In many cases, actions to help solve another environmental problem can also be beneficial in reducing undesirable effects of climate change. For example, as I discuss in Powering the Future: A Scientist's Guide to Energy Independence, moving away from fossil fuels toward wind and solar energy reduces the human contribution of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere while also reducing habitat destruction (from the mining of fossil fuels) and air, water, and ocean pollution (from the mining, processing, and burning of these fuels), benefiting biodiversity and human health and well-being. The same can be said for a move away from fission-based nuclear power plants, whose toxic substances last up to millions of years (the U.S. government is seeking a warning sign that will keep people away from nuclear waste dumps for 10,000 years).
The politicization and ideology-driven beliefs about global warming, on both sides of the issue, prevent a calm, rational examination of where actions to mitigate global warming could fit into a set of priorities. Indeed, even making a claim that such prioritizing is possible leads to a change in viewpoints and will likely upset many who believe now that global warming is a present and future reality with disastrous effects. We need to be able to put the discussion within a rational context. Among other aspects of this context, we need, as Thomas Friedman wrote on September 14, 2011, in the New York Times, "to start taking steps, as our scientists urge, 'to manage the unavoidable and avoid the unmanageable.'" Not just about climate change, but in establishing an integrated, multifactor approach to our major environmental problems.
Excerpt from The Moon in the Nautilus Shell: Discordant Harmonies Reconsidered, by Daniel B. Botkin. Oxford University Press, 2012. Copyright © 2012. Reprinted with permission.