climate justice,” whatever that may mean.
Citizens coming together in public spaces to rally support for their causes is a long and respected tradition in Vermont. The State House lawn has seen many such events, on all sides of a long list of issues. But this strike will be different; It will not be just speeches, signs and posturing to get media attention for their viewpoint, but also deliberately making other people pay for their indifference to the imperatives of “climate action.”
That is, to put it bluntly, civil disobedience, disruption, law breaking.
Already the sponsors have held three working sessions to train their faithful to practice civil disobedience. Already they have done three trial runs. In May, protesters in the gallery stopped the business of the Vermont House, the leadership of which suspended the session to express sympathy with the views of the protesters.
In Brattleboro, protesters blocked the popular “Strolling of the Heifers” parade. Progressive Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman, on the reviewing stand, expressed his solidarity with their views while asking them to relocate their protest off of the parade route. Then on Aug. 1, climate protesters paralyzed traffic for an hour in the heart of downtown Montpelier, until escorted away by police. No arrests were made.
Motivated and emboldened, the climate strikers, sincerely concerned about what they have been told is the looming extinction of the human race, are now upping the ante. They will turn scientifically clueless teenagers loose to stop people from getting to and from work, attending meetings and making deliveries, and showing up for their medical appointments.
Citizens have every right to make their case through State House rallies, information booths, public meetings, media postings and political activity. They have the right, in my view, to disobediently protest oppression, humiliation and injustice as Rosa Parks did when she was arrested and fined for remaining seated in the white section of that Montgomery bus.
But they also need to learn that in a civilized democracy, you are not entitled to promote your demands by throwing yourself onto the street to stop traffic and disrupt the peaceful activities of your fellow citizens. Nor do you have a right to surround and attempt to shut down a 440 megawatt coal-burning power plant in New Hampshire (another project of 350VT), or employ any of the other coercive tactics taught by 350VT and VPIRG in their disruption training sessions. Those tactics are the antithesis of our democratic tradition.
The climate strikers need to learn that mob rule disruption will exact a price beyond being escorted to the sidewalk by polite police officers. My preferred price is a two week stay at a logging camp up in Ferdinand or Lewis, with no grid electricity or cell phone service, during which campers can plant trees 10 hours a day to defeat climate change, while reflecting upon the inconveniences and hardships they caused their innocent fellow Vermonters.
John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute.