Wednesday, January 07, 2015

David Attenborough tries to use his authority as a substitute for evidence and reasoning

The last paragraph below outs him as a Malthusian -- an economic and demographic ignoramus.  He is talking way outside his field and his comments on both population and global warming show how little he knows outside his field

Sir David Attenborough is calling on global leaders to step-up their actions to curb climate change, saying that they are in denial about the dangers it poses despite the overwhelming evidence about its risks.

The TV naturalist said those who wield power need to use it: “Wherever you look there are huge risks. The awful thing is that people in authority and power deny that, when the evidence is overwhelming and they deny it because it’s easier to deny it – much easier to deny it’s a problem and say ‘we don’t care’,” Sir David said.

In terms of climate change, “we won’t do enough and no one can do enough, because it’s a very major, serious problem facing humanity; but at the same time it would be silly to minimise the size of the problem,” he told Sky News.

Later this year a crucial UN climate summit will be held, at which world leaders have pledged to agree to tough cuts in their carbon emissions, to ensure the increase in global warming does not exceed 2°C – beyond which its consequences become increasingly devastating.

Although that meeting is not scheduled to take place until December, the scale of the task ahead is huge and world leaders are already working towards the summit.

However Sir David is concerned that, despite the increasingly obvious scale of the threat climate change poses, leaders are not taking the matter as seriously as they should.

“Never in the history of humanity in the last 10 million years have all human beings got together to face one danger that threatens us – never.  “It’s a big ask, but the penalty of not taking any notice is huge,” he said.

Sir David’s comments come two days after a separate warning – on the dangers posed by the booming human population.  “It’s desperately difficult, the dangers are apparent to anybody,” he told The Independent.  “We can’t go on increasing at the rate human beings are increasing forever, because the Earth is finite and you can’t put infinity into something that is finite.  “So if we don’t do something about it – the natural world that is – we will starve,” Sir David said.


Climate Deniers, Like Big Tobacco, Thrive Behind a Smoke Screen of Doubt

By Amy Goodman

At least she's better looking than Naomi Oreskes

I was going to ignore the tired collection of evidence-free accusations below but I received a few comments on it from the good Cook (Russell).  So I reproduce those comments, including evidential quotes, following the hackneyed rant below

Today, the fossil-fuel industry creates a smoke screen of doubt, just like Big Tobacco. Greenpeace USA published a report in 2013, “Dealing in Doubt,” that maps out the history of the climate-denial industry, with its key participants and its funders. Interestingly, there is a direct link between Big Tobacco and the climate deniers. Many of the older climate science denialists got their start as hired guns for Big Tobacco, arguing against the threats posed by secondhand smoke.

These climate “skeptics” are scattered throughout an assortment of so-called free-market think tanks, including Americans for Prosperity, the Cato Institute, the American Petroleum Institute, the Competitive Enterprise Institute and The Heartland Institute. Guided by global public-relations firms like Hill and Knowlton, these groups mount media campaigns to challenge respected climate-change reports, with little or no scientific backing to their claims.

While fossil-fuel giants like ExxonMobil traditionally funded these denial groups, negative publicity has driven the funders into the shadows. For example, the Koch brothers, Charles and David, who make their billions of dollars from fossil fuel and aggressively fund efforts to block regulation, in addition to directly funding groups, also mask donations. They and others make charitable contributions to a nonprofit shell called Donors Trust and its partner organization, Donors Capital Fund, which then pass the funds on to the denial groups, giving anonymity to the original donors.

The Kochs and other fossil-fuel interests also pour money into our elections, which is one reason why the U.S. Senate shifted to Republican control last November. Consequently, one key Senate committee that deals directly with climate change will now be chaired by Oklahoma Republican Sen. James Inhofe. Inhofe claims human-induced climate change is a hoax, and has compared the Environmental Protection Agency to the Gestapo.

Like tobacco’s impacts on health, climate science is settled. Close to 2,000 scientists who sit on the U.N.‘s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have produced volumes documenting the grave threat to the climate from the current rate of human-generated carbon emissions. The world’s leaders will gather in Paris next December, hoping to commit to a binding agreement that will lower emissions and limit the average global temperature increase to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit).

The climate-denial industry will be working full speed to derail any progress, marketing its primary product: doubt.  Denialists were just blowing smoke back then for Big Tobacco, as they are now for Big Oil and Coal. This time, the consequences of their professional lying on climate could easily spell death and disaster for billions of us here on planet Earth.


