Activism, Environment, recent

False Humility Will Not Save the Planet

At the root of our climate problem, writes Pope Francis in his ecological encyclical Laudato Si, lies our human pride and arrogance: “The misuse of creation begins when we no longer recognize any higher instance than ourselves, when we see nothing else but ourselves.” Coming from a Catholic Pope, such sentiments are hardly surprising. For centuries, Christians thinkers have railed against pride as the first and worst among the seven deadly sins. But Francis is far from alone in his view. Many climate activists today, even though they don’t necessarily believe in a personal deity, share Francis’ diagnosis of our environmental worries. They too believe that our climate crisis is the result of human overreach and arrogance, of overstepping natural boundaries. Indeed, this secular environmentalist worldview comes with its own account of the fall of man from an original state of harmony with Nature. Once upon a time, humans lived as an animal alongside other animals, keenly aware of our proper place within a larger ecosystem. We enjoyed nature’s bountiful resources, but we were respectful of her limits. But then along came the scientific revolution and, soon after that, the industrial revolution. By unravelling Nature’s mysteries we gained mastery over her, and we began to treat her as an object to be mercilessly exploited. We turned, as a species, into planetary plunderers.

It’s a compelling narrative but, much like the Genesis story of original sin, it’s hogwash. When we were still living as hunter-gatherers, our ecological footprint was substantially higher, per capita, than today. Our ancestors laid a larger claim on the ecosystem, in return for a much lower standard of living. With a population of no more than a few million, humans managed to wipe out all of the large land animals almost everywhere they set foot. It was the same story with deforestation: relatively small human populations brought about large-scale destruction. Today our planet hosts 7.7 billion people, and our lives are wealthier and healthier than ever before, but if we all lived like our hunter-gatherer forebears, the planet could support about 100 million of us at most. The main reason why our ancestors didn’t wreak even greater ecological havoc is that they numbered too few and died too young.

The right way to look at anthropogenic climate change is as an unexpected side-effect of something that, by and large, proved an immense blessing to humanity. Sure, if we had left all those fossilized remains of ancient animals and plants under the ground, we would not now be stuck with rising global temperatures. But then our lives would also have remained solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short, as they had been for the better part of world history until around 1800. Eventually, the Industrial Revolution even turned out to be good news for Nature. Once humans had gained access to an abundant source of high-density energy such as coal, they no longer had to cut down forests to cook food or to keep warm, and they stopped hunting whales to fill their oil lamps. Historical research shows that pollution in Europe was much worse in the Middle Ages, and that three quarters of global deforestation occurred before 1800, not after. According to WWF’s Living Planet Index, nature is starting to flourish again in wealthy, industrialized countries. Forests are being restored, rivers are teeming with life again, and wildlife that had disappeared for decades or even centuries is making a steady comeback.

But all that is history. How about the future, in particular the future of our climate? Those who believe that human arrogance is at the root of our climate crisis tend to believe that the remedy can be summarized in one word: less. Less consumption and waste, less traveling, less material stuff, less globalization and trade, perhaps also less people. We have to trace back our steps and regain a state of harmony with nature again. Instead of cherishing “fairy tales of endless economic growth,” as Greta Thunberg put it, we should start thinking about de-growth. The main trouble with this worldview, which is still the dominant one in the climate movement, is not just that it hankers after an original state of harmony with nature that never existed, or that it neglects the immense benefits brought by fossil fuels. It is that, ironically, it fails to realize the true magnitude of our climate mission. Our long-term goal, as laid down in the Paris climate agreement, is not just to mitigate our emissions somewhat, but to bring them down all the way to zero. All this should happen within the timespan of half a century and in the teeth of growing population levels and sharply increasing demands for energy, especially in developing countries. By doing less of everything and increasing our energy efficiency, we can surely cut down our greenhouse emissions somewhat, but we will never manage to cancel them altogether. Even someone who abides by all the latest rules of an eco-friendly lifestyle—eating strictly vegan, never flying, always buying local—will still be responsible for greenhouse gas emissions, for the simple reason that fossil fuels are everywhere: in steel and aluminum, in plastics and paper, in cement and artificial fertilizer, in housing and agriculture. Eight billion people living like climate saints would still produce billions of tons of carbon dioxide every year.

