Environmental writers, what does the opposition want you to do?

Checkmate In the previous article here, I called environmental writers to task for actively ignoring the subject of population growth. I responded to David Roberts who, in a piece on Grist, provided his own reasons for avoiding the subject. A fair number of other environmental writers seem to share those reasons. They’re afraid people associate responding to population growth with such things as eugenics and various draconian and totalitarian measures. They believe critics have effectively marginalized environmentalists by drawing such associations.

I rebutted that argument, I hope convincingly, and suggested the avoidance strategy had been a setback to the environmental movement. I urged environmental writers to embrace truth rather than avoidance. It should go without saying that truth is the more effective option, clearly superior to the alternative, now usually pursued, of creating an impression that florescent light bulbs, ethanol, or the latest green building material, deserves more attention than one of the fundamental drivers of our ecological crisis.

Two secondary but still important considerations are worth another quick post. Both concern the strategic or tactical wisdom of remaining silent on population. Roberts’s argument pits environmental writers against those who wish to marginalize them. Those include population growth promoters such as some on the libertarian right and the Christian right. He’s correct that we do have to be aware of the “opposition” and their tactics. But as someone who spent a number of years writing about and playing a game of strategy professionally, I’ll offer that in choosing the silence option (even if we pay lip service to talking about underlying social and economic issues [1]) we commit two fundamental strategic errors.

Strategic blunders

First, we deprive ourselves of an important option in our available ways to counter opponents’ propaganda and to inform people about the most important issues of our time. It’s like a chess player playing without her queen, or a poker player playing without the option of raising when an opponent bets. By determining to avoid the population topic, we handicap ourselves, playing against the opposition without our normal, full array of options. You can bet the opposition is not going to handicap themselves this way.

Second, in many games of strategy, one way to identify the right play is to try to determine what your opponent wants you to do. You then do the opposite. In poker, if you have good reason to believe your opponent wants you to fold your hand (as he would if he were bluffing) your play is to call his bet. In the case of environmentalists versus the folks who cheerlead and promote population growth, it’s obvious the latter want us to be silent on the issue of population. By staying mum on the topic, then, we play right into their hands. We lose.

So once again, I submit it’s time for environmental writers to deal in truth. And as long as they have opponents to contend with, they’d best become better strategists.
[1] How many environmental writers, including Roberts, take even his advice to talk instead about women’s and economic issues which influence population growth? With the occasional exception such as Betsy Hartmann, I don’t’ see see them doing that.
Image source: Alan Light, posted on Wikimedia Commons, under a GNU Free Documentation License

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3 responses to “Environmental writers, what does the opposition want you to do?

  1. I rebutted that argument, I hope convincingly, and suggested the avoidance strategy had been a setback to the environmental movement. I urged environmental writers to embrace truth rather than avoidance.

    I will happily support your efforts. But this topic is just way too abstract for my debating skills to handle. Chemicals are simple and in my opinion their behavior is undeniable. Yet for some reason I have an extremely difficult time explaining physics 101 to some very influential lawyers and businessmen that are friends of the family. Many of them have no conflict of interest, other than political ideology, yet they refuse to listen and will openly ridicule me. If I can’t get them to agree on the production costs of corn ethanol then how the hell am I going to handle something far more abstract?

    I support your efforts. But I stay out of that debate because it is beyond my skillset. I wish you the best of luck and you are a better man than I.

  2. Nah, thanks but you’ve done a great deal to bring people the truth about climate change and to debunk the denialist propaganda. (See Wacki’s Logical Science blog in my blogroll.) That’s worth a lot. Plus, I always look to you for the latest innovations that might help us find a way out of this mess.

    And who knows what “Wacki’s blog” is shaping up to be? 🙂

    Really, in terms of debate, I think population is just another topic one has to read up on and get one’s ducks in a row. Like climate change, it does take time though. :-/

  3. Pingback: population growth in the news « Trinifar