The inter-generational theft of Brexit and climate change
Posted on 27 June 2016 by dana1981
In last week’s Brexit vote results, there was a tremendous divide between age groups. 73% of voters under the age of 25 voted to remain in the EU, while about 58% over the age of 45 voted to leave.
This generational gap is among the many parallels between Brexit and climate change. A 2014 poll found that 74% of Americans under the age of 30 support government policies to cut carbon pollution, as compared to just 58% of respondents over the age of 40, and 52% over the age of 65.
The problem is of course that younger generations will have to live with the consequences of the decisions we make today for much longer than older generations. Older generations in developed countries prospered as a result of the burning of fossil fuels for seemingly cheap energy.
However, we’ve already reached the point where even contrarian economists agree, any further global warming we experience will be detrimental for the global economy. For poorer countries, we passed that point decades ago. A new paper examining climate costs and fossil fuel industry profits for the years 2008–2012 found:
For all companies and all years, the economic cost to society of their CO2 emissions was greater than their after‐tax profit, with the single exception of Exxon Mobil in 2008
For much of the time during which developed nations experienced strong economic growth as a result of fossil fuel consumption, we were unaware of the associated climate costs. We can no longer use ignorance as an excuse. And yet the older generations, who experienced the greatest net benefit from carbon pollution, are now the least supportive of taking responsibility to pay for it. The longer we delay, the more devastating the consequences will be for the younger generations.
Similarly, today’s youth who are early in their career paths will face the harshest consequences of the Brexit vote that was dominated by older voters. As Jack Lennard put it:
This is a final middle-fingered salute to the young from the baby boomer generation. Not content with racking up insurmountable debt, not content with destroying any hopes of sustainable property prices or stable career paths, not content with enjoying the benefits of free education and generous pension schemes before burning down the ladder they climbed up, the baby boomers have given one last turd on the doorstep of the younger generation.
And as political journalist Nicholas Barrett said in a comment that subsequently went viral:
the younger generation has lost the right to live and work in 27 other countries. We will never know the full extent of the lost opportunities, friendships, marriages and experiences we will be denied. Freedom of movement was taken away by our parents, uncles, and grandparents in a parting blow to a generation that was already drowning in the debts of our predecessors.
Thirdly and perhaps most significantly, we now live in a post-factual democracy.
A dangerous strain of anti-intellectualism
As Barrett noted, during the Brexit campaign, facts seemed useless against the myths propagated by the Leave side. Indeed, Nigel Farage, leader of the right-wing UK Independence Party and Leave campaign has already admitted the key claim that £350 million weekly saving in EU contributions could be spent on health services was utter nonsense – a “mistake,” as he put it. A “mistake” that was conveniently admitted just hours after Brexit votes had been cast and counted.
When asked to name a single economist who backed Brexit, justice secretary and another top Leave campaigner Michael Gove said “people in this country have had enough of experts” and later likened those experts to Nazis.
Climate denial is based on a similar strain of anti-intellectualism andpreponderance of baseless myths. When faced with the reality of a 97% expert consensus on human-caused global warming, many will deny that reality, propagate a number of associated myths, or like Gove, find an excuse to disregard expert opinion and evidence (e.g. by arguing that scientific consensus ‘has been wrong before’).
Ultimately it boils down to ideological biases. When the facts and expert conclusions contradict our beliefs, people will often find an excuse to dismiss the evidence and experts. It’s perhaps unsurprising that as DeSmogUK revealed, Gove and many other Leave campaign backers are also climate contrarians.
Risk management failure - USA must do better
Experts warned of the dangerous consequences that would result from Brexit, but the majority of older voters chose to ignore those risks. Prudent risk management was trumped by ideology, and today’s youth will have to bear the brunt of the consequences.