The Green Inquisitors

Students, faculty, and staff at a northeastern liberal arts college recently received an email that announced that a printing quota was being imposed in order to reduce the use of paper. The email stated that this “green initiative” was being undertaken in the interest of “raising consciousness” about the environment—and, of course, save money. Among the “printing facts” was the somber note that “400 trees” had fallen victim to college printers last year.

Never mind that trees are a renewable resource, and most paper gets recycled, anyway. Or how the college knows how many trees went into its yearly paper consumption. Such practical objections are irrelevant. The purpose of that “400 trees” figure was not to educate, but to engender guilt among the readers and persuade them to buy into a cost-cutting scheme by justifying it with the rhetoric of greenness. It’s the liberal way: make people feel responsible for some evil, then offer them a way to atone. The appeal to greenness is also reminiscent of the way in which every scientific theory in the Soviet Union had to accord with Marxist-Leninism. Or how every scientific idea in the Middle Ages had to be given some warrant in Scripture.

If green activists really saw humans as part of the ecosystem, they would accept that our activities, including pollution and wasteful energy usage, are “natural.” My view is that humans are both part of the ecosystem and also apart–to use a convenient, if out of context quote, we are “in the world, but not of it.” But greenies see us as not only apart, but standing in a godlike relationship to the natural world. We humans have the ability to “save the planet.” Really? The fact is, we can neither save nor destroy the planet. It’s hubris to think otherwise.

Sane environmentalism (what I would call conservation) would seek to do things that benefit us and our domesticated animals and plants. Clean air and water is certainly part of that. So are many other conservation measures. But throwing thousands out of work on the off-chance that our activities might harm the habitat of a little-known species is not. Greenies think we should sacrifice ourselves for this notion of “Gaia.” But this is a strange twisting of natural selection–we act to harm ourselves and “save” a species which, for all we know, is slated for extinction anyway. It’s irrational. And it depends on our own (non-existent) omniscience, as well as theological, not scientific, assumptions that most of us don’t share. Such a minority view should not dictate policy for the majority.

The parallel to the dogmas of the Soviet Union under Stalin and the medieval Church is clear. Like the greenies, these institutions had their inquisitions, relied on scholarly “consensus” as their main intellectual support, would not accept information that contradicted official ideologies, and attacked and destroyed individuals who dared to publicly challenge those ideologies. The green inquisitors can’t murder heretics, but they can (and do) destroy their careers and reputations.

Witness the latest spectacle of a scientific journal editor being forced to resign after publishing a peer-reviewed paper questioning global warming. Not only did Wolfgang Wagner resign from the journal Remote Sensing, but he wrote an editorial publicly disavowing the paper. His stated reason? Too many critical comments on the Internet, what he refers to as “open discussions.” In Wagner’s words:

“Why, after a more careful study of the pro and contra arguments, have I changed my initial view [that controversial papers should be published]? The problem is that comparable studies published by other authors have already been refuted in open discussions and to some extent also in the literature, a fact which was ignored by Spencer and Braswell in their paper and, unfortunately, not picked up by the reviewers” (emphasis mine).

It is doubtful that Galileo could have crafted a better recantation.

Wagner’s apology was highlighted in a number of websites, including the Center for American Progress’s thinkprogress.org, where entire the second sentence was placed in bold type and lauded, and where commenters demanded that whoever selected the paper’s reviewers should be, as one phrased it, “next on the chopping block.”

Now. The standard in scientific publication is the use of peer review. The review process produces some quality publications, others not so much. But it is extremely rare for an editor to step down because of a bad decision—though it has happened before when an article casts doubt on global warming. And the reason give won’t wash. Articles appear all the time that fail to mention opposing views. The fact that “to some extent” the article’s findings have been refuted in the literature seems a feeble excuse to resign and also throw the authors under the bus. The real reason is the “open discussion” part—Wagner was trying to save his professional career in the face of what amounts to being shouted down by a mob.

Yes, this is the 21st century. But be comforted—if professional careers are being placed on the chopping block, at least 400 trees will be spared that fate.