It has been my conviction that many controversial public decisions eventually get made by elimination, not inspiration. Bad choices unravel over time as their illogic or faulty assumptions become their own undoing. In the same way evidence has piled on to buttress the case for anthropogenic climate change, data is also reducing fears and highlighting positive attributes of solutions that were rejected out of hand a few years ago: nuclear energy, biotech, industrial agriculture and population growth.
Stewart Brand has become a heretic to environmentalism, a movement he helped found, but he doesn’t plan to be isolated for long. He expects that environmentalists will soon share his affection for nuclear power. They’ll lose their fear of population growth and start appreciating sprawling megacities. They’ll stop worrying about “frankenfoods” and embrace genetic engineering. [More]
Brand is simply one example of a committed environmentalist coming to terms with pragmatic solutions. At the Commodity Classic last week (from which your blogger is slowly recovering) during the General Session, Greenspirit spokeman Tom Tevlin offered similar observations about how the environmental movement, as it gains adherents is evolving to a more mature, and realistic approach - at least away from the fringes.
Farmers can help this process, I believe, by avoiding the loaded language and assumptions before we hear from environmentalists. We don't improve communication by habitually referring to "tree-huggers" and "eco-nuts". Remember, our teeth are set on edge by labels like "factory farms" (although I find it OK) and "chemical farming".
To solve the environmental problems we are facing will require all of us to consider what we will allow In My Back Yard, as well as what we won't. It will also mean taking responsibility for our actions individually and as a profession and being willing to submit to objective standards even when the science does not favor our position.
Brand offers a cheerful example of how public figures can acknowledge previous positions and move on to new opinions even in the face of withering derision of "flip-flopping". (Of course, sometimes such heckling can be valid criticism.)
“It is one of the great revelatory bets,” he now says. “Any time that people are forced to acknowledge publicly that they’re wrong, it’s really good for the commonweal. I love to be busted for apocalyptic proclamations that turned out to be 180 degrees wrong. In 1973 I thought the energy crisis was so intolerable that we’d have police on the streets by Christmas. The times I’ve been wrong is when I assume there’s a brittleness in a complex system that turns out to be way more resilient than I thought.”
Agriculture could do worse than embracing similar flexibility and above avoiding any hint of gloating on these issues. Our environmental choices have been made based on real data and our best estimate of the truth. Time will mostly prove us right as opponents gradually discover. Simple patience and humility could enable us to add to our ally list and speed resolution of pending problems.