We’ve long argued that the tendency of environmentalists to conflate skepticism about the efficacy of their preferred policies with “climate denialism” is not only wrong, but self-defeating, because it effectively scuttles the possibility of compromise before the conversation even begins. A recent essay by Daniel Sarewitz in Nature magazine perfectly captures the reason why this strategy has been a failure and charts out a new course for environmentalists, guided instead by pluralism and coalition-building. One passage:
The original sin of climate-change policy in the United States was that from the beginning it ruled out … pluralism, because scientists and environmental activists alike tended to frame action in a way that could only alienate economic and social conservatives. Political rhetoric and policy proposals focused on demands for a global governance regime, government manipulation of markets and regulatory incentives for massive behaviour change. From the perspective of US conservatives, it would be hard to imagine a more toxic combination of policy ambitions. And because scientists and climate activists claimed that science dictated their policy agenda, conservatives had every reason to be suspicious about the motives of the scientists and the credibility of their science. The legacy of that strategy is evident in the uniform scepticism of the Republican presidential candidates about global warming.
The whole thing is a worth a read—especially for crusading environmentalists who can’t understand why their seemingly obvious conclusions are rejected by so many Americans. Many conservatives are open to policies that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions—including, but not limited to, fracking, nuclear power, GMOs, and more investment in green technology. They could perhaps even be persuaded of some new regulatory policies, like a revenue-neutral carbon tax—especially if they weren’t preemptively condemned as science-hating deniers.
Climate change is real, and there are things we can and should be doing to address it. But the increasingly authoritarian rhetoric of many greens will not do them, or the climate, any good.