Environmental skepticism is the belief that claims by environmentalists, and the environmental scientists who support them, are false or exaggerated. The term is also applied to those who are critical of environmentalism in general. It can additionally be defined as doubt about the authenticity or severity of environmental degradation. Environmental skepticism is closely linked with anti-environmentalism and climate change denial.
Environmental skeptics have argued that the extent of harm coming from human activities is less certain than some scientists and scientific bodies claim, or that it is too soon to be introducing curbs in these activities on the basis of existing evidence, or that further discussion is needed regarding who should pay for such environmental initiatives. One of the themes the movement focuses on is the idea that environmentalism is a growing threat to social and economic progress and the civil liberties.
The popularity of the term was enhanced by Bjørn Lomborg's 2001 book The Skeptical Environmentalist. Lomborg approached environmental claims from a statistical and economic standpoint, and concluded that often the claims made by environmentalists were overstated. Lomborg argued, on the basis of cost–benefit analysis, that few environmentalist claims warranted serious concern. The book came under criticism by scientists noting that Lomborg misinterpreted or misrepresented data, criticized misuse of data while committing similar mistakes himself, examined issues supporting his thesis while ignoring information contrary to it, cherry picks literature, oversimplifies, fails to discuss uncertainty or subjectivity, cites mostly media sources, and largely ignores ecology.
Michael Shermer, who debated Lomborg on several topics from his book, notes that despite the scientific consensus many people are driven to environmental skepticism by the extremism inherent in both sides of the debate and not having been exposed to a sufficiently succinct and visual presentation of the available evidence.
In 2010, Lomborg reversed course and stated that he believes in the need for "tens of billions of dollars a year to be invested in tackling climate change" and declared global warming to be "undoubtedly one of the chief concerns facing the world today" and "a challenge humanity must confront". He summarized his position, saying "Global warming is real - it is man-made and it is an important problem. But it is not the end of the world."
A 2014 study of individuals from 32 countries found that environmental skepticism stems from insufficient education, self-assessed knowledge, religious/conservative values, lack of trust in society, mistrust ofscience, and other concerns trumping environmental concern.
A 2015 study of 205 undergraduate students from Jakarta found that people were more likely to have pro-environmental stance, and hence less likely to environmental skeptics, as their cynicism and environmental self-efficacy increased. The authors also note that their work shows that better measures of cynicism are needed for a clearer picture.
Environmentalist organizations and lobbies argue that such widespread skeptical doubts have not developed independently, but have been "encouraged by lobbying and PR campaigns financed by the polluting industries". Supporters of environmentalists argue that "skepticism" implies a form of denialism, and that, in the US particularly, "large donations [have been made] to Senators and Congressmen and [have] sponsored neoliberal think tanks and contrarian scientific research. ExxonMobil, the oil major, has been accused by Friends of the Earth and others of giving millions of dollars to a long list of think-tanks and lobbyists opposed to Kyoto."
A recent study shows that the overwhelming majority of environmentally skeptical books published since the 1970s were either written or published by authors or institutions affiliated with right-wing think tanks. They "conclude that scepticism is a tactic of an elite-driven counter-movement designed to combat environmentalism, and that the successful use of this tactic has contributed to the weakening of US commitment to environmental protection."
Peter Jacques writes, "The skeptical environmental counter-movement is a civic problem and in dealing with the propositions from the counter-movement we are forced to reach down to the bedrock issues of epistemology, identities, articulation and other core work for politics. To use scientism as a hammer against the screw of skepticism will split the wood of public life into splinters or it will immobilize the hammer. Scientism is a modernist tool that will haplessly reshufle the old excursions - and we all know the 'master's tools will not dismantle the master's house'"
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