Here’s the nub of the problem. Fossil fuels deliver a range of important services to humanity, which have historically been responsible for the unprecedented levels of wealth and prosperity we are enjoying today. So the challenge before us is to find carbon-neutral alternatives for all these services, which deliver all the benefits but not the costs. This means that we need technological solutions in aviation, in agriculture, in steel production and the cement industry, and in virtually every other economic sector. Most climate activists, to be sure, are not averse to technological innovation per se (except for a few stray Luddites and back-to-nature radicals). But here again, the trouble is that they will only accept technologies that fit a certain profile: renewable, small-scale, circular, sustainable, local. It is the illusion of living in “harmony with nature” all over again. Poster-child examples of such technologies are solar panels and wind turbines, since these technologies harness natural energy freely provided by nature, and because they are—or are perceived to be—small, decentralized, and self-sufficient.

Alas, despite huge investments in solar and wind, both energy sources jointly account for about one percent of global energy production. We can expect their share to grow in the coming years and decades, but eventually the technology will run up against the laws of physics. The energy density of solar and wind is much lower than that of fossil fuels, which means that you need far more land and raw materials (steel, concrete, rare metals) to produce a given amount of energy, which is not exactly eco-friendly. On top of that, the sun is not always shining and the wind is not always blowing. Enthusiasts of renewables often cite the constantly falling costs of these technologies per kilowatt-hour, which are indeed impressive, but as long as we haven’t solved the intermittency problem those figures count for little. Our modern economies also need electricity during longer winter-nights, or on cloudy and windless days, and the much-expected revolution in energy storage is not yet visible on the horizon. In sum, those who believe that the world economy as a whole can switch to renewables by 2050 are simply deluding themselves.

In a recent essay called “The Empty Radicalism of the Climate Apocalypse,” the environmentalist Ted Nordhaus has argued that there is an enormous discrepancy between the apocalyptic rhetoric of climate activists—“the world is going to end in 12 years”—and the modest proposals and half-baked solutions they are proposing to remedy the problem. Take the much-touted and much-maligned Green New Deal. According to Nordhaus, even if the U.S. were to fully roll out this program, and even if other countries were to follow suit, we wouldn’t even get close to reaching our ultimate goal of zero emissions.

It gets worse, because the technological solutions that are truly effective for tackling our climate crisis are often exactly the ones that are denounced and opposed by climate activists. Take electricity production again, which accounts for 25 percent of global emissions (and potentially much more if we start electrifying cars and other things). If our goal is “deep decarbonization,” by far the most effective way to get there is nuclear energy, as Joshua Goldstein and Steffan Qvist argue in their book A Bright Future. Nuclear reactors generate huge amounts of electricity on tiny land surfaces while emitting not a single gram of CO2 (small amounts of CO2 are emitted for building the actual plants and mining the materials, but this is true of every energy source including solar and wind). Unlike renewables, nuclear plants also supply power round the clock, regardless of weather conditions. The energy density of uranium is three million times higher than that of coal or oil, which is in turn many times higher than solar and wind, which means that nuclear plants also produce far lower volumes of waste. Future reactor types promise to increase energy efficiency further still, as well as to recycle and harvest the fissile material currently treated as “waste.” In addition, despite everything you’ve been hearing in the news, nuclear energy is the safest and least polluting energy source in the world. The only countries that have thus far managed to decarbonize their electricity sector, such as France and Sweden, did so by relying heavily on nuclear power (and they weren’t even doing it on purpose, as climate change was not on the agenda back then).

