October 14, 2009

I am an Environmentalist

“Take your economy killing, phony alarmist, money grabbing, pseudo science and stuff it --- you ugly, arrogant liberal windbag.”

That is a portion of an email I received yesterday – and that’s the polite part.

This email came in reaction to my appearance Monday on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal to talk about “natural security.” Most of the conversation revolved around climate change, and that’s fine – except that it really brings out the worst in some people.

Other than being startled by the deranged anger some people feel about this subject matter, I tend to leave discussions like that thinking of all the things I wish I had said – or not said. One of the things I wish I had said/not said Monday had to do with environmentalists.

When accused of being one (an environmentalist) by two different callers, I was quick to note that I am a national security professional working for a defense think tank. And this is true – I am not a professional environmentalist: I do not work for an environmental group, do not have formal affiliations with any, and have no training or experience in that field. But I think in clarifying what I am, I basically accepted the premise of these questions, that there is something wrong with being an environmentalist.

 So, let me just clarify: there is nothing wrong with being an environmentalist. Indeed, I suspect anyone who thinks he is not an environmentalist just hasn’t had a problem in his backyard yet. If it’s your drinking water, the ground next to your house, the air over your head, the trash in your street – you will very quickly find you care about the environment.

Now, I don’t always see eye-to-eye with organized environmental groups, but who sees eye-to-eye all the time with organized groups of any kind? But I do believe in promoting the very best environmental quality possible – for myself, my country, and especially for my children.

Now back to the impolite email. The locus of this person’s anger was my dismissal of the question about the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere. The concentration right now is around 387 parts per million, but I didn’t think that was really the caller’s point. He was calling into question the science and my command of the science, and I don’t see the point in engaging on that score. (In no small part because I am not a scientist: I’m a national security professional and take the best information I can get from scientific consensus and analyze the potential national security consequences. Not that there’s anything wrong with being a scientist, mind you!)

For anyone who genuinely wants to know the science behind the greenhouse effect and why 387 ppm is a problem, there are a number of places to look. NASA has a good site, which lays out very clearly the range of scientific considerations, including the actual uncertainties (and there are many). Here’s a page at the Energy Information Administration. The National Academies of Science has a primer and also a big study on “America’s Climate Choices” – both are excellent. If you want to know how climate change may affect your part of the United States, here is a great report from the United States Global Change Research Program. These are U.S. government or wholly independent, highly credible resources (i.e., not advocacy organizations) in the United States that are basing their analysis on actual observations. They don’t give you any easy answers about what to expect, when, and where, but that’s the state of our knowledge today. Dealing with climate change is going to be about securing the blessings of liberty from the risks as we understand them – something the U.S. military does every day.

To recap my post for those who cared to read this far down: I am an environmentalist but I am not a scientist and I’m focusing my professional life on developing a better understanding of the future security environment facing my country and my children. As for the rest of the critique about me, well I guess that’s just a matter of taste.