Confessions of a Former Environmentalist: Five Reasons Why I Gave Up on ‘Green’ Policies
I used to be an environmentalist.
I once wrote that “scientists are right about climate change.” I long opposed logging clear-cuts and excessive drilling. I even voted for the Green Party candidate (gasp!) for president. But this long-time supporter of environmentalism has completely abandoned its modern instantiation. Here are five reasons why.
Failed Climate Change Predictions
Science is about accurate prediction. If Newton’s theory had failed to predict how apples fall, then it would be useless.
Few scientists have been as bad at this (basic) job as climate scientists. In one of the most comical episodes I’ve ever seen, climate scientists erected signs in Glacier National Park predicting its glaciers would be gone in 2020 — only to be forced to leave the signs after the predictions proved false. For a year, tourists to the park were met with a monument to the legacy of climate science: They stood looking simultaneously at glaciers … and the sign that promised, on the good authority of climate science, that the glaciers were not there.
Increasingly, climate scientists have appeared to me not as serious intellectuals but as the crazy old coot on the corner with a sign proclaiming: “The End is Near!” At some point, it is best to just avert your eyes and walk on by.
Where Did the Wild Spaces Go?
Thoreau said of nature: “We need the tonic of wildness.” Thoreau was right about me at least. One of my primary motives for being an environmentalist was that I believed natural wild spaces were good for the soul.
I still believe that. But many modern environmentalists don’t. They have abandoned this idea and substituted in its place a cult-like obsession with a set of things that clearly won’t preserve wild spaces at all.
And that brings us to wind farms. I hate wind farms. They kill birds and destroy forest habitats. The blades are made of materials that fill waste dumps and can’t be recycled. They require lithium batteries that have to be mined with methods that create the very kinds of problems the “clean energy” movement is supposed to solve.
But for all that, my primary reason for hating wind farms is the same as my motive for opposing all those oil derricks years ago: They destroy the wild spaces of my sanity. They dilute Thoreau’s tonic.
The real problem is the scope of their effect. An oil derrick isn’t attractive — but it is a fairly contained ugliness. Wind farms, on the other hand, ruin everyone’s view for miles and miles and miles around. The higher you go in the Pennsylvania mountains, the more you ought to feel freedom. But the higher you go, the more likely you are to have your vast wild vistas displaced by wind turbines. Even if a specific turbine design is attractive, it still interrupts our ever-diminishing wild spaces. So unless you happen to be a rich Massachusetts politician with the power to stop wind farms from messing up your own pristine ocean view, the tonic you get from nature will be appreciably less curative.
Wind farms make oil derricks feel like pure mountain streams. Can we start drilling again soon?
Bullying Over Debate
One of the clear signs that a movement is rotten is when it resorts to silencing its opponents rather than debating them. The modern “green” movement contains the worst set of bullies I’ve ever seen; indeed, they serve as primary fodder for my forthcoming book called Liberal Bullies. Rather than meet fact with fact, the movement increasingly calls people they disagree with climate deniers and engages in intentional censorship to silence the voice of opponents. Not only is this repugnant to those of us who value free speech, but it is also a clue that the movement doesn’t have a lot of substantive arguments. You don’t need to silence people when you can win an argument with facts.
Politics Over Facts
Speaking of facts: The relationship between science and politics only works when the causal arrow between them goes from scientific facts to politics. The modern green movement has that backwards. I remember seeing a science presentation at a San Francisco aquarium where the speaker confidently asserted that Glacier National Park had less than 10 glaciers left. I thought that was odd because we had just visited the park and the park officials had told us there were over 40 glaciers. But trying to discuss this with a presumed expert was a parable of the modern movement: no amount of fact would change his conviction, because the facts didn’t fit his political beliefs.
Lack of a Cost/Benefit Analysis
Even at the height of my pro-environmentalist sentiment, I wasn’t opposed to all oil drilling. I know we need energy; I use it every day. I just wanted moderation that purposefully preserved a significant amount of wild nature. Well, across the board, the green movement increasingly just bludgeons us with simple-minded ideas that ignore the obvious costs of their policies. They push for recycling without considering the environmental costs of (say) moving recycled goods (even The Atlantic recently admitted that recycling wasn’t accomplishing all that much). They push for climate change initiatives while dismissing the costs for everyday families. They don’t often consider that, compared to other methods, wind farms produce a small amount of energy relative to the destruction they cause.
All movements have problems, including my own. All movements have bullies, including my own. I realize there is a danger in hand-picking a few extreme examples here. There are plenty of good environmentalists. I know some of them. I don’t want to paint the entire movement with one brush.
And yet, from my little corner of the world, something seems amiss. The green movement has increasingly ignored common people’s real experiences in favor of an ever-narrowing and cult-like political agenda. If it ever regains a focus on the reality most of us inhabit, I’ll reconsider.
But I’m not holding my breath.
Originally published at The Institute for Faith & Freedom, Grove City College. Reprinted with permission.