The practical approach to climate change

I want to promote a practical, non-partisan approach to the issue of climate change. I didn’t come up with it, I’ve heard people as different as Christopher Hitchens and Nassim Taleb make this case.

Here it is:

We should act proactively towards the conservation of the environment, no matter what the climate models tell us. Even if the models are unreliable, total ruin can’t be risked.

Let’s call this the practical approach. It’s practical because it aims towards getting results.

The reason the practical approach needs to be more popular is because the typical one simply isn’t moving anywhere. Aren’t you tired of the way these discussions go?

Usually, climate activists say “science proved we’re affecting the climate in a bad way, therefore we should act”, while climate skeptics pick up the argument as presented, and point at the uncertainty and unreliability inherent in the models.

Let’s call this the armchair approach. I call it the armchair approach because people treat the whole issue as if it’s armchair philosophy, and that action needs to be preceded by certainty. Both sides take it as a given that knowledge should come before action.

As a result, climate activists will insist people need to first accept a set of statements, such as “human activity is ruining the planet”, “the latest studies show things are even worse than we thought”.

Climate skeptics will then gleefully pick up on exaggerations and contradictions they spot, and charge them with abusing science. “Look at what Al Gore said in the year 2000, weren’t coastal cities supposed to be flooded by now?”, “Why are these Davos people flying private jets while scolding us about plastic straws”, etc.

My case is that neither activists nor skeptics are taking the issue seriously. Political polarization is the cause. Activists tend to be left-leaning, skeptics tend to be right-leaning, and both sides make political allegiance part of the case.

I. How activists fail the environment

Activists aren’t taking the issue seriously because they simply don’t seem to care about getting results. What they should aim for is an agreement as to what can be done, and on nothing else.

Instead, what they do is that they turn climate change into various things: a bludgeon to attack opponents and a political badge of honor. “We’re the enlightened vegan progressives who care about the planet, ride bikes, recycle, share apocalyptic posts, and talk about cute polar bears, unlike those knuckle-dragging conservatives”.

Apart from virtue signalling and moral exhibitionism, they also engage in witch hunts. Saying anything that diverges from their own talking points is treated like an unpardonable heresy, proof that you just need to shut up, engage in ritualized apologies, and repeat the approved mantras, because science.

Climate change is also brought up as an argument when it comes to various social engineering schemes they want to push, like open borders and mass migration.

All these might help their political aims, but it doesn’t help the environment.

II. How skeptics fail the environment

Roger Scruton, conservative philosopher who has argued extensively in favor of environmental conservation once observed the following, on how climate change is perceived by the public:

Part of the problem is, because the science has become politicized, ordinary people have just sort of backed off and said “no, no, it is all a scam, it’s just people trying to manipulate us”, and that is a shame, because here is something that could be a major problem.

Skeptics aren’t taking the issue seriously because they don’t even consider that climate change might be an actual threat. Yes, climate has always changed naturally before. And we’ve also had things like ice ages that weren’t good. Do we really want to shake the boat hard just to see what happens?

The “climate skepticism” case has changed over time, with skeptics taking whatever position seems tenable within their own tribe, but lacking any curiosity as to whether the issue is real or not.

And, just like activists, the skeptics turn their skepticism into a political tool and badge of honor. Anyone taking climate change seriously is dismissed as a feeble-minded liberal sheep.

III. What to do?

It’s clear to me that both political tribes have a way of moving forward, if they were serious about tackling environmental issues. People need to get over the rationalistic bias that knowledge ought to precede action.

Action should be motivated by the fact that we simply can’t risk the collapse of our civilization and the demise of our species.

But what should that action look like? Here, the approaches are radically different. Left-leaning people seem to think the solution lies in international bodies signing agreements and imposing regulations.

Roger Scruton, on the other hand, takes the cultural approach:

In Green Philosophy, Roger Scruton argues that conservatism is far better suited to tackle environmental problems than either liberalism or socialism. He contends that the environment is one of the most urgent political problems of our age, and sets out principles that should govern our efforts to protect it. The current environmental movement often fails to see that the environmental problems are generated and solved by ordinary people. Scruton argues that success in tackling environmental degradation comes from “national or local schemes to protect territory recognized as ‘ours’”.

What needs to happen is that willing people from both ideological backgrounds have to come together on neutral ground and to draft a narrative and a series of proposals that work for everyone. Roger Scruton is a good entry point into the network of ecologically-minded conservatives.

Regulatory measures and cultural ones ought to be balanced, and accent ought to be put on what needs to be done and why it needs to be done: for the practical aim of advancing our survival.

It should be explicitly stated that these measures don’t depend on the predictive models. Pressure needs to be taken off science, because it isn’t doing any favors to the public’s perception when scientists are seen as these ivory tower elites, looking down with disdain on the unwashed masses who think and vote the wrong way. Science shouldn’t be in the business of having to “sell” policy.

People also need to be assured that this is an agreement arrived at by all parties, not that one side is lording it over the other.

This needs to happen and it needs exposure. We have to radically change how we talk about this topic, because what we’re doing right now just isn’t working.