Seamanship Quotation

“In political activity, then, men sail a boundless and bottomless sea; there is neither harbour for shelter nor floor for anchorage, neither starting-place nor appointed destination.”
— from Michael Oakeshott's
Political Education” (1951)

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Climate movement’s own disrespect for science

The only unifying objective behind the various campaigns to shift humanity away from CO2-emitting fossil fuels is to ensure that the upper atmosphere continues to be able to keep the earth’s surface temperatures bearable.

It is a challenge borne of scientific analysis and a problem that can’t be successfully addressed until all global beneficiaries of the status quo join in.

Climate scientists and the social sciences of persistent human wants agree that it can’t be solved without either a formal global agreement to cut emissions or transformative breakthroughs in energy research and innovation. The environmental movement generally rejects the latter as too optimistic and too slow.

(The world’s fossil fuel industry is highlighted because it is the principal source of the energy we all crave, not because today’s oil executives are ideal campaign targets as robber baron capitalists run amok. Most of the value they generate ends up in consumer and producer governments. Also, they are amon the smartest employers of scientists and engineers in the world. More important, their industry only exists because we all use their products and haven’t found a tolerable way to stop.)

Climate-change campaigners are dedicated to global top-down action. You start with the affluent and enlightened democracies, scold rich skeptics, and eventually plead with Asia, the climate crime’s feisty new entrant.

This is work for unifiers, not dividers.

And, so, you’d think that the urgency of their unifying mission would guide their tactics. That they would set aside unresolved, divisive arguments from those innocent times when we divided over capitalism, socialism, and religion without a care in the world for the upper atmosphere.

Yet the notion of thinking globally and acting locally isn’t working. Local, it seems, is also easier to think about.

Fragmented campaigns using filmable fragments of the planet are dividing even early adopters. Consensus science is being shouldered out of the campaign by sensationalism, ideology, regionalism, and the primitive religious claims of Mother Earth and scene-scape warriors in penthouse cities along our lovely, chilly coasts.  

Three fair immediate illustrations:

Manitoba Transportation Minister Steve Ashton announced last week that his government formally opposes the transportation of Alberta’s oil on an existing rail line across the vast, empty lands of northern Manitoba to the seaport at Churchill — turning his back on the last hundred years of co-operative Western development through that "gateway province." Ashton would close another commercial outlet for a sister province because transporting oil by rail today is “too risky to the environment and the safety of those who live in the north.”

Without bothering with a proper review of the proposal by the Transportation Safety Board of Canada, the Manitoba government embraces this extravagant, untested assertion by Grand Chief Irvin Sinclair:

“One derailment or spill is all it would take to destroy the livelihood of generations," Mr. Sinclair said.

“There goes the wildlife,” he said. “There goes a way of life for everybody if something drastic happens. It would be devastating to the environment.”

Coal mining protest in B.C. is set to erupt, according to The Globe and Mail, because significant commercial deposits of clean-burning coal unfortunately were discovered in the wrong valley:

“Nothing is more sacrosanct to the Tahltan than the Sacred Headwaters – a high, wide valley 400 kilometers just hours south of Alaska. There, the Stikine, Skeena, and Nass salmon rivers that nourished aboriginal cultures of the Pacific Northwest originate in an area known to First Nations as Klabona, or Klappan. According to native myth, the Big Raven forged the world in that valley.

Ryan Lizza's New Yorker report Keystone XL, a gossipy political update on Obama’s so-called “signature” environmental decision, quotes Kate Gordon, the senior policy/marketing talent behind California billionaire Tom Steyer’s anti-Keystone television campaign. She was a reluctant convert:

“She did see the benefits of the campaign, however: “The goal is as much about organizing young people around a thing. But you have to have a thing. You can’t organize people around a tipping point on climate change.”

Phantom jobs in Canada’s largely uninhabitable north, non-existent gods everywhere, catastrophic scenarios about the resource, pipeline, and rail industries that still are the workhorses of North America, the cleanest economic superpower in history — all have equal place in the marketing tool kit of today’s climate change movement.

None of these divisive fragments — these stories about “things” — has anything to contribute to mobilizing the world to address climate change intelligently.

They put untruths to work, create demons, and invite heads of states and local politicians to tighten other people’s belts.  

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