Edgy campaign from the Young Greens

Narrow red leaves

The Young Greens of Canada recently launched a new website emblazoned with the slogan “[Y]our parents f*cked up the planet – [I]t’s time to do something about it. [L]ive green, vote green.” Obviously, it is intended to provoke controversy, and it is arguably a tactical mistake. That being said, it is certainly factually true. The ancestors of those now alive helped to expand the fossil-fuel-driven society that is the fundamental cause of climate change. Most of them did so in ignorance of what the consequences would be, but that is no longer a legitimate possibility for those now alive. Faulty arguments from deniers aside, we all now know that climate change is real, dangerous, and caused by us. We have to stop. That being said, it would be more correct to say “our parents” or “all our parents” and to mention that, so far, we are all doing the same thing.

We certainly need a diversity in media campaigns to address climate change and, even if some people object to this one, I think there is some cause for raising the issue of responsibility. We need to move from a mindset where we pat ourselves on the back for walking to the grocery store or using a compact fluorescent light to one where we recognize the harm our emissions will cause to other people and take major steps to reduce them (while also demanding change in the economic and political structures within which we live).

Canada’s political system forces the Greens to engage from the outside. Whether you think this communication strategy will alienate more than it educates or not, that is clearly what the Young Greens are trying to accomplish here.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

35 thoughts on “Edgy campaign from the Young Greens”

  1. It is worth nothing that these same parents created most of the technologies, policies, and institutions necessary to deal with climate change. What is necessary is to scale them up and integrate them.

  2. In my experience, most people of our generation are behaving just as irresponsibly, even many putative environmentalists. In my experience, most people of our generation don’t even consider environmental issues a priority when they vote–if they vote.

    I work with several people, some of whom are in their 20s, who choose to spend more time and money commuting by car, because they “don’t like taking the SkyTrain”. They don’t want to walk the two blocks from their home to the station, and from the station to work, plus they complain they don’t always get a seat. These same people then proclaim loudly that they care about the environment.

  3. Such people are the final frontier of climate change mitigation.

    As I said before: “Given that some portion of the population will never do what is right when there are more alluring immoral ways to behave, dealing with climate change means changing society to the point where even the greediest, most uncaring people are still living low-carbon lives.”

  4. “They don’t want to walk the two blocks from their home to the station, and from the station to work, plus they complain they don’t always get a seat. These same people then proclaim loudly that they care about the environment.”

    “Such people are the final frontier of climate change mitigation.”

    I’m not sure if this is right. Neal is correct about people’s actions, and the disconnect between actions and words. I previously wrote (much to XUP’s confusion) that while people hold green positions, and do not rationally believe that energy is unlimited, that people’s actions reflect these beliefs – the one’s they don’t actually have.

    I’m starting to believe that this disconnect between actions and thought is not a remainder, a supplement, a vestige which we can ignore because we can’t deal with “irrationality” of the “cognitively dissident”. I think this is by a huge margin the norm.

    Rather than the “last frontier” of climate mitigation, figuring out what to do in the face of such pervasive hypocrisy should perhaps be the “first frontier”. Since I’m odd, I don’t want to assume in advance that the “solution” to this problem is getting rid of hypocrisy, demanding that people live up to the ideals of self-consistency they already (likely) claim to value. The problem with demanding people be consistent is that it might be easier to change the belief’s to match the actions than the actions to match the beliefs (hence the climate change conspiracy industry).

    It might be easier to get people to support changes to the objective conditions of reality such that they correspond with climate change mitigation needs – while they themselves remain free to act as hypocritically as they like given a system that, no matter what people choose, will produce mitigation.

  5. The slogan seems fair to me. Yes, it is inaccurate as regards details (the long timespan of environmental degradation and Co2 emissions, the question of exactly whose parents did what and where blame should be assigned) but what slogan isn’t? It seems indisputable to me that young people cannot be held responsible for things which happened before they were born or possessed with substantial agency, nor can they be held fully responsible for the continuing effects of those things (e.g. suburbanization, and its greater use of cars, larger houses etc). Insofar as recognizing one has a problem is a precondition for addressing that problem (“Hi, my name is [ ] and I’ve been fucking up the planet for [however many} years”) naming and shaming older generations seems like an important step. If people are offended then it may just imply that the naming and shaming process is working.

