Sustainability Triumphalism

Marilee Turscak

The sustainability movement is more popular than it has ever been before.

This summer, in the aptly titled Sustainability: The Journal of Record, Mitchell Thomashow declared with confidence, “The sustainability movement is thriving on college and university campuses.”

How can he tell? “There are scores of people from all corners of campus life who deeply care about human flourishing, ecosystem health, and community empowerment,” he wrote.

Thomashow is well-prepared to speak authoritatively. He is the former President of Unity College, whose mission is to provide a liberal arts education “through the framework of sustainable science,” and director of the Presidential Fellows Program at the sustainability nonprofit, Second Nature. He recently wrote the book, The Nine Elements of a Sustainable Campus, and in the past few years he has visited nearly 40 college campuses and spoken with correspondents from over 200 colleges.

“Sustainability initiatives bring meaning to people that work, live, study, and play in campus environments,” Thomashow wrote approvingly. “I am inspired by what I see.” He further observed that the movement unites people of all academic disciplines, ethnic backgrounds, generations, and political parties.

These hopeful, enthusiastic individuals, according to Thomashow, embody the best of the human spirit and create programs that address “social justice, economic equity, community organizing, multicultural learning, diversity studies,” and “dozens of other dynamic approaches to how we think about the future of cities.”

Even so, Thomashow believes that there is much work to be done—and soon. Activists nurture a sense of urgency on campus and encourage their communities to take responsibility and act immediately. There is an underlying feeling that campuses are racing against the clock.  “Many sustainability practitioners, despite their accomplishments, don’t think their campuses are moving quickly enough,” said Thomashow.

Thomashow’s article, published in June 2014, is timely given the recent release of the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which predicts dire floods, droughts, and heat waves if global warming is not curbed fast. He even cited the report as evidence of the desperation of the situation.

But Thomashow’s enthusiasm is befuddling in light of the research beneath the IPCC’s findings.

The IPCC may warn of doomsday scenarios, but the evidence for that is slim. Public doubts about the existence of anthropogenic global warming (AGW) are greater now than they have been for a long time. Even the IPCC report, rather than affirming climate-change panic, states that anthropogenic global warming, while still occurring, is occurring less and not as immediately as researchers previously believed.

Nevertheless, sustainability activists such as Thomashow feel the need to sound warning bells. The New York Times took the IPPC report and said that the situation is more “urgent” than ever before.

On, the world’s most-viewed site on global warming and climate change, a team of scientists led by meteorologist Anthony Watts has been unearthing the questionable foundations of many standard claims made by climate change activists. Watts and his team have shown that global warming “alarmists” have been totaling up faulty readings from small, low-budget weather stations around the world that rarely meet the officially-published standards for accurate measurements. In fact, 90% of the time, these weather stations violate measurement standards.

In 2007, Watts came across an official weather station where hot air was blowing onto the sensor from an air conditioner’s exhaust, located in an asphalt parking lot heated by sun. After this discovery, Watts became curious about the reliability of these sensors and started the “Surface Station Project” to survey weather stations around the world.

Watts and his team are in the process of publishing a peer-reviewed study of the falsehoods of temperature readings. Through their research, they have found that accurate temperature trends show a rise of .18 degree Centigrade per decade, whereas the National Oceanic Atmosphere Administration (NOAA) is claiming a release of .32 Centigrade per decade. If these findings are accurate, half of all claimed temperature rise will be disproven.

Since these doubts have emerged, the AGW movement has pitched its credibility on so-called “consensus.” Rather than responding to criticisms posed by doubters of anthropogenic global warming, the movement has reinforced its claims and clung to the old mantras, “scientists agree” and “the experts are on our side.” Even as the scientific evidence is fading, rather than abandon its now-tarnished claims, the movement has doubled down.

Climate change skeptics are now being banned from BBC News, according to a new report, for fear of misinforming people and to create more “balance” in climate change discussions.

President Obama, as reported in Thomas L. Friedman’s June 8th article, “Obama on Obama on Climate,” in the front page of the New York Times Sunday Review, declared authoritatively, “Science is science . . . [Climate change] is going to be one of the most significant long-term challenges, if not the most significant long-term challenge, that this country and that the planet faces.” The solution, according to Obama, is to “show the price of inaction” and “price the cost of carbon emissions.”

The evidence from nature does not line up with the theory, so there is an increase in rhetoric—hence, the sustainability triumphalism from Thomashow and others. Rather than respond to new evidence about climate change, sustainability activists continue to trumpet their cause.

Thomashow may be right about the movement gaining traction on campus. It is winning on campus and losing elsewhere.

Image: A climate change rally in San Francisco; Michael Macor, The Chronicle

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