Tuesday, January 22, 2013

A Call for Civility and Rationality in Environmental Discourse from the Nature Conservancy

Mark Tercek
Earlier this month, UK-based environmental activist Mark Lynas kicked off something of a firestorm when he gave a speech where he apologized for his previous opposition to genetically-modified foods (GMO). It isn't his first high-profile conversion, as I'm sure many of our readers recall how Lynas changed his mind about nuclear energy.

While NEI obviously doesn't have a position on the GMO issue, we couldn't help but notice that the row stoked by the Lynas speech helped elicit a very level-headed blog post from Nature Conservancy President and CEO Mark Tercek calling for civility and rationality in environmental debates.

You can find the post at the Nature Conservancy's blog,  Cool Green Science:
Since I have become CEO of The Nature Conservancy I have learned that it is our passion and the passion of our supporters that make us effective. But sometimes that passion can be our undoing. So many of us, and others who are not associated with The Nature Conservancy or conservation want the same thing—we want healthy lands, water and air, and we want wild places in which we can find inspiration. But we come to this vision of what we want with different values and beliefs.

[...]

Lynas’s talk and website were swamped with some embarrassingly vitriolic and harsh criticism—because he opened a debate. That should never be the case. We are all stronger if we embrace science even when it surprises us by overturning some of our beliefs, and we are all stronger if we respect one another’s views.

The tone of Lynas’s speech is as important as its content. He is not picking fights or making attacks; instead, he lays out his thinking and the evidence on which it is based. This is a key lesson for the environmental community. Of course we want passionate debate and discussion about different strategies; this can only move us forward. We do not seek nor could ever achieve lock-step agreement, but when the debate loses all connection to science then the environmental movement suffers badly in the long run.
If that argument sounds familiar, you're right. Earlier this week, I shared the news that Dr. Patrick Moore, the co-chair of the CASEnergy Coalition and one of the founders of Greenpeace, was stepping down in order to enjoy a well-earned retirement.

Like Lynas, Dr. Moore was once a die-hard opponent of nuclear energy, but eventually changed his mind when he took a closer look at the science - a process that he described in the following video that was released earlier this week in conjunction with his retirement announcement:


Back in 2009, the Nature Conservancy published a study that concluded that nuclear energy had the smallest footprint of all forms of energy generation. And just as Lynas kicked up a fuss earlier this month with his speech, that study also generated some blow back for the Nature Conservancy, so much so, that they felt the need to tell the press that their study shouldn't be taken as a signal that the organization was endorsing nuclear energy.

Here's more from the Nature Conservancy's Rob McDonald:
On this one metric, nuclear power does have a small spatial footprint, as do several other technologies such as geothermal ... Since our report didn’t consider all those different types of impacts, it shouldn’t be taken as a comment on the overall wisdom of increased nuclear power. That would take another and more thorough, report.
Here's a suggestion: maybe it's time for that new report -- no matter where the science might lead.

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