It might seem bizarre that environmentalists are staunchly opposed today—as indeed they have been for several decades—to a technology that has such great potential as a remedy for global warming. However, if you believe that technological hubris is the root of all environmental evil, it is not surprising that you would also turn your nose up at nuclear energy. From an environmentalist’s perspective, splitting the building blocks of the universe inside high-tech reactors looks like the pinnacle of Promethean pride, and trying to save the climate with nuclear power would be like extinguishing a fire with gasoline. For similar reasons, the green movement has been putting up a fierce fight against genetically modified organisms (GMOs) for years, even though this technology too has numerous promising applications both for mitigating emissions and for adapting to global warming, including drought resistance, higher yields, enabling no-till agriculture, and reducing pesticide use. But tampering with DNA is tantamount to “playing God” and therefore off limits. It now looks as if the same story is now being repeated with Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), the burgeoning technology for snatching CO2 molecules out of the air that have just been emitted by fossil plants and heavy industry. Greenpeace has already rejected the technology out of hand, basically because they see it as a convenient excuse for maintaining the status quo and continuing capitalist extractivism. Climate sinners are expected to repent and mend their ways, rather than dreaming up far-fetched techno-utopian schemes to save their skins so as to allow the world to keep on burning fossil fuels.

The more I think about it, the more I’m starting to believe that the biggest obstacles to an effective climate policy are no longer the climate “sceptics” who stubbornly deny that there’s a problem in the first place, but the activists who can only accept the half-baked “solutions” that fit their preconceived ideology. (Or, worse, who use climate change merely as a cudgel to beat the real enemy, namely capitalism.) Frankly, they may come to regret this attitude. If we just keep messing around in the margins, while dismissing any truly effective climate solutions as “hubris,” we may eventually be forced to resort to remedies that are even more drastic.

Did you know there is in fact a proven method for cranking down the earth’s thermostat? Here’s how it goes: you spray the stratosphere with substantial quantities of sulfate particles, which will reflect back some fraction of incoming sunlight and thus cool off the whole planet. Welcome to the world of geo-engineering, the artificial management of our planet. In a way this technology of “aerosol injection” is not even science fiction, because it’s exactly what volcanoes have been doing (intermittently) for millions of years. A large enough eruption will reflect back so much sunlight that the planet enters a new ice age. The trouble with “playing volcano” is not that it is too expensive, but that it may be frighteningly cheap. If you have a couple of billion dollars to spare, you can start with geo-engineering yourself, which is small potatoes compared to other climate measures.

Naturally, reflecting sunlight is not a structural solution to our climate crisis. For starters, it does nothing to remediate the acidification of our oceans, which is directly linked to CO2 levels. In order for it to work, we will also have to keep spraying year after year, until we have removed the excess greenhouse gases from our atmosphere, or else global warming will kick back in with a vengeance, with even greater speed than we’re experiencing now. It is also quite difficult to predict local effects on weather and rainfall patterns, and with sulfur we may get nasty side effects like acid rain.

Until quite recently, public discussion of geo-engineering schemes was an unspeakable taboo, but that may change before long. Harvard University has already established a Solar Engineering Research Program, where scientists are now setting up small-scale outdoor experiments to test the mechanism. In his book Facing Gaia, the French writer Bruno Latour—a postmodern science critic who has found a second vocation as a climate activist—writes that people who consider geo-engineering should be put “into a straitjacket” before they do any foolish things. But those who shudder at a technological deus ex machina like solar radiation management should bear in mind that, if we don’t implement an ambitious solution in the next couple of decades, we may well run out of options and be left with only this emergency brake. In his recent book on climate change, philosopher Jonathan Symons imagines a future in which a coalition of developing countries—which everyone agrees will be hit hardest by climate change—resolves to start with solar radiation management, with or without the consent of the rest of the world. No straitjacket will hold them back then. If rich, industrialized countries don’t come up with a better solution in time, what moral right do we have to prevent developing nations from resorting to drastic measures?

Fossil fuels have been (and in developing countries still are) a great stepladder in the history of human progress. But now the time has come to kick this ladder away from under our feet. A task of such magnitude calls not for modesty and humility, but for thinking big and bold. As the environmentalist Mark Lynas wrote: “At this late stage, false humility is a more urgent danger than hubris.” Some cuts on travel and consumption will be necessary, but hardly sufficient. Regardless of what we do, global energy demands will continue to grow for the foreseeable future. If industrialized countries really want to make a difference, they should stop obsessing about their own short-term emission reductions and instead drastically increase their R&D budgets for clean energy innovation. Indeed, if you want to make an individual contribution, you can donate to the Clean Energy Innovation Program at ITIF, which, according to the Effective Altruism organization Let’s Fund, is currently the most effective way to combat climate change. Donating money to such programs will have a much bigger impact than any lifestyle changes you might consider making.

