Feb 9, 2017

Rundle: why climate change activism has failed (and how it can be saved)

Increasingly, the excluded classes see science as abstract, alien and oppressive.

Guy Rundle — Correspondent-at-large

Guy Rundle


Five minutes before we were due to leave, while 40 or so of us were gathered on the open station platform, beneath the big Montana sky, the train exploded. Well, not the whole train. Not even the whole engine, a huge two-storey Amtrak beast with stairways and running boards, pulling 20 double-storey carriages and another engine. But they’d started the electrics up, the lights had come on and pftttang, a huge burst of sparks and bits of flying metal had come out of the stairwell we were about to board through. The conductors, burly men in their retro-chic choof-choof peaked caps, paled a little and looked at each other. One of them put on thick boots, and thick gloves to the elbow, climbed gingerly aboard, and switched the whole thing off.

There’s something weird about a whole actual train being switched off. It turns the whole world around into a giant train set. The old platform, and the clapboard station, the passengers black, white and Latino, with their suitcases tied up with rope, and striped bags of clothes, the scrubby Montana street that  ran along the rail … suddenly it all looked like plastic accoutrements bought in packs of six from hobby shops. Still, there was no denying the seriousness of the situation — or at least the nuisance of it.

Free Trial

Proudly annoying those in power since 2000.

Sign up for a FREE 21-day trial to keep reading and get the best of Crikey straight to your inbox

By starting a free trial, you agree to accept Crikey’s terms and conditions


Leave a comment

42 thoughts on “Rundle: why climate change activism has failed (and how it can be saved)

  1. Wayne Robinson

    As a book eviscerating AGW denialism, I’d suggest Robert Henson’s ‘the Thinking Person’s Guide to Climate Change’. It’s not short, at 516 pages, but it does have the advantage that it has short clearly marked sections, such as the evidence for ‘is the planet really warming up?’ in chapter 1.

  2. aswann

    Agree with all this. Thing is climate change is just the tip of the iceberg – a discrete problem that is defined and tangible and measurable and it’s even easy to fix, in theory. Of course it’s a freaking crisis and most scientists I know are totally tearing their hair out. But many, many more crises are waiting in the wings as a result of the human population overtaking the earth, and they are going to keep coming thick and fast. What’s needed is not just a fix for climate change, which will become clear enough after metres of sea level rise and desertification, but an acceptance of the fact that if we want to keep living on this planet, we need to care for it and treat it seriously as the fragile life support system that it is. No time for magical thinking. I don’t know if the human psyche is capable of it, but if we put hyper rational robots in charge of the place it might be alright.

  3. [email protected]

    Would you also link fear of the educated to Mao’s Coultural Revolution and Pol Pots killing fields?
    Re succinct statement of Climate rebuttals etc, try looking through “Climate Spectator” back issues.

    1. aswann

      The thinkers are the most dangerous to such regimes, so are usually targeted first.

  4. Richard

    Good idea.
    Try Skeptical Science..
    Do you really think that most people would bother to buy such a book?
    If they can or will not trust scientifically literate friends, why would they shell out and have to read real ‘science’?
    Large part of the problem is the media dumbing down, with more emphasis on promiscuous and/or socially awkward people doing things to each other, than the really important issue of the survival of the species beyond the next season of “Married over smashed avocado drizzled with cucumber jus, after First Blind Fuck in the newly renovated Kitchen come Garden.”

    1. Wayne Robinson


      The complaint wasn’t that there’s no reference source on the Internet that dissects the false claims of AGW denialists (there are many). The complaint was that there’s no single volume bringing together all the arguments against the false and misleading claims.

      Obviously my suggested book won’t be read by AGW deniers to any great extent It might be read by people who are interested in learning about AGW. It would also be read by people who agree that AGW is happening, and will probably have dire consequences, and are looking for a single convenient reference source.

  5. Mildred

    A challenge for schools then

  6. Bob the builder

    Bullshit! Anyone in regular contact with the non-urban world knows the climate is changing and don’t need science to tell them. The fact that they don’t believe it is real is the victory of a massive corporate-funded propaganda campaign, not some disdain of science. People have just been told incessantly by people they find the least untrustworthy that climate change is bullshit. Most of those same people (in rural areas) would say GM is wonderful.
    It’s hard to credit “science” (as opposed to a more general knowledge-techno class) as being part of the ruling class given their utter failure to do almost anything about climate change – the big multinationals are still the ruling class, not their facilitators in the knowledge-techno class.
    I agree that their needs to be more robust activism – but less pious – but don’t agree about the green techno-fantasy. Life will not continue the same – just lots more solar panels and wind farms and everything squeaky clean – it will be fundamentally different and we have to prepare for a low-energy future. That work is equally important to activism, as when the shit hits the fan, the poor and vulnerable will be most hard hit.

    And about being able to repair something mechanically – a few short generations ago engines were the software of their day, baffling and unwelcome, the province of experts. Soon enough every tinkerer will carry a mini-diagnostics computer in their toolkit and be able to fix engines – in fact if you look online at car mod forums, that’s been happening for ages already.

    1. mainsbridge ray

      Try Twenty-eight Climate Change Elevator Pitches, by Rob Honeycutt of Skeptical Science and available through iBooks. Useful recent article on the book and what it’s trying to achieve by John Abraham in the Guardian.

    2. graybul

      Bob, . . . bless all the builders!

  7. mikeb

    This used to be on the Govt Climate Change website but is no longer there:

    1. Lord Muck

      Plimer is a dangerous man providing a very poor educational outcome at our expense. I know former geology students of his who peddle the volcano myth. If Plimer is still on the academia gravy train and lecturing, he should stick to lecturing on geology and pipe down on climate science – or first learn more about it.
      IMO the climate change revelation will unfortunately only come to the mass of people in the form of worse heat waves, akin to smokers only quitting once they are actually diagnosed with cancer. This may be a little too late.

  8. zut alors

    ‘ There’s something about a minor disaster, the interruption of failure, that is more enjoyable than the actual purpose of the trip itself.’

    Ain’t that the truth.

    An inspiring piece, Guy. All four suggestions (but particularly # 3) are practical and would be effective if implemented.

  9. Roger Clifton

    Good one, Guy. Such manifestos do exist, however partially. There’s Tom Blees’ “Prescription for the Planet” for one. They do need a common perception of urgency that is lacking so far.

    Indeed, there is denial in our own ranks. The experts at Paris COP21 said we must achieve “net zero emissions” in the lifetime of today’s rug rats. Instead our neighbours believe it sufficient to “reduce” emissions, mainly by converting from coal to gas. I’m including wind-backed-by-gas there, as it is so wasteful of gas as to be only a token reduction, but it is an ostentatious reduction, consoling our conscience. Even the Greens Party avoids demanding the elimination of “coal and gas”.

    Common perception of urgency will eventually be provided by a series of punishing disasters telling the world that the climate has turned angry.

    1. AR

      Wow, Dodger managed a whole post without gushing about his beloved nukes – there is hope for even the most deluded yet!

  10. Peter Strauss

    Thanks for having that conversation on the platform. Great article.

Leave a comment

Share this article with a friend

Just fill out the fields below and we'll send your friend a link to this article along with a message from you.

Your details

Your friend's details