If I have seen further [than certain other men], it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.
(Attributed to Sir Isaac Newton and others before and after him)
Last month, I supplemented my profile on Dr. Wangari Maathai with a small reference to the more controversial Salon.com/Rolling Stone article, Climate Warriors and Heroes. Although the list of 28 people who have made significant (or, at least, well-publicized) contributions to the green movement is clearly too limited — contributions are generally limited to work in the West and within “developed” nations; limited, unsurprisingly, by gender and limited, for the most part, to celebrity — it does begin to illustrate that the individual’s value is amplified when that person’s skills are supplemented by those of others.
I would, however, like to quickly make note of an individual who posted a comment soon after the article was originally released in late 2005. In a comment titled “Drive-Through Environmentalism,” the individual astutely points out that many of the 28 “climate warriors and heroes” are hardly visionary, since they have not dramatically challenged existing infrastructure systems. The individual discusses the automobile industry and transportation system, in particular, and echoes those who condemn the “light green” movement for inducing no fundamental change to (or sacrifice of) luxuries and comforts of many Western/industrialized lifestyles. S/he is intelligent enough, however, to recognize that infrastructure standards sustain such lifestyles. Many would argue that effective change cannot occur immediately and that there is value in working within established systems to change them. At what point is that argument convenient and exhausted?
This month, I’d like to highlight an example of dissent which only further strengthens and empowers the green movement. A community with a cause can only benefit from respecting the challenges of an individual or a minority and thoroughly assessing the validity of the dissent. When in the spirit of pursuing truth and the welfare of the community, these challenges ultimately embody loyalty.
Earlier this week, I came across an unsuspecting, surprisingly-refreshing profile on Bjorn Lomborg, “a Danish political scientist and scourge of environmentalist orthodoxy.” In ‘Feel Good’ vs. ‘Do Good’ on Climate, John Tierney describes a discussion with Dr. Lomborg regarding some of his controversial beliefs about climate change from an economic perspective. As head of the Copenhagen Consensus Center, Dr. Lomborg encourages economists and political scientists to establish a different set of priorities than do conventional environmentalists. According to Lomborg, a “feel-good” strategy, such as the Kyoto Protocol, does not dramatically alter the lifestyles of those individuals and/or nations that have endorsed it and allow them to advocate for causes and make promises for which they are not held accountable. A “do-good” strategy is distinguishable in that it tackles more pressing threats, such as malaria, AIDS and other pandemics; drinking water supply and other sanitation issues; and hunger, and subsequently, malnutrition. Lomborg also emphasizes that “do-good” strategies are more cost-effective and achieve more tangible results in addressing climate change.
If you’re worried about stronger hurricanes flooding coast, concentrate on limiting coastal development and expanding wetlands right now rather than trying to slightly delay warming decades from now. To give urbanites a break from hotter summers, concentrate on reducing the urban-heat-island effect. If cities planted more greenery and painted roofs and streets white, he says, they could more than offset the impact of global warming.”
Dr. Bjorn Lomborg is understandably criticized for underestimating the magnitude of global warming’s impact on the Earth and its future. It is certainly worth looking further into his alternative perspective and deciding for yourself what is of value to the overall movement. Since it is important to me that I am well-informed about a variety of views in this movement, I will have to read more of his work for myself. In the end, I may very well disagree with much of his work, but he wisely reminds us, however, that “preparing for the worst in future climate is expensive, which means less money for the most serious threats today — and later this century.” In past posts, I have attempted to convey my belief that the green movement is multi-faceted and, ideally, addresses a wide spectrum of human concerns sustainably. If there are ways in which the community can account for long-term conservation and disaster-prevention planning, while addressing equally-significant threats at hand today, I would welcome more open-minded discussion to achieve these interdisciplinary, cost-effective strategies.
The views of Dr. Bjorn Lomborg and his colleagues at the Copenhagen Consensus Center have been denounced by institutions and individuals alike, many of whom claim allegiance to the environmental movement. Immediately after having read the aforementioned article about Lomborg, I encountered another striking article, though on the International Development Design Summit at MIT and its attempts to identify problems affecting real people and test design solutions for these real-world applications. The founders and participants of the program theoretically place major emphasis on the “design revolution,” which accounts for a shift in focus among companies, universities, investors and scientists toward addressing small and larger design obstacles in the world’s “developing” communities.
Nearly 90 percent of research and development dollars are spent on creating technologies that serve the wealthiest 10 percent of the world’s population, the point of the design revolution is to switch that.”
The engineers who have participated in MIT’s International Development Design Summit are among a growing group directing their attention toward providing tangible solutions to immediate human threats. Should Dr. Bjorn Lomborg’s perspective then be entirely dismissed when his challenges echo somewhat the increasingly-popular “design revolution”? Just as “drive-through environmentalism” exposes *an inconvenient truth*, we should be prepared to extract objective wisdom from the least popular and unlikeliest of places, people and posts. It is from our breadth of existing knowledge — and exceptional insights about its strengths and weaknesses — that we develop outstanding solutions for ourselves and for the future.
Quotations taken from John Tierney’s ‘Feel Good’ vs. ‘Do Good’ on Climate and Andrew C. Revkin’s Low Technologies, High Aims, respectively. Both articles taken from The New York Times.Photos from Photo.net, The Seattle Times, and The New York Times