Are you a climate hawk? #ClimateChange #auspol #qldpol

Being a climate hawk is not easy for anyone.

David RobertsJan 27, 2018, 8:30am EST

Environmentalists and climate hawks are not the same thing

When I first started covering climate change, I kept running into the same problem.

The only term available to describe those concerned about climate change was “environmentalists,” and that just didn’t work.

Not all environmentalists prioritize climate change and not everyone concerned about climate change would self-identify as environmentalist.

Climate change will damage natural systems, yes, but it will also be an economic drain, a cause of migration and conflict, and driver of social inequality.

Anyone who cares about any of that ought to care about climate change — even if they have no particular love for nature and don’t recycle.

There ought to be a word for people who care about climate change that does not commit them to all the cultural and ideological presuppositions of environmentalism.

So way back in 2010, I introduced “climate hawk” (you can read the origin and rationale in this post, or in shorter form in this tweet thread).

“Climate hawk” implies no particular value system, and it certainly implies no position on organic food or camping.

One can be both a climate hawk and an environmentalist (some of my best friends …), but as the story above shows, they do not always jibe.

They are not the same, not only demographically but in terms of real-world political and policy decisions.

Being a committed, consistent climate hawk will occasionally put one at odds with the rhetorical tropes, policy habits, and priorities of environmentalism.

Think solar panels in fragile desert ecosystems.

Wind turbines that kill birds.

Transmission lines that bisect species habitats.

And my personal obsession: urban density and public transit (both crucial to decarbonization).

The wealthy developed world, but especially the US West Coast, is filled with liberals and environmentalists who are perfectly willing to drive a Prius and buy organic veggies, but raise holy hell if anyone tries to build a bike lane, light rail station, or new housing anywhere near them.

It’s one thing to go to the occasional march, but giving up on-street parking?

Let’s be serious.

Being a climate hawk is a challenge to everyone, eventually

Here’s the the thing, though.

Being a climate hawk and an environmentalist at the same time is occasionally challenging, but being a climate hawk and anything else is occasionally challenging.

Anyone who really digs in and follows the logic of climate change, who understands both the risks and the extraordinary mobilization required to avoid them, will eventually find that climate concern bangs up against their other values and priorities.

I have called this climate change’s “totalizing tendency” — the more you absorb it, the more it eclipses everything else.

It is genuinely difficult to wrap your head around the scale of action needed to avoid catastrophic changes in the climate.

It would mean an immediate, sustained global mobilization of a sort that has no precedent in human history.

If something like that mobilization were to happen, it would not be gentle or pretty.

It would not unfold according to the best-laid plans of wonks.

Some people, landscapes, and legitimately worthwhile priorites would suffer in the short- to mid-term.

One example: environmentalists often cite studies showing that high penetrations of renewables are possible in the US. But those studies all show that achieving high penetrations requires a country-spanning network of new transmission lines.

If there’s a study showing how to fully decarbonize without tons of new transmission, I haven’t seen it.

So yes, transmission lines connecting zero-carbon power sources and loads might disrupt some people and ecosystems, but systematically opposing them simply isn’t commensurate with being a climate hawk.

Another example: full decarbonization would require, among other things, an enormous industrial shift.

Tens, maybe hundreds of thousands of jobs in polluting industries would be wiped out and workers displaced.

There would be new jobs in clean energy, but the US has not typically handled such workforce transitions well.

Being a climate hawk means accepting serious social and economic disruption.

Decarbonization will also involve a mind-boggling amount of manufacturing, building, and retrofitting.

Multiple solar and wind gigafactories would be built every year.

Renewables would cover every open surface.

Every city would be as dense and transit-served as possible.

Being a climate hawk means accepting that some natural areas will be turned over to energy production and that “the character of the neighborhood” is going to be disrupted by infill and multi-modal transportation systems.

Conservative climate hawks may have to tolerate climate solutions that involve heavy government intervention.

Farmer climate hawks may have to tolerate swaths of their land being claimed for transmission lines or wind turbines.

Wealthy climate hawks may have to tolerate restrictions on their consumer purchases or airline travel.

Environmentalist climate hawks may have to tolerate large-scale carbon sequestration or new rivers given over to dams. And so on.

That’s what “crisis” means. It’s what “existential” means.

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