It’s simple: either we find some technological solutions to solve our climate problem, or we won’t solve it at all. People in the developing world urgently need their own industrial revolution (if only to protect them against the consequences of climate change), but this time it should not be powered by fossil fuels like the one we have enjoyed for the past two centuries. If we don’t want other countries to burn up those trillions of tons of coal and oil still under the ground, then we have to develop technological alternatives that are cheaper and less polluting while being at least equally reliable, and then to offer them for free.

This is something I think we can achieve, if we put our minds to it. It would not be the first time that human ingenuity has solved a problem that human ingenuity had thrown up in the first place (see: the hole in the ozone layer). In this unique moment in our planet’s history, we have a species that is intelligent enough to care for other species and to keep the ecosystem in a state of balance. Whatever the Pope may claim, there isn’t any “higher instance than ourselves,” and we would be ill-advised to count on the existence of one. Homo sapiens is by far the highest form of intelligence in this remote corner of the cosmos. Well then: noblesse oblige. In the words of Stewart Brand, one of the founding fathers of modern environmentalism: “We are like gods, and we must become good at it.” And preferably not the kind of Biblical God who sweeps away his creation in a worldwide flood, but responsible and intelligent gods who prove to be good stewards of the planet. But to achieve that, we have to show some healthy ambition and to throw off the shackles of ideology.

 

Maarten Boudry is a philosopher of science at Ghent University. His most recent book is Science Unlimited? On the Challenges of Scientism, co-edited with Massimo Pigliucci. He published more than 40 academic papers, as well as several popular books in Dutch on critical thinking, illusions and moral progress.

Photo by Claudio Testa on Unsplash

Comments

  1. Pater noster is Latin for Our Father and the words Il Papa translates to The Pope. Hence the etymology of “patronise” is to act as a patron or treat in a condescending way.

    In regard to how we live our life, there are a plethora of people who will deign to patronise us with dos and don’ts . They seem to get great satisfaction from advising, condoning, remonstrating and generally just making people feel bad or better if they do as they are told.

    Education today and perhaps always totally relies on people’s fear of doing the wrong thing. What that wrong thing is appears to be what these people choose for the greater populace. They establish institutions to give credence to their chosen morality and take control of the dissemination of their beliefs (propaganda).

    This article on climate cleverly intersperses the usual tactics of first amelioration of a fear, then condoning, then mild deception and finally renewal of a greater fear (we’ll all be ruined said Hanrahan!).

    Clever article take it for what you will.

  2. Herein lies the problem with modern day environmentalism. Greens are not about protecting the environment but rather advocate stalling progress. Why do we burn fossil fuel? Was it ordained by God or government? No, we burn fossil fuels because they are the most efficient. A few lumps of coal contain as much stored energy as a cord of wood. In order to generate electricity all that must be done is to turn a turbine. This can be done with nuclear, hydropower or steam. Coal fired power plants simply heat water to produce steam to turn a turbine which generates electricity, as do nuclear power plants. In the early part of the twentieth century the steam engine rivaled the internal combustion engine in automobiles. The Stanley Steamer once held the land speed record at 127mph. People did not like having to hand crank internal combustion engines. The advent of electric starters eliminated this draw back contributed to fossil fuels being more efficient for automobiles. However steam continued to power not only trains but tractors and other heavy equipment for decades. Are biofuels finite? Is water finite? There is no need to halt, limit or stall progress all one needs to do is devise a method for turning the turbine or moving the piston.

    Apparently what is finite is men and a “can do” attitude. The best way to produce a catastrophic result is to panic and clutch one’s pearls in the face of a problem. There are virtually countless ways to spin the turbine or move the piston without limiting the progress that keeps people healthy, fed, clothed, and protected from the elements.

    “I’m starting to believe that the biggest obstacles to an effective climate policy are no longer the climate “sceptics” who stubbornly deny that there’s a problem in the first place, but the activists who can only accept the half-baked “solutions” that fit their preconceived ideology. (Or, worse, who use climate change merely as a cudgel to beat the real enemy, namely capitalism.)”

