Aditya Chakrabortty says we're all being terribly mean to Greta Thunberg

Apparently us on the right are just being most mean, playing the girl not the ball. We’ll even admit to have made the occasional pointed comment elsewhere. But the actual argument against Greta Thunberg’s demands is that they are wrong:

Which left the eco-denialists back here with a stonking great headache: how to bash this 16-year-old celeb? Not by dismantling her arguments, not when the scientists and Sir David of Blue Planet back her up. Nor by sniffing around her record, since by definition a teenager hasn’t much of a past to rake over. The standard methods of political warfare off-limits to them, they are trying something new and unusual. They are sinking their teeth into her.

She was “chilling”, declared Brendan O’Neill, editor of the hard-right website Spiked, after picking on her “monotone voice” and “look of apocalyptic dread in her eyes”. Given Thunberg’s openness about her Asperger’s, this was a dog whistle if he knew about it, but it was at best crass if he didn’t: the kid’s on the spectrum! Bringing up the rear were the bloggers at Guido Fawkes, trying to eke a three-course meal out of the morsel that Thunberg’s mum performed in the Eurovision song contest 10 years ago – cast-iron proof of “an incredibly privileged background”. This finding has been gurningly spread on social media by none other than that vomiting dustbin of opinions Toby Young. You don’t need to be much sharper than him to observe that he is the son of a baron who rang Oxford University to get his boy a place.

Aren’t the comrades just being horrible?

And to the actual arguments. Start with assuming the IPCC is entirely correct, climate change is happening, we’re causing it, we should stop doing so. What is it then that we should do? The Stern Review tells us that we should not have emissions targets and favourite technologies and selective subsidies and the central planning of the economy. Some things are just too important for us to not use the powers of markets. We should change price incentives the once and allow those markets to chew through them - a carbon tax.

Which is something that the UK has, largely and not perfectly, done. So too the EU with the ETS.

William Nordhaus gained his Nobel last year largely for exploring another aspect of the same question. We should not try to root out everything we’ve already built and replace. Apart from anything else there’s a lot of embedded CO2 in whatever it is that we build. Instead we should work with the capital replacement cycle. Use up the built environment then make sure that when we replace, in the normal course of things, we do so with non- or less- emittive constructions.

The Special Report on Emissions Scenarios, the foundational document of the entire IPCC process, points out that a globalised capitalism with such a gradual change in energy generation technology - the A1T scenario - nicely solves the problem for us. And also leaves future humanity as rich as it is possible to do so while still solving that very problem of climate change.

Other than those price incentives the only other action necessary is investment in driving down the costs of those non-emittive technologies. As per Stern, Nordhaus and all sorts of other people perhaps some judicious government investment in solar panel technologies, batteries, grids able to deal with variable supplies and so on. As even Bill McKibben can be found agreeing we’ve done that. The necessary technologies exist. As per Stern, Nordhaus etc, they will naturally be the first choice in that replacement cycle. To insist that they won’t be is to insist that they’re not ready for prime time yet.

Greta Thunberg argues that we’ve got to tear up the entirety of society and start again. All the adults in the room argue that we’re on the right path, we just need a few more tweaks here and there and then wait for markets to do their thing.

Thus the argument against Greta Thunberg and the adulation she’s receiving isn’t that she’s a teenager, nor anything else more personal about her or her character. It’s simply that she is entirely misinformed, ignorant even, on the subject under discussion.

As the IPCC assumes as it starts its work, the solution to climate change is a non-fossil fuel using globalised and free market capitalism. People proposing other solutions just aren’t in tune with, are ignorant of, the relevant science. As Greta isn’t proposing that then she’s incorrect. Which is the argument as to why we should ignore her.