‘The science’ is fairly clear. Some, but not all, humans are causing massive environmental damage. One result is climate change, but there are many other harmful effects which are exceedingly likely to have very bad consequences 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, catch fish, consume fossil fuels and energy, engage in transport, use concrete, and so on. The way modern industrial society interacts with ‘nature,’ or ecological systems, is harmful to nature and ecological systems 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 gases that would be easily ‘recycled,’ such as CO2 by vegetation, get less recycled as forests are cut down and ocean plankton poisoned, so those gasses become more of a problem as we go along, trapping in heat which will desertify much land, produce droughts and storms, and kill large numbers of plants. Other plants may grow more, but probably not enough to make up for the destruction – its complicated.
Society, power and wealth
This harmful interaction of pollution, destruction and climate occurs because of social factors involving cheapness and power. Cheap extraction make higher profits for some people in the short term, it also makes material ‘development’ easier. Modern society, and its hierarchies, were built on fossil fuels. It is contentious as to whether such a society can exist as easily without such cheap and easy sources of energy. However, oil is getting harder to find, and requires more and more energy to extract – tar sands consume lots of energy to process, leaving little left over. Changing fuels will likely change society in unpredictable ways, and thus disturbs those people who benefit from that society and those ‘some people’ who benefit from the destruction.
Another more contentious reason, might be that high status people can indicate 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 pollution allowable, or make the penalties trivial in terms of profits. Some of them may even argue that harmful pollution is good for you.
Some ‘do nothingness’ arises because some States are trying to gain parity with the West (economically and militarily) and cheap fossil fuel energy is one known way to do that. They may also feel that the West had over a hundred years of pollution for free, and should allow them to ‘catch up.’
Agitation against fossil fuels arises, because there is no evidence that it has been diminishing naturally over the last 30 years, and so people who worry about climate change also feel they have to use political solutions.
So ecological destructiveness arises through politics and power, and attempts to curtail it through science also requires politics (and probably technological development which cannot be guaranteed).
That science has become political is because of resistance to change from the established wealth polluter elites.
Factionalisation/Polarisation as Politics
However, even if everyone benefitted immediately from lowering destruction and recognized this, people would still have different ideas about how to deal with the problems, just as they have different politics and approaches to life in general. This situation is made worse by political polarisation, so that one side will not listen to anything proposed by the other side, and dismisses it automatically as ‘political’.
Some groups seem to be trying to increase polarisation 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 is likely to have an effect on the viability of fossil fuel companies, and their continuing resistance to climate action seems pretty well documented.
Another significant 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). If you require simple and dogmatic solutions you may not find them, you certainly will not get agreement on them because of already established differences in beliefs, and the chance of getting agreement is lowered still further by cultivated polarisation.
So there are three main causes of politics about science even when the science is well agreed:
- a) natural differences of opinion, probably based on political inclinations, about what to do;
- b) the difficulty of completely understanding the systems we are trying to ‘heal’, and of knowing the exact results of actions in advance, and;
- c) wealthy and powerful vested interests that don’t want to do anything to threaten their habits and wealth.