Do Environmentalists Want to Save the Planet or What?

They like their weird analogies at Gristmill. The latest comes from scientist and Green oracle Joseph Romm, in an introduction to a tirade about geo-engineering by guest poster Bill Becker, executive director of the Presidential Climate Action Project:

Geo-engineering is to mitigation as chemotherapy is to diet and exercise 

Weird. Because chemotherapy is rather more useful than diet and exercise when it comes to, say, curing someone of cancer. It’s even weirder for the fact that Gristmill’s last weird analogy, by Romm’s fellow scientist and Green oracle Andrew Dessler, likened the planet to a sick child in need of expert medical advice. Romm, it seems, would rather turn Dessler’s sick child over to some TV nutritionist to get them jogging and eating more broccoli.

The thrust of Becker’s piece is that the planet might be screwed, but that efforts to mitigate global warming through geo-engineering – giant mirrors in space, the injection of aerosols into the atmosphere, carbon sequestration, seeding oceans with iron oxide, and that sort of thing – are unethical and impractical.

Intergenerational ethics argue against us leaving massive, intractable problems for future generations, forcing them to deal in perpetuity with nuclear waste, carbon sequestration sites, and geo-engineering systems – all subject to human error and to failures that would be deadly. 

Apparently, however, leaving future generations without infrastructure and energy supplies to withstand the ravages of future climate, is perfectly acceptable. Moreover, it’s hard to imagine any human endeavour – apart from jogging and eating broccoli, perhaps – that would meet Becker’s ethical criteria. Ultimately Becker’s is an argument against progress, because pretty much all human activity is geo-engineering. As William M. Briggs puts it, “It is trivially true that man, and every other organism, influences his environment, and hence his climate.” And as Becker continues, his antipathy towards humanity’s efforts to improve its lot shines through:

Think of dams and levees designed to control rivers so that people can live in natural floodplains – sometimes with disastrous results ... Geo-engineering is born of the dangerous conceit that human engineering is superior to nature’s engineering … Lacking regard for natural systems, we have upset them … we lack humility. 

The Greens’ resistance to geo-engineering sits very uncomfortably with its message that the planet is screwed and we’re all going to die. It suggests that Environmentalism has less to do with saving the planet than it does with reining in human aspirations. It suggests that they don’t actually believe their own press releases, and that they know the situation is not as dire as they would like the rest of us to think it is. And that Environmentalists are cutting off their noses to spite their faces – “we’ll save the planet our way or not at all.” It suggests that Environmentalists regard science and engineering as the cause of problems, and not the solution.

Even if [geo-engineering] were able to stabilize climate change – which is doubtful … We still would be addicted to imported oil, still would be subsidizing terrorism with our gas dollars, still would suffer the cost and supply traumas that are inevitable with finite resources, still would send our children off to die in resource wars, still would pollute the air and cause respiratory problems for our children, and still would wipe out species, many of them beneficial to us, as we invade their habitat. 

As if reducing CO2 emissions would stabilise the climate. The weather will continue to pick off those who are not buffered against it regardless of whether climate change predictions are realised or not. As if a stable climate would prevent resource wars or global terrorism. If anything creates resource shortages, Environmentalism does. Indeed, by drawing on the dangers of terrorism to justify environmental politics, Becker merely demonstrates how Environmentalism and the War on Terror are united in their deployment of the Politics of Fear.

There are good reasons to think that geo-engineering cannot stabilise the climate either. Control of the climate might well be too much to ask of a strategy that manipulates a single variable in a hugely complex system. And yet the tweaking of a single variable – CO2 emissions – is precisely what the Greens are demanding.

Contrary to Romm’s analogy, the Greens’ efforts to save the planet are far more like chemotherapy than diet and exercise. After all, it is the Greens who liken humanity to a plague, virus or a cancer infecting planet Earth. And their insistence that we batten down the hatches, tread lightly on the Earth, ration our energy and bow to the superiority of Mother Nature would leave us even more vulnerable to her whims than we are already.

Engineering fixes for global warming are, says Becker, “born of desperation”. Quite possibly. But what he should be asking himself is who created the climate of desperation in the first place.

One thought on “Do Environmentalists Want to Save the Planet or What?”

  1. There are 6 billion people on Earth.

    Global Warming is a huge success.

    I say, if the Earth ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

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