    Bingo! Any movement that claims it wants to reduce carbon emissions but eschews hydroelectric or nuclear energy is either disingenuous about its motives or delusional. Can a movement that would advocate clearing vast swaths of land for bird killing inefficient wind turbines or solar panels to produce intermittent power really be considered a Green movement? A coal, gas fired or nuclear power plant will most likely supply the electricity used to discover alternative or cleaner burning power sources. Forestalling energy usage is to hamper solutions and discoveries. Progress is a good thing let’s keep fueling it.

  3. In late 2008, I participated in a forum on climate change which included the future under-secretary of energy. The focus of the forum was “what should the incoming administration do?”

    My proposal was simple. During the inauguration speech, president Obama should set a goal of telecommuting for 10% of the workforce.

    “Not gonna happen,” an old guy, said.

    “Why not?” I asked. “It wouldn’t cost a dime. The effects would be immediate. It would alleviate traffic jams and relieve families of day-care expenses.”

    “Not gonna happen,” he repeated.

    “Again, why not?”

    “Cause no one makes a buck off of it.”

    He was right. Obama went the Solyandra route. What else could one expect from a Chicago politician?

    Renewables can best be described in three words: guaranteed obscene profits.

  4. The author makes some interesting points but in the end seems to buy into the climate hysteria (we must act now, before it’s too late!), which is tiresome.

    Another flaw is the way he sees what is as what will always be. Innovation can be gradual, but it can also occur in eureka moments. For example…

    Recently I read about a breakthrough made by a Bill Gates-backed venture, where with the use of mirrors and AI they were able to create heat equivalent to 25% of the sun’s heat. The implications were tremendous. I encourage everyone to read about it.

    So even if the pope has no faith in man, I still do.

  5. When the Thunbergs of this world fulfill their insufferable PRIDE, and de-growth the world to a point of apocalypse, especially for the developing world, then the Pope is going to have some serious work on his hands. In order to just survive instead of letting others so do, people will need to exhibit extraordinary levels of GREED. As death invariably results from these de-growth policies, countering diminishing populations will require prodigious amounts of LUST (not to mention it will be the only fun thing left to do.) Because everyone will have to do with far less, the grass will always be greener, and ENVY will become a driving force even greater than it is today. But when the world’s unfortunates are occasionally able to get their hands on a few morsels, GLUTTONY will surely raise its ugly head. For the have-nots in this great grab, however, most certainly their WRATH will descend upon the haves in the usual human ways. And finally, with capitalism destroyed and a world unemployed, then SLOTH will be the general human condition.

  6. Neil, I liked you comment because you are new to Quillette- not because I particularly agree with it. There are 100MW water storage systems being developed around the world, one in the UK-using a former quarry- however, these, like batteries, are not a viable solution to either low energy density problems, intermittency or seasonal variations in levels of both consumption and energy production.

    California, which, if treated as a country by itself, has arguably gone further than any other in developing renewables- has achieving nowhere near net zero in it’s energy sector:

    If you include out of state purchasing of energy, then a back of the envelope calculation for feasibility would suggest that the absolute limit for energy production from sources other than nuclear and large hydro (excluding natural gas), would be somewhere between 50 and 60% of total production- with a further 40 to 50% requirement, in base load energy, from nuclear and large hydro required. Plus, current battery technology is innately flawed- as energy stored in a battery naturally declines over time- it’s why if you leave your car in the garage for over a month, without allowing it to tick over, it’s always worth putting it on a trickle charger, the night before you plan to use it.

    Not that I’m against battery technology. Here’s why:

    This innovation, once implemented, will make a Tesla’s overall lifetime cost, factoring in sticker price, cost per mile for fuel, and the extortionate maintenance costs of motor vehicles, a considerably cheaper option than considerably inferior vehicles. Also, ignoring the puny 6 hour capacity of Tesla’s big battery in Australia, it’s power management system has delivered huge cost-savings to consumers, to the consternation of energy competitors in the locale.

