They take place all over the world, mostly on Fridays, most recently also on the weekend in Switzerland: Climate strikes and climate demonstrations. They have finally brought the debate on how to deal with climate change into the public domain. It says a lot about the state of our society that it took the initiative of the youngest people in our society, school kids, to bring the danger of global warming to the forefront of social attention and finally give this overdue discussion the necessary breadth. The well-known reaction patterns of conservative politicians, economic lobby organizations, and right wing intellectuals of denials, insults against scientists, insistence on the lack of alternatives to our economic structures, and even shameless lies no longer work. And that is the good news of this still rather timid form of civil disobedience on the part of the young people. Just as their parents in the 1980s believed less and less in the statements of politicians about the inescapability of further military armament against then already bankrupt Soviet Eastern Europe, or as their grandparents ruthlessly revealed the life lies of their own parents in the 1930s, so do the young people today recognize the helplessness of our society against the false logic of our economic and social system, which still sees the uncontrolled emission of greenhouse gases as a cost factor to be externalized, which does not have to appear in any economic cost-benefit calculation. Externalization of costs means that the economic activities of one person or group of people have an impact on others (possibly even on everyone else) without those doing the act bearing the full costs of it themselves. The climate-damaging emission of CO2 is still not associated with higher costs for producers (just as the risk of nuclear power or natural gas fracking is largely borne by the general public). The demands of the demonstrators are thus not „Abolish capitalism, it is all its fault“ as their demonstrating grandparents’ in the 1960s, but „Introduce a CO2 tax! Flying must become more expensive“.
The previous defensive mechanisms of economic liberals and conservative politicians against such demands were: „We do not want any interference with individual freedom“. Adam Smith’s 243-year-old metaphor of the „invisible hand“ still serves today as a legitimation principle for the view that a market can only lead society as a whole to maximum prosperity if the exchange of goods and services and other economic activities can unfold completely unrestrictedly. State interference such as social welfare efforts or ecological demands would only disturb the balance. It has long been known that the underlying paradigm underlying this philosophydoes not correspond to the real social and economic circumstances. But instead of acknowledging these deficits and, for example, including externalized costs on the economic balance sheets (which is in fact not so difficult, but has some annoying effects on such sacred cows as company profits and the freedom to enjoy low cost what so ever consumption), those responsible decide to take a different path: the path of rejection, of denying the relevance of scientific findings, and even worse forms of dishonesty, right up to deliberate lies. Thus one of the most beautiful posters the author of these lines saw at the climate demonstration read „Listen to the sound of science!”
The more obvious it is, the more vehemently climate change is denied. Websites like „LifeZette“ and or the German site „eike-klima-energie.eu“, for example, tirelessly collect alleged evidence to suggest that climate change is an invention of greedy scientists. Such treasure troves for conspiracy theorists are usually well tolerated by society. Statements that magical stones, dowers or the belief in New Age revelations make our world a better placeare not that widely supported. However, the fact that media such as these are used as a source of information in the White House Briefing Room or that their statements find their way into the programs of popular political parties is extremely worrying. Despite a clear scientific consensus and clear indications, such as ever hotter summers in Europe, the melting of glaciers in the Alps, Iceland and Greenland, rising sea levels, the particularly violent monsoon rains in India, destructive hurricanes in North America and typhoons in Asia, and last but not least the immense cost estimates provided by economic experts, the canon of many reactionary political actors continue to read: „We reject climate change”. What would happen if they also „rejected“ the law of gravity?
We have to ask ourselves: What motivates people to deny climate change, even if they are being charged a price as high as completely abandoning the methodical framework of science and thus falling all too close to the logical-argumentative space of medieval witch-hunts, incense sticks spiritualists and Witness Jehovah apocalyptics? Has the belief in the scientific method itself diminished in today’s modern society? No! Even for climate sceptics, supporters of Trump in the US, of the AFD in Germany or the SVP in Switzerland, bosses of oil companies and other commodity houses, and other protagonists of denial, it goes without saying that usinglightning conductors to protect their houses from thunderstorms bets offerings to the gods any time. They, too, trust the aerodynamic laws of physics when boarding their airplanes, and none of them states (publicly) that it is God who directs our all destinyinthe universe. Neither does any of them deny the laws of quantum physics, which guarantee the functioning of transistors in their mobile phones and computers, even if theselaws sound much more bizarre and implausible than the laws of atmospheric physics, which are responsible for the greenhouse effect. No climate sceptic wants his children to be excluded from a scientific education at schools and universities, because among scientists conflicts of interest and dishonest behavior prevail. So it must be something else that, when it comes to the results of climate research, causes people to unpack the polemic club against scientists, to deny them competence in their very own field of expertise, and to declare themselves to be much more qualified in fields such as geophysics and atmospheric dynamics, chemistry of molecular gas reactions, or the physics of nonlinear dynamical systems. Democracy requites the consensus over facts in order to develop its full potential. Science remains one of the most reliable providers of such.
Completely different mechanisms must be at work here. These are the mechanisms of self-deception and lying to oneself. Climate change deniers follow their own statements even though they have intellectual insight into their falsehood (so they know these are lies), but they do not want to admit this insight. Necessary to sustain these lies is to repress facts or memories that indicate that they are lies. This behavior is by no means new. Philosophers have already dealt with them since a long time ago. Immanuel Kant speaks in this context of the „inner lie“ and describes it as „dishonesty towards oneself“. It is easier, as he writes, „to delude oneself of blue haze“ than to admit the contradiction between the moral claim and one’s own thinking and doing. Kant also calls this form of dishonesty the „lazy spot of our species“ in which the „radical evil of human nature“ manifests itself. For him this corresponds at first to a „lack of conscientiousness“, and he sees in it „a weakness“ of the individual human being. He describes integrity, on the other hand, as a form of the incorruptibility of our own judgement towards ourselves, and the ability not to think and act against our own convictions. For Kant it was clear what the reasons for such a lack of rationality and cognitive faculty are. „Laziness and cowardice are the reasons why such a large part of the people, after having long since acquitted nature of foreign leadership, nevertheless like to remain underage for life.” So he writes in his essay „What is Enlightenment?”
But exactly honesty and detachment from laziness in thinking and acting is what is needed: We can only solve the climate problem, which is the first truly global problem of our human civilization, with radical honesty and consistency in thought and action. It must be clear: An attitude of intellectual integrity simply excludes denial of man-made global climate change. Even those who think that the chances for drastic or even catastrophic developments are still small (an assessment that in itself does not lacks integrity, as scientific results always have a certain – albeit very small in this case – probability that the theory or insight is wrong) must follow the imperative of risk ethics. Moreover, the acceptance of scientific results is not the subject of a democratic discourse (whileany political conclusions based on these are indeed). Or have we ever voted on the validity of Kepler’s laws of planetary motion or the Einstein equations of general relativity?
To give priority to the economic interests of individuals, corporations or nations over those of mankind lacks ethical integrity. Just as it is ethically dishonest to simply indulge in hedonia and consumer frenzy and to follow an attitude of „after me the desert „. Economists and climate scientists have long shown that sustainable and climate-neutral economic activity is possible. It requires all our efforts and willingness to act. One thing must be clear: The phase of lethargy and inactivity is over. Our kids are asking us to get our act together.