April 25, 2015

Climate science denial of environmentalism

There is great anxiety in certain quarters about convincing "nonbelievers" of the dire truth about anthropogenic climate change.

The desperation of that effort suggests that accepting climate science isn’t in fact the real issue. That’s because there is no reason to question the science, unless one has doubts about what is being done with it.

The fact is that most people in line with the science aren’t doing anything more meaningful about it than people who question the science. Climate science is used mostly as a cudgel to promote new businesses (that are just as harmful to the planet, such as nuclear power, or even more so, such as biofuel) or – perhaps even more importantly – as a distraction from other, usually more immediate, problems that have obvious – but politically more challenging – solutions (eg, climate change is probably the least serious of the threats to The Everglades, but since nobody is directly to blame, nobody has to worry about being forced to actually do anything about it).

A glaring example of the cynical use of climate change – in the win-win-win of politicians and businesses expressing concern while promoting each others’ purely venal interests and of environmental groups taking their cut and keeping membership numbers growing by making it easy to save the planet with mere symbolic gestures. The lack of seriousness regarding climate change is most evident in the acquiescence to animal agriculture. Animal agriculture is conservatively estimated to contribute as much greenhouse effect as all transportation (not to mention its being the leading cause of many other environmental effects, such as deforestation and water depletion and pollution). Furthermore, most of that greenhouse effect is due to methane (CH₄), which persists in the atmosphere a small fraction of the time that carbon dioxide (CO₂) does, so that decreasing it would have almost immediate climate benefit. In contrast, benefits from reducing CO₂ would not be seen for many decades, even centuries. Yet reducing consumption of meat and dairy – which is as easy as switching lightbulbs – is almost never mentioned by those who fight to defend the science of climate change.

Accepting climate science does not make one an environmentalist. It actually often seems to enable a denial of environmental concerns.

Most real solutions to social and environmental problems would also benefit the carbon balance of the atmosphere, so accepting climate science is not actually important. Analogously, one doesn’t have to accept (let alone understand) the science of biological evolution to support protecting species and habitat.

These are culture-war sideshows that only serve business as usual, not positive change.