The science is fairly clear. Some humans are causing massive environmental damage. One result is climate change, but there are many other harmful results which are exceedingly likely to be very bad for humans and others.

Part of the reason some humans are causing massive environmental damage is the way they dig for minerals, grow wood, grow food, pollute, fish, consume fossil fuels and energy, and so on. The way modern industrial society interacts with ‘nature’ is harmful to nature and eventually harmful to humans, as humans are part of nature and most depend on nature for food and water.

There is a feedback loop here. Some things that would be easily ‘recycled’ such as CO2 by vegetation, get less recycled as forests are cut down and ocean plankton poisoned, so they become more of a problem as we go along. CO2, for example, will trap heat which will desertify much land, produce droughts, and kill large numbers of plants. Other plants may grow more, but probably not enough to make up for the destruction – its complicated.

This harmful interaction of pollution and destruction occurs because of cheapness and power. Cheap extraction make higher profits in the short term, it also makes material ‘development’ easier.

Another more contentious reason, might be that high status people can indicate or produce their status by their production of pollution (more air travel, bigger energy hungry cars, bigger homes, luxury yachts, more stuff bought from overseas, etc.), and often the pollution and destruction is channeled onto far less wealthy and powerful people, who have little chance of objecting.

Cheap extraction and pollution comes about because laws allow it. The people who benefit from the pollution and destruction, and who become wealthy or otherwise powerful, control the laws to make that the case, or make the penalties trivial in terms of profits. Some of them even argue that harmful pollution is good for you.

So destructiveness arises through politics and power, and attempts to curtail it also arise through politics (or occasionally through technological development).

Then there are the questions about what should be done to lower the destruction. Even if everyone benefitted immediately from lowering destruction and recognized this, people would still have different ideas about how to deal with the problems.

Another cause of problems is that economic, social and ecological systems are all complex systems, and hence difficult to predict in specific, hard to separate from other systems, and have so many interactions that we cannot observe them all, or understand them completely. It can be hard to formulate a policy which is not experimental (i.e. we learn how effective it is by implementing it).

However, the main problem seems to be that some groups seem to be trying to prevent discussion about what we should do to solve the problems, to prevent action that might reduce the problems, and sometimes to encourage what look to be fantasy solutions like carbon capture and storage. Some of those groups seem to be funded by people who might think they would loose on profit if the problems were corrected. For example, if we stop burning fossil fuels, that will have an effect on fossil fuel companies, and their continuing resistance to action seems pretty well documented.

So there are three main causes of politics around environmental problems, even when the science is well agreed: 

  1. Natural differences of opinion, probably based on political inclinations, about what to do; 
  2. the difficulty of completely understanding the systems we are trying to ‘heal’, and of knowing the exact results of actions in advance, and; 
  3. wealthy and powerful vested interests that don’t want to do anything to threaten their habits and wealth.