Russell Cook writes:

When I see such a collected string of worn-out talking points, it makes me wonder if some central figure churns 'em out and distributes 'em to assorted trustworthy AGW disciples. Amy Goodman goes all the way back with Ross Gelbspan and his 'big tobacco expert shills' parallel to August 7, 1997, where she had this toward the end of the radio interview:

ROSS GELBSPAN: This issue of disclosure is extremely important, these scientists I'm talking about, these dissidents who have been used by industry, have received large amounts of money from the government of Kuwait, from OPEC, from coal and oil interests, they have not disclosed this money until they were compelled to do so under oath about a year and a half ago... today no editor or reporter would give the same weight to a tobacco company scientist as they would to a world class expert on lung disease specialist, but unfortunately that learning curve hasn't caught up in the area of climate...

AMY GOODMAN: And just ending on this comment, that Ross points out in his book The Heat is On, relentless stream of news reports about record setting weather extremes in the last several years reflects the new period of climatic instability we've entered, unfortunately the media doesn't talk about these natural disasters as related to global warming. For example in the summer of 1995, the midwest experienced its second 100 year flood in just three years, and shortly thereafter, at least 300 people died in a brutal heat wave in Chicago. We gotta rethink these things and talk about them, put them in the context they should be put....

Useful idiot, Amy Goodman is.

A tale from a Green future

“I’m cold, Mummy.”

Dawn looked down at her daughter. “Shush, Willow. It’s only for a few more minutes. Stay silent and respect the trees.”

It was hard enough for Dawn to endure an hour of tree-respect while the snow fell around them. Willow was only seven. She must be freezing by now.

It had never made any real sense anyway. Why go out to the trees at midwinter, when they are dormant? It would be so much easier, and so much more pleasant, if Earth Day was in the summer. Oh, Dawn knew the reason. She just dared not say it aloud.

“Mummy. Please.” Willow tugged at Dawn’s gloved hand.

“Hush. We can’t leave until the klaxon sounds or Santa will put us on his naughty list.” Dawn pressed her lips together. Six years ago, Willow’s father had been put on the naughty list. Willow probably wouldn’t remember her father.

Dawn bowed her head and held tight to Willow’s trembling hand. The cold was intense this year. It felt as though her eyes might freeze. Willow sobbed softly, her face buried in the folds of her mother’s coat.

The klaxon blared through the woods. Willow grabbed hard at her mother. Her shaking might now be cold or fright, or maybe both.

“Come on, it’s time to get home and get warmed up before sunset.” Dawn put her arm around Willow’s shoulder and led her on the long trudge back to the set of boxes, among many identical sets of boxes, they called home.

Around them, others emerged from the woods. Some single, some couples, some with children. All made their way home in silence. A careless word, a joke, even a called-out ‘Hello’ could be seen as disrespectful on this solemn occasion and that would mean a night of fear. A night of hoping not to hear the bells.

Dawn pressed her hand to the door-plate and the door swung inwards. She glanced over her shoulder as she ushered Willow indoors. The sun was already low in the sky and they would need to be warm before nightfall. Earth Day’s Eve was nearly over, and the darkness would be total this night.

“Hurry, Willow. Get out of those wet clothes and into a hot shower. I’ll have warm things laid out for you when you’re done.” She closed the door and locked it – not that that would make a difference. “And be quick. Mummy needs to warm up too.”

While Willow ran to the shower room, Dawn rushed to the kitchen, filled the kettle and turned it on. They would need their hot water bottles as well as hot soup to keep them alive tonight. The Thermos flasks were already lined up on the kitchen table.

Dawn turned the heating to maximum and went to her bedroom to get out of her sodden clothes. A quick rub with a towel and, clad only in her dressing gown, she returned to the kitchen. The first kettle of water went into flasks and the kettle was refilled and boiling again before the soup on the stove warmed up.

It was insane, of course, but Dawn knew that all over the country, the same thing would be happening in every home. Power usage would peak to unprecedented levels and there might well be a brown-out or even a cut. It happened every year. The trick was to get as much of your own preparations done before someone overloaded the circuit breakers. In the name of ‘saving power’, everyone used as much as possible for a few hours.

Willow appeared, wearing a thick woollen jumper. “I’m too hot now, Mummy. Can I take this off?”

