Ben Shapiro’s Bad Faith Stance on Climate Change

If Shapiro believes in climate change then he should take it seriously

Jesse Harris
Sep 15, 2020 · 6 min read
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Source: Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash and Wikimedia Commons

There are two types of climate skeptics. Both were on display yesterday.

The first type is the ol’ fashion denialist. When the subject of climate change came up at a news conference, Donald Trump declared that “It’ll start getting cooler. You just watch.” and “I don’t think the science knows, actually.” Trump’s comments on global warming have flip-flopped over the years, but many have suspected Trump has always been a flat-out denialist at heart. Yesterday, he has made it absolutely clear where he stands. Trump is obviously no authority on scientific veracity, but it is still shocking to see such blatant anti-intellectualism on display.

But I don’t want to talk about Trump. Full denialists are easy to spot, and we understand that they can’t be reasoned with. Unfortunately, the only option is to defeat them politically.

The second type of skeptic is more difficult to pin down. They claim to believe in climate change, but they don’t want to be too hasty about things. Sure, global warming is real, but we can’t do anything that would risk the economy, or our “way of life”. This type of climate skeptic creates the image they are interesting in helping, but they spend their time dragging their heels.

Ben Shapiro tweeted this yesterday:

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Source: Twitter

It is incredible how much “wrong” Shapiro is able to pack into one tweet. Usually, I’m uninterested in fact-checking every bit of nonsense that comes from right-wing personalities, but it is useful to analyze this tweet to understand traps you might encounter in the climate discourse.

Climate Change’s Real Question

Ben is actually right about one thing: the question isn’t whether climate change is happening. The real question is how screwed we are given the trajectory of global warming. At present, the world is about 1.1°C warmer than pre-industrial levels. We are on track to hit about 1.5°C by 2030, and 3°C by 2100. That is really fast. Given the best available research, it is anticipated that 3°C will totally reshape the world’s environment, leading to a radical shift in the lifestyle of billions of people.

While there is some disagreement between scientists on the details, the vast majority of climate experts believe this picture is essentially accurate. Scientists also agree that greenhouse gas emissions need to be radically reduced over a short time-span to avoid widespread misery and destruction of the natural world. When Ben says that the “question isn’t whether climate change is happening” he’d better by talking about this scenario. This is what “climate change is happening” actually means.

If you take these things as a given, you should be freaking out. If you were in a car rocketing towards a wall you would be yelling to slam on the brakes. Given the cause-and-effect of the situation, you would be making some noise! If Ben really does believe that climate change is happening, he should understand why activists are “screaming” about it.

Solutions That Aren’t Crazy

Shapiro says that we should focus on solutions that aren’t crazy — good news! There are a lot of options! Here are a few:

  • Solar panels
  • Windmills
  • Public transit investment
  • Improved efficiency standards
  • Electrical vehicles
  • Bio-fuels
  • Reducing animal agriculture
  • Carbon tax
  • Cap and trade
  • Carbon capture
  • Reforestation

What a selection! Whether you prefer policy interventions like public transit investment, high-tech options like carbon capture, or low-tech efforts like planting trees, there are plenty of choices!

Are these “crazy”? Many of these solutions are already in place! Countries like Singapore, Sweden, and New Zealand all have per capita carbon footprints that are between one-half and one-third that of America. These aren’t some harebrained schemes cooked up by hippie mad-scientists; we have the literal blueprints on how to implement these technologies.

If Ben Shapiro is remotely serious about climate change, and is really the genius he presents himself as, he should know all about this. Scientists, activists, and policy experts have spent countless hours researching and writing about these subjects. It is flat-out insulting that Shapiro pretends all this work doesn’t exist.

Bad Faith and Tone Policing

What is particularly tiring about Ben’s tweet is the way he absolves himself of taking climate change seriously. Since environmentalists are (allegedly) “screaming” all the time, Shapiro uses this as an excuse to just walk away. This approach to an existentially important problem is intellectually dishonest and lazy.

Climate activists didn’t start by “screaming” all the time. Scientists and activists in the 1980’s and 1990’s worked to explain the science of global warming to the public. The 2000’s were spent patiently debunking the galaxy of misinformation put out by big oil. Those first generations of climatologists were a reasonable and mild-mannered bunch. After 30 years of continued apathy from politicians and rising carbon emissions, some activists have become more confrontational. There was a time to build a civil slow-moving dialogue about climate solutions, but that time has passed.

Shapiro uses a straw man argument to invalidate the climate movement. He lumps every climate activist together as a homogeneous group that spends all its time “screaming… over and over”. There are plenty of environmentalists and scientists who are focused on solutions. Take the podcast How to Save a Planet for example; it is entirely about the solutions to climate change. Solution-focused groups are not hard to find. Are there some environmentalists that can come off as whiny or abrasive? Yes, but the vast majority of leading climate activists are willing to engage with the topic in a rational manner.

Shapiro also mixes in an ad hominem attack into his statement. He suggests that because climate activists are spending all their time screaming, he doesn’t need to engage with them. Just because you find climate activists annoying doesn’t make them wrong. To quote Shapiro, “Facts don’t care about your feelings,” so if the scientific facts say we need to reduce our carbon emissions, Ben needs to put aside his feelings about climate activists.

While Shapiro claims to believe climate change is real, he is putting such strict constraints on the discourse that it is impossible to meet his specifications. Instead of engaging in meaningful discussion, he demands that the entire environmental movement frames things just so. Discussing climate change within the climate movement is already difficult. Accommodating Ben’s bad faith tone policing will make it completely impossible.

Shapiro’s pseudo-intellectualism is exhausting. Activists need to be loud enough so we can hear them, but not so loud they are annoying. Climate solutions have to be scientifically proven, non-disruptive, cheap, and politically viable. False-pragmatism is no different than full-on climate change denialism.

If Ben believes that climate change is real, but is unhappy with the current climate discourse, he should suggest a solution! Pick any strategy that will lower CO2 levels at an appropriate scale! As a influential conservative political commentator, Ben Shapiro’s stance on global warming could change the opinions of many Americans. After all, the United States has one of the lowest levels of belief in climate change of the industrialized world. Ben has the power to make a real difference, if he actually cared.

On the other hand, if Shapiro isn’t serious about climate change, then he should stop pretending he knows what he’s talking about.

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Jesse Harris

Written by

Scientist / Writer / Environmentalist ~ I would love to work with you. Learn more about me:

Climate Conscious

Building a collective vision for a better tomorrow

Jesse Harris

Written by

Scientist / Writer / Environmentalist ~ I would love to work with you. Learn more about me:

Climate Conscious

Building a collective vision for a better tomorrow

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