France and Belgium are seeing thousands in the streets for both the Yellow Vest and environmentalist causes. The reality is that these two groups don't go together, because while the Yellow Vests express the concerns of real-life working people, the climate protesters are fuelled by the questionable orchestration of youth activists.
The Yellow Vest movement, now in its third month of protest activity, has riled up low-income and lower middle class workers against the fiscal policies of French president Emmanuel Macron. The same is true in Belgium, which has very large fiscal burdens, including on people with limited incomes. The "Gilets jaunes" movement was sparked by increases in fuel taxes by the government, which is trying to respect promises made at the Paris Climate Accord in 2015. After a number of overwhelmingly large and aggressive protests, president Macron and Prime Minister Edouard Philippe dropped the plans for tax increases.
Meanwhile, France and Belgium are seeing the phenomenon of young people demonstrating at the "March pour le climat" ("March for Climate"). They are demanding the fight against climate change become a key component of government policy in both countries. As someone who has lived in Brussels, I wonder what more the activists would have the government do in addition to the current strict regulations on recycling, highly subsidised public transport, carbon taxes, expensive fuel, expensive heating prices, and subsidies for the construction of passive houses. Any new suggested measures would inevitably increase spending or the level of taxes that individuals will have to pay. After all, carbon taxes are nothing but indirect taxes on consumers.
This will reignite the opposition of the Yellow Vests, who rightfully see fiscal oppression of consumers through climate change action. What is the cause of such a disconnect? A striking difference is the age discrepancy between both groups of protesters. The Yellow Vests express the concerns of purchasing power of working adults, while the climate change protests are composed of young people being riled up by the media or their parents against what they perceive to be the polluting elite.
During a youth climate protest in Brussels, 35,000 youngsters showed up, demanding more "climate action." At the latest Climate March in Brussels, there were a large number of children carrying signs asking for myriad regulations to reduce carbon emissions.
In response, the Flemish separatist politician Theo Francken posted the following on Facebook (translated):
"Dad where is my phone?
When do we go skiing?
Where will we go on holidays this year?
- We'll stay home.
Does the heating work?
- Yes, it goes to 18°C.
Can you drive me to football practice?
- You can cycle.
Dad, why are you doing this?
- You convinced me that something needs to be done about the climate."
Herein lies the truth behind climate change activism: nobody wants to foot the bill. Even more disturbing, and clearly falling into the category of creepy politicisation of the young, is how the media coverage of the protest has evolved. News outlets are happy to exploit youth engagement for the purpose of underlining the importance of climate action.
Slate France writes, "The children of the world are attacking their governments. And it works!", DH Belgium quotes 4 year-old children saying "we are hotter [for this protest] than the climate", Le Vif calls the activism "magnificent". The New York Times calls the protest "a shame for the city where the European Union fixes European Climate Policy", while the BBC uncritically reports that children were being brought by their own parents in an effort not to miss school.
After recent protests, Belgian news site Het Laatste Nieuws (HLN) gives us "the highlights" seen at climate rallies. In the photo below, visibly underage girls hold signs that would be unimaginable for rallies other than those supporting approved narratives.
The same goes for the activism of 16 year-old Greta Thunberg, who is currently at the center of youth climate protests. Even the World Economic Forum posts a video with her to their Twitter account, without any pushback on the policy proposals she makes.
The crux of the issue is this: 16-year-old Greta is a great symbol for those at the World Economic Forum who argue for even more taxes on companies, as well as new and higher carbon taxes. The European Union is also more than content to tolerate children's protests in the heart of Brussels because it drums up support for the introduction of new carbon taxes on an EU-wide level. And when these children grow old and start to work themselves, they will discover that the digital taxes reduced companies' margins, causing an increase in prices, and that all the different carbon taxes were designed to make a large number of goods unavailable. Reality will hit hard, and, as with the example of the Yellow Vests, it might hit those in power even harder.
If you want to make an argument on policy grounds, make it with the help of facts and coherent policy arguments, not with the guilt-inducing face of a 4-year-old who doesn't truly understand for what he or she is arguing, nor by primary and secondary school students who enjoyed their day off yelling in the streets before their mother picked them up in an SUV.
To those saying that children shouldn't be criticised for their political beliefs: remember the Covington kids and how they were treated.
Pictures are Creative Commons.