  6. Sigh.

    The problem isn’t with the unnecessary crassness of the campaign, or even with the tired “don’t trust anybody over 30” rhetoric that the uncreative minds behind it are using. The problem is with the basic – and inaccurate – assumption that the “planet is fucked up” and that some bogeyman needs to be blamed for it.

    It is sad that the environmental movement of which I was once so proud to be associated with has basically become an apocalyptic death cult. Collectively, we have done more to “clean up” the Earth in the past thirty years (at least in the West) than we have to screw it up. You wouldn’t know it by “the world is fucked up” type of message that has taken over Green thinking in the past five years.

    Is there still work to be done? Without a doubt. But that said, our air and water is now cleaner than it has been since the industrial revoloution. We proudly and rightly protect the species and greenbelts from the excesses of our (still too selfish) consumption. Our schools ingrain Green thinking from a young age and companies creatively find ways to develop green technology.

    There are still many problems, not the least of which has been our support of sustainable development in the “third world”. We consume too much in the west and have yet to really tackle the ridiculous amounts of waste created for purely superficial reasons (try buying a child’s toy and see how much garbage the packaging produces). Then, of course, there is global warming, errr, climate change.

    Is climate change a significant concern that we must address? Absolutely, but simplistic doomsday hysteria is an inaccurate way of presenting the issue and, regardless, the problem won’t be solved by end-of-the-world hysteria or us versus them media campaigns. We need ration in our approach to the issue or we’re no better than the whack jobs who thing that climate change is some sort of hoax or fraud.

    The new Young Greens website simply preaches to the converted and pushes the party further to the margins of the political debate. How sad for a party that really seemed on the verge of a breakthrough just two elections ago. Hopefully the more rational folks who ran the party in the pre-May days will somehow righten the ship, but I fear that won’t be the case.

    As a side note to Sarah, the point isn’t about “holding young people responsible for things that happened before they were born”, but rather wryly observing the clear disconnect between young people who rant about their parents “fucking up the world” from the comfortable cocoon of technology, superior health, sanitation, comfort, economic security, and leisure made entirely possible by “their parents”.

  7. Jim,

    I think you underestimate how risky climate change is, and what dealing with it requires.

    Failing to stop climate change will produce a world that is unrecognizable. At the same time, stopping it requires cutting net human emissions to zero – something we are nowhere near achieving. Indeed, we are moving rapidly in the other direction.

    Some environmental problems have been stabilized or even improved, but the massive threat of climate change is not one that we can dismiss lightly. This isn’t a matter of worst case projections, either. The business-as-usual case is terrifying.

  8. The depth of our climatic predicament is well expressed by a quote from James Gustave Speth:

    “How serious is the threat to the environment? Here is one measure of the problem: all we have to do to destroy the planet’s climate and biota and leave a ruined world for our children and grandchildren is to keep doing exactly what we are doing today, with no growth in the human population or the world economy.”

  9. Whooee! Well, I’m an ol’ codger who takes offense. I been votin’ Green fer more elections than I can remember and I remember before there was a Green Party to vote for. Back in the 60’s when I was a university student, students rode the bus or train across the country. High CO2 output jet travel was just for rich jetsetters back then.

    Students back then didn’t have a whack of electronics like computers an’ iPods an’ cell phones fillin’ up the dumps over in Africa. We carried around binders and we used the phone booth when we needed to call home.

    Yessirree, I really did walk a mile an’ a half each way to high school but it was only uphill one way.

    When I turned 21 an’ was eligible to vote, I considered it a privilege and a duty and I voted whenever there was an election.

    I started composting back in about 1974 an’ I’m still composting. My generation made the VW Beetle popular. We rallied round political causes like fightin’ against Nixon’s rotten war. A lot of us done a lotta green stuff.