“Yes, you weren’t supposed to put it all on anyway. That’s for when the power goes off.” Dawn poured the second kettle into two hot water bottles then refilled it and turned it on again. She gave one of the bottles to Willow. “Here. Put this in your bed so it’ll warm up for later.”

While Willow did that, Dawn spooned soup into a bowl and turned off the heat under the pot. On Willow’s return, she sat her daughter at the table with the soup and rushed off to the shower.

The water was only lukewarm, but it took the chill from Dawn’s body. It would have to be enough. Tonight was going to be a bad one. As she dried her hair, she thought back to that Earth Day’s Eve, six years ago. Martin, her husband, was late home. The sun had already set and he had missed tree-respect. That would put him on the naughty list but he’d have been okay because he had a reason.

Martin maintained the windmills and one had stopped working. He would be excused tree-respect in order to repair it, but he had done something else.

Dawn bowed her head at he memory of the bells. She had gone to look for him, leaving one-year-old Willow alone. A dangerous act, one that could get Willow reparented, but she had to risk it. She never found Martin but she heard the bells. A happy, rhythmic jingling that stirred ancient joy while bringing modern terror to her heart.

She did not find Martin. She found his phone. It was on. Dawn turned it off at once. Holding a live phone on that night would certainly mean the naughty list and she had a child. Dawn ran home, her eyes streaming tears, knowing she would never see Martin again. She never did.

The curtains darkened. Dawn pulled them open enough to peek through. There was not enough light left to throw clear shadows. She dressed in a hurry and ran to the kitchen. Through the kitchen window, the sun was halfway behind the horizon. There were only minutes left.

Willow looked up from the table. “Is there more soup, Mummy?”

“Yes. Yes, of course, but we’ll have to eat it by LEDlight.” Dawn refilled Willow’s bowl. There was enough in the pot for a half-bowl for herself but only because she had already diluted their ration to make it go a little further. Dawn switched on a LEDlight and placed it on the table.

“We have to turn the house off now.” Dawn wished there had been time to boil the kettle once more, but the dimming lights meant a brown-out had started. The kettle would not boil in time. She opened a panel on the wall, decorated with the five-pointed star of Earth Day, and pulled down the lever inside.

The heating system’s grumble fell silent at once, as did the rattle of the refrigerator. All lights apart from the solar-charged LEDlight extinguished. The house started to cool at once. Dawn shivered, and wondered what the pensioner toll would be in the morning. It was not something to talk about with her daughter but Dawn knew, just knew, that a big part of Earth Day involved clearing out the unproductive of society. Unlike most of her neighbours, she had realised that all of them, one day, would become those unproductive pensioners. The young cheered the deaths of the old but never considered their own mortality. Never thought their turn might one day come.

Dawn turned to Willow and forced a smile. “Soon be time for bed. Tomorrow we’ll have presents and we’ll have heat and light again.” She poured the last of the soup into a bowl and sat opposite her daughter.

Willow put her spoon down and reached for her discarded jumper. “Why do we have to turn everything off? It’s hardly four o’clock. It’s stupid.” She pulled the jumper on. “It’s too cold to turn off the heat.”

“It’s serious. We don’t want to be on the naughty list.”

“Oh, mummy. I’m not a baby any more. I don’t believe Santa brings presents and takes away bad people. The presents are already here anyway. They’re in your wardrobe.”

Dawn froze with the spoon halfway to her lips. “Willow,” she said, slowly. “Believe it. Santa is real and if you hear his bells, he’s coming. It’s just one night of the year. Just one. Tomorrow, at sunset, we can get back to normal. For tonight, the only power in this house is LEDlights and they won’t last all night. There hasn’t been enough sun to charge them right up.”

Dawn sipped at her now-lukewarm soup and narrowed her eyes at Willow. “What do you mean, the presents are in my wardrobe? You’re not supposed to go in there.”

“Yeah, well, like I said, I’m not a baby any more. Besides, April told me that Santa is fat and smokes and drinks. She says she saw him on some old pictures her parents have. So he must be dead.”

Dawn placed her spoon into her soup and stared at it. “That’s the old Santa. He’s dead. The new Santa wears green and is lithe, fit and fast. The old one was jolly, the new one is not. The old one wasn’t real but the new one is.” Dawn sniffed. “The old one was just one. The new one is many. I’ve heard the bells.”

