Yes, that’s right agitators and antagonists, we shouldn’t be going green just because we think we are scarring the planet. The “climategate” saga has laid bare the complications of discussing detailed scientific practice in loose, potentially ambiguous terms, but I’m not interested in that. I’m especially disinterested in the uproar it has caused, the calling into question of decades of unassailable data based on the wording of stolen emails that could have been more carefully written. There is a much deeper question underlying all of this: why are we trying to go green in the first place?
The standard argument runs something like this: anthropogenic climate change is a reality – if we do not change our actions as a species, the emissions of greenhouse gases and other polluting factors will force the Earth to adopt a radically different environmental posture, one which will probably not be predisposed to the survival of homo sapiens. The process would presumably result in a mass extinction event which we would not be safe from. The Earth (and life itself) would probably survive, but we probably wouldn’t. Ergo, we should be reducing our emissions and general waste – so switch off that light, recycle that banana skin, and generally stop besmirching the planet.
Now, I happen to believe the standard argument, but let’s imagine that I don’t believe it (I add the bold type so I won’t be misinterpreted). In fact, let’s go further and hypothesise that it is demonstrably not true. Let’s imagine a world where our actions do not put Mankind at risk, and the scientists of that imaginary world have (hypothetically) concluded the matter beyond all doubt. This fictional Earth has given us carte blanche to burn, dump and pillage her resources without consequence. How should we act?
Do we simply carry on without a moment’s thought, continuing to pollute, drill, mine, etc.? The impression you get from some politicians (clearly burdened by lobbyists’ dollars) is that this is exactly what we should do. The real question is what sort of species humans want to be. As the primary intelligent animal on Earth, how should we present ourselves to the Universe? I don’t mean how will aliens perceive us (although that is a valid point, as we still cannot refute their existence), but how we wish to be perceived in general. When Mankind looks in its collective mirror, what does it want to see in its reflection?
I like to compare Man’s progress to the life of one of its individuals. I would estimate that our species is at the same stage as an adolescent. We have come a long way, and learned a great deal. But, we are still far from maturity. We can’t control our own temper (cf war), we can’t look after ourselves properly (cf poverty and suffering), and we are still not fully aware of our breathtaking ignorance (cf well, take your pick).
At this crucial crossroads in our existence, which road shall we select? Shall we be the underachievers of the Universe, content to stew in our self-made filth and to deny ourselves the fruits of Progress? Or shall we become something more? I’ve never thought of myself as being overly green (there goes that ignorance again), but I feel that the process of being green has far more benefits than healing our environment (or teaching us new ways of saving money and resources). Forcing us to be introspective and to realise the consequences of our actions as an entire species for the very first time is tremendously important. It will teach us what it truly means to be an intelligent civilisation – it may be the first steps in surpassing the geopolitical divisions that separate us, and lead to a unification unparalleled in our history.
When the leaders of the world meet in Copenhagen today to discuss the replacement to the Kyoto protocol, I hope they’re thinking of more than simple, self-serving motives such as “if we don’t, we’re dead“. I hope they think “if we do, we will improve ourselves irrevocably for the better“.