Skyrocketing SUV sales, new coal fired power plants, and mass public climate disinterest – where next for climate activism?


Despite the preponderance of renewable energy/climate change news, all is not well in the green kingdom. The public narrative is a full battle cry for immediate action, yet behind the scenes everyone seems to be taking a nap.

Consider the following strategic quagmire. Environmental activist legendary protest guru Bill McKibben (of fame) was quoted rom a New Hampshire gathering by online site The Tyee: ‘ “It’s important now to get everyone in the choir to sing at the top of their lungs,” said McKibben, after describing the imminent dangers of climate change, and the urgent need for a mass social movement capable of averting them. When asked how to reach the other 95 percent of people who drive SUVs and couldn’t care less, McKibben responded, “Only if the choir sings five times louder is there any chance we’ll get” federal action on climate change.’

That was in 2007. In that year, SUV/light truck sales in the US accounted for 51 percent of the market; in 2017 that number was 63 percent. GMC, which only makes trucks and SUVs, is now the largest selling luxury brand in the US (defined as cars over $60,000).

According to the International Energy Agency, in order to keep global warming under 1.75 degrees C, China will need to close all coal fired power plants by 2030.  Per the BBC article linked, China is currently building hundreds of new coal fired power plants (which it takes spy imagery to even ferret out) with output that equals that of the US’s coal facilities. Building that many, not relying on that many.

As a final demoralizing stab in the back, consumers around the world show no signs of restraint, with consumption of oil continuing to rise, air traffic continuing to rise, and internal combustion engine sales continuing to rise.

All of this in spite of a chorus of a hundred thousand scientists, hundreds of government agencies, the United Nations, and an entire social media industry “singing at the top of their lungs” for more than a decade.

Clearly, this strategy is not working. The BC newspaper The Tyee put their finger on the problem precisely in their 2013 article, noting that the loud screeching has simply alienated the majority of the population. From the article, quoting Yale law and psychology professor Dan Kahan, ’ “Singing “five times louder” about the evils of fossil fuel companies, then, is unlikely to change those people’s minds. It might very well “deepen” their skepticism, Kahan argues, and ultimately make it harder to broker climate solutions.’

The Tyee article continues: “Anytime you get a black and white discussion,” said Tom Pedersen, executive director of the University of Victoria’s Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions, “there’s no positive outcome from that, we’re not going to find solutions.”

It has never been more clear that we need a new energy dialogue. Five percent of the population on either side of the divide will never come to the table, that is, the McKibbens of the world and the Koch brothers of the world. The remaining 90 percent of us need to find a way to make our world work without undue animosity, to work within the constraints we have now, and to forge a path towards an eventual green future. Singing at the top one’s lungs has been given several decades to show progress, and it has not. Time for a new generation to move the needle.

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