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Friday, November 7, 2008

Environmental skepticism

Environmental skepticism is an umbrella term that describes those that argue that particular claims put forward by environmentalists and environmental scientists are incorrect or exaggerated, along with those who are critical of environmentalism in general. The use of the term is contested. Supporters of environmentalists argue that "skepticism" implies an open-minded attitude to empirical evidence and that their opponents are in fact advocates for predetermined positions reflecting ideological commitments or financial interests. Critics of environmental skepticism frequently use more pejorative terms such as denialism.

The popularity of the term was enhanced by Bjørn Lomborg's 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.

Tom Bethell's Politically Incorrect Guide to Science extends environmental skepticism to a more general critique of scientific consensus. Bethell rejects mainstream views on evolution and global warming and supports AIDS denialism.

A recent study of the environmental skepticism movement found that the overwhelming majority of environmentally skeptical books published since the 1970's were either written or published by authors or institutions affiliated with conservative think thanks. The authors identified four defining themes in the movement:

1. The "denial of the seriousness of environmental problems and dismissal of scientific evidence documenting these problems"
2. The "question[ing of] the importance of environmentally protective policies"
3. The "endorse[ment] an anti-regulatory/anti-corporate liability position"
4. And the promotion of the idea that "environmentalism [is] a growing threat to social and economic progress and the ‘American way of life’"

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."

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