Global-warming activists predicted that Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris agreement on climate change would claim innocent lives. Trump pulled out over a year ago, and the death toll from the American snub stands at zero. In France, however, violent protests against President Emmanuel Macron’s efforts to mitigate climate change have killed one person and injured 227.
On Saturday, French mobs were protesting a tax hike on fuel. And they, not Macron, are directly to blame for the death and destruction. But the fact that these massive demonstrations happened at all—that they involved some 283,000 protestors—shows how little anyone really worries about climate change.
Macron is trying to get France off of fossil fuels. The French government recently raised diesel taxes by seven euro cents and had planned to raise the gasoline tax by four euro cents. But it turns out that people—not just Americans—care deeply about melting ice caps and rising sea levels only under specific circumstances. Namely, when they can be blamed on the greed and stupidity of their political enemies. They find that they suddenly care a lot less when addressing climate change means shelling out a few extra euro cents. So the French came out in droves, lit bonfires, tore up some buildings, blocked streets, and chanted slogans.
Last year, Trump fought back against critics of the Paris withdrawal by saying, “I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris.” But he might have represented the citizens of Paris, too. “We no longer know what kind of car to buy, petrol, diesel, electric, who knows?” said one protester interviewed by the Guardian. “I have a little diesel van, and I don’t have the money to buy a new one, especially as I’m about to retire. We have the feeling those from the countryside are forgotten.”
Another protestor said that “the fuel tax was just the final straw.” He went on: “All we can do is show that people are angry, that they are not alone and that they can do something about it. I hope there is no violence, but people are angry. I can understand why, for years they have voted for things and nothing has changed for them.” The protestors, known as gilets jaunes, for their signature yellow vests, enjoy 79-percent support among the French working class, according to IFOP.
Meanwhile, as Parisians turn against the core ideas of the Paris agreement, Americans are worked up over the Trump administration’s seeming indifference to a new U.S. government report on climate change. The Fourth National Climate Assessment was prepared by “300 leading scientists,” according to CNN. And like all sober scientific documents, it’s packed to the gills with apocalyptic predictions for the coming century.
The U.S. economy could lose 10 percent of its GDP; crops will shrink, much ocean life will die off, and more people will have less food. Illness will spread, pollution will get worse, floods and wildfires will increase, and, naturally, many people will die. Now, imagine the public response in our own low-trust, grievance-obsessed nation if the Trump administration actually instituted a policy that required every American to pay up to keep that theoretical future at bay.
There’s a curious contradiction in climate activism. On the one hand, we’re told that the effects of climate change are already happening all around us—that we no longer have to wait for signs of devastation. On the other hand, huge resources swing into action to lay out disaster-movie scenarios of a dystopian future. If the effects of climate change are already so evident, why go to all the trouble of scaring us about what’s going to happen? Maybe because even sympathetic people don’t really believe—in their marrow—that anything alarming is currently happening. If they did, perhaps they’d give up their cars and shrink their lifestyles on the spot. But as it stands, they scream for government intervention and then protest when called to share in the cost.