A few weeks ago, my wife and I happened to be in downtown Denver the same day as the “March For Science.” It was an odd thing to observe. It was strikingly unsacrificial. If you’re familiar with Denver, its not exactly a herculean effort to draw young, wealthy liberals downtown on a Saturday. Sure, they had repurposed their knitted hats from the Women’s march into “brain” hats, and had to defer their venture to the bookstore until after the rally, but it was a notably ordinary activity for most. The tone of helplessness and passivity was disheartening. (yes, passivity, – I’m reading Ben Sasse’s book, and that word is sticking with me.) Here were a bunch of ostensibly smart professionals, working in the sciences, helplessly demanding that the government force them to do something about the climate.
In the wake of the withdrawal from the Paris accords (don’t you dare call it a treaty, because that would require an actual vote.), we are seeing more of this angry passivity from those who are passionate about the issue.
If the issue is real, and serious, why aren’t these people, you know, working on it? If we need to power our lives in a way that emits less carbon dioxide, then that sounds like a science problem, not a political one. Large corporations like Apple and Google, with billions in research and development capital, are lamenting the American departure from the agreement. Wouldn’t it be better to work on the solution, and possibly profit from it, than complain about a government policy for 4-8 years?
Many alarmist climate predictions have been wildly off base, but there were predictions in the 20th century that might have been right, if not for one man, Norman Borlaug. The scientific community saw rising populations, and our limited food production capacity as a recipe for disaster. There simply wasn’t enough food, or even the key ingredients to produce it (nitrogen) to feed a growing world population. The political solutions were draconian. China’s “one child” policy is an outgrowth of this Malthusian fear. But the real solution didn’t involve politics, it was agronomy.
Instead of marching for population control measures, or policies limiting food consumption, Borlaug took his Iowa farm background, Christian faith, and his Ph.D. in plant pathology and genetics, and went to work. Borlaug worked in Mexico, and later in India, pioneering new breeding techniques, and developing genetic traits in wheat that led to higher yields, better disease resistance, and ultimately, a 600% increase in wheat yields. This is what we love about science! The ability for humans to use their God given intellect to make things better.
This is why the protest culture surrounding climate science is so frustrating. There are limitless opportunities to develop technologies to make energy cheaper, cleaner, and more accessible. Instead of standing in a wheat field in Mexico (metaphorically) to develop a solution, we are culturally stuck, waiting for politicians to fix the problem for us, or more accurately, we are asking them to force us to fix the problem. The political solutions will be economic and humanitarian disasters, especially for the third world, where they desperately need more, not less, energy. The Borlaug-ian solutions are out there, if we would stop marching, and start working.