“Scientific ignorance is not an excuse for refusing to stake out a position,” they wrote. “Politicians rely on engineers to help them figure out which bridges are worth building, on physicists to suggest which defense projects are most feasible, and on biologists to better understand the threat of Ebola or Swine Flu. There is no reason why climate change should be different.”
Why not embrace policies and practices that focus on climate mitigation and adaption, and concrete and practical actions at the ground level that have the potential to make things better? It’s a bet on the future, where there is no room for fatalism or despair.
Here’s what that looks like. The Property and Environment Research Center in Bozeman, Montana, has collected dozens of case studies of market-based entrepreneurial approaches to preserve wildlife habitats and address pollution problems. The stories show how individual initiative and broad civic participation can solve knotty problems. To cite just one example, an “enviropreneur” in New Hampshire named Brett Howell was troubled by the death of loons that ingested fishing tackle made of lead. He worked with the Loon Preservation Committee and the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department to set up a tackle buyback program. Anglers who turned in at least an ounce of lead tackle received a $10 gift certificate to purchase non-toxic alternatives at partner shops. The program removed more than 3,000 pieces of lead tackle from state waters, providing a safer habitat for loons, according to PERC.
In his 2012 book How to Think Seriously About the Planet: The Case for Environmental Conservatism, philosopher Roger Scruton argued that none of the treaty-based, globalist environmental programs put forth by the political Left have a hope of succeeding if they are not rooted in individual or civic action. “Environmental problems must be addressed by all of us in our everyday circumstances, and should not be confiscated by the state,” he writes. “Their solution is possible only if people are motivated to confront them, and the task of government is to create those conditions in which the right kind of motive can emerge and solidify.”
To describe these grassroots motives, Scruton coined the word oikophilia (pronounced ECO-philia), or “the love and feeling for home.” The state, he writes, should “make room” for these ground-up efforts, although Scruton’s careful not to demonize every government conservation program. He’s for exploring “the ways in which rational beings can reach co-operative solutions to problems that cannot be addressed either by the individual or the centralized state.”
Scruton defends “initiatives against global schemes, civil association against political activism, and small-scale institutions of friendship against large-scale and purpose-driven campaigns.” On climate change, Scruton describes its appeal partly due to the ability to “internationalize” the problem and present a “calamity so great” that nothing in the way of everyday solutions will do. “The only feasible response to the threat of global warming is to devote our resources to how we might produce energy cheaply and renewably, and then making those discoveries available around the world.”
The collaborative power of "discerning environmentalism"
It’s not just conservatives who are working on reasonable approaches. The practical progressives at the Breakthrough Institute hope to create cooler, more reasoned debates. Tisha Schuller, an environmentalist who went to work for the oil and gas industry, observed in the Winter 2018 edition of Breakthrough Journal that she understands the anti-environmentalist attitudes of many people. “But vilifying environmentalists is no way to live, ” she writes. “No one gets to corner the market on loving the outdoors, wanting to protect special places, and taking solace and refreshment in nature.”
Yes, there may be “wildly different ways” of going at it. But most everyone, she says, “want[s] the same things – a reasonable quality of life, the opportunity to improve our circumstances, and access to beautiful, healthy, natural environments.”
A “discerning environmentalism” as she describes it, “requires that we let go of some traditional positions that don’t stand up to scrutiny, honestly assess trade-offs, and seek the best energy solutions, and make environmental values available to people of every political, socioeconomic, and cultural persuasion.”
This sounds eminently reasonable. And it puts the apocalyptic scenarios and frightful doomsayers in the place where they belong: harmlessly relegated to the screens of dystopian Hollywood blockbusters.