Willow giggled. “Don’t be silly, Mummy. The story is that anyone who hears the jingle of Santa’s bells is never seen again.” Her face took on a schoolroom-serious expression “Send not to ask for whom the bells jingle. They jingle for thee.” Her mirth returned. “So you can’t have heard them.”

Should I tell her? No, not yet, she’s too young. Dawn placed her hands flat on the table. “Willow, please, whether you believe it or not. Just for this one night, do as I say. Please?”

Willow’s sigh was a masterpiece of exaggeration. “Yes, Mummy. I promise.”

Dawn managed a tight smile. “You’ll understand one day. When you’re all grown up with your own family. Then you’ll understand.”

“Yeah, sure.” Willow rose from the table. “Might as well go to bed. There’s nothing else to do.”

“Good idea Get in while the hot water bottle is still warm. If you get cold in the night you can refill it from those flasks beside the sink.” Dawn glanced at the flasks. She had filled four. Two each, or three for Willow and one for her… if it came to it, four for Willow.

“Yeah, okay. Thanks, Mummy.” Willow started to leave.

“Wait, I have to be sure.” Dawn wore an expression she hoped was an apology. “It’s not me being a mean Mum, really. It’s for your safety.”

“Whatever.” Willow led the way to her room, where Dawn took her phone, her tablet computer, anything that connected to the internet, and left her a LEDlight beside her bed.

“It’s not that I don’t trust you. I do. I love you. It’s just that for this one night of the year, these things are really dangerous.” Dawn cradled the electronic toys in her arms.

“Mummy, they are battery powered and not even connected to the mains. They can’t be tracked through the smart meter and anyway, you turned off the mains.” Willow sat on her bed with arms folded.

“I know, but they can be tracked through the internet. Santa’s elves are everywhere.”

“Oh, Mummy…”

“Just one night, Willow. Just one. Please, do this for me.”

“Oh all right.” Willow slumped sideways and shuffled under the covers. Dawn leaned over and gave her a kiss then left the room with her electronic haul.

The kitchen was very cold now, as was the soup. Dawn finished it anyway since there was no longer any way to reheat it.

Wrapped in all the clothes she could fit onto herself, she blew a breath of steam into the cold air. Martin had known. He had told her, taught her, and she and Willow were still here because she had told nobody else.

It was all about control. Getting everyone to stand for an hour in the freezing cold and then making them turn off the power for a night and a day. The smart meters could just do that but that wasn’t control. Making people turn the power off themselves – that was control.

It had to be enforced by fear. As with all religions before them the Cult of the Green God overwrote the old festivals with their new ones. The Sun God’s Rebirth, the Winter Solstice, Pagan and Druidic ceremonies through millennia, were overwritten with the Christian birth of Christ and now with the Green God’s Earth Day. Pushed by the New Santa who rewarded the faithful by letting them enjoy the presents they bought themselves and removing those who failed to observe the Green God’s declarations. Especially on Earth Day.

So now Santa was not the jolly fat smoky-drinker of old who liked a mince pie and a bit of ham. Santa was now vegan and trim and hateful and intolerant of others who did not share his way of life. The bearded red chubby was now a clean-shaven green ghoul.


The sound brought Dawn out of her reverie. Those were Santa bells. She bowed her head. Someone was on the naughty list tonight.


The bells drew closer and stopped. Dawn frowned. They must be coming for a neighbour. If only she had bothered to get to know any of them, she might be able to guess which one.


The cry cut Dawn like a razor. She surged to her feet. Santa could not be here for Willow. All her electronics were on the kitchen table. She could not have transgressed.

Dawn ran to Willow’s room and shoved the door open. The LEDlight gave its faint orange glow, enough to see Willow’s bed rumpled and empty.

There was another light. On the bed, just below the pillow. A small rectangular blue glow. One Dawn had seen before, a long time before. Six years before. In the snow.

Martin’s phone. Willow must have taken it in one of her hunts through Dawn’s room. Her only connection to her father. Her last toy. Her final Christmas gift from the father she never knew.

Dawn fell to her knees and covered her face with her hands. In the distance, through the crisp air of a frozen night, a mocking ‘Ho ho ho’ sealed her mind into the raging darkness.