    The trouble with that slogan is the generalization. If somebuddy was to say young people are f*ckin’ up the planet, young people would correctly point out that only some young people are doing so and tarring all with the same brush is patently unfair. Sorta like sayin’ a certain race or religion is responsible for the ills of the world.

    Not all publicity is good publicity, no matter what some idjits think. Ol’ Mahmood Ahmadinijad got some publicity the past few days for imposing the death penalty on protesters. Good publicity? It drew attention to an attention-seeker. Bin Laden got plenty of publicity, too. The Con’s been gettin’ some publicity about them big cheques they been handin’ out with the CPC logo on ’em.

    I been out in front of green issues an’ left-wing political causes all my life. Lately, when someone asks me why I vote Green, I tell ’em it’s fer my grandchildren. That slogan’s makin’ it tougher.


  10. “Back in the 60’s when I was a university student, students rode the bus or train across the country. High CO2 output jet travel was just for rich jetsetters back then.”

    Actually, taking the bus or train is better but not dramatically so. There doesn’t seem to be any good low-carbon option for long-distance travel.

    I don’t think this is a trivial point. To deal with climate change, we don’t just need to do somewhat better. We need to transform the energy basis of society and cut net emissions to zero.

  11. One critical factor here is making people understand how much moral weight comes along with understanding the basic science of climate change. We can’t really fault people who lived fifty years ago for emitting greenhouse gasses, even though some of the key science was already known. What we can and must do is insist that people have a moral responsibility now to emit less, and to help craft the kind of society that will emit dramatically less.

    People who caused the problem in ignorance aren’t the ones whose behaviour can be changed. What needs to change dramatically is how people evaluate the ethical character of their actions. Following that, people are going to have to start making the kind of changes that will put us on a path towards dramatically falling greenhouse gas emissions, ending up at zero before we push the climate system too far.

  12. If plane travel is as green as train travel, somebody should tell our leader.

    From the Guelph Mercury:
    September 23, 2008
    The Canadian Press


    Green party Leader Elizabeth May says her whistle-stop campaign tour is the green way to go and it seems she’s right. May says her cross-country train journey will spew fewer greenhouse-gas emissions into the atmosphere than a plane trip. A carbon offset firm says her claim isn’t just hot air. Jay Goldman of Toronto-based Zerofootprint says May will emit fewer emissions by taking the train from Vancouver to Halifax than by flying. Via Rail’s website says the rail run between the two cities is 6,300 kilometres. Zerofootprint — which Air Canada contracts to runs its carbon offset program — says making the trip by train would result in 651 kilograms of carbon dioxide for each passenger. The calculation for flying is a bit trickier, but using a calculation from a UN panel puts it at almost three times the carbon dioxide as the train.
    That said, when students (or anyone) can hop on a plane and get somewhere quickly, they are more likely to travel long distances more frequently. Businesses are using video-conferencing much more these days — a step in the right direction but not without drawbacks like electronic waste as new, better hardware gets used for these types of things.


  13. What I am saying is that doing three times better still isn’t doing nearly well enough. Until we have some greener modes of travel (such as nuclear powered electric trains), the only really climate friendly option is to travel shorter distances and less often.

  14. In any case, people in 1960s didn’t avoid flying and not by iPods because of concern about the environment (or climate, specifically), but because those options were unavailable or unaffordable. To argue that people should be able to claim moral superiority for past choices made for non-moral reasons is dubious, just like when states that built dams for power in the 1950s claim now that they should get ‘credit for early action’ on climate change.

    What we need to do now is make emitting greenhouse gasses expensive, while simultaneously making it possible for people to live far more low-carbon lives by changing our infrastructure in areas including transport and electricity generation.

    Voluntary frugality can play some role in addressing climate change, but it will never be mainstream or done on a big enough scale to make human emissions fall to zero, and thus stabilize atmospheric concentrations of GHGs and thus global temperature.

  15. nuclear powered electric trains

    Okay, Milan. If you think nuclear powered anything is green, I’m at a loss.

