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Tom Fletcher ...

Tom Fletcher is wrong about climate change: Volume 17

In which Tom Fletcher uses his commercially sponsored form of protest to complain about others using their charter right to do the same without pay.

written by me, twitter-->@edwiebe, 2019-03-24

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There are a few enormous obstacles that we face collectively as a global civilisation, as we really, finally, start to take climate change seriously. The first one, and I believe, the most important one, is that we ourselves are the problem. How do we grapple with the need to completely upend the carbon-fueled parts of our economies while not harming ourselves? Furthermore, how do we accomplish this while continuing with the long, overly slow, process of lifting the poorest billions up out of poverty?

The second problem is our political system. Since industrialization, our western democratic political systems have gone through a number of transformations. At each step we have become politically more inclusive, recognising the rights of marginalised groups previously scorned by those with entrenched power. This process though, obviously not yet complete, has become increasingly focussed on the means of retaining political power. As we saw in the last federal election cycle, and more recently in the strange public and private internal political battles of the governing party, the concept of being in charge has overruled what we all still, apparently pointlessly, imagine is the point of government. Namely, working to better the lives of everyone. Accomplishing this in the time of climate change means we'll have to abandon short-term political goals. But how?

Climate change is a so-called super-wicked problem. It embodies the problems of wicked problems but adds extra complexity.

At a recent talk at UVic, Ben Cashore presented a strategy1 for dealing with problems like climate change. Through a multi-step process important participants in the community plan a series of path-dependent interventions that are easy to make but difficult to undo. These sticky interventions each incrementally steer us collectively toward the goal.

Why force you to read through this long preamble in a discussion of yet another stupid commentary from Tom Fletcher? Well, I think it is directly applicable to the problem of journalism and climate change.

I saw you smile. Yes, equating journalism and what Tom Fletcher does is funny. in a tragicomic sense. Journalism has been grossly mishandling climate change. For a long time, and continuing today, the problem of false balance has caused confusion in the news-consuming public. There seems to be a glimmer of hope however, as, at least among serious media in Canada, this is becoming better understood with each passing year. Tom Fletcher is the antithesis of this trend.

Accompanying the false balance problem is what I call the false voice problem. This often takes the form of the opinion piece or op-ed as it's called. Under the guise of opinion any idiot writes (almost) whatever they like and see it published under the banner of an agreeable news authority. It's by way of being printed under the banner of respectability that the opinion gains authority. It looks like more than mere opinion but these essays are not news or journalism. They are a commercially supported form of protest. It's placard waving and shouting.

The op-ed is a means for biased media to sponsor a message in the guise of promoted free speech. It's worth remembering this when (let's be serious, if) you read Tom Fletcher in the Black Press papers. To be fair it's not just Tom Fletcher. There is some real slime that gets promoted in this way. Take a look at this garbage from the Toronto Sun.

At this point it's worth mentioning that one of Tom Fletcher's favourite axes to grind is what he calls the professional activist or protestor. His shorts get even more twisted into knots when he can claim the funding for the protest comes from international Left leaning sources.

I suspect that in the scheme of things Tom Fletcher has only a relatively small audience so why does this matter?

It's not the size of the audience that matters, it's the message and how it's delivered. Tom Fletcher's audience is exactly the people who, through ignorance or malice2, oppose the kinds of change needed to reduce harm from climate change and other important issues. That Tom Fletcher encourages this harm through his writing is probably something he doesn't think much about. Given his past record of making no effort to learn about climate change it looks like willful ignorance. Hope, as they say, springs eternal, so I continue to write these little rebuttals and direct him to them on Twitter.

Specifics in This Case

TF: It’s likely you or someone you know have children who were swept up in the recent “student strike 4 climate” that was staged in B.C. communities and around the world, at least in places where citizens are still free to take to the streets.

Take a moment to reflect on this opening statement. I have to admire the final bit, "at least in places where citizens are still free". I've stared at it for a while and I still don't know what to make of it. Is Tom Fletcher pro-protest or against it? Is he hedging his position against the interpretations of different audiences? I think it's probably a way to dog-whistle, to signal the politically Right that he is a supporter of Freedom and (I'm speculating) soft and hard libertarianism. Along the lines of, 'I like freedom but remember that it's something we fought for and someone somewhere is trying to take it away from us'.

This local event and others that were staged clearly get Tom Fletcher's ire up. Credible estimates put the size of the global protest at greater than 1.5 million people (mostly youth) in more than 120 countries. The leaders of the global movement are children and youth.

"You have failed us in the past. If you continue failing us in the future, we, the young people, will make change happen by ourselves. The youth of this world has started to move and we will not rest again."

Read the statement from the global coordination group of the youth-led climate strike.

TF: Naturally staged on a Friday afternoon, students skipped class with support of teachers to march on government offices to wave placards.

According to Tom Fletcher, youth have no meaningful voice. They don't deserve a voice in spite of the straightforward fact that he's got more than one foot in the grave and they have to live on to deal with his mess. It's worth pointing out that a wide range of adult organisations support youth speaking out on climate change. A group of scientists active in climate change research are only one example3. I certainly support them. I hope they're out there every Friday. I hope it irritates Tom Fletcher every time.

TF: what lesson is conveyed by these demonstrations? That’s obvious. The way to get what you want is to refuse to carry out your responsibilities and yell at elected leaders to do what you want them to do. Debate is not allowed.

Two interesting points are worth looking at here. The first is Tom Fletcher's opinon that students have the responsibility to attend at school during school hours. They do have a duty to comply with school rules. They also have, as do we all, the freedom of peaceful assembly as well as responsibility to themselves and to others to act in a manner that minimizes harm.

So, like other humans, students have to weigh legal obligations against ethical ones. Their freedoms against their obligations. As Tom Fletcher pointed out earlier, the students are free to protest if they choose to do so. Remembering that these students were mostly too young to vote, it seems to me that protesting in person is (one of) their only means of expressing their interests in the direction that society takes.

Tom Fletcher could learn to moderate his false anguish by considering the harm his audience causes when they exercise their (human) right to speak and their (adult) right vote to limit the access of future Canadians to things held dear today (clean, abundant water, cropland, forests, wildlife, etc). Never forget, as well, that Tom Fletcher takes abundant advantage of freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication which he accesses through, incomprehensibly, his ability to have his opinions promoted in a channel not available to the students.

The second point, that "debate is not allowed", is a classic denier trope. It fits in with the Logical Fallacies and Conspiracy Theories subcategories of classic science denial. Tom Fletcher might benefit from reducing his ignorance via an online course such as Making Sense of Climate Denial.

Finally, Tom Fletcher stretches our credulity beyond the plastic limit.

TF: Students are getting a different message: democratic governments don’t matter.

To claim that protest is anti-democratic, Tom Fletcher, is just stupid.

'What's the point of going to school if I won't have a future?'4.

I have to say that these youth, here and around the world, taking the time to learn more about climate change and to speak out about it, encourage me in spite of the Tom Fletchers of the world.


1Reference: Overcoming the tragedy of super wicked problems: constraining our future selves to ameliorate global climate change.

2Maxim: Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity (or ignorance).

3See e.g. Scientific American, or Nature.

4 Cutting class to stop climate change: Young Canadians strike for the planet.

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