For those of you who haven’t had your sleep schedule or commute to work disrupted today, there are ongoing protests across Washington, D.C. seeking to “shut down” the city to demand action on climate change.
Protesters have blocked traffic on main thoroughfares, deliberating targeting high traffic affairs during Monday morning commutes. Protesters have chanted familiar slogans about our collective responsibility to save the planet, and many have been detained by police. Near the entrance to I-395, one white male protester banged an ancestral Native American drum, demanding that the government and the American people collectively address the crisis.
Which was a particularly apt metaphor – both for the protests taking place today, and their demands.
The reasons these specific protest acts are silly are myriad. Blocking traffic – especially unannounced – increases emissions from vehicles (including buses, tractor trailers, and others with high emissions) idling uselessly. Increasing a Monday morning commute early in the school year (and with temperatures expected to clime into the 90s on the first day of fall) is unlikely to win hearts and minds. And that’s to say nothing about the carbon footprint for protesters’ commute to DC and other places nationwide who held rallies over the weekend.
But one impact of these protests currently overlooked by activists (and the mainstream media) is that the real injury done as a result of this civil disobedience falls disproportionately on D.C.’s poor and minority communities.
Think of those who will be harmed by disrupting morning commutes for a well-publicized political costs. Will it be Capitol Hill staffers? High-paid lobbyists? Government bureaucrats?
Of course not. It’ll be workers who are compensated hourly, who face more stringent tardiness consequences, who make less on average than salaried workers, whose job security is far more tenuous, and whose financial safety net is far less secure. These same individuals are less likely to have the financial means to avoid literal roadblocks using ride-hailing apps or other means. And in a city that is 55 percent nonwhite, these consequences disproportionately impact people of color.
This reality is a tragic metaphor for many of the policies these protesters are demanding. Many climate change abatement policies are not only expensive generally but place an outsize burden on minorities and those on the lowest rungs of the financial ladder. While the causes of these co-effects are often complex, one mostly straightforward example is the mandating of alternative, high-cost fuels, favored by many activists. Increasing the cost of something like heat or fuel, where demand is largely inelastic, is more burdensome to those without the financial means to afford the increase. Nationwide, those effects are disproportionately felt by people of color.
These facts underscore the difficulty in effectively making smart policies to address the reality of climate changes But ignoring them does a disservice not only to public policy, but to the millions of minority and low-income Americans that these policies put in their cross-hairs. Protesters may take comfort in the idea of a hedge fund billionaire who can’t afford to fill-up their helicopter. What about the working mother who can’t fill her car’s gas tank, or afford to keep the heat running throughout the winter?
Many people – including many of my millennial peers – have deep, often well-placed concerns about how current policies and activities will impact the world we’ll grow old in and hand off to our children. But this does not permit us – individually or collectively – to tolerate a narrative that continues to be divorced from reality, as so much of the present “climate” movement seems to be. And especially when the consequences of these policies disproportionately harm the most vulnerable among us, they move beyond the harmlessly self-indulgent to the outright dangerous,
Rather than an earnest attempt to affect public policy, today’s stunt was a self-serving attention grab, choreographed and glitterized for the Instagram age, without regard to the consequences for those in our community with the most to lose. If nothing else, it was at least consistent.
Drew Holden is a public affairs consultant in Washington, D.C., and a former Republican congressional staffer in the U.S. House of Representatives