As he announced last week, Jeff is taking this week off from The Daily Evolver but he’ll be back next Tuesday evening, August 6th. In the meantime check out this conversation that he had with Michael Zimmerman, co-author of Integral Ecology and professor of philosophy at CU here in Boulder, about the vexing issue of climate change.

Michael himself used to be a militant green warrior intent on revealing the evils of modernity. He has since developed a more informed, sophisticated and one might say integral view, which is why Jeff was eager to hear his perspective.

Michael E. Zimmerman is Professor of Philosophy CU, Boulder. Since his undergraduate years, Zimmerman has been concerned about anthropogenic environmental problems. His research examines the metaphysical, cultural, ethical, cognitive, political, and religious dimensions of such problems. He co-authored a book with Sean Esbjorn Hargens called Integral Ecology, available from Integral Books/Shambala. Find out more here.

Every stage of development has its doomsday scenario. For greens, ecology is a religious issue with its own apocalyptic projections. But what is the science really telling us?

No one disagrees that our impact on the planet is profound or that reducing our dependence on fossil fuels is a good idea, ecologically and geopolitically. But there is so much we don’t know. Climate is not just complex, says Michael, it’s downright chaotic. The earth has been going through cycles of warming and cooling since its beginning.

I myself confronted Michael in Jeff’s kitchen with the evidence of the CO2 buildup revealed in the ice cores from the arctic, and how they show that the patterns of warming on the planet are inextricably linked to the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere and it looks as if we’re in for a very hot spell thanks to our greed for energy. This seemed incontrovertible to me, yet he gently pointed out that those things are correlative and not necessarily causative. And so my view became a little more nuanced, and the debate goes on…

The western world has made great strides in curbing the excesses of modernity. Jeff recalls the pollution growing up in Pittsburgh and how no one dared swim in Lake Erie. Then the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act (signed by Richard Nixon) forced industry to come up with solutions and we figured out we could fix these things and still have a healthy economy.

The real concern is meeting the needs of the developing nations whose populations are growing — specifically China and India who, between them, are building a new coal plant every week. Michael says the keys to solving this are, paradoxically, encouraging development, economic and technological, as well as the education of women. These things dramatically reduce birthrates. Maybe they can even leapfrog over some of the mistakes that we’ve made.

— Brett Walker

Listen (or download) here…