Popes have been "green" for a long time

But have usually been ignored

I made the mistake of reading an article, "Pope Francis’s edict on climate change will anger deniers and US churches," written by John Vidal for The Guardian (Dec. 27th), and now feel obligated to clear the air a bit from all of the pollutants released by the ill-informed, sensationalistic bit of punditry. The overarching problem is that Vidal, like so many others in the media, wishes to use the pontiff as a political tool with which to bludgeon those he deems ill fit to lead or be taken seriously in the public arena. So, for example, Vidal writes,

"However, Francis’s environmental radicalism is likely to attract resistance from Vatican conservatives and in rightwing church circles, particularly in the US – where Catholic climate sceptics also include John Boehner, Republican leader of the House of Representatives and Rick Santorum, the former Republican presidential candidate.

Cardinal George Pell, a former archbishop of Sydney who has been placed in charge of the Vatican’s budget, is a climate change sceptic who has been criticised for claiming that global warming has ceased and that if carbon dioxide in the atmosphere were doubled, then “plants would love it”."

But, really, how radical is Francis’s environmental radicalism? Is it this radical?

"In 1990 John Paul II had spoken of an “ecological crisis” and, in highlighting its primarily ethical character, pointed to the “urgent moral need for a new solidarity”. His appeal is all the more pressing today, in the face of signs of a growing crisis which it would be irresponsible not to take seriously. Can we remain indifferent before the problems associated with such realities as climate change, desertification, the deterioration and loss of productivity in vast agricultural areas, the pollution of rivers and aquifers, the loss of biodiversity, the increase of natural catastrophes and the deforestation of equatorial and tropical regions? Can we disregard the growing phenomenon of “environmental refugees”, people who are forced by the degradation of their natural habitat to forsake it – and often their possessions as well – in order to face the dangers and uncertainties of forced displacement? Can we remain impassive in the face of actual and potential conflicts involving access to natural resources? All these are issues with a profound impact on the exercise of human rights, such as the right to life, food, health and development".

Benedict XVI made those remarks just five years ago, on January 1, 2010, on the occasion of the World Day of Peace. A search of the Vatican website turns up several such remarks by the Pope Emeritus. In an August 26, 2009, general audience, to give just one more example, Benedict stated that he wished to "offer my support to leaders of governments and international agencies who soon will meet at the United Nations to discuss the urgent issue of climate change." And:

"The Earth is indeed a precious gift of the Creator who, in designing its intrinsic order, has given us guidelines that assist us as stewards of his creation. Precisely from within this framework, the Church considers that matters concerning the environment and its protection are intimately linked with integral human development. In my recent encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, I referred to such questions recalling the “pressing moral need for renewed solidarity” (no. 49) not only between countries but also between individuals, since the natural environment is given by God to everyone, and so our use of it entails a personal responsibility towards humanity as a whole, particularly towards the poor and towards future generations (cf. no. 48).

How important it is then, that the international community and individual governments send the right signals to their citizens and succeed in countering harmful ways of treating the environment! The economic and social costs of using up shared resources must be recognized with transparency and borne by those who incur them, and not by other peoples or future generations. The protection of the environment, and the safeguarding of resources and of the climate, oblige all leaders to act jointly, respecting the law and promoting solidarity with the weakest regions of the world (cf. no. 50). Together we can build an integral human development beneficial for all peoples, present and future, a development inspired by the values of charity in truth. For this to happen it is essential that the current model of global development be transformed through a greater, and shared, acceptance of responsibility for creation: this is demanded not only by environmental factors, but also by the scandal of hunger and human misery."

Vidal also writes, "In recent months, the pope has argued for a radical new financial and economic system to avoid human inequality and ecological devastation." He would do well to read Caritas in Veritate, because there he will find that Benedict was just as "radical" as Francis when it comes to insisting on an authentic "human ecology":

"The Church has a responsibility towards creation and she must assert this responsibility in the public sphere. In so doing, she must defend not only earth, water and air as gifts of creation that belong to everyone. She must above all protect mankind from self-destruction. There is need for what might be called a human ecology, correctly understood. The deterioration of nature is in fact closely connected to the culture that shapes human coexistence: when “human ecology”[124] is respected within society, environmental ecology also benefits. Just as human virtues are interrelated, such that the weakening of one places others at risk, so the ecological system is based on respect for a plan that affects both the health of society and its good relationship with nature.

