Debate Me, Bro

The climate delayers are getting really annoying + Mary's new cocktail "The Procrastinator"
Debate Me, Bro

The Procrastinator

By Mary Annaïse Heglar

No joke, I created this cocktail recipe while I was procrastinating from writing. I was supposed to make a simple gin and tonic: Gin + Tonic = simple. It got out of hand. Enjoy!

1 1/2 ounces of Gin

¾ ounces ginger liqueur

Juice of 1 lime

3-5 dashes bitters

5-7 slices of cucumber (or more, idc)

Tonic water to top off

Mix everything but the tonic water in a cocktail and pour over ice. Top with tonic water. Now, you actually have to write. It’s a contractual obligation.

And SPEAKING of procrastinating… these fucking guys:

Debate Me Bro

By Amy Westervelt

Have you noticed more folks arguing for technological solutions and against social changes to address the climate crisis lately? Or the rash of "hey don't panic about this climate thing" books? Some people call these folks carbon bros, others call them ecomodernists, climate delayers, lukewarmers … I call them Debate-Me bros. Debate-Me bros believe, essentially, that we really just need technological fixes to deal with climate change: new energy sources, a food system made more efficient by technology, gadgets that suck CO2 out of the air, and various adaptation approaches. Social change is both a waste of time and an impossible feat, attempted only by silly people who either don't understand the problem or don't understand the technological solutions.

For a while now the debate-me bro approach to climate change has rubbed me the wrong way…sometimes it even pissed me the fuck off. Here's the thing though: The idea that a tech-only solution will even work—that it's the power source, not the power structure that's the problem—seems like something only a very privileged demographic could believe.

It also tends to go hand-in-hand with another big talking point: that acting on climate change is not urgent. That panicking about climate impacts will cause more harm than good. That if you were really that concerned about it, you would back their preferred solutions (like nuclear power, fracking, and GMOs to pick a few), but since you refuse to do so that must mean that either climate change isn't a crisis or you're posturing. It's a super great way to win the sort of debate-me bro arguments that dominate Twitter and some corners of the media universe, but it doesn't seem like a path to actual solutions that work for actual people.

Anyhow, this shit's been annoying me for a while, but I question everything all the time, including my own opinions and beliefs. And a few months ago, I found myself equally annoyed by someone ranting about the Debate-Me Bros—I thought well, I find these guys annoying too, but surely not all of their ideas are just bad, plus we need all sorts to solve the climate problem, right? So, I spent a solid couple of months delving into what Debate-Me Bros really think, what exactly they're proposing, and how they arrived at those ideas. I read about deep adaptation and ecomodernism, caught up on the latest geoengineering ideas, and spoke with various thought leaders in these spaces. It was both enlightening and unsettling.

There were some things I wholeheartedly agreed with: we need to decarbonize quickly and ought to use any means available to do so. The environmental movement does have a history of classism and racism. (However, the Debate-Me Bros lose me with their argument that it's racist and classist to deny developing countries the ability to pollute as much as everyone else, which just so happens to be the same argument fossil fuel companies make.) There can be a tendency amongst climate folk to idealize pastoral, subsistence living while enjoying all the conveniences of modern life themselves. And there is a lack of ideas for what to do about the systems in place, beyond a slightly more compassionate version of capitalism.

What I found unsettling, though, was how detached these Debate-Me Bros are from either the problem or the solutions they propose. If everything is a thought exercise, a debate-me-bro semantic argument, then, sure, you can propose all sorts of things that pencil out on paper but sound absolutely terrible in real life. Like the argument that—actually, when you think about it—concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) are an environmentally preferable way to provide meat to the masses. That’s a real argument made by a lot of supposedly smart white people! Because they require less land than free-range animals, the thinking goes, CAFOs wreak less havoc on biodiversity and thus we should be pushing them as a sustainable food solution.

Of course this leaves out the land required to grow feed for these animals, the impact the waste from these operations has on soil and water for hundreds of miles, and so forth. It's the sort of "gotcha,” smartest-guy-in-the-room reasoning that bros love and everyone else finds too annoying and exhausting to even engage with. So what tends to happen is these dudes (it's mostly dudes, sorry not sorry) run around the Internet well-actually-ing and debate-me-bro-ing and people who live in reality are like I don't have time for this shit, and the Debate-Me Bros go "aha, I have bested you!"

But more importantly this tech-and-data-only approach to solving a complex, and very social, problem like climate change leaves out two very human things that are critical to solving any big societal problem: morality and free will. It is an unbelievably sad and cynical view of our species to say humans cannot possibly choose to behave better, so let's just try to triage our impact on the planet a bit. It's also the sort of suggestion you make when you personally won't really be affected if social systems stay the same, and particularly when you might actually lose power and privilege if they change.

Technocrats—the vast majority of whom seem to be acting out some sort of teenage rebellion against hippie parents or their own hippie pasts—also often accuse those who don't agree with them of being social imperialists of a sort: sitting in their air-conditioned apartments telling the Global South they can't have cheap energy, eating their gourmet vegan meals yelling that poor people shouldn't eat burgers. That sort of thing. And yet, it's hard to find a poor or non-white member of their club, and their "solutions" mostly boil down to imperialistic decrees about which technologies would be best deployed where, and a whole lot of assumptions about what poor people need and want. In other words, speaking FOR the Global South without speaking TO them, save for the occasional tokenized spokesperson.

This week as the West burns, Michael Shellenberger, proud author and Debate-Me Bro Poster Boi, is literally challenging every climate person on the internet to a debate. He emailed me with that challenge a couple months ago, and, yes, I do feel special. His debate now is whether climate change is to blame for these fires or whether, WELL ACTUALLY it's bad development and forest management policies… as if it can't be all three, and as if Shellenberger himself hasn't said as much! Earlier this year, for example, he told me , "it’s not that there's no impact of climate. Fire season is longer. It appears as though there may be more droughts, there may be less precipitation. Those are definitely factors. … But they're just sort of overwhelmed by these other factors."

The Debate-Me Bros want very badly to impose an either-or, black-or-white frame on a sprawling, complex, and nuanced problem. They seek to categorize people, to cherry pick facts, to win an argument above all else. Which is amusing because they also retreat into the "civility" conversation if anyone takes the bait … as if people who feel their lives are on the line are supposed to be polite about it. Shellenberger emailed me upset that I had been friendly during our conversation only to criticize him later, for example. For some fellas who wanna take all the social stuff out of climate, they’re hella sensitive! How are these guys possibly the best equipped to tackle a problem as thorny and complex as climate change?

Not for the first time, I find myself dreaming of how nice it would be if we could hear more from people for whom this is not a theoretical or technical problem to be worked out on paper, debated like a philosophy lecture in a college dorm room, but for whom these big decisions mean the difference between hunger and starvation, life and death.

P.S. For a perspective about the Global South from the Global South, check out professor Farhana Sultana


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