I listened to the above podcast this morning and was struck by a number of key similarities between Linzden’s reasoning and the arguments of other more radical skeptics I’ve listened to recently. Linzden being a fairly conservative scientist would be horrified to know the sort of new age hippy conspiracy theorists I’m about to compare him to… but perhaps they have more thinking in common than they would care to admit.
Linzden does not deny that the climate is changing, and that increasing temperatures are partly a result of human activities. His skepticism is focused on the extent of the changes, what effect they will have on humanity, and what we should do about it. He considers the IPCC to be biased, and subject to the influences of the political agenda of UN bureacracy. He views government climate abatement schemes as ineffective, expensive, and designed to curtail the rights of citizens. He views the precautionary principal as somewhat ridiculous. He considers greenhouse gas reduction an impingement on the rights of people in the third world to develop. In short, he sees action on climate change as wasteful, unneccessary and ineffective. In other words.. carry on with business as usual, stop being absurd with all of this nonsense, and take care of your own rights and money because the Government or UN bureacracy or whoever runs the show have their own misguided interests at heart.
Now, all of the regular capital L liberalist suspicions of bureacrats aside (political representation of governments is another debate entirely), the key phrase I’m looking at there is ‘business as usual’, because that is essentially what the argument boils down to. I’ve never met a climate skeptic whose logical underlying conclusion wasn’t that we should just carry on with precisely what we’re doing. And this is where the entire debate is missing the point.
Even if climate change had never existed… would we really want to carry on with business as usual? And more to the point, is it even possible? With peak oil on the horizon, our mineral resources becoming exhausted, our ocean stocks at an all time low, thousands of species on the brink of extinction, landfill piling up, a garbage island in the pacific, coral bleaching, worldwide inequality rising, the human population exploding, mass deforestation and even the rich consumer societies feeling insecure, alienated from nature and from their own communities…
Do we want to just go on with business as usual.. and is it even possible that we can?
The funny thing about the climate debate is that it’s not just about the climate, or even just about the environment. It’s about how we choose to live. Scientists like Linzden, as much as I disagree with his take on the world, raise valid questions about the response to climate change. Many existing government climate schemes are ineffective and expensive (although not as expensive as recovery). Some schemes are certainly ill thought out, and involve far lower targets than we realistically need. But we must embrace the idea of change for two reasons.
Firstly, we are running out of our artificially cheap finite fossil fuel resources. We just can’t continue to burn them at our current rate for very long, and certainly not affordably. With or without climate action, the price of fossil fuel energy will become exorbitant over the next fifty years, with a very real likelihood of riots and energy crises occurring at increasing frequency. We can either slow down and change to clean alternatives at our own pace, or wait for change to be forced upon us.
Secondly, what those such as Linzden fail to see are the opportunities emerging from the climate debate for a rethinking of human development. For the first time since the postwar period, we have an opportunity to reevaluate the direction that we’re headed and and the potential for positive change. There are a number of flow on effects from climate mitigation that are beneficial for everyone and should be considered in their own right, aside from the risks associated with ‘business’ as usual: the raised consciousness of our effect on nature, the increase in people taking up cycling and other healthy and sustainable habits, the growing emphasis on the local community, improvements in resource and energy efficiency and the general reevaluation of what is for the majority of the world population, quite frankly, an unsatisfactory status quo.
If there was a polar opposite to this negative attitude towards potential change it’s Colin Beavan, better known as ‘No Impact Man’. No matter how many books I read that raise my awareness of the dangers of environmental degradation, no other author so encapsulates the positive effects of changing our behaviour. As he discovered, living in ways that were environmentally sound for a year and becoming an advocate for sustainability had a lasting impact on his health and happiness. ‘Live a happier life’ is his catchcry, reminding us to strive for something better than business as usual on a personal and societal level.
It’s this half of the debate that’s forgotten by those who view climate action in terms of restrictions imposed by corrupt and self serving bureacrats. They choose to ignore all of the proactive grassroots movements like Transition towns and the Green Belt Movement that are popping up all over the world in response to inadequate government responses to environmental problems. They say that action on climate change will disadvantage developing nations; forgetting that developing nations have been left behind precisely because things have been left to business as usual. They forget that in our current system the first victims of environmental degradation are the poor (and most often, women). They fail to see the potential of the human response, to see that not only is climate change a problem, but also a catalyst for wider systemic change that is very much needed.
Whether or not you ‘believe’ in human induced climate change, business as usual is just not ok; climate change helps us to recognise that. That’s the point.