I just finished watching a two-hour special on the History Channel about the top seven things that could cause a catastrophic end to humanity. The program aired a few weeks ago, but I recorded it and only today felt sufficiently motivated to view it.
For those who are curious, the seven — in ascending order of likelihood — are:
7. Massive burst of gamma radiation from space, or collision with a traveling black hole,
6. Asteroid impact,
5. Death by super-smart computers that decide to exterminate us,
4. Climate change wrought by supervolcano eruption,
3. Pandemics (probably based on a human-engineered virus),
2. Nuclear war,
and in first place …
1. Human-generated climate change.
The first hour of the program was actually quite interesting, being rooted in science and all. The tone changed, however, when the gentle viewer arrived at the top three. There, the hectoring began to displace the science, until we got to the No. 1 position, where the science was altogether absent, replaced by doomsday predictions that “no reasonable person can dispute” carefully explained by Al Gore himself.
I am not an environmentalist because I have an innate loathing for activists of any stripe. I don’t care the cause or the means; I find political activism distasteful. I even disassociate with people who advocate for positions with which I strongly agree, as on issues including abortion, capital punishment, and euthanasia. I believe that if something is worth changing, then it’s worth changing by one’s own hand. Activism merely presents an outlet for moral vanity.
And such vanity is often on display among environmentalists.
You can see it in the frequent ad hominems, as in claiming that there is no “debate” on climate change, only scare tactics funded by Big Oil. One panelist on the History Channel program even directly equated climate-change “deniers” with Holocaust deniers — with a straight face.
I will be honest: I don’t know the nature or extent of climate change. I don’t know the degree to which humans have any culpability for the change. All I know is that the arguments I hear don’t persuade me. It’s not enough to mistake correlation for causation and then demand massive sociopolitical changes based on models that are still wildly inconsistent. Nor is it enough to show pictures of polar bears and try to appeal to people’s emotions, all while repeating incessantly the nostrums of the environmentalist movement.
Still, there are arguments that can be made that might make me support the ends, if not the means, of environmentalists. I can see the benefit to reducing the use of fossil fuels, for example.
But the environmentalists (and all activists, really) turn me off because they take a theory and from it, make very specific claims about policy. Take climate change as an example. There is much we don’t understand about why the climate works as it does. We don’t understand the rhythms with certainty. Heck, we don’t even know what the weather will be like in 24 hours. A good and reasonable approach would be to demonstrate climate change, and offer a spectrum of possible explanations for it, a sane assessment of the results of it, and a host of potential methods for mitigating the unpleasant outcomes. A bad and unreasonable approach would be for “climatologists” and Nobel laureates to band together to demand very specific political acts (like the ratification of Kyoto) as the only appropriate response to the doom that is sure to overwhelm us within a generation.
We do not need Kyoto or Priuses or windmill farms or other such nonsense. We need, rather, for the scientists to tell us the facts, so that the policymakers (and not the scientists) can determine the correct plan of action.
I fear the only hope for humanity is if I were to build a super-smart computer and program it to kill all the activists.