Oct 25 2009
It’s long past time for environmentalists to confront a strategic problem that is partly of their own making. Ideological partisans who favor doing nothing to build our societies on a more sustainable foundation (out of irrational fear that such responsible action would constitute communist-style state interference) have done an excellent job in framing the entire environmental conservation movement within the contentious climate change debate. Perhaps owing to this, the latest Pew study showing Americans are less concerned about global warming than just a year ago (although a majority still does believe the USA should be joining other countries in setting climate change standards). This plays right into the obstructionists’ hands.
The science of climate change can never conclusively prove that humans are to blame for increasingly wacky weather and climate phenomena (ie. melting icecaps, increasing incidence of forest fires, floods, hurricanes and me shoveling the six feet of snow that built up on the roof of my Vancouver apartment building last winter). With so many variables affecting weather and climate, someone can always claim that climate change is really caused by all of the energy expelled in the production of climate change science reports. Without definitive proof, the climate change “debate” degenerates into PR battles that cherry-pick facts to prove… well, nothing. For climate-change “deniers”, that’s the point — lack of 100 per cent verifiability leads to indecision and lack of action. They win by default.
There’s no question that the green movement got its biggest boost in recent history with the screening of Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth”. Since then, the environmental movement has kept on using that film as a centerpiece of green evangelizing. This takes focus off of related environmental issues that seem to have a better chance of changing minds about the need for action at the state level, not just at the local level of those who already buy local, recycle, bike to work and so on. Just a few examples:
1. We’re running out of energy. Remember how high energy prices got before the economy took a nosedive? Back when the economy was humming, demand outpaced supply, driving up the cost of not just the stuff we put into our cars, but everything else. When the economy picks up, energy demand will rise once more, worse than before.
2. Desertification is spreading. When all the water and forests are gone, bad things happen. Look at the poorest, most messed-up countries in the world and you’ll notice that most of them don’t have any trees in them. The area we call the “Fertile Crescent” is practically devoid of forests (as the denizens of this ancient land chopped them down long ago) and is also the number-one flashpoint for violence and conflict in the world. Coincidence? Nope. It’s not all about religion and culture; environmental degradation has already been the cause of poverty, misery, riots, revolutions and interstate conflicts.
3. Pollution kills people. As an example, we have Bangladesh, where air pollution is blamed for taking the lives of 46,000 people per year. That’s fifteen 9/11-sized casualty counts, per year, for one country.
Climate change is important and is connected with all three of the issues mentioned above. But it’s not the only point of discussion. Environmentalists need to hit the obstructionists with the issues — all of the issues. The alternative is debating climate change until long after the environmental issues have become environmental disasters.