by Judith Curry
The archetypal “skeptical environmentalist” is Bjorn Lomborg, although this post is not about him (for a recent interview with Lomborg, see dotearth).
This post is about the increasing muddiness between environmentalism and AGW. A recent youtube animation highlights this confusion: which character in this discussion seems more protective of the environment?
The Wikipedia defines environmentalism as “Environmentalism is a broad philosophy and social movement regarding concerns for environmental conservation and improvement of the state of the environment.” A brief history of the modern green movement in the U.S. can be found here.
Many environmental advocacy groups have embraced the climate change issue:
Climate scientists are often accused of supporting AGW for political purposes associated with the environmental movement. While this may be true of a few individuals, I have seen no particular sign of this among the climate scientists that I know. Other than Bill Chameides, I do not personally know any climate scientists that are (to my knowledge) card carrying members of an environmental advocacy group.
And what to make of uber-environmentalist James Lovelock?
Writing in the British newspaper The Independent in January 2006, Lovelock argues that, as a result of global warming, “billions of us will die and the few breeding pairs of people that survive will be in the Arctic where the climate remains tolerable” by the end of the 21st century. He has been quoted in The Guardian that 80% of humans will perish by 2100 AD, and this climate change will last 100,000 years. . . He partly retreated from this position in a September 2007 address to the World Nuclear Association‘s Annual Symposium, suggesting that climate change would stabilise and prove survivable, and that the Earth itself is in “no danger” because it would stabilise in a new state. . . In a March 2010 interview with the Guardian newspaper, he said that democracy might have to be “put on hold” to prevent climate change. He continued:
“The great climate science centres around the world are more than well aware how weak their science is. If you talk to them privately they’re scared stiff of the fact that they don’t really know what the clouds and the aerosols are doing…We do need scepticism about the predictions about what will happen to the climate in 50 years, or whatever. It’s almost naive, scientifically speaking, to think we can give relatively accurate predictions for future climate. There are so many unknowns that it’s wrong to do it.”
And what about the environmentalist’s schizophrenia about nuclear power? Lovelock’s previously controversial views seem to be carrying the day:
Lovelock has become concerned about the threat of global warming from the greenhouse effect. In 2004 he caused a media sensation when he broke with many fellow environmentalists by pronouncing that “only nuclear power can now halt global warming”. In his view, nuclear energy is the only realistic alternative to fossil fuels that has the capacity to both fulfill the large scale energy needs of humankind while also reducing greenhouse emissions. He is an open member of Environmentalists for Nuclear Energy. . . In 2005, against the backdrop of renewed UK government interest in nuclear power, Lovelock again publicly announced his support for nuclear energy, stating, “I am a Green, and I entreat my friends in the movement to drop their wrongheaded objection to nuclear energy”.
At the same time, there are many individual groups that are skeptical of AGW that seem to be staunch environmentalists. There is a recent article in the Washington Post about conservative Christians supporting stewardship and green architecture:
Zovath is a climate change skeptic. “Personally, I don’t buy into it,” he says. But he likes the bottom line of energy efficiency.
To further confuse things, there are numerous examples of climate change skeptics declaring themselves to be environmentalists and/or being strong supporters of green energy. One example is Willis Eschenbach, who discussed his personal commitment to environmentalism in this post at WUWT (also see his further elaborations in the comments.) Further, Anthony Watts describes himself as proactively energy efficient.
So what are we to make of this? I don’t think that environmentalism is a big rationale behind AGW from the perspective of most scientists. And it doesn’t seem that AGW policies are particularly well thought out in terms of a broader sustainability perspective. And it seems that there is broad support for the idea of economical clean green energy, from across the political and scientific spectrum surrounding the AGW issue. Accusing climate scientists of pushing an environmental political agenda seems to me about as well founded as accusing climate skeptics as being in the pay of big oil.