The Environmental Movement’s Middle Ground

Finding common ground in the current environmental movement among differing cultural and political beliefs is not so simple.


| April 2015



Environmental Movement

The fractures that snake through our cultural and political landscape are complex, compound fractures, and people on either side of this great divide often find themselves straddling a number of them.

Photo by Fotolia/Sabphoto

Climate change has become one of the most polarizing issues of our time. Seamus McGraw breaks the polarity and explores the middle ground of climate change in Betting the Farm on a Drought (The University of Texas Press, 2015), speaking to farmers, ranchers and fisherman who are not ideologically, politically, or even religiously inclined to believe in man-made climate change while also speaking to scientists and policymakers who are trying to bring about change and overcome these  current challenges. This excerpt, from Chapter 2, “Comfortable in Our Ignorance,” discusses the dividing factors that are present among individuals’ perceptions of man-made climate change.

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It was a bitterly cold November evening in one of those off-the-beaten-track towns with cobblestone streets. It was the sort of place where the main street is lined with gingerbread houses and twenty-first-century coffee shops in nineteenth century brick storefronts where you feel like you could almost warm yourself in the glow of their windows.

I had been invited to speak about my own moral ambivalence about the politically charged subject of fracking and climate change at the local bookstore, a dusty, out-of-the-way place with groaning wide-plank floors worn smooth by generations of voracious readers, back in the days when there still was such a thing, the kind of place where even the light from the street seemed to stop to browse as it passed the sagging bookshelves on its way to the back of the store. I jumped at the opportunity.

I’d given a version of that talk a few times before, and it was always controversial. There were always a few in the audience who let me know in no uncertain terms that they believed the whole idea of global warming was a hoax perpetrated by goatskin drum–beating extremists bent on destroying the free enterprise system. They saw it as a thinly veiled plot to bring America’s workers under the sway of a rapacious government that was only barely containing its socialistic lust for other people’s property.

And there were usually a couple of people who saw any concession to the idea that we might have to feel our way slowly out of our carbon addiction as an utter capitulation to a creeping corporate conspiracy hatched by the Koch brothers, Halliburton, Monsanto, and the Scaife Foundations to foul our water with petrochemicals and taint our food with GMOs in order to turn us into zombie slaves willing to watch mutely as they pollute our environment, leave us destitute, and come to my house to snatch my eight-year-old son and work him to death in the twenty-first century version of the same coal breaker my grandfather escaped from a century ago.