Tuesday, August 17, 2010

On Environmentalism

There have been many movements that at their core explore the relationship between Man and Nature. These movements generally saw Men as stewards of Nature. The change to seeing Man as a servant of, or worse, a cancer or virus upon the earth, slowly gained popularity, and finally surged in the 1960's. (Just a few examples here, here, here, here, and I’m sure you’ve seen pieces about limiting the birthrate. Here is a recent report on Ecoterrorism.) Two of the watershed events in this change: Rachel Carson published Silent Spring in 1962 and a Union Oil rig had a blowout off the coast of California in 1969. Silent Spring focused fear of pesticides in the public mind and the blowout brought forth the Environmental Protection Agency. These events collided when one of the earlier actions of the EPA was a ban on DDT, which was made possible by the publication of Silent Spring and its description of DDT as a cause of cancer in humans and extinction in various bird species.

Turns out, however, that Silent Spring was wrong. The resulting ban on DDT is responsible for much pain and death. (Here are 100 Things You Should Know About DDT.) But the modern environmental movement was off to a roaring start.

Skeptics criticized the environmental movement from the beginning, but couldn’t get much traction or even attention for their arguments. In the late 90's a man named Bjørn Lomborg entered the fray. Lomborg is a statistician. At the time he was a devout environmentalist who thought that the movement could do a better job with its fact presentation. After hearing a certainly erroneous statement by a skeptic, he set himself and some of his grad students to the task of rebutting the skeptic and improving the environmental movement’s fact presentation. To his surprise he discovered that the movement was using weak stats because they had poor factual support for their positions--they were trying to be vague in order to amplify the scope and nature of various problems. The environmentalists knew that in order for the governments of the world to act, the governments and their societies needed to think that the environmental issues were more dire than things like education or health care or infrastructure. Without actual facts to support their assertions, advocates for global warming used, and continue to use, fear-mongering.

In the past few years, this fear mongering has turned graphic and threatening. Environmentalists have produced a string of condescending, disrespectful, threatening, and violent ads. Then there is the No Pressure ad by 10:10, which is in a class of horror all to itself. Besides inciting fear, environmentalists aren't above exaggerating their facts either. For example, see Al Gore’s comments about how it is appropriate to “have over-representation of factual presentations on how dangerous [global warming] is” as well as comments by Stehphen Schneider, founder of Climate Change. or another liberal's advice to present “unrealistic” projections for rail projects.

Thinking he was doing a welcome public service, Lomborg published The Real State of the World (Dutch title) in 1998. Lomborg found that the world environment was improving, perhaps not quickly enough for some, but improving. The book is dense, but the intro contains summaries of the topics, which range from warming to water to trees to fossil fuels as well as descriptions of things like the file drawer effect. (Lomborg did not claim falsification of data. The proof of that malfeasance would come later.)

The book was an immediate shock to the environmental community and only after considerable high pressure, back room wrangling did the the book come to the US in 2001, titled The Skeptical Environmentalist. The book faced continual establishment opposition and was cited for scientific violation by a Danish scientific dishonesty committee. One of the charges was that Lomborg was not a scientist but a statistician, to which Lomborg’s supporters replied that his book was about the stats, not the studies themselves. Most significantly, however, the committee refused to provide any list of specific violations. (Compare and contrast this failure to list specifics with the finding by an English court against Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth. Original report here. Summaries here and here.) Lomborg appealed. The leading Danish scientific committee invalidated the report of the lower committee. Citing that they did not want to give Lomborg any more publicity, the scientific dishonesty committee declined to revisit their invalidated report.

Another major event for environmental skeptics was the debunking of the famous Hockey Stick. The Hockey Stick is a graph by Michael E. Mann that claims to show a sharp rise in global temperatures over the last 100 or so years. Ross McKitrick and Steve McIntyre questioned the graph from the moment they saw it (hockey sticks are apparently a tell tell sign of something amiss, statistically speaking). They criticized the graph mainly for excluding the medieval warm period. When corrected, the graph shows a much flatter and unalarming warming. The graph is sometimes called the Zombie Hockey Stick for the number of times it has died and risen. (Link from junkscience.com)

In addition to Lomborg’s work and the Hockey Stick issues, here are some bits and bobs on some of the better known environmental issues:

WEATHER: After Hurricane Katrina, many environmentalists have warned that she was just the beginning. In fact, the predicted increased activity did not come to pass. In the chart here the largest spike is 2005, but note the falloff since then. See also, Hurricane season 2010, Hurricane season 2009. See ICECAP as well. For more recent info, see here. UPDATE: A major weather study published in January 2011

POPULATION Environmental population theory has roots in the writings of Thomas Malthus who thought that the human population would exceed the earth’s capacity and would be naturally culled, that is, starve or die off from disease. His theory has influenced such works as The Population Bomb and has inspired some horrible race, class, and eugenics flavored ideas as well as much Ecoterrorism including the September 2010 Discovery crisis. Mostly, however, environmental population theory does not understand that humans are the earth’s greatest resource and that technology and wealth tend to naturally suppress population growth as education becomes more important than manpower. (Whether demographic decline is such a good thing is a discussion for another post. Query Steyn, new population bomb, empty cradle, and demographics is destiny for a taste of that discussion.)

FIRE AND FORESTS California’s “mega fires”. More here. Russia’s peat fires.
There is far too much information available for me to link to every environmental topic. Here are various websites where you can get information to rebut the current deluge of environmental preaching. Many of these sites have links to other blogs, books, and reports. Search for whatever topic interests you.

Climategate
No skeptical environmentalist, however, has damaged the environmental movement the way that the environmental movement’s leaders have. Last winter, hacked emails told the tale of the worst scientific scandal of a generation. Climategate is the story of how the leading scientists in the environmental movement discussed how to manipulate data and reputation to prove global warming.

They already had a reputation for moving the goal posts, first claiming global cooling and not finding it, then global warming and not finding it, and then claiming climate change, or “climate weirding” so that inconvenient data would not bind them, and they could use every news making natural event as “proof” of change. But this went far beyond rebranding PR tricks. They threw out inconvenient data or adjusted the data to achieve the result they sought. Then, so no one could check their work, they lost their data. (Snarky-er comments, here.) Furthermore, they engaged in a conspiracy to exclude opposition reports from any peer reviewed journals so that they could preserve their self serving excuse that any studies that did not confirm the “consensus” were junk.

I cannot write better descriptions than have already been written, or said. This one is about the lack of coverage of Climategate in the US. Another hoping it isn’t really true. This one is a slightly different take on Climategate coverage--Google tweaks searches. Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit.com, has kept up with the issue providing links and short commentary over the course of the scandal. Here are all his posts on Climategate, which include everything from technical links to links about rain forests, water level, glaciers, the late coverage in the New York Times, and much more. (You will see a few Journolist entries there because the email collusion scandals are similar and often compared.)
In short, we have a suppressed but vigorous skeptics movement against an established but false believers movement. Considering how much the governments of the world want to fix the supposed problem, you might want to read up a bit.


UPDATED 9.2.2010 in response to Lady Di comments and to add some ecoterrorism links.
UPDATED 10.3.2010 to include the No Pressure 10:10 spot and other fear mongering ads.

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