Recently, US Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a prominent vocal supporter of The Green New Deal, had a town hall interrupted by a climate change denier. This sparked another wave of social media tongue-in-cheek climate change denialism with the hashtag “#EatTheChildren.” The argument is that the offered proposals tackling climate change are so radical that eating our kids isn’t that far of a stretch.
While the science is no longer deniable, why can’t we move past disagreeing to actually doing something? Economists can lend us some insight: we are amidst a coordination failure problem. This is a situation where everyone in an economy just can’t come to a mutual understanding that a little extra effort on the part of everybody can lead the entire system to a better outcome. Being so focused on how we can achieve our own success, not enough of us are paying attention to the totality of those personal decisions—we’re in a trap.
As we continue to bicker amongst ourselves, our current looming ecological disasters continue to darken our prospects for a bright future. Oceans are rising. Weather events are intensifying. All of which are straining disaster relief funding in many countries.
Admittedly, it’s a deeply complex problem. Population growth and development are, in some ways, opposing forces that have led us into this trap. The technological progress in medicine and nutrition that has fostered rapid development has also led to unprecedented levels of humans on our planet. This population growth has strained ecological systems to the point of collapse.
Equity is key: developed countries do indeed owe the underdeveloped fair opportunity. Yet across the board, industry is threatened by many proposed changes. Economic development, they argue, should be the number one priority. Proposals to curb pollution, effectively putting a price on enterprise activity, are declared to impede progress in both rich countries and those with large poor populations yearning for the same quality of life.
Solutions exist to help us decouple this tragic link between growth and pollution. Waste treatment, water desalination and purification technology is steadily advancing. Deposit fees and payment programs for recyclable products or waste not only incentivizes conservation but has also helped reduce poverty levels in Latin American communities. Moreover, progressive policies focusing on women’s rights, birth control, and education have drastically reduced birth rates in rapidly developing countries. Education campaigns that increase environmental awareness in developed countries help promote efficient resource consumption. All of these are steps in the right direction.
We all want to live in a world that isn’t a dystopian nightmare overrun with waste and degradation. But we seem to be waiting for a miracle to fix what we have wrought.
The point? Collective effort. Instead of holding out for mana falling from the sky to solve our ecological predicament, a prevailing culture of inaction is what policymakers should be addressing. Not putting in meaningful effort into escaping this trap may mean we won’t need to eat the children. Our planet will do that for us.