Environmentalism must re-focus on known problems: Time to cut climate campaigners loose

globeonlyBy Tom Harris

All sensible people are environmentalists. We want to enjoy clean air, land, and water and we like to think that future generations will live in an even better environment.

So, why is it that, according to a Gallup poll released last month, Americans’ concern about environmental issues now rates near its lowest levels since the late 1980s?

While Gallup proposes several causes of the decline—a more positive view of the state of the environment, increased economic concerns, politicization of environmental issues—one explanation should frighten environmental strategists: they are, in effect, focused on the wrong issue.


Gallup explains

“The primary focus of the environmental movement has shifted toward long-term threats like global warming — issues about which Americans tend to worry less than about more immediate threats like pollution…Americans’ worry about it [global warming] is no higher now than when Gallup first asked about it in 1989.”

Among six items of environmental concern the public were asked about, ‘global warming or climate change’ rated last. After last year’s environmental survey, Gallup wrote, “warming has generally ranked last among Americans’ environmental worries each time Gallup has measured them with this question over the years.”

Yet, climate change increasingly dominates the environmental movement. Besides last month’s Earth Hour, an event focussed on “changing climate change,” climate activists will take centre stage at this year’s Earth Day on April 22. For the first time ever,April 18 – 25 is designated Earth Day Network’s Climate Education Week.

We can expect all other environmental campaigns to take a back seat to climate change for the rest of the year. Global warming activists are working hard to prime the public, politicians, and the press to support what they hope will be the largest climate change agreement in history this December in Paris. The goal is to create a situation in which our negotiators feel compelled to agree to a new United Nations treaty to ‘save the climate,’ no matter the cost.

Besides the strategic blunder of focusing so much attention on an issue the public does not particularly care about, there is a serious ethical problem that will come back to haunt the environmental movement if they don’t soon change focus.

Reports such as those of the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change illustrate that debate rages in the scientific community about the causes of climate change. Scientists cannot even agree on whether warming or cooling lie ahead, let alone the degree to which we affect it. Yet, climate campaigners assert that ‘the science is settled.’ We know with certainty, they claim, that our carbon dioxide emissions will cause a planetary emergency unless we radically change our ways.

This is irrational. Uncertainty is inherent to all science, especially one as complex as climate change.

The consequence of overconfidence about climate science is tragic. According to the San Francisco-based Climate Policy Initiative, of the $1 billion spent worldwide each day on climate finance, 94% goes to mitigation, trying to control future climate.  Only 6% of global climate finance is dedicated to helping vulnerable people cope with climate change today. In developing countries, even less, an abysmal 5%, goes to adaptation.  Based on a theory about climate, we are letting people die today so as to possibly help people in the distant future.

As the public come to understand how immature the science of climate change actually is, they will regard today’s funding situation as immoral and the focus of today’s environmental movement ridiculous.

That scenario, not hypothetical future climate states, is what should most concern environment activists.

Tom Harris is Executive Director of the Ottawa, Canada-based International Climate Science Coalition (www.ClimateScienceInternational.org).

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