    This instructive YouTube piece explains it all:

    I would, however, agree with you on the subject of onshore wind turbines- they are a much under-utilised solution that makes sound economic sense- both Bjorn Lomborg and the authors of Drawdown agree that they are an excellent modest solution. The arguments against Nuclear Fission are irrational- even with 60 year old technology, it has proven safer and cleaner than any other energy technology. Realistic estimates place the death toll from nuclear at around 60, whilst the more ludicrous claims number in the low thousands. Unsafe mining technologies in relation to Chromium and a lack of proper disposal/recycling of Solar Panels, are likely to prove a far greater hazard to human life in the coming decades. As to the cost of nuclear the French seem to have managed it quite well:

    Please don’t come back to me with the Germans- their recent reductions in carbon emissions have nothing to do with their energy sector- when they stupidly switched off their nuclear power plants, bowing to insane public pressure, they had to drastically increase their consumption of energy from coal.

    The only feasible long-term solution to starting to replace current nuclear and large hydro within the next 20 years, is ocean hydro of the type being explored at the the EMEC testbed site in Scotland. It’s difficult engineering, and an area that desperately requires major investment in innovation, but the prospects for base load energy are good, in theory. With some of the turbine systems, it is possible to predict six months ahead of schedule the amount of energy generated on any given day, by the hour.

    I agree that innovation needs to happen in nuclear. Thorium systems are promising. Bill Gates TerraPower, is a great way of disposing of nuclear waste byproducts- but there is a reason why both China and India are making massive investments in existing nuclear technologies whilst paying lip-service to renewables- because they, unlike the West, recognise the need for Sovereign investment in nuclear. Don’t get me wrong- Solar is a good technology, Wind is better, but neither has the potential to solve the world’s energy problems alone, together, or in combination with energy storage technologies.

    Plus, there is a concept called Solution Aversion, which means, in brief, that if you argue for nuclear with sufficient passion and reason, many climate sceptical conservatives will find themselves won over- as nuclear at scale makes incredibly sound economic sense. The only problem comes with finding a non-government means of standardisation that the industry can agree on.

    On the subject of the article itself, I would like to sound the alarm bell in relation to Solar Geoengineering. It could conceivable jeopardise the miraculous advances in crop yields that modern farming practices have achieved. The reason why Stradivarius instruments were (hedging) unique for so long, was because of a lack of solar radiation during the period when the wood grew, with significantly smaller ring sizes per year. These two links explain the problem:

    https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-018-0417-3

    This, in turn, could negatively impact the carbon sequestration potential of the process known as Wilding, along with the often greater economic potential of such reforested lands.

  7. Something that I would like to see addressed in articles such as these:

    What are the average annual global surface and ocean temperatures supposed to be?

    There’s no point in solar-geoengineering anything until we can agree on that.

  8. The planet does not need saving. Those who think it does need to check their Messiah complex. Climate has always changed, and there have been events in Earth history more catastrophic than human resource exploitation that produced a giant shrug from the ecosystem. The minisucule window of direct climate observation we have access to should not be allowed to form the basis for panic. Rather, we should embrace and celebrate climate change.

    We need some real humility. How well do we really know the global average temperature today? What about 50, 100, 200 years ago? How confident are we in the accuracy of each method for deriving paleotemperature estimates? How reliable are averages of these estimates at reproducing average global temperatures through geological time? Once we fully understand the uncertainties associated with calculating average global temperatures, can we be confident enough that the few decades of reliable measurements are not just static?

    If we can be reasonably confident that current global average temperature significantly exceeds the range of the last few million years or so, we ought to consider if this is actually a problem. Who is to say that the current climate is ideal? There is hard geological evidence for frequent glaciation and deglaciation in North America and Europe. If we don’t change the climate, another glacial event that physically crushes Western civilization to dust is all but guaranteed. Our old climate sucks. It makes no sense to preserve it just to save some islands in the Pacific or prevent deadly heat in the Indus valley: huge proportions of those populations already want to move to Europe and North America (+Oz). If every global average temperature produces winners and losers, let the winners be the most economically productive and politically free civilization.

