Maz: Han, it is time to get back in the fight.
Rey: What fight?
Maz: The only fight. Against the dark side. Through the ages I’ve seen evil take many forms…. We must face them, fight them. All of us.
~ “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”
Last week Russia invaded Ukraine. In an instant, the world realized that we have not actually cancelled human nature, and that our generation may very well be called upon to stop true evil once again. To do so, we will first need to get rid of our childish ways. That begins with doing away with hyperbole, beginning to actually listen to one another, and maybe even admitting that we don’t know everything.
How does a man like Putin believe he can get away with invading another country in 2022? Part of the answer lies in my experience last Thursday: As Russia was invading Ukraine, and I was going through my normal daily reading of the news. Just about every article was about the invasion, and most of them had a common theme: arguing for us to act like adults, especially in regard to climate policy.
Is it any wonder Putin would believe the West would be too weak to stand up to him? For years Europe has turned a blind eye and empowered him by relying on Russia for their fossil fuels. Why? Because of a childlike view of climate change. The climate is like most of our subjects today – you are either on one side of the sandbox or the other.
Holeman Jenkins of The Wall Street Journal put it perfectly in his column on January 28, “Millions of us have grown too comfortable pronouncing ourselves passionate about a problem we don’t bother to understand.” That pretty much covers every issue we have today.
When it comes to climate change, there is a scientific consensus that the climate is changing. There is also a consensus that man’s activity is contributing to the change, especially the increase in carbon in the atmosphere. There ends the actual consensus; everything else is childlike taunting. “It is settled science!” – “Is not!” – “Is too!” We might as well be in the back seat of our parents’ car saying, “He’s touching me!”
Several years ago at a climate presentation I heard a point I had never heard before: The presenting expert noted that, going back to the beginning of the industrial age, deforestation is five times more responsible for the increase in carbon than all the emissions put together. He was not talking about the deforestation currently happening in the rain forest, although it was his goal to stop that; he was speaking of the forest that is now New York City, London, Paris, and your neighborhood.
I have no idea if he was correct. I can say that I have asked about this every time I have had the opportunity to speak to a climate scientist and thus far no one has refuted it. I’m no climate expert, but I am pretty good at math. If cutting down the forest to build large metropolitan areas is five times more responsible for the increase in carbon, then we could go to zero emissions and somehow capture every ounce of carbon ever emitted from the dawn of the industrial age and only solve 20 percent of the problem. That is some perspective.
In the fall of 2020, we took our then-10-year-old daughter to Disney World for her birthday. As we drove from the Florida Turnpike to Disney World, we passed acres upon acres of solar panels. That space used to be covered in orange trees. If the expert I heard from several years ago is even close to being correct, then it makes me wonder: is cutting down all of those trees and replacing them with metal and glass really a net positive for the environment? Is that really “clean?” I honestly do not know the answer, but I know that we are not allowed to ask the question. If we do, we will be labeled a denier and told that science is real. No questions allowed.
When I was a child, the grocery stores replaced paper bags with plastic ones. Why? To save the trees of course. Today our oceans are drowning with plastic. What environmental disasters will the electric car bring us 20 or 30 years from now? Are we asking those questions? That is what adults do. Children come up with solutions that are impractical and/or cause more problems than they solve. Then, when an adult points this out, they throw a temper tantrum. Sound familiar?
Putin is a lot of things, but he is no child. He has become powerful as Europe pretends to move on from fossil fuels to prove they are climate warriors while in reality becoming dependent on Russia to heat their homes in the winter. Is it any wonder he views the West as children who can be bullied?
Climate change is real, but so is the need for energy security. Adults are able to understand conflicting problems. They are able to weigh pros and cons, risk and return. We need to start talking to about the problems we face as adults, not as children who simply hurl insults when they don’t get their way. Only adults can truly work together to find compromise and a path forward. We eventually have to do this, because if history teaches us anything, it is that the fight never ends.
Evil takes many forms, among them Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Castro, Bin Laden, and now Putin. To stop evil, we have to face it as adults. We must put aside our childlike ways and start to understand that adult problems are complicated. They are nuanced, and asking questions, or having different perspectives, is not the same as denying the problems exist. The truth is there is no way known to humankind to produce energy without impacting the environment. Lithium batteries are not clean. Destroying nature to make room for solar farms and windmills is no way to save nature. Pretending otherwise is childish, and acting like a child encourages evil men to take advantage of the situation. It makes them believe we are weak.
When evil men try to bully the world, we must take Maz’s advice. “We must face them, fight them, all of us.” That begins with serious grownup conversations about all of our problems. We don’t have to agree on everything, but we do have to stop attacking ourselves as if we are enemies. As Putin has reminded us, there are still real enemies out there. At least that is my perspective.
Chuck Osborne, CFA