This article originally ran on Forbes.com on November 16, 2023. All rights reserved.
Daniel B. Markind is a Forbes.com energy column contributor. The views expressed in this article are not to be associated with the views of Flaster Greenberg PC.
Generation Z, the current group of young adults, Millennials, their most immediate elders, and to an increasing extent Generation Alpha, their youngest siblings, have sometimes been accused of having much shorter attention spans than prior generations have had over time – owing, the accusations would have us believe, to things like a strong reliance on social media and things like “sound bites” in our entertainment and news media. Whether this is actually true or not will, of course, be up to future generations and history to decide. But one thing is certain, and that is that the currently most youthful generations do appear to have a noticeable preference for reducing even the most serious topics of public debate down to mere buzzwords. For example:
Climate activist, Greta Thunberg interrupted what was supposed to be a climate demonstration last Sunday in Amsterdam to allow time for a Palestinian woman to share her experiences. Before 70,000 people in what was billed as the largest climate protest in Amsterdam history, Thunberg then announced, in an apparent reference to Israel’s actions in Gaza but without any recognizable connection to global warming at all:
“As a climate justice movement, we have to listen to the voices of those who are being oppressed and those who are fighting for freedom and justice. Otherwise, there can be no climate justice without international solidarity.”
That didn’t sit well with many pro-Israeli people in the audience. In fact, one man jumped on stage, grabbed the microphone from Thunberg, and said: “I have come here for a climate demonstration, not a political view.” That man was then quickly spirited away and the political message went forward.
Had Ms. Thunberg done any homework, she would have learned that Israel’s environmental record is by far the best in the Middle East, and among the best among all countries in the world. Israel has reclaimed the desert and planted millions of trees, making it one of the ecological marvels among the nations. Should Hamas (whom Ms. Thunberg evidently supports) get its way, and should Israel actually be wiped off the map, the world environmental movement would take a giant step backwards.
This apparently doesn’t bother Greta, despite her seeming unilateral focus on the environment. Engaging in what is known (by people who study these things) as “intersectionality,” Ms. Thunberg advocates a concept that all so-called “oppressed” people and social movements have a common bond. Thus, if you happen to believe in one cause (such as climate activism), you must necessarily also believe in the others (such as Palestinian liberation) that are lumped together under the rubric of being “progressive”. Notwithstanding the inherent contradictions in this belief pattern – such as the LGBTQ community’s coming out in favor of a Palestinian society that literally condones putting LGBTQ people to death – this “intersectionality” concept has gained great power in academia and now among the youth of the world.
The Thunberg/Amsterdam incident is only the most recent in a series of intersectional actions, and one which shows its ultimate danger. Greta has come of age and gained fame spreading a simplistic message related to a slogan – i.e., fighting “climate change.” Other simplistic slogans now have been spawned by piggy-backing on that message, such as “Just Stop Oil.” Groups espousing such messages have stopped traffic and commerce in major cities, damaged or destroyed priceless works of art and cultural treasures, and generally disrupted many people’s lives - all in the name of stopping “climate change”: This, despite the difficulty that most rational people would have understanding what, if anything, could possibly be the connection between defacing or destroying cultural icons and the warming of the planet.
Nevertheless, by reducing complex issues to pithy slogans, people like this have limited society’s ability to grasp the actual extent of these problems, and thus tackle them honestly and effectively. “Just stop oil” may be a lovely slogan, but do the people of the world really want to eliminate the production of 90% of the world’s pharmaceuticals, end the use of KN-95 masks to fight Covid-19, and return to the days of traveling by horse and buggy, all of which are technically possible due to the use of oil as a manufacturing or energy producing ingredient? Attempting to go “cold turkey” on fossil fuels will bring energy insecurity to large portions of the world, increasing international competition for even scarcer resources, which will likely end up in ever expanding worldwide armed conflict, as well as increasing death by hypothermia, starvation, and disease.
These issues are rarely discussed honestly. Has anyone ever seen a truly honest debate on how best to resolve climate change with the likes of Ms. Thunberg? When the Russia-Ukraine war started and the Nord Stream II pipeline became politically unpalatable, Germany immediately scrapped its “energiewende” sustainable energy program and brought back coal production. As soon as being forced to live without sufficient power became a realistic possibility for Germany, the buzzwords and catchy phrases that powered the environmental movement to political relevance in that country, and other countries, , stopped being so attractive to all but those still wedded to the sheer pithiness of buzzwords.
The same is true now of the Middle East. Following the October 7 Hamas massacre, immense latent antisemitism has burst to the surface, literally all around the globe. Incredibly, many westerners are even justifying Hamas and its terroristic/ murderous actions, conveniently forgetting that what it stands for is the exact opposite of what western societies are based on, including things like religious tolerance, freedom of expression, and the right to live and carry on our lives safely and happily, without being shot, beheaded, or raped simply for being what one is, and in the wrong place at the wrong time. But if Ms. Thunberg actually gets her way – assuming she is sincere about her buzzword analogies what kind of world will we really have? Surely, she won’t be able herself to function in it, being a western woman who regularly appears in public without a veil or headscarf, and without a male escort. That apparently does not bother her. In her world, Hamas is merely a buzzword for “oppressed” people generally, so she believes they are her natural allies. She would be in for a rude awakening were this even a possibility, but given Hamas’s disdain for western culture generally, and for non-Muslims like Greta specifically, hopefully (for her) it will never get that far.
To fight climate change, to transition to a more sustainable society, and to fight international wrongs, we will need to speak clearly to each other and not rely on mere slogans and other buzzwords like “Just Stop Oil” or “Free Palestine.” More and more it appears that the younger generation, having grown up in a world of mass media and vapid slogans almost devoid of substance, will have difficulty doing so. This does not bode well for any, or all, of our futures. It may be too late for this generation of teenagers, college students, and young adults to finally learn that nothing is in black and white and everything in life is in different shades of gray, but we must start now to remember that to educate the younger children on how to handle the problems of adulthood, we must give them the tools to do so. Buzzwords are no substitute for fact-based reason and analysis.
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