    My prescription for climate alarmists: 1) genuine humility about the limits of our knowledge, which will naturally impart skepticism about predictions, 2) familiarity with geological history and the many catastrophic events that induced drastic climate change but did not destroy the planet, and 3) ditch the concept of some ideal, stagant climate and judge the possible repurcussions of climate change against the known dangers of the current climate regime.

    I personally think we should consume all the fossil fuels as quickly as we can, aim to warm the climate, and look forward to all the goodies we’ll find when the glaciers melt. Nuclear is a fantastic choice for the future, when we’ve beaten communism (most importantly the CCP) and Islamism, but for now we should focus on saving Western civilization from the next glaciation event, which may be only a couple of centuries away. The planet might not need saving, but the free world certainly will.

  9. That ideology is being expressed by the slogan “keep it in the ground”, one that has expanded from coal, oil, and gas to include all the mineral resources (copper, cobalt, lithium, graphite, nickel, rare earths, etc.) needed to generate, store, and use the renewable electricity generated by wind, sun, and water. We only have a few years until it’s too late and climate change is irreversible is the assertion, but then the environmentalists use this precious little time to oppose mining projects, wind-turbine projects, and demand the shuttering of existing nuclear power plants, which results in an increase in CO2 to offset the loss in generation capacity. Mother Nature is their goddess who’s virginal purity has been despoilt by those who leave footprints on her sacred body.

    It’s clear to me environmentalism has been seized by many bad-faith actors who use it to achieve goals that have little to do with the environment and a lot to do with social and economic re-engineering, chiefly to end capitalism. The horrific crimes against the environment perpetrated by the former socialist states are disregarded, and when forced to confront them by those who challenge the narrative, they’re waved away as yet another incident of socialism done incorrectly. Be assured, it’ll be done right this time. Or the time after.

  10. There is no substantial proof that any form of climate change that may or may not be occurring (we’ve had significant changes in climate for thousands of years, well before humans began injecting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and causes of a more galactic than merely earthly nature have been part of it) is humanity’s fault. Going off our collective rockers because of carbon dioxide is most likely one of the mass delusions that humanity (we are just ignorant animals ruled much more by our uncontrollable emotions, than by our intellects) is so prone to. Our devotion to various religions which has ‘justified’ the slaughter of so many millions of our species is a big one, but also just another example of such mass delusions. This article illustrates more of the same, but on a lesser scale, nevertheless, significant ones. The onus of proof must always be on the person, group, country, etc., that makes a major claim or assertion. So far, the alarmists have not provided that proof. Besides, as Boudry says, most of the most strident alarmists have a not-so-hidden agenda behind it all. That is their attacks on capitalism, a rather thinly disguised attempt by socialists and other collectivists to impose their ideologically-based views on everyone.

  11. Yet,

    Instead of cherishing “fairy tales of endless economic growth,” as Greta Thunberg put it, we should start thinking about de- growth.

    We are to “live in harmony with Mother Nature” and the planet must be rewilded, which is to return the land to is pre-cultivated and pre-industrial state. Yes, an impossible goal given there are about 7.6 billion of us, but when that’s the goal, which certainly is an uncompromising one, it seems to me the proponents will take any and all actions to achieve it. These folks think that even “green consumerism” is still suicidal consumerism. “Conscious consumerism can be seen as an attempt to de-economize the market by putting a new sense of responsibility into place.” (Emphasis mine.)

    Recycling isn’t even enough. “When people think their stuff is being recycled, it clears their conscience,” says Myra Hird, who teaches at the Queen’s University school of environmental studies in Ontario. “Our research shows that when their conscience is clear they tend to consume more than ever."

    Goals are measured by zero, such as “zero waste” and “zero emissions”. That’s unrealistic.

    Reading about these schemes I came across Ontario’s Waste Free Ontario Act of 2016 (to be fully implemented by 2025). At the heart of the legislation was the idea that producers and not consumers, i.e. the people who bought and possess the items, should be responsible for the end-of-life management of their products and packaging. I presume the responsibility was shifted from the consumer to the producer because public officials telling the consumers they have bear more of the cost is politically untenable.

    Most likely the producers will shift the cost back onto the consumer by charging higher prices. So, if municipalities are no longer paying for recycling and disposal, are taxes lowered?

