First and foremost, please keep in mind that I am a big advocate for ecology. I definitely believe that humanity must take intentional responsibility for the environment. After all, who would want to take over a dead world? But it doesn't help that so many environmentalists keep saying dumb stuff that puts people off. In the interest of pushing the cause forward, here are five things environmental advocates should stop saying if they want to make a real difference.
#1: “Stop Wasting Paper. You’re Killing Trees!”
Ok, you do technically have to kill a tree to make paper. However, using paper doesn’t reduce the population of trees at all. In fact, it increases it. One of the biggest rules of economics, which I will refer to again here, is that if you want more of something, then you should incentivize it. Commercial paper producers plant and maintain very large forests to keep up with demand. If there was no demand for forests, then there would be less of them. In fact, the number of trees planted vs. cut down has been greater every year since 1940.
So throw away that half-used paper, take another piece of paper-towel, and wipe away to your hearts content!
“When people use more paper, suppliers plant more trees. If we want bigger commercial forests, then we should use more paper not less. Our policies should directly protect important wildlife habitats, not try to reduce our demand for paper.”
- Edward Glaeser, Professor of Economics at Harvard.
The Smart Alternative: The real reason we are losing forests and wildlife is because of development and bad agricultural practices in less developed countries. If you want to save the rainforest and the wildlife in Africa, we need to push for constraints on commercial and residential development and educate farmers on sustainable practices. Here is TED talk explaining our REAL problem: http://www.ted.com/talks/jonathan_foley_the_other_inconvenient_truth?language=en
#2: "We Should Address Climate Change with a Carbon Tax"
This is the dumbest and most destructive idea environmentalists are pushing. I know what you are thinking, “Wait! Doesn’t taxing something mean you will have less of it?” Well, sometimes, but that is not exactly what is being proposed. The dark side of the carbon tax idea is carbon credits. That means businesses can buy “carbon credits” from other more sustainable business if they go over their allotted amount. THAT TURNS CARBON INTO A COMMODITY!
If carbon is commodity, then businesses will make more of it to trade. Worse, the bureaucracy which would govern the credits is the political equivalent of corruption as standing water in a dark corner is for mosquitos. As a matter of fact, countries which have already tried carbon credit have proven that it increases the production of carbon (http://www.economist.com/node/21562961) Bad idea people, bad. Shame on you.
The Smart Alternative: Again, if you want more of something, incentivize it. Legislation which makes it very attractive to produce energy-saving products and solutions is better than trying to penalize carbon. Telsa Motors made a great electric car, and they have punished left and right (a lot from the right) when they try to setup dealerships. What’s the deal people?
#3: "There is Scientific Consensus on Climate Change"
First, no there isn’t. Second, it wouldn’t matter. The more one group of people insists their side of an argument is “absolute” the more the other side will dig in its heels. I have covered the behavioral psychology of this at length in a previous article (click here to read). Yes, a strong majority asserts that climate change is occurring, but we don’t completely understand it or know how to fix it. We are guessing. We have some good guesses, and we should probably be trying stuff anyway as it is getting pretty serious. But you win more flies with honey than… um… telling them you know everything and they need to agree with you. (Believe me, it’s kinda my thing.)
The Smart Alternative: If scientists and people reporting on climate change spend some time sharing the uncertainties and points of debate, then the general public would be more open to believing the things we are pretty certain about. For example, to assert climate change but say that we are still looking for solutions (especially other than that terrible carbon credit idea) would open minds and build a sense of collaboration.
#4: "Humanity is Bad for the Planet"
Good luck with that.
The Smart Alternative: Seriously, we need more reminders of how humanity can benefit the environment and has successfully taken responsibility for the environment around them. Too people are raised feeling disconnected from the environment, especially with the growth of cities, and don’t think they have a power to affect it positively or negatively. This is at the core of our culture issues with environmentalism. People need inspired, not shamed.
#5: "Only Human Beings are Violent"
Bullshit. Nature is brutal and vicious. Don’t get me wrong, it is beautiful and wondrous, but it will kick your ass. Violence isn’t human, it comes from scarcity. When animals compete for resources, they are just as vicious as humans can be. In fact, it is at the intersection of humanity and nature that the most abundance can be produced. That’s why we have pictures like this:
The Smart Alternative: It doesn’t help anyone to paint a picture of humanity vs. nature, for either side. We are all in this together. When people take responsibility for nature, nature benefits as much as we do. It creates a new order of life where “the lion lays down with the lamb.” Also, this guys is pretty awesome ->