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April 22 2015

Earth Day Confessions (and Questions) from a Skeptic

Hadley Heath

This Earth Day, I have a confession to make: I’m a climate change skeptic.

I mean this as a double-sided confession: I’m not sure about climate change, but I’m also not convinced that it’s not a serious problem. To clear up my double negative, I mean I’m on the fence. Climate change may or may not be a serious problem.

On the one hand, I’ve seen charts and graphs that seem to indicate that the global temperatures of the earth have fluctuated up and down with no real pattern. It looks bad when scientists are divided about the evidence of man-made climate change, and some even come out and say it’s a money-driven sham.

And although I wasn’t alive in the 1970’s, I’m told “global cooling alarmism” was a thing, and it makes me hesitant to jump on a global warming bandwagon only 40-something years later (a very short time in… you know, the history of the earth).

On the other hand, I’ve seen pretty convincing documentaries about changes in the acidity level of the ocean, the effects this could have on wildlife and the global climate. I understand that small changes, even in a few degrees, could be cause for concern. And it’s plausible that the industrial revolution has had significant effects.

I live in beautiful Colorado, a state bursting at the seams with natural beauty. A warmer earth might sound good to some people, but the ski resorts here depend on a good amount of snow. I understand that we only have one planet Earth, so to screw this up could be a serious misstep.  For these reasons I do all that I can personally to take care of the environment. I recycle, I conserve water, I turn off the lights, and I ride my bike. All of those are choices that I make.

So what? It’s ok to be undecided about this, right? I’m not a climatologist. I’m sure there are people a lot better informed on this topic who would strongly take one side (or the other) on this issue.

But I am a voter. And so I do have to look at the earth and environment through the lens of public policy. To do that, I often ask myself the four following questions:

  1. Is climate change real?
  2. Is climate change man-made?
  3. If the answers to (1) and (2) are “yes,” what can we do to reverse this?
  4. If the answers to (1) and (2) are “yes,” what should we do to reverse this?

Question (1) is problematic because using the modern day jargon “climate change” might be confusing. Of course the climate is not completely static. Sure, the climate is changing all the time.

I’ve confessed above I’m undecided about Question (2).

Question (3) is also beyond my knowledge. There are many policy experts who suggest that if we take certain actions to reduce our use of fossil fuels and carbon emissions, we can indeed change the projections and reserve climate change. Others downplay our ability to have any effect. 

Those who want to take action suggest various things: encouraging the use of electric cars, putting the kibosh on drilling operations, shifting our energy toward “renewables” like wind and solar. They recommend moving toward household appliances and light blubs that are more energy efficient. Some people are already making individual choices like these. I see no harm in that. The troubling aspect is forcing (or nudging) others to make these decisions through government action, because that leads us to Question (4).

Question (4) is where I often get frustrated with big-government environmentalists: What should we do? Regulations on energy and the environment come with serious costs.  They can destroy jobs, communities, and economic development. Too often I fear that discussions of how to reverse man-made climate change (if it is real and if it can be reversed) leave out any discussion of the costs or tradeoffs.  And some environmentalist ideas seem downright extreme. Have fewer children? Come on.  Why work hard to conserve for a future generation if there isn’t one?

I think it’s fair for Americans to consider all of these questions when trying to make sense of this complex issue of climate change. Of course, on Earth Day, we all want to celebrate the beauty of the natural world and think about our personal responsibility to preserve it. But loving and caring for the earth doesn’t require blind allegiance to the political left or support for broad government actions.

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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