    Nuclear power is responsible for some of the worst pollution on the planet. Less than 1% of the uranium ore that is dug out of the ground using CO2 emitting machinery is usable. The rest is dumped into toxic tailing ponds, a la Eliot Lake. Uranium mine tailings ponds are just one part of it. The fact that spent nuclear fuel will remain toxic for hundreds of thousands of years and we have not yet figured out where to put it is another issue. The fact that nuclear plants and reactors require decades to build with carbon-emitting machinery employing literally millions of tonnes of concrete is another problem.

    Nuclear is the least green of our options. Sheesh! Even “clean coal” makes more sense.

    You make a valid point about iPods and computers not being available. Neither were low emissions vehicles and energy efficient appliances. Concern for CO2 output as it relates to climate chgange was pretty much unknown. If my generation cannot claim the moral high ground for not using high tech electronics, we should not be blamed for f*cking up the planet by using the only technologies available at the time.

    BTW, building large power dams like those built in the 30’s – 50’s did not do much good vis-a-vis climate change. Mega-dam projects do not reduce CO2 output. Like nuclear plants, they increase CO2 output.

    Large scale hydro may not emit CO2 when it is producing energy but there are a couple of caveats. Like any mega project, large dam projects require years of carbon intensive construction and tonnes of carbon intensive concrete production and transportation. Eventually, it can be argued, the CO2 created during construction will be offset by emission free generation.

    The big problem with large scale hydro, however, comes from the way in which it changes the landscape. Large reservoirs flood large areas of land. That land currently has vegetation growing on it. That vegetation consumes CO2. When large areas are flooded, the wild, maintenance-free vegetation that would have kept on sucking CO2 out of the atmosphere forever is killed. Additionally, due to the albedo effect, the vast area of dark coloured water absorbs sunlight and heats the planet quicker than green, relatively lighter-coloured forest or grassland.

    The sad fact is that we probably cannot stop large scale climate change with any magic bullets, nuclear fairy dust, carbon capture, hybrid cars or energy star computers. We can and should try to mitigate the impending climate crisis but we should be spending a lot of time figuring out how we’re going to adapt to the inevitable. Blame won’t be useful in that endeavor.


  16. I wrote a whole article about nuclear power and climate change. There have also been many posts about the implications of choosing nuclear.

    In the end, my view on nuclear power is similar to my view on CCS and geoengineering: nuclear if necessary, but not necessarily nuclear.

    Climate change really changes a lot for the environmental movement. Whereas stalwart resistance to things like nuclear power and big dams may have been sensible in the past, we now need to choose between bad options.

  17. BTW, building large power dams like those built in the 30’s – 50’s did not do much good vis-a-vis climate change. Mega-dam projects do not reduce CO2 output. Like nuclear plants, they increase CO2 output.

    Even when you take into account plant construction, decomissioning, uranium mining, and so forth, nuclear fission still comes out as a rather low-carbon form of electrical production. It has lots of problems (accidents, weapons proliferaiton, cost, etc), but it could make a big difference in decarbonizing electricity. It has already done so in France.

    As for dams, they can do very well even in cases where they flood forested land.

  18. We can and should try to mitigate the impending climate crisis but we should be spending a lot of time figuring out how we’re going to adapt to the inevitable.

    We can’t simply adapt to the 5.5 to 6.1°C of warming that we can expect by 2100 if we don’t effectively mitigate. That much warming would seriously threaten civilization, and possibly the whole human species.

    As such, we need to migitate on a massive scale, using dams and nuclear plants alongside huge improvements in efficiency and other actions. Joined-up planning, of the sort advocated by David MacKay, will be necessary for achieving global carbon neutrality.

  19. … we now need to choose between bad options.
    Didn’t you just rule that out with regard to choosing between plane and train travel?

    Nuclear power and large scale hydro are no more sensible now than they were in the past. Less sensible, actually, now that we know CO2 emissions are destroying the planet and we know that both nuclear and large scale hydro are far from carbon neutral.

