I have been pondering the issue of global warming lately. I generally take a cautious position when it comes to climate change. I am first of all uncertain as to what portion of climate change can be attributed to human activity, but also cautious about assuming that simply doing nothing is the proper course. If we can take measures that ease the effects of global warming – anthropogenic or no – then I think we should, but we should be wary that legislation doesn’t inadvertently harm the poorest among us and across the globe, or end up creating such a drag on the economy that the ill-effects outweigh the benefits. Jim Manzi has written a great deal along these lines.
But all of that aside, the remarkable thing about global warming as a cause, is that it has provided for the first time in history a single umbrella under which all environmentalists and “green activists” can unite. Before global warming the green movement was in tatters. Splinter causes competed with one another and fringe groups were hard to distinguish from more serious ones. You had the animal rights folks, the deforestation folks, the clean water types, the hippies, the blame Canada crowd, and so on and so forth. And you still do, but now they can all find common cause in the most epic environmental battle of all time: global warming. If the “warming” part doesn’t sound so fierce, the “global” which precedes it should be enough to rattle a few cages.
The new unity within the green movement has found an unlikely hero in former VP Al Gore as well, who has remade himself as the green guru, championing a 21st century system of papal indulgences carbon credits which are supposed to somehow ease our guilt help offset carbon use and thus put an end to increased carbon output and halt global warming. It’s all very spooky to me. I’d prefer a simple tax, but then how could people like Al Gore cash in on the venture (outside of DVD sales, that is)?
I suppose I am made uncomfortable by the climate change debate in the same way I’m made uncomfortable by any discussion of environmentalism. Environmentalists remind me a little of really rabid free-marketeers. They so often ignore the human dimension, blinded to the unseen by their loyalty to an ideology or cause. But while I can shrug off the environmental causes I think are foolish or inconsistent in the realm of splintered green activism, global warming presents a far trickier problem – because again, I think we may indeed be facing a climate crisis, but I don’t think anyone has come up with any sort of compelling solution. Certainly the legislation in congress is uninspiring, and could actually be downright counterproductive.
And then, also, it seems sort of absurd to me that it is such a pressing issue to so many people when issues like healthcare and war and poverty are very real, very immediate problems and global warming is at best a problem in the future with theoretical side-effects. There is a certain sort of arrogance or condescension here that troubles me.
In any case, I just wonder how much of this was conscience effort on the part of people like Al Gore who saw that the green movement was on the rise but still very fragmented and chaotic, and who realized that with some grand, unifying theme to rally the troops they could make so much more money accomplish what was previously unthinkable: a unified environmentalist movement gone mainstream. Certainly specific causes have had temporary success in the mainstream. The Clean Air Act was a result of just this sort of success. But global warming is so much more universal. Its applications are so widespread.
Just something to think about.
(P.S. – Do you think it’s a coincidence that both Al Qaeda and Al Gore start with the word “Al” … ?)
(P.S.S. I’m just kidding. I don’t actually think Al Gore is a Muslim)
(P.S.S.S. Not that there’s anything wrong with being a Muslim)