The Best Three Paragraphs I Read Today

They’re from Freeman Dyson’s article titled The Question of Global Warming in the New York Review of Books. Andrew Sullivan called this the best piece on global warming he’s read in months. I skimmed it but slowly read the last three paragraphs, which I think are spot-on.

In a sentence: Some members of the environmental movement think the belief that global warming is the greatest threat to the ecology of our planet is fundamental to environmentalism in general, and this is not necessarily so. Many global warming skeptics are passionate environmentalists.

There is a worldwide secular religion which we may call environmentalism, holding that we are stewards of the earth, that despoiling the planet with waste products of our luxurious living is a sin, and that the path of righteousness is to live as frugally as possible. The ethics of environmentalism are being taught to children in kindergartens, schools, and colleges all over the world.

Environmentalism has replaced socialism as the leading secular religion. And the ethics of environmentalism are fundamentally sound. Scientists and economists can agree with Buddhist monks and Christian activists that ruthless destruction of natural habitats is evil and careful preservation of birds and butterflies is good. The worldwide community of environmentalists—most of whom are not scientists—holds the moral high ground, and is guiding human societies toward a hopeful future. Environmentalism, as a religion of hope and respect for nature, is here to stay. This is a religion that we can all share, whether or not we believe that global warming is harmful.

Unfortunately, some members of the environmental movement have also adopted as an article of faith the belief that global warming is the greatest threat to the ecology of our planet. That is one reason why the arguments about global warming have become bitter and passionate. Much of the public has come to believe that anyone who is skeptical about the dangers of global warming is an enemy of the environment. The skeptics now have the difficult task of convincing the public that the opposite is true. Many of the skeptics are passionate environmentalists. They are horrified to see the obsession with global warming distracting public attention from what they see as more serious and more immediate dangers to the planet, including problems of nuclear weaponry, environmental degradation, and social injustice. Whether they turn out to be right or wrong, their arguments on these issues deserve to be heard.

3 Responses to The Best Three Paragraphs I Read Today

  1. Hi Ben,

    Sure, you can be an environmentalist and not be concerned with, or even believe in, global warming. But you wouldn’t be a very responsible one! Yes, a few nuclear weapons would harm the environment, as would the other “more immediate dangers” to the planet. In my view they are all part of a much larger picture, a shift in attitude that will take place over the next few generations to becoming stewards of the earth.

    Regardless of the cause, climate change is a real phenomenon with visible effects. Increasingly the pace of warming is even outstripping the least conservative climate models.

    Even if global warming was some vast conspiracy perpetuated by a bunch of scientists sitting around like villains in a Bond movie, the question of response is easy to answer. It’s simply a question of risk management – be proactive and have a benefit/economic tradeoff, or do nothing/not enough and possibly have catastrophic consequences. (well, this high school science teacher explains it better, look for “greg craven/most terrifying video’ on the internets.)

    I hope to be alive in 100 years, when the earth will be experiencing serious consequences of the industrial revolution-current. I don’t particularly fancy living in some Mad Max-esque vision of the future.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Environmentalism is not a religion that commands us to protect cute and furry animals.

    It’s the view that our living practices are unsustainable. Many people find it hard to grasp because the time scale goes beyond their lifetime.

    If we had fished more responsibly, we wouldn’t have the dearth of fish runs today.

  3. Krishna says:

    With peddlers of cheap debt and junk bonds from Wall Street meeting with sudden death, I am certain people will get back to basics, regain sustainable living habits and won’t be affluent enough to damage the environment ;-)

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