The environment: change or semantics?

It's easy to dismiss efforts to change the status quo because the proposed solution isn't perfect. This is especially true of environmental change, where facile arguments attempt to belittle new ideas. Through this line of thinking, it could be claimed that walking doesn't help the environment because shoes are constructed from materials made of petroleum which wear off, causing pollution.Variations of such rationales are applied on a larger scale across a broad spectrum of environmental issues that confront us in the modern era. For example, this author has heard the problem of species extinction dismissed with the blithe assertion that "extinction happens and we don't really need polar bears anyway." The bankruptcy of Solyndra, the federally-assisted solar power manufacturer, is also a case in point. Its failure has been continually used to suggest that solar technology is not worth the effort, despite the fact that Solyndra's collapse represented only a minute fraction of many otherwise successful federal technology loans in a long line of federal energy subsidies, which, by the way, at one time accrued to a young oil industry. Climategate is another example. No substantive science was ever in question, but climate change deniers used this same kind of logic to claim that some unrelated questionable professional behaviors disproved global warming. The most absurd variant thus far of this kind of illogical thinking comes from the North Carolina General Assembly, which introduced legislation last year that sought to deny unanimous scientific consensus regarding sea level rise by mandating linear instead of exponential projections--in effect telling the Atlantic ocean that its inevitable higher sea levels are illegal. If you studied logic in school and your Latin isn't too rusty, you may remember some of those famous fallacies, such as "reductio ad absurdam," translated as "reduction to absurdity," or "argumentum ad consequentiam," translated as "argument from adverse circumstances." Neither of these quite describes this new line of fallacious anti-environmentalist thinking, but they both convey the idea. Such logic is glib and false. But more importantly, it's lazy. Because if you can dismiss these environmental issues, you don't have to deal with them. It is not the purpose of this column, however, to devolve into semantic argument. The goal of this ongoing and ever shifting series of environmental discussions is to keep the topic of our society's massive sustainability issues in the public arena, and hopefully to bring a little extra perspective to some of its less known detail.

********** Published: January 31, 2013 - Volume 11 - Issue 42