Monday, March 01, 2010

What motivates environmentalists?

Jonathan pokes holes in my "global warming worriers are committing the Appeal to Nature fallacy:"
I think it's safe to say that most environmentalists would greatly prefer that we focus our efforts on changing the behavior that is causing GW, rather than on massive geoengineering projects to mitigate its effects. I don't see any contradiction or appeal to nature fallacy in that approach.
Very good point! I need to do some more thinking; I'm going around in circles trying to figure out if the Appeal to Nature fallacy applies:

WHY are people environmentalists?
BECAUSE they like nature.

WHY do they like nature?
Just... because? (appeal to nature fallacy? utilitarian "I don't want to be poisoned by pollution"? love of squirrels? preference for natural versus man-made landscapes? mild case of enochlophobia? I dunno! All of the above, I guess)

Then there's the whole "but humans are part of nature so we should be able to do whatever the hell we want" argument. To which I say, just because you CAN jump off a bridge doesn't mean you SHOULD.

And the opposite ultra-radical-environmental "cities are unnatural, and we must radically reduce our population and live like our very distant ancestors did to restore the natural balance of things" argument.

And there's the Bjørn Lomborg argument, with which I agree: we aught to invest our environmental dollars and energies where they'll give the most bang for the buck. Tackling global warming shouldn't be anywhere near the top of the list, there are many more immediate, easier-to-solve issues that will make the world a better place.

After all, isn't that the goal? To try to make the world a better place, both for us hairless brainy apes and the rest of the planet?


Joseph said...

Dear Bjorn is so patently on his own agenda that it would be laughable if it weren't so serious. His "consensus" is a group of people that he selected so that he could have agreement. I could do that too! It's politics. For some analysis see here. (And yes, my brother is a contributor to that blog. And no, his opinions are not necessarily mine.)

Sure the "Appeal to Nature" fallacy is part of the debate. But so is the "Environmentalists and anyone who provides them support (scientists) are crazy leftists who are against the American way of life" fallacy. I'll go with whoever it is who has 99% of science on their side. Today that's people like Al Gore and Bill Gates and not the smiling Lombergs of the world and their even more shark-toothed cousins.

Gavin Andresen said...

Ummm... you'd get farther convincing me if you didn't start with an ad-hominem attack on Bjorn.

As for the analysis at RealClimate: I'm underwhelmed. I don't see any compelling arguments against Bjorn's position (just "we should do everything all at once" and "yeah, they're using good science, but their economics can't be right because... because... just because!").

Maybe because RealClimate is all climate scientists, and what to DO about AGW is an economic question, NOT a climate science question.

If I was snarky I'd say "when will the climate scientists learn to leave the economics to the ECONOMISTS?!?" OK, I guess I am snarky.

And if I was shark-toothed, I'd say "The climate scientists say the science is settled. OK, great, time to cut their funding and give the money to the economists/policymakers/biologists/engineers to figure out how much damage will be done, figure out solutions that will work and run the cost/benefit analysis to see if the solutions make sense."

Joseph said...

Lomborg is a policy maker and like all policy makers he comes with a strong idealogical bias. You have to acknowledge that. His "consensus" is in the domain of policy which is utterly different from consensus in the scientific community. To conflate the two is a gross misunderstanding of the difference between science-making and policy-making. That's what I think is at the heart of the teeth-gnashing reaction that many climate change scientists have to Lomberg.

If I can be granted the right to make an ad-hominem attack I'll say that it's no surprise, Gavin, that you gravitate to Lomberg because he shares your love for poking holes in conventional wisdom. Those holes may have value, but they are also made from a particular perspective. In Lomberg's case that perspective is based in welfare economics.

Gavin Andresen said...

But Lomborg (et al) doesn't dispute the scientific consensus; he uses the consensus as a starting point to try to figure out what the right policy aught to be.

I don't see why that should cause teeth-gnashing among scientists, unless they have some expertise in economics or cost-benefit analysis or nuts&bolts "what does it take to create effective policies that have a snowball's chance of getting enacted" and so have a good reason to think that Lomborg's policy proposals are wrong.

I'm still looking for a coherent argument for how his reasoning or approach is flawed.

Joseph said...

I'll post some more extensive comments on Dear Bjorn later but the main point is embedded in your last post: "Tackling global warming shouldn't be anywhere near the top of the list, there are many more immediate, easier-to-solve issues that will make the world a better place." Bjorn conflates apples (short-term) with oranges (long-term).

As to why scientists teeth-gnash at his name, again, I think it's because the use of "consensus" by him creates a false equating of him with the scientific consensus on climate change and again, those two types of consensus couldn't be more different.