Ron Clutz writing at Science Matters defines a glittering generality as an emotionally appealing phrase so closely associated with highly valued concepts and beliefs that it carries conviction without supporting information or reason. He claims that such highly valued concepts attract general approval and acclaim. I offer this as a principle of all that should not represent pragmatic environmentalism.
Nowhere is the glittering generality more evident than New York’s Climate Leadership and Community Act. According to the Climate Act webpage: “Climate change is a reality. New York is fighting it. Our future is at stake.” All those claims fit the bill exactly as glittering generalities.
The legislation itself includes the following glittering generalities. It claims that the adverse impacts of climate change include: “an increase in the severity and frequency of extreme weather events, such as storms, flooding, and heat waves, which can cause direct injury or death, property damage, and ecological damage (e.g., through the release of hazardous substances into the environment); rising sea levels, which exacerbate damage from storm surges and flooding, contribute to coastal erosion and saltwater intrusion, and inundate low-lying areas, leading to the displacement of or damage to coastal habitat, property, and infrastructure; a decline in freshwater and saltwater fish populations; increased average temperatures, which increase the demand for air conditioning and refrigeration among residents and businesses; exacerbation of air pollution; and an increase in the incidences of infectious diseases, asthma attacks, heart attacks, and other negative health outcomes.”
In response to a NY Times Magazine / NY Times Daily Podcast story “How Climate Migration Will Reshape America” Patrick T. Brown looked at the accuracy of similar claims. Among other things his critique addresses storm severity, floods, and sea-level rise. His critique concludes that “It paints a picture of current climate change in the US that is very different than the story that is told from looking at the actual observational data and all the errors are in the direction of overstating the negative impact on the US today.” Nonetheless, New York’s energy policy and transition to the most aggressive clean energy and climate agenda in the country is based on these generalities.
Thanks to Ron Clutz and Patrick Brown for their work that inspired and supported this post.
This principle is one in a set of principles that I believe exemplifies pragmatic environmentalism which I suggest is the necessary balance of environmental impacts and public policy. This means that evidence-based environmental risks and benefits (both environmental and otherwise) of issues need to be considered. Unfortunately, public perception is too often driven by scary one-sided stories that have to be rebutted by getting into details.