Paul Andersen: Climate, capitalism and classroom conflict in Aspen |

Paul Andersen: Climate, capitalism and classroom conflict in Aspen

Paul Andersen
Fair Game

The Aspen Times reported earlier this month that a group of Aspen parents objected to local climate change activities that resulted in bullying their children, confronting them with apocalyptic propaganda and creating a polarizing atmosphere in high school classrooms.

During last month’s Global Climate Strike, students were allowed to skip school and “march in lockstep with the international cause.”

These parents also charged that “left-leaning political views are seeping into the halls and classrooms of the Aspen School District and their children have felt ridiculed because of their conservative beliefs and upbringing.”

Parents have a right to protect their children from bullying and peer pressure, but on climate there is a growing demand for accountability and social leverage for change. Awareness of climate is what protests, school strikes and media campaigns rightfully foment in modest displays of civil disobedience.

And while it may come as a shock, Aspen and Pitkin County have been left-leaning for decades. That’s a good thing given that the right-leaning, conservative agenda has denied meaningful action on climate until now — when fast and meaningful change is being demanded by the world’s youth.

“What drives this agenda?” one parent asked. “What is the true agenda? Is the agenda really climate change? I’d say no. The agenda is against capitalism. Climate change is a way to get there, to fight capitalism and get to the socialist narrative?”

Here’s the zinger: Politicizing climate change deflects the issue into ideology and removes it from science. Climate activism is denounced as a rationale for a political movement away from the sacred capitalist screed and into the black hole of godless socialism.

From the mouths of babes … climate science is gaining ground against lockstep obeisance to capitalistic doctrine, making it a more pressing social agenda than racking up the next big windfall on one’s stock portfolio.

Climate confronts the American myth of the frontier mentality, the cornucopian delusion of infinite resources. Diehard capitalists cling to this frontier mentality without acknowledging the accompanying pioneering frugality that cherished resources and used them wisely. Thomas Jefferson described it as “usufruct” and Gifford Pinchot advocated it as “wise use.”

“They’re teaching on iPads,” one outraged parent pointed out, “which are made out of fossil fuels. My (child) doesn’t bring home any books. He doesn’t use a book but in one class. Everything that we use is made of fossil fuels.”

Awareness at last! But everyone doing it doesn’t make it OK, and that’s the point of climate activists who insist with legitimate moral force that since we’re all in this together, as carbon contributors, we ought to be together in facing the problem and finding solutions.

A recent New York Times op-ed calling for a new form of capitalism accepted that, “Yes, free markets — and societies that cherish scientific research and innovation — have pioneered new industries, discovered cures that have saved millions from disease, and unleashed prosperity that has lifted billions of people out of poverty.

“But capitalism as it has been practiced in recent decades — with its obsession on maximizing profits for shareholders — has also led to horrifying inequality … and the relentless spewing of carbon emissions pushing the planet toward catastrophic climate change.”

The prescribed antidote is a “fair, equal and sustainable capitalism that actually works for everyone and where businesses, including tech companies, don’t just take from society but truly give back and have a positive impact.”

Altruism tempers capitalism. Man no longer stands above the natural world but accepts that nature does, indeed, have limits. Carbon is foremost as a radicalizing game-changer.

The climate issue has gripped the young because their future depends on action taken today. Hence the strident note to their collective voices and the urgency to their means. When preserving your future, direct action empowers — especially the young.

If only their parents – my “ge-ge-generation” — had adopted the same collective passion when the tip of the iceberg first emerged decades ago, debates over systemic socio-economic upheavals might not need be as polarizing as they are today.

But we didn’t, so they are, and that heightened activism is being led by children who can’t vote except through schools and social media, their only political platforms.

Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays. He may be reached at

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