Book Reviews | Gordon Campbell | News Flashes | Scoop Features | Scoop Video | Strange & Bizarre | Search


The Illusion of a New Climate Centrism

Beyond Extreme: The Illusion of a New Climate Centrism

By Joe Brewer
t r u t h o u t | Perspective

I don't know about you, but I'm sick and tired of media reporting that deceives the public about the climate crisis. Andrew Revkin disappointingly presented a grotesque distortion of reality recently as if it were news. He is a science correspondent for The New York Times and frequent author of quality work. However, in his article, Challenges to Both Left and Right on Global Warming, he paints concerned citizen activists as childish, irrational, out-of-touch, America-haters who want to turn our democracy into a dictatorship. He does this by accepting a number of conservative frames.

To give credit where credit is due, the idea that environmentalists are "alarmists" trying to impose a Soviet model of government on the populace gained prominence through Michael Crichton's anti-climate crisis novel, "State of Fear".

Revkin perpetuates a similar fiction by disseminating many of the lies concocted in conservative think tanks that demonize environmental activists. In their place, Revkin gives us free-market saviors, described as "environmental centrists," who claim markets can save us without causing any pain if we just provide government subsidies to private corporations to encourage innovation. His "moderate" voices in the environmental debate are neither scientists nor environmental leaders. They are:

  • Newt Gingrich, architect of the archconservative Contract with America;

  • Bjorn Lomborg, a statistician who skews results to support his anti-green agenda;

  • Ted Nordhaus and Michael Schellenberger, so-called "post-environmentalists," who criticize the environmental movement for promoting regulation.

The "center" Revkin is referring to is smack dab in the middle of radical "free" market elitism. To these "centrists," government regulation is always harmful. This conservative fairy tale overlooks the vital role laws and regulations, such as the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act, have played in reining in corporate polluters. Further, they ignore that the "free" markets could not exist in the first place without laws, regulations and government institutions, like the courts, to enforce them.

It is the excesses of market capitalism, the absence of community action through government regulation, that is responsible for the failure to deliver an adequate response to the climate crisis. Nevertheless, this is where Newt Gingrich, Bjorn Lomborg, Ted Nordhaus and Michael Schellenberger come together. They all promote continued entrenchment in the exploitative market economy that, if left unchecked, will continue to drive humanity toward extinction. Free-market liberals and free-market conservatives have united.

How can Revkin lump these extremists together under the label "centrist?" Conservative think tanks have bombarded the media with stories that frame environmental activists as doomsday alarmists. At the same time, they have framed climate contrarians as "prudent skeptics" who "don't believe" the mythical tale of climate disruption. It appears Revkin is passing on these distorted characterizations.

Should we take away all benefits of a thriving economy to keep the world from being destroyed? Should we wallow in denial as if global warming were not a problem? This false choice between "extremes" sets up the "moderate" position of recognizing global warming as a threat, but not doing anything that requires us to change how markets operate. Thus, paying the biggest polluters with government subsidies seems like a reasonable compromise. (Newt Gingrich's history of taking money from businesses that benefit from the policies he promotes might make us suspicious about the motives behind this recommendation.)

Revkin deploys the he-said, she-said news technique to lead readers into accepting the false dichotomy he creates between anti-economy environmentalists and pro-economy "centrists." Then, he uses phrases like "rhetoric of catastrophe" and "entrepreneurial environmentalism," which give the misleading impression environmentalists are bad and free-marketeers are good.

I've previously shown how linguistic analysis reveals deception in articles like this one through other works such as When Climate Message is Strong, Attack the Messenger!, The "Feel Good" Approach to Climate Distortion, and Climate and the Psychology of Loss. This trend of media irresponsibility has gone on too long.

We must get past this array of shallow deception. It is a disservice to humanity in the face of a real threat. Time is of the essence, and we must be taking action. All of us must mobilize and act together. Now.

This is what Bill McKibben is doing with his Step It Up campaign. Betsy Taylor is hard at work with her 1Sky organization. Megan Matson is mobilizing thousands with her Mainstreet Moms action campaign. These efforts take advantage of the major glitch in free-market ideology, namely that it is incapable of recognizing the power of community.

These activists and the millions of people involved in their campaigns recognize we are more than mindless consumers seeking to maximize our economic interests. We are people with families and friends whose well-being is threatened by the myopic profit motive driving the "free" market. This compassion for loved ones compels in each of us a sense of social responsibility absent among free-market "centrists." Our moral values are not for sale.

It is time to be the change you wish to see in the world. Luckily, you don't have to be a hero. It is not lone heroes who save the day when community fails. Rather, it is community that pulls together when moral leadership is absent. We don't have to wait for a hero to slay the dragon. It wouldn't work for global warming anyway. This is a problem that threatens all living things on this Earth. We all contribute to the problem and we must come together to solve it.

For starters, we could have a media that empowers people with reliable information about real alternatives for solving the climate crisis we face. Alternatives that include government regulations that limit greenhouse gases, community projects to promote sustainable practices, and the belief Americans are willing to work together to make the world a better place. That shouldn't be too much to expect.


Joe Brewer is research fellow at The Rockridge Institute. He can be reached at

© Scoop Media

Top Scoops Headlines


Werewolf: Living With Rio’s Olympic Ruins

Mariana Cavalcanti Critics of the Olympic project can point a discernible pattern in the delivery of Olympics-related urban interventions: the belated but rushed inaugurations of faulty and/or unfinished infrastructures... More>>

Live Blog On Now: Open Source//Open Society Conference

The second annual Open Source Open Society Conference is a 2 day event taking place on 22-23 August 2016 at Michael Fowler Centre in Wellington… Scoop is hosting a live blog summarising the key points of this exciting conference. More>>



Gordon Campbell: On The Politicising Of The War On Drugs In Sport

It hasn’t been much fun at all to see how “war on drugs in sport” has become a proxy version of the Cold War, fixated on Russia. This weekend’s banning of the Russian long jumper Darya Klishina took that fixation to fresh extremes. More>>


Binoy Kampmark: Kevin Rudd’s Failed UN Secretary General Bid

Few sights are sadder in international diplomacy than seeing an aging figure desperate for honours. In a desperate effort to net them, he scurries around, cultivating, prodding, wishing to be noted. Finally, such an honour is netted, in all likelihood just to shut that overly keen individual up. More>>

Open Source / Open Society: The Scoop Foundation - An Open Model For NZ Media

Access to accurate, relevant and timely information is a crucial aspect of an open and transparent society. However, in our digital society information is in a state of flux with every aspect of its creation, delivery and consumption undergoing profound redefinition... More>>

Keeping Out The Vote: Gordon Campbell On The US Elections

I’ll focus here on just two ways that dis-enfranchisement is currently occurring in the US: (a) by the rigging of the boundary lines for voter districts and (b) by demanding elaborate photo IDs before people are allowed to cast their vote. More>>

Ramzy Baroud: Being Black Palestinian - Solidarity As A Welcome Pathology

It should come as no surprise that the loudest international solidarity that accompanied the continued spate of the killing of Black Americans comes from Palestine; that books have already been written and published by Palestinians about the plight of their Black brethren. In fact, that solidarity is mutual. More>>


Get More From Scoop

Top Scoops
Search Scoop  
Powered by Vodafone
NZ independent news