Increasingly, climate agitators want action, not distraction. That often requires demonizing anyone who stands in the way. In July the climate editor of the Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad complained that Paris’s declaration of a “climate state of emergency” on July 9 had not been accompanied by a ban on automobile traffic in Paris or by a dimming of the lights on the Eiffel Tower. In Germany the word “Flugscham” is one of the last year’s more interesting coinages. It means not fear of flying but shame of flying, and of the pollution it brings about. The German economist Niko Paech urges shaming people for booking cruises and driving S.U.V.s, too.
Behind the new boldness of climate activists is the assumption that ordinary Europeans’ good intentions are sincere and their inaction is hypocritical. It could be the other way around. Whatever the case, Europeans’ slowness to act on the climate cannot simply be dismissed as “denial.” Those who read the United Nations reports and tut-tut but fail to take to the streets might be less resolute — but they might simply disagree, or have other priorities.
Democracy often calls for waiting and seeing. Patience may be democracy’s cardinal virtue. Climate change is a serious issue. But to say, “We can’t wait,” is to invite a problem just as grave.