Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A secular heaven that looks like hell

Artificial wetlands
The Green Central blog of the Times online has some bad news:
The war for hearts and minds over climate change is fierce and the sceptics are winning the communications battle.
Given the possible consequences of catastrophic climate change, that does look like good news. The article goes on to argue that climate change activists compromised their message by "selling hell". I think they have that half right. From my perspective, climate change activists actually want to sell their version of heaven. Unfortunately, to many of the rest of us it looks like hell.

Climate change activists like George Monbiot have made no secret of their hope that the austerity they see as necessary to save the planet will also promote the kind of culture they favour. The loss of easy access to energy will promote equitable, egalitarian, and communitarian values; the need for conservation will enhance the power of the state at the expense of business corporations, and the loss of cheap travel will produce a spiritual reconnection with the land.

While I consider these romantic fantasies, and highly unrealistic, I consider it even more unrealistic to try to sell a policy based on this approach. It misleads the public in ways too obvious to miss. When a public figure raises a scientific issue, then abruptly dismisses any talk of a technical solution, it doesn't take a bloodhound to smell a bait and switch. When the aviation industry, which accounts for two percent of the actual emissions, gets over half the attention, most of us can tell the priorities involved reflect something besides concern for carbon emissions. We can tell that many climate activists want to dictate the way we live. A public that suspects climate activists of making an issue this important a means rather than an end will probably not trust the activists, and that mistrust may well spill over into skepticism about the science.

For the sake of the planet, we'd better get to work on effective solutions to greenhouse emissions, and quickly. The current crop of climate crusaders can help by taking a hard look at their priorities.

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