A lot of classic environmental concerns get wrapped up in moral judgments. We need to “save” the Earth, “protect” polar bears, fight against “threats” to our wild lands. While I may believe in all those causes, not all do. Perhaps worse, even some who might agree with the goals of these campaigns are turned off by the common perceptions of environmental activism as elitist, anti-human, or just a distraction from more important issues.
While I’m a proud “environmentalist” and don’t think we should apologize for our goals, there’s a lot of wisdom in speaking to people in ways that resonate with them. Even more importantly, a lot of environmental goals are worth pursuing purely on measures that environmentalists typically (or it is claimed) don’t pay attention to like jobs, national security, economic considerations, and the like.
Few areas of environmental activism fit this bill better than global warming. While global climate change is a threat to many traditional environmental concerns (extinction, habitat destruction) is is also a threat to many of the issues most important to those who often see themselves in direct opposition to the environmental lobby. How many other environmental issues has the Pentagon and CIA identified as “a real threat.”
The case for responding to climate change is so broad that even the Washington Post ran a recent editorial arguing that “fighting global warming should be a conservative cause“. Writer Bracken Hendricks makes a strong case for addressing climate change on the basis of protecting our “national interests”, “rigorous cost-benefit analysis”, and to avoid “unnecessary intrusions into our personal liberty.” One of his key arguments is that regardless of your belief in the science of climate change, we should behave like that key idol of conservatives, the small business owner.
“When faced with uncertainty and the possibility of costly outcomes, smart businessmen buy insurance, reduce their downside exposure and protect their assets.”
This approach to arguing for addressing what is typical viewed as an “environmental concern” as a rational response to a threat to our economic and national security interests is why I so like David Roberts’ recent campaign to rename people who want to address climate change issues. His general point is that as long as the movement to address climate change is seen a issue of the environmental lobby, it will be subject to all the vagaries of the left/right debate in this country. In reality, there is a huge, natural coalition of people on both sides of that split that should see this as a critical issue. Roberts sought to come up with a terms to describe those who see this as a threat to be addressed and settled on “Climate Hawks”.
“First and foremost, it doesn’t carry any implications about The Truth. It doesn’t say, “I’m right, you’re wrong. I’m smarter and more enlightened than you.” Instead it evokes a judgment: that the risks of climate change are sufficient to warrant a robust response. By definition, everyone must make such judgments on their own. Rather than being a Manichean choice—you get it or you’re stupid—it becomes about values, about how hard to fight and how much to sacrifice to defend America and her future. That’s the right conversation to be having.”
So I’m officially declaring myself a Climate Hawk and hoping that is just one of a growing number of ways in which issues that have typically been seen as the purview only of people who “care about the environment” or “social justice” find natural allies among groups who have been considered adversaries.