“The debate over global warming is over.” This is the most rhetorically powerful (read abusive) and overused card played by those who claim to be champions of the environment. The debate is over. It seems to me that those who make this claim operate on the assumption that debate leads to passivity, to a lack of action. The thinking goes: Debate creates inaction! Inaction stops progress! Progress must be made! End debate!
Given the above line of thought, it is not unreasonable to arrive at the assumption that debate stops progress. And yet, the assumption is flawed.
While I believe that it is true to say that debate can stop action, I do not believe that it is true to say that debate stops progress. Actually, healthy debate improves a person’s critical thinking and better enables them to determine a proper direction for action. Since people make progress only by taking those actions that move them closer to a goal, debate helps us make progress by eliminating unhelpful actions that move us away from a goal leaving us with a clear idea of the actions needed to move us closer to a goal. In other words, debate serves to clear a path upon which we progress to our goal. If you eliminate the debate, you eliminate the path and, consequently, your ability to progress most efficiently.
To pull this thought out of cerebral land, I point to ethanol. Because the “debate was over,” people felt compelled to act (and act quickly) to save the planet from oil. The solution: ethanol. In their heart, nobody really thought that ethanol was a great idea. The evidence proved that more gallons of gasoline were burned making ethanol than were produced by ethanol. This evidence puzzled many people, but space was not given to debate and solve this puzzle – progress needed to be made! Democrats in Congress (as well as some Republicans) pushed through all matter of ethanol subsidies and other legislation. Ethanol became the sexy, trendy thing on university campuses. A “green” fog surrounded the issue. Consequently, it is only now that information about ethanol’s negative impact on the environment is being openly, honestly discussed… and debated. As it turns out, not only does ethanol production require more gasoline use than it can match once produced, but ethanol also puts out more harmful greenhouse gasses than does gasoline.
In brief, had debate been allowed to continue and global warming critics not been demonized, we could have avoided the ethanol debacle. As it stands, we learned a little too late through experience. Time, your and my tax dollars, and the dinners of many impoverished people worldwide have been wasted on a project which was first a bad idea unfiltered by debate.