Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Skepticism about Climate Change

Yesterday I posted a quote from a book review by Freeman Dyson. Dyson thinks that climate change skeptics have been misunderstood and are too quickly dismissed:
Much of the public has come to believe that anyone who is skeptical about the dangers of global warming is an enemy of the environment. The skeptics now have the difficult task of convincing the public that the opposite is true. Many of the skeptics are passionate environmentalists. They are horrified to see the obsession with global warming distracting public attention from what they see as more serious and more immediate dangers to the planet, including problems of nuclear weaponry, environmental degradation, and social injustice.
Now, I think Dyson is right to consider whether the hype about global warming distracts from other important environmental and social issues. In fact, environmental problems are not all of a piece: a solution to one problem can exacerbate others.

Still there's a problem here with Dyson's assessment. He says "Many of the skeptics are passionate environmentalists." But is this true?

I have yet to meet someone who is both skeptical of the climate science that supports anthropogenic global warming and is a passionate environmentalist. The position that Dyson describes--a person who thinks that the climate change hype is overblown--is not necessarily skeptical. This person just has their values ordered so that addressing climate change is not the primary value. The skeptics that I've met take one of these positions:

1.) They are ignorant of and threatened by science, sometimes as an extension of a general anti-intellectualism or anti-secularism.

2.) They think that there is a more subtle political motivation for the climate change hypothesis. For instance, that liberals are really anti-corporate, anti-consumerist, anti-capitalist, etc. and this scientific hypothesis is an excuse to get political support for their views or their candidates. Often the skeptics in this camp don't doubt the climate change evidence but do doubt that the cause is anthropogenic. The argument goes that if it's not anthropogenic then we need not change any of our practices.

1 comment:

Khadimir said...

EB, what have you to say on the recent "creation care" movements of American fundamentalist evangelicals, which seems to herald environmental activism in a group not traditionally known for it?

I find it fascinating and a welcome development.