Why do environmental debates almost always turn into polarizing slugfests?
Well, such debates focus on problems identified as significant threats to the planet and human welfare. People fight over how big (or negligible) a certain threat is and what the solution should be. The fiercest battles are between people who have different values, which turns into a clash of worldviews. When this happens, ideology and politics trump science.
Climate change is the poster child for this today. The issue has become so contentious and polarized that civil discourse is nearly impossible. You’re either a climate denier or a climate catastrophizer. There is no middle ground permitted.
The same goes for our biotech dialogue. You’re either pro-GMO, in which case you are an unwitting tool of Monsanto, or you’re anti-GMO, which makes you an anti-science idiot. Not much room for nuance there.
Energy debates are no less simplistic. In this arena, though, we also see people with shared values who generally agree on the nature of an environmental threat (climate change), but who disagree on the solution. So here you’re either for replacing dirty carbon entirely with solar and wind power and gains in efficiency, or you’re pro fossil fuels. And if you say that natural gas (and nuclear*) can be a bridge to breakthrough technologies and a clean energy future, you’re sneeringly disparaged as a VSP (very serious person).
That brings us to fracking, the latest environmental issue to enter the funhouse and become grotesquely distorted. Once issues like climate change, biotechnology, and fracking enter the funhouse, good luck trying to separate fact from fiction.
An op-ed in today’s New York Times makes a good faith attempt with fracking. Check it out.
* A commenter reminded me of nuclear’s importance.