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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Doom and Gloom or Smile and Denial?

Air Date: Week of

Commentator Andy Schmookler theorizes on whether preservation or plunder is the best approach towards resources and nature.


CURWOOD: As the country's leadership turns sharply to the right, commentator Andrew Bard Schmookler has some thoughts on the future of environmental policy.

SCHMOOKLER: I'm in no position to make an independent judgment on the scenarios of global warming or ozone depletion, or food and population imbalance. But with uncertainty inescapable, I know where I'll place my bet in the debate between repent and change, and business as usual. Consider first which side is more likely willfully to distort the science. These days we hear a growing chorus of voices that dismiss the environmentalists as purveyors of doom and gloom, who have made an industry out of conjuring up threats to our future. But the bright, highly educated people I know in the environmental movement could have made much more money in some other job than prophet of doom.

And what about the other side? The greatest powers of the modern world are entrenched on the side of, "Don't worry, be happy." I don't know whether the growing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere threaten in the next century to ruin the climate that now grows our bread. But I do know how much bread is in the pockets of those with a vested interest in our continuing to burn fossil fuels.

It's no surprise to me that there are scientists getting significant air time to deny that any scientific consensus exists on one scenario of danger or another. If there were great corporations with a vested interest in our believing the earth to be flat, you can bet that scientists would be found to argue that the blue ball photographed from our space ships is but an optical illusion.

There's one more point. Let's say we were to judge the question of plausibility to be a toss-up. How should we call the coin? The environmentalist David Orr recalls the famous wager of the French philosopher Blaise Pascal. Uncertain whether there is a God who rewards the good and punishes the wicked, Pascal decided that prudence dictated that he act as if there were such a God. If it turned out there were none, he'd have lost little. But if there were such a God, but he acted as if there were not, he would pay dearly in Hell through eternity.

Likewise, if we wrongly disregard the fearless counsel of those who say "full steam ahead," our unnecessary caution will make us a bit less fabulously wealthy than we could have been. But if they prove wrong, but we have imprudently followed their reckless advice, we will find ourselves in a Hell of our own making.

We gamble, whichever way we choose. I'd rather place my bets with those who give us doom and gloom than those whose message is, "Smile and denial."

CURWOOD: Andrew Bard Schmookler is the author of The Illusion of Choice: How the Market Economy Shapes Our Destiny. He comes to us from member station WMRA in Harrisonburg, Virginia.



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