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RALPH SURETTE: Some psychological research suggests climate change denial and misogyny combining

Sixteen-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg listens to speakers during a climate change demonstration at the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 18.
Sixteen-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg listens to speakers during a climate change demonstration at the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 18.

Amid the superficial round-and-round that has marked the opening of the federal election campaign, spiced this week by Justin Trudeau’s old brownface picture, here’s a more significant fact: the Minister of Environment, Catherine McKenna, is going around with security — apparently more than has ever been assigned to any cabinet minister in history — after constant threats, both online and in person, including confrontations on the street as she, sometimes with her children in tow, has been verbally abused in the grossest terms by angry men.

It made only a little blip in the news, but there was followup as female environmental researchers in Canada and the U.S. also reported abuse, including death threats, mostly online. Some psychological research emerged suggesting that climate denial and misogyny had combined. Of course, if they looked harder, they’d likely find that white supremacy, gun craziness, neo-fascism, conspiracy-mongering, anti-Semitism and the whole psycho bag are in it as well.

Sixteen year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg testifies at a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee and House Select Climate Crisis Committee joint hearing  on Capitol Hill. - Kevin Lamarque / Reuters
Sixteen year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg testifies at a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee and House Select Climate Crisis Committee joint hearing on Capitol Hill. - Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

The point is that we — and the entire world — are heading towards a showdown between climate denial and reality, with denial getting more desperate and reality taking an intriguingly female twist — with the phenomenon triggered by the Swedish 16-year-old Greta Thunberg particularly noteworthy.

Starting with her solo protest before the Swedish Parliament last year, some two million students in 100 cities worldwide, mostly girls, now skip school on Fridays to protest environmental destruction, with this week’s demonstration purported to be the biggest yet. Thunberg’s addressed various important bodies, including the U.S. Congress this week.

Meanwhile, the assault on the environment gets worse. I checked — the world is now burning over 100 million barrels of oil a day for the first time.

She’s received the support of the union centrals in Britain and Germany, while driving the neo-fascist parties in those countries crazy, not to mention some straight conservative politicians. The abusive criticism has been constant, with her illnesses not spared. Diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism, and obsessive-compulsive disorder, what brought Thunberg out to protest was a series of nightmares she had about climate change, and the rest is history. In response to the verbal barrage against her, in her youth she has delivered a line for the ages: “When haters go after your looks and differences, it means they have nowhere left to go.” She’s being mentioned for the Nobel prize.

Meanwhile, the assault on the environment gets worse. I checked — the world is now burning over 100 million barrels of oil a day for the first time, plus coal and other stuff. The first thing I heard (on the business news) after the attack on the Saudi oil fields was that — glory be! — higher prices will be good for the oil sands. The second thing was that maybe we should use less oil. When the second is first, it will be progress. We’re not there yet.

In fact, virtually all our cherished late-age systems are insidiously rigged to make it worse, and the wastefulness of some of our favourite habits can be surprising. Another was brought to light recently by a French institute called The Shift Project (i.e., shift away from carbon), when it came up with the figure that all online videos produce one per cent of global emissions (about the same as Spain) — and 27 per cent of that total is pornography!

All the digital platforms together — online videos, Skype, TV streaming, data centres, Google, Amazon, etc., which suck up huge amounts of energy — amount to three to four per cent of emissions now, are increasing by nine per cent a year, and will add up to eight per cent of the world total by 2025 at the present rate, says this institute.

Back to Canada and the election.

Here, where McKenna was last year called a “Climate Barbie” in the House of Commons by Conservative MP Gerry Ritz, the drama has Alberta Premier Jason Kenney creating a well-funded “war room” to investigate environmentalists, a move that has totalitarian tendencies, and that recently started a fight with Amnesty International. Deep down, it’s about the tar sands and the holy cause of more pipelines versus the infidel.

In electoral terms, the Conservatives of Andrew Scheer, with no environmental policy (encouraging companies to be more efficient, if they please, doesn’t cut it) are on the wrong side of the argument. The Liberals are the party of enviromental ambiguity, trying to juggle both sides. The Greens and NDP are clearly environmentalists. If environmental reality has anything to do with it, it argues basically for what the polls say: a Liberal return, probably as a minority, with pro-environment parties holding the balance of power.

Polls also indicate that environment is top of mind, although, so far, there’s only mumbling and evasion from the leading parties. However, even if little is actually said as the parties nip and tuck at a tax cut here and a subsidy there, environment is the elephant in the room and the deepening worldwide debate (plus the Trump vs. reality show down south) will colour the voting. Meanwhile, former prime minister Brian Mulroney kicked in this week with a warning that any party that ignores environment will “pay the price.” It seemed aimed at his own Conservative party.

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