Wednesday, January 05, 2011

A global problem and its self-creating solution

A month ago, I attended a talk about "Sustainable Development" by Jeffrey Sachs at Columbia University Center in Amman. In case that name means nothing to you, Sachs is the Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University and author of the book "How to End Poverty". He's an economic activist (if there ever was one) who has campaigned with the likes of Bono to eliminate poverty around the world. Now who wouldn't want to hear from a guy like that? So Sachs comes in and starts talking very generally about sustainable development. Ten minutes into it and the lecture takes a sharp turn; we are suddenly listening to a diatribe about the evils of climate change. Now don't get me wrong, I am not a climate change denier, nor am I a blind follower of the sect either. But I felt like I was scammed into listening to a member of a cult bent on recruiting me.

Sachs' speech gets really heated, describing half of the population of the US as ignorant and some climate change deniers as SOBs (in one case he even dropped the acronym). The thing is, I know where he is coming from. When I read articles like this, where Evangelicals describe environmentalism as "false religion" and say that radical environmentalism “is striving to put America, and the world, under its destructive control”, I'm appalled that people disregard human welfare in such a light manner. But it also makes me think, has the argument for climate change degenerated so much it has become an argument of faith? And if so, are there those who have faith and those who are infidels? If you think I'm exaggerating check out this terrible video that "environmentalists" thought was funny and got their point across:

Isn't the scientific evidence so complicated that it's almost impossible for a lay person to independently believe any of the positions? Why does the discussion have to be so polarized? And can't we blame the environmentalists a little for that? How can we ever find a solution among so much hostility?

I recently read an article about a Swedish city that used waste to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels and actually managed to heat their homes and businesses without resorting to oil, natural gas or coal. This saved them a lot of money, reduced carbon emissions drastically and is making them energy independent. Who wouldn't want that? In another development, Iran has cut fuel subsidies with the valid argument that much of the subsidy was actually going to the rich, because they consume the highest amount of fuel. This will obviously reduce consumption and is another example of how a sane policy decision (regardless of the political backdrop) feeds into the "save the weather" campaign (Yes. I've actually seen that poster in a rally). So the way I see it, excessive carbon emissions are a sign of inefficiency, and whether it's the leading cause of climate change or not, economically, it makes sense to reduce that inefficiency. So why not forget about the why and just focus on the how. The more we save... the better off we are.

A New Scientist article has shown that countries are making unilateral commitments to reduce greenhouse gases regardless of any international agreement. Brazil and China lead in this and are planning for their "green growth". They have invested in technologies that will get them there and it seems to me that whoever decides not to follow suit will find themselves 20 years from now, when fossil fuels run out, lagging behind and still bickering about the existence of snow in the north pole. Yes, I'm talking to you America.

As to you environmentalists I say this (plagiarizing from a Rally for Sanity poster): Why don't you tone down the debate a little and use the more rational line "I disagree with you, but I'm pretty sure your mother is not a female dog." You're not winning any friends with that self-righteous attitude.


Anonymous said...

Your comment "has the argument for climate change degenerated so much it has become an argument of faith?" reminded me of an epic South Park episode (

Basically about several atheist groups battling each other to death. Faith and zealousness indeed!

Nis said...

I don’t understand, I thought that environment loving and tree hugging are synonymous with peacefulness and non-violence!

I just reported the video as inappropriate as i think it is not only tasteless but encourages criminal hateful acts against those who disagree and insinuates self censorship.

Nadine said...

I've heard many rational and moderate arguments for climate change, and scientists (not economists) usually present data, instead of calling people names and getting heated up. (I recommend downloading the latest episode of This American Life: Kid Politics). The thing is that scientists gather evidence and make observations. The climate change skeptics listen to Glenn Bleck on a daily basis and turn it into an ideological argument, and they no longer hear the rational side of the discussion. My point is that, no matter how rational you make your argument, it is very difficult to a change someone's mind, when they have been told to "believe" a certain perspective from a very young age.
The same can be said for the evolution argument. Evolution is a scientific theory based on extensive observations and data, not a belief system. In other words, if there is evidence to the contrary, then the theory is adjusted or changed to accomodate the new information. Religious institutions teach a biblical version of creation, pitting it against evolution in the public sphere, and manage to turn evolution into into a belief system. Most creationists I've interacted with find evolution to be an "absurd belief system", which of course, it is not. I once told a church going individual that I support the theory of evolution (naturally, as an agnostic scientist) and he was in shock. I tried to explain the scientific basis of evolution in the most lay person way possible, without any name calling or emotion in my argument, and may have shock his core a little bit. A very little bit. But, it's not easy, and this particular person is highly educated. For the majority of those who believe more than they think, rational, moderate arguments can be futile. I think what you're seeing in the media from the climate change people is a frustration at the futility of presenting rational, data based arguments.