    Wilma Bureau, Simcoe county’s collections and contracts supervisor, says "Theoretically, that’s the idea,” she said. “It’s a pretty substantial amount of money, and if residents weren’t paying for it, there should be some reduction or the funds would be used in a different way to upgrade other programs.” There’s the reveal.

    Given people balk at increased taxes, environmentalism is being used by governments to increase their income streams. It’s a form of taxation, levied indirectly with “someone else pays” but the cost will be returned to the consumer in higher prices (or reduced options as some producers exit). It’s a shell game.

  12. I don’t see a “must” in his advocacy of those options, and where’s your evidence for Must Not? If nuclear, GMO and CCS, provide more economical and environmentally acceptable solutions to alternatives they’re justifiable to be used as solution.

    Population growth rates are falling, do you have some easy way of making them fall faster, if not, how do you expect the author to “address population growth”?

    It looks like you just threw that in there for the sake of mentioning one of your obsessions, the author is 100% correct that GMO’s increase the food supply and so keep people fed, by doing so GMO’s can reduce the area of land required to feed people and so reduce the rate of destruction of natural habitats.

    Obviously he’s referring to NET emissions . . . “dynamic equilibrium” with the environment is what the article is advocating for, you appear to believe it achievable without the authors suggested solutions, I’m not convinced you’re right assuming the goal is also to achieve higher average global living standards.

    Great! As long as you don’t mind the lower living standards that result from “regenerative” farming, and great if you can magic up the land to re-forest without taking that land from other uses that are also important for people.

    Why not?

    It’s not irony, I understand that autistic people often struggle with irony/sarcasm (or is your reference to your claimed autism itself irony?), evidently you’ve assumed it must be so because you object to the authors (in my opinion very sound) argument.

    The authors track record is far vaster that a hoax paper that demonstrated how pseudoscience can sneak into reputable publications.

  13. Are you a newspaper journalist? Im sure all these disasters are the governments fault . Who else is there to blame!

    Brisbane gets flooded every decade but it was built on a flood plain. Australians live on the driest continent on earth . I fought fires in the Blue Mountains years ago and they still come and build outside of Penrith as they do in Kuringai Chase.

    Cairns and Townsville suffer damage every few years from cyclones…been tehre done that.

    Darwin got destroyed by cyclones and then they decided to build cyclone proof houses

    From personal experience firefighters dont want sympathy just assistance AND they dont want moaning or television reporters sticking cameras in their face or newspaper photographers looking for the most bereaved person to put on the front page so people can read about somebody elses tragedy.

    Everybody gets on with their lives and learns from each disaster and they hate being patronised.

  14. I’m new to Quillette. It’s refreshing to see thoughtful, respectful (for the most part) comments that seek enlightenment rather than self-affirmation.
    Climate scientists would serve the global community much more effectively by denouncing some of their hysterical advocates and admitting that many aspects of their investigations are not “settled”. We can understand and accept many of the observations, conclusions and information generated by this community (along with an appropriate level of concern) while at the same time recognizing that key areas are definitely not settled. We’ve all seen the numerous climate models generated by scientific groups around the world. While these models reasonably match past climate data, they diverge significantly when looking forward. It’s not logical to say the science is settled when predictions of future temperature increases range from approximately 2 to 6 degrees by the end of the century. In the early days of aviation, only the foolhardy would get on an airplane based on claims that the science was settled - if the supporting mathematical models predicted a variation in lift by a factor of three.

  15. And one wonders how much simple mismanagement is responsible for the extent of the fires -

    https://www.theaustralian.com.au/nation/history-of-disasters-shows-there-is-nothing-new-about-nations-destructive-blazes/news-story/f43c2a6037a8b0e422a69880bce10139

    and how much of the drought is actually anthropogenic -

    http://joannenova.com.au/2014/12/australia-has-had-megadroughts-for-the-last-thousand-years-says-ice-core-study/

    I think there’s a natural tendency in human beings to attribute misfortune to some sort of divine or natural retribution for imagined evilness of human beings. Ideas like the approaching Apocalypse are pretty common throughout history, and it’s hard in the immediate present to sort those out from what’s actually happening.

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