    Energy efficiency and conservation are the cheapest alternatives. As time goes by and sea levels rise, facilities like existing coastal nuke plants become underwater liabilities. We will have little choice but to adapt by conserving and becoming more efficient. Those of us who already restrict our travel and other wasteful activities will have a headstart and can lead the way. Just yesterday, I advised an Ottawa columnist how to survive with the heat turned down a few degrees: long underwear. Home-cookin’ and eatin’ local foods are good steps, too.

    Anyways, nuclear is pretty much off the table. The so-called nuclear renaissance was a simply PR campaign and any resemblance to reality has been thoroughly debunked. Nukes are too expensive for even the deep pockets of the Ontario government. In the US, where most new nuke development would need to take place, required private investment is running from the technology. Moody’s Investor services says anyone investing in nukes will have their stocks and bonds reduced to junk status.

    A hundred or so years ago, small towns and cities built small dams for powering sawmills, feed mills, flour mills and spinning mills. Some were used for early hydroelectric generation before coal became so prevalent and cheap grid-supplied power was adopted. Many of those dams and mill ponds still exist. The energy is going to waste and the land was already flooded a century ago. We can start harnessing modern turbines to those old dams and re-use/recycle the energy reservoirs our f*cking parents built.

    Advanced solar technology can make our homes and buildings much more energy self-sufficient. Small scale, distributed power is the future. Mega-projects like Hoover Dams and Bruce Nuclear represent old thinking and will not serve us well in the fight against climate change.

    One small example: here in my SW Ontario area, teh school board has just entered into a partnership with a solar outfit to install PV solar panels on the dozens of flat-roofed schools in two counties. They expect to make $200,000 -$300,000 per year on selling excess energy back to the grid.


  20. When it comes to travel, one of our options is to avoid it. That isn’t really the case when it comes to electricity generation, though we can certainly reduce the need through energy conservation and efficiency.

    When it comes to renewables, I really recommend David MacKay’s excellent free book. He considers all the options – on both the supply and demand side – and gives a pretty good understanding of the scale of the problem we face and how much effort will be required to solve it.

  21. If my generation cannot claim the moral high ground for not using high tech electronics, we should not be blamed for f*cking up the planet by using the only technologies available at the time.

    As I say in the post, it is factually true that past generations made the choices that led to the current problem. I agree, however, that they mostly did so in ignorance of the consequences.

    What we need to establish firmly in people’s minds is that it is no longer ethical to emit greenhouse gasses with no concern for what effect it has on others. With the benefit of current knowledge, both past and current emissions cause harm to other innocent human beings who have no capacity to respond. Producing emissions now falls into the general moral category of intentional harm directed against the defenceless. That isn’t to say people have no right to emit for reasons essential to survival or having a good life, but just to stress that people who emit GHGs are now in a moral relationship with everyone who will live with the effects of a changed climate.

    What the Young Green campaign arguably does it draw attention to the important moral theshold that emerged along with knowledge about climate science.

  22. It has already done so in France.

    The “success” of French nuclear is one of the biggest of the big lies foisted on the public by the nuke industry.

    European Expert: US policymakers wrong about French experience with nuclear power

    The many financial-failure tsunamis of nuclear power

    Recycling France’s Atomic Waste: Nuclear Materials Stored In Siberian Parking Lots

    This summer, like many recent summers, France was forced to shut down many of its nuke plants due to a lack of cool enough river water. As in other hot summers, France imported much of it’s electricity from other EU countries. The fact that French power giant Eon owns many of those foreign facilities made it somewhat easy to hide the fact that the French nuclear model was performing far less efficiently and reliably as touted. The fact that the French government is in the nuyke business (AREVA) is one reason they keep telling the world how great their technology is. Finland is having some huge problems with France due to cost overruns and multi-year delays in building a new plant — Olkiluoto.

    Solar plants ready in 6 months, nuclear in 10+ years

  23. It would be better to debate the merits and issues with solar and nuclear on threads dedicated to those topics, rather than in one on the Young Green campaign (if only for the sake of the many people who come here looking for information through Google).

