If one were a flea, and one’s entire life was spent nestled among the black hairs on a zebra’s back, one might tend to conclude that zebras are black. Until one met a flea from a neighboring white region of the same zebra’s back. Then an argument might ensue between the two camps over which one was right. Time would pass, and after the fleas established a space program and launched their first surveillance satellite (held aloft on the back of a dragonfly), one might expect the issue to be settled once and for all. But the highly-anticipated, and “conclusive,” data would still be subject to interpretation. That is, some would believe that zebras are white with black stripes, and others would believe that zebras are black with white stripes.
The point is data are rarely conclusive. And even when they are, the personal agendas and biases of those who own or collect the data, might sometimes prevent the truth from being known. So it is with the current debate surrounding what was once called “global warming” and is now called “climate change” — just the surreptitious change of moniker is enough to bring motives into question. Couple this with the recent revelations of emails between scientists in the field that have given the appearance of impropriety, the failure to reach consensus at the recent Copenhagen summit, and the whole environmental movement seems to be losing momentum.
I hesitate to say that the movement is receiving its just desserts. I am sympathetic to the goals of the movement, I’m just not a fan of their tactics in most cases. I also struggle with the way the message has been communicated over my lifetiime. I was two years old when the first Earth Day was held, and the histrionics first began about how we were killing our planet, and that if we didn’t address the crisis, we would all be dead by the end of the century. Well, for those of you keeping score at home, the crisis continues unabated now forty years hence, and we’re all still here. But no one within the movement shows any sign of backing away from the hyperbole — they just keep moving the goal line out, a generation at a time.
So as we enter the fortieth year of this movement, where are we really? Is the planet in better or worse shape? Are zebras black with white stripes? Or white with black stripes? The answer that seems most reasonable to me, and the one that is most striking, is that no one really knows. Not yet. For each objective data point on one side of the debate, its equal appears on the other side. Forty years on, and we have a stalemate, the rhetoric on both sides having become trite. The problems appear objectively real, but the proposed solutions do not.
I would encourage the movement’s crusaders to take advantage of this respite, dress your wounds, and regain your bearings. But most of all, refine your message, banish the traitors among you who have brought harm to the movement, and come back when you’ve figured out the color of the zebra. Until then, frankly, I’m tired of hearing from you.