Global warming, not the end of the world?

Daniel Botkin, president of the Center for the Study of the Environment and professor emeritus in the Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Marine Biology at the University of California, Santa Barbara writes about global warming on today’s Wall Street Journal editorial page.

You can sum up his position with the first paragraph of his editorial.

Global warming doesn’t matter except to the extent that it will affect life — ours and that of all living things on Earth. And contrary to the latest news, the evidence that global warming will have serious effects on life is thin. Most evidence suggests the contrary.

I think that Botkin makes an important point when he says that we can be so focused on global warming that we are ignoring other critically important environmental issues.

My concern is that we may be moving away from an irrational lack of concern about climate change to an equally irrational panic about it.

Many of my colleagues ask, “What’s the problem? Hasn’t it been a good thing to raise public concern?” The problem is that in this panic we are going to spend our money unwisely, we will take actions that are counterproductive, and we will fail to do many of those things that will benefit the environment and ourselves.

For example, right now the clearest threat to many species is habitat destruction. Take the orangutans, for instance, one of those charismatic species that people are often fascinated by and concerned about. They are endangered because of deforestation. In our fear of global warming, it would be sad if we fail to find funds to purchase those forests before they are destroyed, and thus let this species go extinct.

Click through to read the entire editorial.

Comments anyone?

Cat Laine October 18, 2007 at 8:18 am

This line troubles me immensely.

“The evidence that global warming will have serious effects on life is thin”

It’s unclear what he means by “serious effects”. Okay, if he is talking about mass extinctions, perhaps he has a point. However if he is talking about wide scale suffering, plague, a famine here and there, the occasional war over scarce resources, I think he’s dead wrong. There are plenty of people, mostly in developing countries with few resources to combat some of the adverse effects of climate change, who might find exception to his claim. I’m guessing from his credentials that he means the former and has discounted the latter.

Check out:
Poor Nations to Bear Brunt as World Warms from the NYTimes

The interactive feature is particularly informative.

Re: funding counterproductive or unproductive things

I think the more important question is what proportion of ideas funded are unproductive. Sure, if panicking means that every decision you make is a bad one, then global warming “fear-mongering” will be the ruin of us all. However, if it means that you only fund 5% bad ideas and 95% of them are great or that you take more risks and innovate more/faster, then a little panic might be just what we need to light a fire under our butts.

The other important question is what do you do to maintain interest in reforestation projects to save the orangutans, et al. after people get used to the sense of panic. When folks get “global warming fatigue”, how will we keep them engaged and get them to permanently adopt the positive behavior changes they have started.

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