A Plea for for a More Constructive Climate Debate

By Keith Kloor | March 12, 2015 7:41 am

In the Guardian, Mark Lynas writes about the “need to recapture the climate debate from the political extremes.” Good luck with that! I’m afraid this proverbial horse has left the barn.

Of course, you should still read the piece, because it’s a necessary reminder of the real dynamics that shape the public discourse on climate change. As I lamented in 2013, the climate debate is overly simplistic, “often framed by those who dismiss the legitimate concerns of a warming planet and those who play up those concerns.”

I’ve been caught in the crosshairs of these rival forces since I began this blog in 2009.

Here’s how Lynas starts off his piece:

Climate change is real, caused almost entirely by humans, and presents a potentially existential threat to human civilisation. Solving climate change does not mean rolling back capitalism, suspending the free market or stopping economic growth.

With those two rather innocuous statements, I have just alienated most people on either side of the climate debate.

Yup.

Lynas goes on to politely chastise the Guardian for its role in perpetuating the narrow parameters of the climate debate, something I alluded to in this recent post. He then succinctly captures how we got to where we are:

The environmental left leapt on climate science because it seemed to confirm deeply held notions of the planet being fragile, and modern civilisation being in essence destructive. Moreover, climate science at last seemed to herald the global doom that the eco-Malthusian left had always hoped for.

Reacting against this rather miserabilist and dystopian worldview, the political right has increasingly adopted an outright denialist position – attacking the science in a covert war against the political ideology it has been co-opted to serve. The reason half of Americans doubt the science on climate change isn’t because they are stupid or misled by the fossil fuels lobby, but because the global warming issue has now become as much as part of America’s culture wars as abortion or creationism.

Incidentally, if you want to learn more about the template for this clash of worldviews, read “The Bet,” by Paul Sabin. I reviewed it last year.

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Collide-a-Scape

Collide-a-Scape is an archived Discover blog. Keep up with Keith's current work at http://www.keithkloor.com/

About Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a NYC-based journalist, and an adjunct professor of journalism at New York University. His work has appeared in Slate, Science, Discover, and the Washington Post magazine, among other outlets.From 2000 to 2008, he was a senior editor at Audubon Magazine.In 2008-2009, he was a Fellow at the University of Colorado’s Center for Environmental Journalism, in Boulder, where he studied how a changing environment (including climate change) influenced prehistoric societies in the U.S. Southwest.He covers a wide range of topics, from conservation biology and biotechnology to urban planning and archaeology.

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