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Reprinted with permission Mises Institute Kevin Van Elswyk
Modern secular society embraces a new religion complete with prophets, crusaders, commandments, contrition, and even a holy land: East Anglia, United Kingdom. These congregants will behave idiosyncratically in the economy. The activist green movement increasingly parallels Western religious structure, even generating a modern version of the medieval Children’s Crusade.
Motivated by hope, the first Children’s Crusade assembled in 1212 under the preteen leadership of two boys countries apart—Stephen of Cloyes (France) and Nicholas of Cologne. One claimed a vision and the other a letter from Christ, sparking a movement to retake Jerusalem from the city’s Muslim conquerors. The boys’ preaching and zealous piety created what some historians have called mass hysteria.
Greta Thunberg of Norway has become a leader of the second Children’s Crusade. “How dare you?” she scolds as she issues press releases and speaks globally, seemingly without adult manipulation, speechwriters, coaches, press managers, or stylists. Into this publicity storm steps a second leader, charismatic young Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of Brooklyn, New York. A “cool” older sister who galvanizes children’s fear of imminent death, she claimed in early 2019 that “we have 12 years left.” These two figures have many willing acolytes.
The first Children’s Crusade was spontaneous; it carried no papal blessing or church authentication. However, the current movement has Pope John Kerry, resident envoy on climate, who commends the crusade.
Official records and accounts are open to contrasting interpretations, but historians converge on a size for the thirteenth-century Children’s Crusade of between 15,000 and 30,000 participants. Many of these were marginalized people who had neither skill, nor money, nor weapons to recapture Jerusalem. Children had the largest representation.
The populace during the first Children’s Crusade was ripe for naïve solutions. Prior crusades had gained Jerusalem but failed to hold it. Believers wanted blessings from the relic of the true cross; pleasing God, Jerusalem would be wrested from the infidels. The citizenry had been taught from the crib that crusaders were heroes and that anyone losing their life on crusade would be rewarded in heaven. Lacking prospects in the nasty, brutish, and short life of the underclass, these crusaders may have been desperate.
In 1212 thousands were led across the Alps to Italy, with many dying along the way. Those surviving the trek expected the Mediterranean to part like the Red Sea. Some marched on to French Mediterranean ports to embark for the Holy Land; many were lost at sea or sold into slavery.
The second Children’s Crusade officially dawned in Senator Diane Feinstein’s office on February 23, 2019. Children as young as seven years old from the Sunrise Movement pleaded with Feinstein to immediately adopt new, green ideas, so they would still be alive twelve years later. They demanded that Feinstein look at their faces as future victims (not you, Diane, you’re old) of climate/global change/warming. She responded, “You didn’t vote for me.”
Today’s climate prophets preach inconvenient truths. There is a doctrinal revelation (via science) that must influence daily life. There is a dogma of procedural remedies, with wind and solar as its catechism. And there are traditional struggles for virtue against the omnipresent and seductive sin of Oil.
With no hope for the future, believers adopt tribal behavior rules. Zealously embracing the new tenets allows virtuous scolding of outsiders. Outrageous acts against culture and history are praised: soup poured on priceless art, hands glued to museum walls, “die-ins” staged to block traffic, and milk poured out in resistance to global warming. Student walkouts solidify tribal status.
In June 1989, a “senior” United Nations environmental official predicted that if the trend were not reversed by 2000, entire nations could disappear. In 2006 Nobel Prize–winner Al Gore predicted that in ten years the Earth could be a “frying pan.” Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez thinks humans could be extinct in twelve years.
The second Children’s Crusade mirrors the first in many ways. Environmental fears have been taught in twenty-first-century schools since kindergarten. There is frustration with the lack of progress in addressing climate change. There is fear, leading to desperation; the children are considering how short their lives will be. Covid isolation has made socialization difficult and the future unappealing. Long-term goals of education and family formation are dissipating. There is only now for this generation’s spending.
Meanwhile, as the ice disappears in Greenland we find Viking bones and artifacts. Polar bear populations have increased in some places and are stable in others. Hunting artifacts are being exposed in melting Alaskan and Norwegian glaciers. Are we heading toward a cooling period, yes or no? Will solar minima slow the arrival of our doom?
This panicked rush to the doors focuses on elimination of carbon emissions without the help of the three largest developing economies; we will not reach the heaven of Carbon Zero. We are ignoring geoengineering efforts to mitigate suspected warming. Efforts like no-till farming, open-field grazing, feldspar applications to fields, and planting trees to rebuild the carbon sink could contribute toward a planned, cost-effective mitigation.
Parents in 1212 locked their children at home to prevent them from being swept up—in a Pied Piper moment—in the Crusade and its speciousness. In 2023, especially after the early covid predictions, parents need to take their children aside and teach them to be suspicious of these precise predictions of climate doom.
Generation Z citizens need to take a flinty look at the climate debate. From Robert Malthus 225 years ago to global cooling alarmists of the early ’70s to doomsayers of the twenty-first century’s global climate change panic, predictions have not been challenged adequately. The current dialogue labels disagreement with the new green religion precepts as heretical.
Today’s crusade is drawing from a pool of distressed teens. Psychologists are alarmed at the rate of suicidal ideation and attempts in this generation. Among adolescents aged twelve to seventeen in 2020, 17 percent (or 4.1 million people) had had a major depressive episode in the past year. Twelve percent of that same age group had had serious thoughts of suicide. Fifty-five percent of the female high school population had reported feelings of hopelessness.
Jonathan Haidt of the New York University Stern School of Business commented to the Wall Street Journal on Gen Z’s high anxiety profile, concluding that they are “‘less likely to swing for the fences, . . . start [their] own company. . . . I hear from a lot of managers . . . that it’s very difficult to supervise their Gen-Z employees, that it’s very difficult to give them feedback.’ That makes it hard for them to advance professionally by learning to do their jobs better.”
The threat of incineration interrupts the American Dream and may underlie “quiet quitting” trends. This fear will affect education, the economy, and family formation.
Kevin is a 10-year adjunct associate professor most recently with University of Maryland’s Global Campus. He lives in Brookfield Wisconsin and happily has time to read, tie flies, think, and write.
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