Master of the Middle
In, Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Master of Ballantrae: A Winter’s Tale, the local laird has a problem – who to support in the final Jacobite rebellion of Charles Edward Stuart against the Hanovers. The Durie family is sympathetic to Bonnie Prince Charlie, but rather than risk aligning themselves entirely with the losing side, one son supports the status quo while the other goes off to join the insurgency. The plan was that no matter who wins, a Durie would keep the land and title. Stevenson’s plot gets a lot more complicated, though, as things often do.
In the climate change debate, a lot of people have picked a side, and are fightly fiercely in the media (and courts) to convince others of the cause. The climate, of course, is changing more obviously every month, but deniers are fighting a rearguard action. Like the Duries, many in the media are trying play to both sides. I have read claims that most mainstream media meteorologists accept climate change, but you’d never know that from watching the weather on television. I’m guessing most station managers expect only decreased ratings if they so much as mention climate change on air.
Recently Pope Francis, the public face of the Catholic Church, issued an encyclical called Laudatum Si, (Praise Be To You) subtitled On the Care For Our Common Home, which recognizes climate change as a threat, and calls on the world to stop destroying the environment. Predictably, environmentalists have hailed Laudatum Si, and, also predictably, deniers have suggested the pope should stay out of science and politics. At the New York Times DotEarth blog, Andrew Revkin takes a cautionary tone, warning us, Beware Casting Pope Francis as a Caped Crusader, where he applauds the pontiff:
The greatest value in the pope’s decision to press on climate policy and environmental care, to my mind, lies in the reminder that, while science matters enormously in identifying the risks from an unabated buildup of greenhouse gases, the choices we make are shaped more by values and appropriately should involve every sector of society.
… but also quietly undercuts the message:
… “It’s important not to conclude that moral arguments for action on global warming, even conveyed by a pope, are a world-changing breakthrough. The reason is that the climate issue doesn’t exist in a moral vacuum. A powerful moral argument can also be built around the right of poorer countries to get out of poverty using fossil fuels. That argument bolsters Prime Minister Modi’s commitment to double coal production by 2020, for example, even as India also (at a much, much smaller scale) expands solar capacity and nuclear power.”
I’m excited to see such an influential and thoughtful figure pressing the case for action, and acknowledging the need for dialogue.
But Francis remains a man, not a Superman.
Dot Earth was moved from News to Opinion several years ago, and the Times dropped a lot of other ‘green’ blogs in 2013, so Revkin is politically smart to be cautious. But Greg Laden, who I follow on Science Blogs, has called him out for playing to the middle:
But then I look at Dot Earth, and I see two things. First is Andy Revkin’s tendency to occupy that space between serious concern about climate change and acceptance of consensus science on one hand, and questioning of the reality and importance of climate change, on the other. In other words, Andy likes to write, often, in the space between what deniers call “warmists” and what warmists call “deniers.”
And now there’s a lot of finger-pointing on both blogs.
IMO, it isn’t just DotEarth, it is the entire mainstream media, many so-called environmental groups and even people like me that accept climate change, but are trying not to alienate our spouses and bosses while slowly making a transition to a more sustainable existence. Just how long the climate lets us live in the middle is hard to predict.