"I know that most men, including those at ease with problems of the greatest complexity, can seldom accept even the simplest and most obvious truth if it be such as would oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions which they have proudly taught to others, and which they have woven, thread by thread, into the fabric of their lives."
I was talking with a few acquaintances about my new Prius the other day, explaining some of its features (good mileage, cool technology, etc.), when one of them said, "I don't really care about all that environmental stuff, I'm mostly concerned with saving money on gas." I had to wonder: did he really not care about the environment, or was it that he feared being considered an environmentalist by others? Has environmentalism gained an extremist liberal reputation that makes reasonable people act like closet environmentalists rather than being open about their beliefs?
It strikes me as odd not to care about "that environmental stuff." Is he breathing the same air I am? With smog a recurring problem in California and the Bay Area, air quality is hardly a theoretical problem. Is he living in the same coastal region that would be flooded if the polar ice caps melt because of global warming? That topic does seem wrought with controversy, despite the fact that it's scientifically accepted.
Why is it controversial, then? Because large companies with narrow short-term-profit agendas publicize deception and bad science, people get the impression that global warming is debatable. The PBS show Nova has an excellent web page that discusses global warming and presents both sides. Assuming the scientists who express a disbelief in global warming are sincere, it would appear that they are letting their research and even their thinking be driven by political—or simple monetary—motivations. Ironically, or perhaps appropriately, some articles that oppose the pro-environment viewpoint and call into question global warming, its causes or consequences, consider arguments on the other side to be politically motivated, but don't really give a plausible motive or agenda. What possible motivation would these researchers have for using scare tactics or proposing nightmare scenarios? These scientists are sick of being ignored and want people to pay attention to them? It's true that a kook here or there might come up with a ridiculous scenario, but I personally find the consensus of more than a thousand scientists—that global warming is a serious problem, partially caused by human activity—compelling.
It's not easy to predict how an extremely complex chaotic system will respond to large inputs of CO2, and some of the potential results are so catastrophic that even if there's only a 5% chance that something like this could happen, that's too much.
As people realize that they, in fact, inhabit the environment and depend on it for life, I sincerely hope that environmentalism will be considered centrist rather than left wing, accepted as common sense rather than relegated to the closet.