You remember Greg Gianforte?
He was the politician who body-slammed a reporter back in 2017. A court found him guilty of assault. Instead of going to jail, he got to pay a fine and do some community service. Now he’s the governor of Montana.
Talk about second chances…
Gianforte recently signed a bill that deserves some attention. It bans state agencies from considering climate change when analyzing the impact of large projects like mines, power plants, and factories. For what it’s worth, Gianforte says he believes in climate change. He just thinks we’ll engineer our way out of it, even while he signs laws that forbid his own agencies from even talking about the problem. That sounds a lot like your typical optimist doublespeak. Citizens in Montana didn’t support the bill, at least the ones who got polled.
It’s not just Republicans…
To be honest, Gianforte is simply making American denial official. There’s really no shortage of ordinary people and politicians who want to act like they’re doing their part by driving an electric vehicle or reading Bill Gates. The only difference I see is that Democrat politicians consider the climate impact of their actions, and then shrug. “There’s nothing we can do about it.”
Democrats are patting themselves on the back for their supposed action on climate change, even as they approve record numbers of oil and natural gas projects. Over the last few years, climate scientists have done their best to make it abundantly clear where we stand. Even Reuters will tell you, our leaders aren’t doing enough. We’re replacing coal with natural gas, but natural gas won’t save us. We’re building solar and wind plants, but they’re not displacing fossil fuels. At best, they’re supplementing our growing energy needs. There’s only one solution that makes any sense at all, and it’s the one nobody wants to hear:
The average American won’t admit that, or they’ll nod and pretend like they’ll do something. Of course, we’re not talking about turning lights off when you’re not using them. We’re talking about cloud and streaming services. We’re talking about AI algorithms and cryptocurrencies. We’re talking about billionaires, celebrities, and their private jets. We’re talking about the structure of the economy itself. The things we like and take for granted require enormous amounts of power, and that’s not part of the conversation right now.
Take a look:
That’s the growth of our energy needs.
You can’t sustain that.
It’s not going to level off. Every day, tech optimists are coming up with new technologies that use more and more energy. They believe we’re going to pay for it all with solar and wind, but that’s not happening. Climate scientists have told us: There’s not enough raw materials in the physical earth to sustain this pace of energy growth. It doesn’t matter where you get it from.
We can’t keep this up.
This isn’t negativity or doomer pessimism. It’s the truth. That’s why the Montana law is so unsettling. It codifies all that climate denial and wishful thinking, championed by old men who won’t live to see the consequences of their ignorance. Imagine how much sheer audacity it takes to say you believe global warming is caused by humans, then to turn around and say it’s not your job to think about it.
It’s someone else’s…
That’s exactly what the Montana law says, and that’s exactly why Gianforte and his fan club support it. They don’t want to think about what they themselves can or should be doing to save what’s left of the future.
They want to ignore it.
It’s even worse when you think about Gianforte in the context of his bodyslam. Here’s a guy who goes around smiling and talking about the future, but if you try to hold him accountable, if you ask him any hard questions, he’s not going to stop and examine his own ideologies or assumptions about the world.
He’s going to attack you.
When he attacks you, nobody’s going to hold him accountable. He’s going to pay a fine and do some community service. Nobody’s going to ask him hard questions anymore, because they’ve seen him bodyslam anyone who does, and basically get away with it, even be rewarded for it with leadership positions.
Gianforte perfectly embodies what’s wrong.
So many people in this country want to say they understand, even when they don’t. They want to brag about their grit, but they’re too fragile to ever listen to honest criticism. They respond to the truth with violence, and they blame you for it, because you made them feel bad.
This is the bind we find ourselves in.
We know what happens when we’re polite and civil. We’re ignored. We get condescending explanations that everything will be okay. Nobody listens to us. This strategy hasn’t worked for 30 years.
Here’s something ironic I’ve noticed: You can put a lot of work into being polite and civil. The people who need to hear your message most will still say you’re being too hard on them. They’ll put words in your mouth. They’ll victim signal, even as they call you names and accuse you of having no soul.
There seems to be a lot of people in this country who go around talking about how positive and optimistic they are, but only if you never ask them any hard questions or make them think too hard about anything they don’t like. If you challenge them or offend them in any way whatsoever, that positivity snaps like a little twig. When it does, they blame you for it.
At this point, I’m tempted to list out all the little things someone can do to make a difference. I’m not going to do that.
That’s not the problem.
There’s hundreds of books and articles out there on what we can do. I’ve written about them. It’s not even that hard to figure out.
No, our biggest problem involves mindsets and attitudes. It’s the kind of American who thinks like Greg Gianforte. They admit there’s a problem, but they’ll do everything they can to avoid talking or even thinking about global warming when it comes to making actual decisions.
When you tell them we’re running out of water, that this or that part of the world is experiencing record-breaking heat waves, that Spain will be a desert in a few years, that the rainforest is turning into a Savanna, they ignore all of it and call you negative. How dare you talk about reality. How dare you share facts that contradict their worldview. How dare you expect anyone to act with a sense of urgency. We have to break that bubble, and I think it calls on some of us saying and doing things that strike them as impolite, uncivil, and rude.
We’re not asking that much of people, or corporations. We’re asking for steady-state economies that aren’t based on endless growth and relentless manipulation of consumers. We’re asking for companies to make clothes that last more than one wash. We’re asking them not to intentionally design products that fall apart after a few years, solely so they can sell more junk. We’re asking for billionaires to be content with a few million dollars, and not constantly put profits ahead of everything. We’re asking politicians to think about the planet.
What’s their response?
No. They’re not going to do that.
And some people wonder why we get angry. It’s this. We get angry because the people who need to change are the ones passing laws saying they don’t even have to listen to climate scientists or activists. And yet they also want to take credit for being positive, warm, caring people who understand the issues.
I think the Montana law reveals a lot about the optimist mindset these days. You can only be optimistic about our future if you completely disregard facts and reality, or if you indulge in the worst forms of narcissism. If you only care about yourself and never listen to anyone… Then yeah, sure.
Perfect strangers yelling at me on the internet, I can deal with. It’s the people who are family and friends that call me negative for trying to deal honestly with the challenges of the future that are very real, ie, climate change, over-consumption, waste, recycling, death, health, that is the most sad.
Jessica, could you please link back to your past writings that "list out all the little things someone can do to make a difference?" I appreciate reminders about ways I can make any kind of impact.