Tuesday, November 25, 2008

why can some environmentalists not resist gross exaggeration?


What is it that makes the most committed and ardent environmentalists pen statements like the following?
"The evidence is conclusive: Climate Change, with it’s escalating greenhouse gases, is a symptom of our greedy consumption of planet Earth. It threatens the very life of all remaining species, plant forms, oceans and waterways as well as human life."
That last sentence is just plain bullshit. No biologist or climate scientist has ever tried to qualify such a statement. Not even the most apocalyptic future visions from the science fiction genre are laced with such grim predictions. So why do environmentalists feel justified in making them?

The fact is that life is virtually ineradicable on this planet. Even if the entire atmosphere and aquasphere were to be summarily sucked out into space and a kilometre-thick slab of bedrock shaved from the surface and sent screaming into the sun, these little fellows would still persist. So why? Why make such sweeping statements when they are patently implausible to any but the most screamingly ignorant post-modernist luddites and ignorant peasants? Its not as if anyone needs to exaggerate the impact of climate change and biodiversity loss upon our way of life. The hard facts are quite scary enough for anyone with the smallest sliver of imagination. Can you imagine never seeing another bird again? Those flitting silhouettes with their piping voices whose beady eyes betray their saurian ancestry. Anyone who has looked into the eye of an enormous herring gull cannot help but let the words "Jurassic Park" skim across their consciousness. Well, if we continue to prophylactically administer pesticides, destroy rural habitat and rape the seas of their bounty then most birds will be lost to our little island nation. Notice that I have deployed the qualifying term "most" because there are certain members of this taxonomic class that you cannot imagine being extinguished. And so it is for much of life on this planet. The diversity, the wealth, will be lost, leaving behind those who are adaptable or opportunistic enough to persist- such as the humble pigeon- or those who are robust enough to survive amidst the more inhospitable habitats that offer nothing for humans to exploit.

Whether this exaggerative phenomenon is just puffed-up and inappropriate hyperbole or plain ignorance of reality is irrelevant. It goes against everything that environmentalism stands for. The environmental movement is an evidence-based one. It is the antithesis of the unevidenced, soothing assertions of the politicians and corporations. It is a long, hard look at the likely consequences of all that is wrong with our society and culture. It is the search for ways of avoiding the megadeaths of innocents that will inevitably result from our apathy to those same ills. Its solutions are derived from informed debate and stand up to critical analysis. It is the truth.

So why do otherwise-respectable and conscientious campaigners engage in such dishonesty? The poorly-researched assertions against which I rail are profoundly counter-productive to the dissemination of that truth. Anyone who has watched the failure of our government to tackle climate change or biodiversity loss in any meaningful way knows that the battle is far from won. We have achieved few major victories in the decades since the publication of Silent Spring. The limitation of damage to the ozone layer from CFCs, the Water Framework Directive, the IUCN and more. These are piecemeal victories. All these are irrelevant if we fail to make further progress. They will become anomalies. Fading shrines to a utopian vision. The fact is that most of the work is left to do and the bewildered herd who stand in the way of progress have little grasp of the interconnected nature of the social, political, economic and natural challenges facing us. However, the fragments they absorb from episodes of CSI, BBC documentaries and the occasional glimpse of a current affairs program they see before switching back to Strictly Cum Dancing quite possibly leaves them with enough knowledge to see through the emotive declarations of imminent extinction. And so the seeds of doubt are sown. The already uphill battle for progress on the political field steepens further by having to work against the implanted doubt. Meaningful change becomes even less likely because of incautious and overly emotive statements.

So please, for the sake of us all, for the sake of the unborn children, STOP EXAGGERATING THE THREAT OF ENVIRONMENTAL DESTRUCTION AND STICK TO THE FACTS ! ! ! !


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. I agree with your basic point. However, there is a school of thought that suggests people will not act to change their lifestyles significantly unless they are compelled to do so. And fear -- of course -- is a great way to motivate people.

    Leastways, that's the charitable explanation for the hyperbole and exaggeration that often emerges from the environmental corner.

    The thing is though, the truth really should be scary enough to force people into action. Yet it hasn't proven to be so far. It's a tough situation.

  3. Hi Jim, I think you're saying in you last paragraph that its a matter of education, in which case I agree most strongly.

    As for the hyperbole, if I'm being strictly rationale then exaggerating environmental threats is never acceptable. If I'm being misanthropic then anything that causes the placid ruminants of the electorate to act is A-OK! It really does depend on my frame of mind and state if inebriation as to which position I adopt.


Feel free to share your opinions of my opinions. Oh- and cocking fuckmouse.