I remember when “Climate Change” used to be called “Global Warming”. It’s funny how, over time, the lexicon has changed and so has the meaning of the debate. Conservatives and essentially pro-industrial polluters thought “global warming” didn’t poll well with voters and doesn’t sound good in the media, so they started using “climate change” term that they viewed as less alarmist. Gradually they were able to change the dialogue away from the Earth is warming to the Earth has weather and weather by its very nature… changes. This was a point that I actually agree with, as we don’t know what the effects of a warming planet will be, that it could actually throw us back into an ice age. I am not a scientist, I honestly do not know what is happening with our planet. What I do know is anecdotal and experiential. I grew up in Chicago in the 70’s and 80’s. Every Christmas was a white Christmas and I have fond memories of going sledding with my cousins at a nearby park. There hasn’t been a consistently white Christmas in more than a decade. Ski season in Europe has effectively shifted almost a full month, it starts later and ends later. Droughts are prolonged throughout Africa. Storms are bigger and more frequent in the Philippines, Bangladesh and Caribbean/South United States. Forest fires burn hotter and later in the season in Portugal and California. We see all of this as alarming that the Earth’s climate is changing and we are not in control, and it’s scary.
Honestly, I don’t know what is the direct measurable impact humans have made on the environment. I’ve watched An Inconvenient Truth, and dozens of movies like it. I read books and an occasional scientific study, and in general have followed the environmental movement since I was old enough to walk. I grew up camping regularly with the Boy Scouts, my family was enthusiastic campers, our vacations were always spent in a tent and campfire – I think because my dad really loved chopping wood and making a fire, something I’ve gratefully inherited from him. These experiences translated as I got older, to bigger and longer journeys into the wilderness, and my love for nature grew proportionately.
Why do I tell you this? Because I read an article in (gasp) Breitbart by Greenpeace founder Dr. Patrick Moore that explains why he is skeptical about man-made global warming (you can read it here). I think all who are concerned about the state of our home should read and understand all sides so we know where the other sides are coming from and how to frame our arguments. Greenpeace for their part offer a different explanation for Dr. Patrick Moore here. I encourage you to read both articles fully, with open minds, and with a grain of salt.
Here’s my problem, “global warming”, “climate change” or whatever the debate is being called now has taken us away from the discussions that drove the environmental movement, from Rachel Carson, who wrote a ground breaking book Silent Spring about DDT pesticide. The environmental movement started as a grassroots movement based on issues such as the pollution of Lake Erie that caused fire on the water in Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River in 1969, smog in industrial cities such as Pittsburgh and Los Angeles that led to catalytic converters in cars. There were real effects of man-made pollution and these could be addressed, and one by one, little by little, we made real progress on halting the destruction and allowing the Earth to start heal.
The first environmental legislation passed started in the 1950’s with clean water. This was at a time when the US was a leader, Europe followed suit. Developing nations are now confronting the very issues that sparked the trend-setters to confront man-made pollution. I’ve lived in China and the pollution would hang like a heavy cloud over the city for days, you did not leave your apartment, everyone had air masks. You don’t trust what you eat, the water you drink. China is now actively addressing these issues, impacts from a heavy industrial society, much in the same ways that the US, Canada, and Europe did half a century ago.
Why? Because…no one can deny the sulfuric fog in Beijing is anything but man-made, this is beyond dispute. No one can deny the chemicals in the water from agriculture run-offs laden with pesticides and industrial dumping. No one can deny the millions of acres of deforestation. No one can deny the sea of plastic floating in our oceans. These are the direct affects of human activity.
This is the point! Those who support economic growth by old-industrial means want to take the conversation away from the demonstrable impacts of man-made pollution to the stratosphere (literally). They want to take the issue to such a high level that it is literally in the clouds, and then sow the seeds of doubt. This then enables them to turn people away from meaningful political action at the grassroots. They can say “well the planet’s climate is too complicated for us to really know what and if human activity has had an impact, therefore by extension there is no need to regulate factory pollution because, though it may smell bad, there’s no definitive proof that it is actually hurting the planet.” This is the danger, extrapolation.
I’m horrified, sad, angry at the sheer scale of destruction that humans have wreaked on our home. We are destroying beauty, we are destroying life, we are destroying ourselves. We must go back to the grassroots and focus on the issues for which there can be no debate on, because after all climate change is a result of the cumulative effect of all of these issues.
More reading about the environmental movement
This is a much longer discussion and I recommend if you want to read more, and of course I encourage you to, to check out these sources:
Explore a timeline of the environmental movement from 1948 to 1990.
Ellen Swallow Richards is profiled in March, 2017 Nautilus Magazine as “the woman who gave us the science of normal life.” Richards first became active in environmental issues in the 1870s and was an important early voice in the Progressive reform movement at the turn of the 20th century.
The environmental movement (sometimes referred to as the ecology movement), also including conservation and green politics, is a diverse scientific, social, and political movement for addressing environmental issues. Environmentalists advocate the sustainable management of resources and stewardship of the environment through changes in public policy and individual behavior.