    Briefly, I never claim that nuclear is anything other than deeply problematic. Cost is a major factor. That being said, I don’t think we can easily reject any technology that offers the possibility of significantly reducing emissions. Surely French emissions would be significantly higher if they had built coal or gas plants instead.

  24. I think the slogan may be effective.

    I suspect older committed environmentalists will share the sentiment that their generation did not place a priority on the environment (albeit as JB points out there were increased awareness and improvements).

    I hope the slogan will shake up younger environmentalists or potential environmentalists to support the Green Party which is the party most committed to the environment.

    Jim I suspect you are I are closer in age than we are to most people who have commented on this entry. (I am 52.). I even expect you may have had your dose of negative remarks regarding our parent’s generation. This was not unhealthy for our generation, and is not unhealthy for the current generation.

  25. Climate change really changes a lot for the environmental movement.

    Previously, I think the environmental movement was mostly concerned with local problems (like water quality) and with protecting nature for its own sake.

    The climate change mitigation movement is really about protecting humanity from disaster, and will probably require us to make other kinds of environmental compromises, perhapy including tolerating nuclear waste.

    The scary thing is how little awareness there is about how threatening climate change is. It’s like we’re driving straight towards a cliff, but most people believe it either doesn’t exist or it will just be a little bump in the road. I wonder whether awareness will deepen before we go over the edge, or only once it is too late to take any corrective action.


    Dear people between the ages of 25 and 40,

    As we near retirement, Mom and I wanted to write you kids to share a few thoughts about the lives we’ve lived and the world we’ve left behind for you. We feel this is necessary because at first glance it might seem like we are a generation of narcissistic, spoiled assholes who freeloaded off of the magnificent world our parents built for us and then cashed out before handing it over to you. This is an unfair characterization. It disregards the fact that we earned the right to do those things. We earned them by being awesome. Haven’t you seen the films of us marching around protesting The Man in the sixties? Or the Woodstock footage that documents the way we changed the world with drugs, bad music, and indiscriminate fucking? We didn’t cash out. We merely took what was due.

    We grew up in a much different world (hence our endless lectures about the way things were in the fifties and sixties) that you kids wouldn’t recognize. Ridiculously cheap energy – at least until 1973 – and the fact that WWII left the rest of the industrialized world in ruins allowed us to grow up with unprecedented prosperity. Even though our parents were minimally educated, blue collar work still paid back then. Of course, none of this is anything that we did. Our parents fought the war and did the hard work. But it sure did give us one hell of a sense of entitlement!

    By the time we got to college we were convinced that the world revolved around us – and we were right! This was back when education was still affordable and the degrees actually made it more likely that one would find a job. The costs didn’t matter much, though, since Mom and Dad footed the bill thanks to that nice, stable employment they enjoyed. When we graduated and started to overtake the rest of the workforce with our sheer numbers we were shocked to learn how many opportunities to enrich themselves our parents’ generation was leaving on the table. Let me tell you, we weren’t about to make that same mistake!

    In closing, kids, our entire adult lives have been guided by a simple philosophy: we got ours, so fuck you. It’s hard to watch you struggle while we live off of all of the things we took away from you in the name of “fiscal responsibility.” Some people might call that greed, but we are the greatest, most special generation of people who ever lived. I think we earned it. Maybe rather that whining and blogging and drinking Pabst you should earn some of these things too. I mean, you have a Master’s Degree and you’re working as a temp! With that kind of lack of ambition, how do you expect to accomplish as much as we have?

  27. ““What we need more than anything else is a mass movement of young people,” Peter Goldmark, director of EDF’s Climate and Air Program, who recently announced his retirement at the end of the year. “In American culture, it is youth that sets the agenda. It’s always been this way. Think who was driving change in the anti-Vietnam war movement, in the civil rights era. They have to mobilize, now, and demand action against global warming.”

    “My generation has failed,” he says flatly. “We are handing over the problem to our children. They—and their children—will live with the worst consequences of climate change. Make no mistake, global warming is happening right now. It is only going to get worse.””

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