Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Saving the planet requires non-scientific arguments

The climate change argument is about more than science

(Jackson Cote/Daily Collegian)

(Jackson Cote/Daily Collegian)

By Dan Riley, Assistant Op-Ed Editor

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Environmentalists can be hyperbolic when they address the impending threat of global climate change. Well-intentioned but overly excited tree huggers warn of how the Earth is dying. I’m a proud tree-hugger, but obviously the Earth is not dying; it is a giant rock. The planet will be fine. Though not everyone thinks so, the things that grow, creep and crawl on the surface of that rock are the one’s facing death.

In a recent interview, Environmental Protection Agency Chief Scott Pruitt said of climate change, “Is it an existential threat, is it something that is unsustainable, or what kind of effect or harm is this going to have?” These rhetorical questions are an excellent way of deceiving people into thinking that scientists haven’t been definitive about the answers for years, but to analyze the rationality of Pruitt’s questions would be to suggest that rationality plays any role in the climate change denying side of the political spectrum. The unfortunate result of living in a society where people pick and choose their own facts is that being factually correct is not enough to win an argument. To be a climate change denier is to be both willfully ignorant and recklessly disrespectful of science. That ignorance and disrespect cannot be countered with more scientific evidence.

Is climate change an existential threat? Of course, but I don’t see why that matters. On the one hand, if I am right in saying that it is then we will have worked toward addressing the disaster that will define our generation as either the next Greatest Generation or the Last Generation. On the other hand, if I am wrong then we will have made the world a substantially better place without Mother Nature’s gun pointed at our heads. The air will be cleaner. The water will be cleaner. Fewer animals will go extinct. Life will be better. We shouldn’t need to be facing extinction in order to motivate ourselves to enact environmental reform. We are good people in a good country with the capability to do good things; environmental reform would be a good thing to do.

That is just one front on which environmental activists could stand to reorient their communication strategy. There are other pragmatic avenues to explore.

For example, consider national security. Patriotism is a ubiquitous presence in political rhetoric; Americans will mobilize around issues concerning the military, and climate change is a military concern. Despite Defense Secretary James Mattis stating, “Climate change is impacting stability in areas of the world where our troops are operating today.” President Trump removed climate change from the list of official national security threats this past December. At the same time, Trump signed the National Defense Authorization Act, which instructs the Defense Department to study the impact of climate change on military bases. It would seem that while denying climate change is politically advantageous for Trump, the military is not afforded the luxury of pretending climate change is anything other than a national security threat. Simply put, climate change endangers those who serve overseas and it therefore must be combatted.

Further, one might consider religion. Some Christian conservatives have described the increasing frequency of natural disasters as the wrath of God. In response to Hurricane Harvey, political commentator Ann Coulter suggested, via Twitter, that the devastation was more likely to have been God punishing Houston for electing a lesbian as mayor than having been caused by climate change. While my instinct would to be to counter that narrative by pointing to the scientific consensus surrounding climate change, it may be more effective to counter biblical arguments with biblical counter-arguments. The notion that God would threaten humanity with extinction-level destruction can be derived from the Book of Genesis, in which God floods the Earth and wipes out all of humanity save for Noah and his family in order to cleanse creation of wickedness. At the conclusion of the Flood, God said to Noah, “Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.” Simply put, God promised he would never destroy us again. So, the increases in natural disasters either demonstrate that God doesn’t keep his promises or that these disasters are not divine. In fact, the Book of Genesis encourages environmental action: the Bible describes God making the animals as companions for the first human. This is symbolic of humanity’s duty to be the caretakers of creations, stewards meant to maintain our God-given paradise. That duty compels greater action to prevent the environment from degrading.

Assuredly there are many other ways that environmentalists may persuade climate change deniers to support reform. Whether those discussions are focused on environmentalism, military strategy, or religious fervor, the fact of the matter is that Earth is our home. We don’t have another, and I will be unsatisfied with our planet being anything other than a paradise until the sun burns out. Even in the face of science-denial, we can make it so.

Dan Riley is a Collegian assistant editor and can be reached at [email protected]

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