Green Blues

Al Gore's recent Oscar win for "An Inconvenient Truth" has some activists calling for him to enter the 2008 presidential race. Ironically, his agenda seems to have shifted toward the single-issue party platform of diehard Green Party members that may have cost him the 2000 election. The recent surge of environmental activism is obviously of great importance to many, but much concern and energy is misplaced.

The headlining issue of global warming is of course no stranger to the front page. But some hot air could due to be released from the general situation. By most measures the average global temperature has increased about a degree over the past century, with human effects responsible for no more than half of that. Many apocalyptic models of future global warming scenarios rely on levels of accuracy that are simply ridiculous by any good standards of statistics. A recent USA Today article claims to know the average global temperature of the world to within .001 degrees, for every of the past two thousand years. Additionally, the global temperature has grown over the past century, but by many historical accounts similar phenomena occurred in the Middle Ages and before. Moreover, if the global climate is changing it is almost a certain thing that the changes will bring increased prosperity to some regions, no matter what the causes are. The upshot is, skeptics of the data in support of past, present, and future global warming have decent reasons to be so. The data is far from conclusive.

Another environmental issue is much closer to home - in the grocery store, in fact. The ubiquitous labels of organic foods or locally produced foods are not as cut-and-dried as one might think. Although organically grown foods do not (duh) use chemical of any sort, because they do not use special fertilizers and pesticides they require about three times as much land to grow. Thus, if current world food output is to stay organic, farm land would necessarily need to triple - an event that would likely have hugely detrimental effects on certain locales. Another food topic is the locally grown foods, which are either supposed to cut down on green house gas emissions from being transported from far away, or are supposed to help local farmers. Both of these issues are not as beneficial as they might seem. First of all, supporting local farmers is similar to the old and defunct arguments for protectionism. Secondly, a recent study in Britain showed that most "food miles" were not even used in farm-to-store transport, but rather in store-to-home transport. Locally grown foods travel less efficiently, cutting down on any travel reducing benefits they might have.

Concern for the environment is certainly warranted now as much as ever, but a more prudential approach would likely lead to less panic and smarter policy.

Sources: (the 'link' function was broken)

"The Economist," December 9-16 issue


Steph Blake said...

Presidents shouldn't be activists, at least not until they're old.

Here is a link to an interesting clip, "Carter vs. the Worms":

The cynic in me says this is about the publicity, and I really don't think it does a spot of good to know things and feel sympathetic about issues and wear "Save Darfur" sweatshirts, unless you're actually going to do something concrete about it all. Swim for Malaria! Hoodies for Homelessness! (Do these sound ridiculous to anyone else?) But I suppose what Carter is doing is good. Just, how good, I don't know.

As for Al Gore: is anyone else a little flustered by all these candidates? And what about the pop culture factor? Should someone be elected on the basis of a movie? (Borat 2008!) And who had ever heard of Barrack Obama before that DNC speech? Well, his constituency, I'd suppose...

If you start typing "Hillary" into Google, you'll get "Hillary Clinton," with "Hillary Duff" a close second.

In any case, activism is good and well but certainly is not the role of a President. Neither is the single-issue candidacy. If Gore is going to make a serious bid, he should capitalize on the success of his movie, but distance himself from any rash platforms.

cody said...

The President is probably the only single person in the world who has the power to change the lives of billions of people for the better, if he (or one day, she) so chooses. In this regard, activism must be an essential part of Presidential character. A President, no matter what specific issues he represents or believes in, must become an incredibly energetic activist on those issues to get anything done. Bush unfortunately took this idea and ran headlong into an Iraqi civil war with it, but you also have Lincoln and emancipation/reconstruction, FDR and the New Deal, Kennedy and the Apollo space program, and even more recently, (Bill) Clinton and the Brady Bill.

None of those things ever gets done without someone who has the authority and the vision to fight and advocate for them. Is that not activism at its finest?

Strictly and truly single-issue candidacies are not only rare, but also almost always are never taken seriously by anyone. A presidential bid by Gore seems highly unlikely, but if it's his environmental activism that's keeping voters away, well... that would go a long way to explaining how far this country has fallen in terms of respecting integrity, vision, and compassion for the fate of humanity.

Vladimir Estragon said...

Unfortunately climatology and related sciences do not have all of the answers when it comes to questions of global warming. The very nature of the science is that it necessarily must examine and analyze global climate change trends and specific occurrences for hundreds of thousands of years - no simple task. While some are certain that humans directly responsible for much of the current warming which is uncharacteristic of the global climate, others are adamant that we're just in one more of those warming trends.
Though the possibility of global warming does demand attention, it unfortunately invites what I would consider petty argument over how unnatural the current warming is. This is unfortunate, I would say, because it allows people to become distracted from some of the facts that are undisputable. Specifically, humans are filling the earth, water, and air with harmful pollutants that are having drastic effects on various parts of the ecosystems that make up our world. There is no arguing the fact that burning fossil fuels is releasing significant amounts of gases into our atmosphere that were not being produced on the same scale before the Industrial Revolution. Whether or not scientists or politicians with agendas can try to argue that the current global warming may be disconnected from human activity, there is no doubt that humans are slowly destroying the natural world and disrupting the earth's ecosystems, if not its climate patterns. We need to work to minimize our negative impact on the environment without being distracted by arguments that are ultimately irrelevant.