Just to continue a thread I brought up before I started my travels, I wanted to expand on some thoughts about the environment and environmental concerns.
I took some time during the trip to sit and watch (for me, a vacation is a great time to catch up on media like films I may have missed) the documentary Cool It, about Bjorn Lomborg, a self described "environmental skeptic." I'd seen trailers for the film, and intended to see it in theaters, but it came and went too quickly for me to actually follow through.
Having seen it, I've decided that Lomborg - a Danish professor - gives the kind of summary about the environment and what we can do about it that really dovetails with my own sense of things. Rarely have I heard anyone sum up the concerns I have about the environment while reflecting the doubts I share that a lot of what the "progressive" left proposes to do about it doesn't make a lot of sense.
Lomborg spends much of the film taking apart, and thoroughly criticizing the kind of environmental alarmist mentality of films like An Inconvenient Truth. The idea of worldwide floods that are just disasters waiting to happen, hurricanes and other disasters that supposedly show how terrible things have become... these are scientific issues that Lomborg, with substantial help from some very knowledgeable scientists, takes apart and generally debunks. He also makes a convincing case that much of the "personal change" approach to environmentalism - where we all drive Priuses or use those new lightbulbs - won't make much of a dent in energy consumption, or reducing global temperature.
More pointedly, the film lays out a strong case that "cap and trade" - the system of taxing carbon emissions and allowing companies to trade pollution credits - is a dicey scheme that probably won't work. Just as pointedly, Lomborg points out that some 20 years of worldwide meetings on climate change and discussions to substantially reduce carbon emissions have led to absurd proposals that no one will follow and are probably wildly unrealistic, counterproductive, and again, unlikely to make much of a difference in reducing global temperature.
As I said, rarely have I seen a film that so thoroughly confirms, with actual scientific backup, much of the kind of views I've come to about environmental issues. Like Lomborg, I think global warming is a real, serious problem... but I just don't think much of what's proposed to address it makes much sense, seems awfully expensive, and unlikely to work. Meanwhile, other, simpler solutions (like providing more targeted funds to research and development in solar, wind and other technologies), are ignored or barely addressed.
It's easy to blame a lot of this on corporate interests and lobbying influence... but the film does a nice job of breaking down the related idea that scaring people - particularly people who live comfortable lives in developed countries - is a generally effective way to put an issue into public discourse and that much of the scare mongering is also probably a well meaning, but misguided attempt to get people to pay attention to an issue that matters, in many ways, to us all.
Sine I started writing this blog, I've become far more sensitized to the reality that scaremongering and fear driven decision making explains a lot about American politics and so much of why we can't seem to find sensible, practical solutions to the problems we actually face. It's easier, really, for both sides to name call and paint ugly pictures about how terrible the other side is; already that dynamic is beginning to take shape as a driving force as we head towards 2012. Though I didn't spend a lot of time following the news (far less than usual), I saw the birth certificate silliness unfold, and all the backlashes, finger pointing, and recriminations. I still stand for the proposition that we need more voices trying to ratchet down the language of fear and distrust, and look more towards generating ideas and positive discussions about how to approach the problems we face. If that seems pollyanna-ish, or compromising, or "centrist", so be it. IU'm more interested in figuring out the ways we can positively change people's lives, than spending time feiguring out just who is awful, how much, and how often.
At the very least, take a minute and watch Cool it. And consider the kind of environmental discussion we could have if we stopped screaming about imminent floods and telling people to use eco-friendly lightbulbs. That's the kind of environmentalist I'd like to be, and for now, it's the one I am.