I'm attending GLOBE 2008 the past few days, and today's the last day. I finally figured out what it is about climate change activists that's been bugging me. In the tradeshow space, there's this big wall of artwork and information. One of the posters talks about how in the earth's history, there have been five large climate-based events that have caused mass extinction. The events are about 50 to 100 million years apart each, with the last one apparently happening about 65 million years ago (the dinosaurs). Then the poster goes on to say that if we don't take climate change seriously, we will be facing another extinction.
My irk is this. The climate change issue has been turned into a moral issue due to us saying that the fate of the human race is in question. Firstly, I've learned enough to know that the debate is not yet settled, and I'm not qualified to lean one way or the other on the debate. However, people seem confused as to what they're worried about. Are they worried about the environment or are they worried about the human race? If they're worried about the environment, they're certainly talking about the subject as if the human race were integral to the environment. I always hear people making statements about how because of climate change, we have to seriously change our way of life, or else WE will perish, and that will be the end of the world.
No, quite frankly, the earth will still be here. The implication of this poster is that it was still here and life restarted just fine after each major extinction. Now the thing is, all of those previous extinctions happened WITHOUT the intervention of human beings. Previous global climate changes and ice ages happened WITHOUT the intervention of human beings. So clearly, there are factors at play that ARE NOT human. Take away the human impact, and these factors would STILL exist. And if these previous patterns hold, we would STILL eventually face major climate change and extinction because if the previous patterns are any indication, it's a NATURAL thing. And here are humans so arrogantly thinking that the humans did something different. Yeah, maybe we did. We accelerated the process, perhaps. But quite frankly, if the last extinction happened 65 million years ago, and extinctions happened every 50 to 100 million years according to the chart, then we're quite due for another extinction anyway. It's certainly debatable in this big picture how large human impact has actually been. It seems almost arrogant to say that we caused this naturally occurring phenomenon and then say that we can and should fix it too.
But that arrogance is a part of human nature. We've never cared much for simply living. We've always used our intelligence and abilities to change the world for our liking and our desires, whether it be for pleasure or survival. And now we're saying that we can, should, and will control climate cycles for our own survival. That's all fine and dandy. But if you want that, then don't link our existence to the welfare of the environment, because the environment carries on just fine without us, it has through five extinctions. Separate the two and admit that you in fact wish to manipulate the environment to serve our own needs.
Now don't get me wrong, I think a lot of green technology is good, if it has the ability to give us cheaper alternatives to expensive oil, clean the quality of air so that we have less asthma cases and health scares, improve everyday products so that there's less risk of scary things like cancer, and reduce excessive logging so that topsoil isn't prone to mountain landslides ending thousands of lives. But again, all of those don't have environmental welfare as their root motivation, they have human welfare as their root motivation. Finally, if the environment is a moral issue because of human interests, I think there are quite a number of moral issues that are equally, if not more troubling, issues that are not natural cycles and which we do clearly have control over.
edit: Here's an even better summary that I just included in an e-mail to someone...
Basically, the implication of their poster was that climate change was a natural cycle, directly contradicting their position that climate change was caused by human factors and had to be manipulated to save humanity. This seems to result in a cognitive dissonance as to whether or not humans are integral to the environment. This cognitive dissonance is then simply ignored, and the human race is called to action to save the environment for humanity, which comes full circle. If the poster's original implication is that climate change is a natural cycle, humans are then actually interfering with the environment for the sake of humanity, thus showing that they are being hypocritical and don't really care about the environment, but rather, THEIR environment and THEIR self-interest.