In order to protect nature, it is not enough to intervene with economic incentives or deterrents; not even an apposite education is sufficient. These are important steps, but the decisive issue is the overall moral tenor of society. If there is a lack of respect for the right to life and to a natural death, if human conception, gestation and birth are made artificial, if human embryos are sacrificed to research, the conscience of society ends up losing the concept of human ecology and, along with it, that of environmental ecology. (par 51)"

Of course, Benedict is usually presented as being "right-wing" and "reactionary" and "traditional," and so his statements about ecology and the environment are often ignored, especially when they indicate that Francis' remarks and positions on those topics is not nearly as "radical" and unique as is often claimed. I suspect that Vidal has not read the expected encyclical by Francis, so his piece, on one hand, is simply a way of stirring up the waters—or, rather, polluting the waters.

Questioning the nature, extent, and exact status of "climate change" is not, it should be noted, anything at all like supporting the killing of the unborn and the aged, actions that more than a few American, "Catholic" politicians support—and with religious zeal (a zeal they fail to display for their claimed religion). Benedict's warning that "the deterioration of nature is in fact closely connected to the culture that shapes human coexistence" should be taken far more seriously; I suspect that Francis will repeat it—and I am confident it will be largely ignored.


Catholicism and Environmentalism

What are Catholics to make of the big environmental questions: climate change, deforestation and habitat loss, water quality and water shortages, the extinction of species, fossil fuels? How compatible is environmental activism with Catholicism? What does it mean to be responsible stewards of creation? These are important questions, made even more timely in anticipation of Pope Francis releasing an encyclical in 2015 on environmental and ecological issues.

Christians believe it is necessary and good to show "respect for the integrity of creation" (CCC, 2415) and to use the Earth’s natural resources prudently, but these beliefs don’t tell us whether specific environmental initiatives are morally compelling.

Environmental activism is often a matter of science and ideology. Not infrequently, when someone disagrees with a tenet fervently held by environmental activists, they are labeled “science deniers”. Ironically, many of those who blithely label opponents “science deniers” do not themselves understand the underlying science.

As an engineer/scientist who has worked in the trenches for over 30 years, taught environmental engineering subjects, and loves to explore history, I have seen my share of bad science and bad data (sadly, guilty myself on occasion). I’ve learned that while we need to rely on data, an honest skepticism of data is an important aspect of the scientific method. On many occasions, scientists—experts—have reached a consensus on something that was subsequently proven to be false. As Matt Ridley wrote in a 2013 Wall Street Journal article, “Science is about evidence, not consensus.” I’m with Mr. Ridley. I don’t care about consensus, no matter how passionate or morally indignant. I want to see the data and the evidence.

Objective criteria, clean data

Here’s an example. With hundreds, if not thousands, of articles and advisories warning us that our environment is under assault and deteriorating, how can anyone claim that America’s environment is cleaner than it’s been for over 100 years? I can, and I do, and here’s my evidence based on these criteria: waterborne illnesses, levels of pollutants in water and air, habitats, technological innovation, and sensory evidence.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, and even into the 1920s, typhoid epidemics annually sickened thousands in American cities. Waterborne illnesses have been practically eradicated in the United States, to such an extent that most Americans take safe water for granted. Now that we can detect and measure pollutants in parts per billion, or even parts per trillion, many think that we are releasing more pollutants. On the contrary, the quality of treated wastewater and storm water discharged to rivers, lakes and streams has been steadily improving, as measured by significantly lower levels of pollutants. Some wastewater treatment plants discharge water of higher quality than their receiving streams.

As to air quality, there are more efficient combustion processes, fewer polluting products of combustion, and better air pollution abatement technology. Then, there are habitats for fish and wildlife. A 2010 Detroit News article reported: “From bald eagles to lake sturgeon, native wildlife is making a dramatic return in what might be considered the unlikeliest of places—the waters and shores of the Detroit River…After decades of struggling to overcome the Detroit River’s polluted past, a variety of fish and bird species have re-established themselves in the watershed. The budding osprey population is joined by increasing numbers of walleye, lake sturgeon and whitefish as well as bird species like the bald eagle and peregrine falcon.” We’re talking about Detroit, at one time the manufacturing capital of the world, and still a gritty manufacturing center. This is happening all over the country.

In a 2014 Wall Street Journal article, “The Scarcity Fallacy”, Matt Ridley identifies many instances when ecologists predicted the world’s resources would run out, though technological innovation has since broken through these limits again and again. Against the evidence of history, many believe that if we can’t solve a problem today, then it will still be a problem next year and next decade. Dire predictions are often based on this misconception.

Fact: we have the technology to go from toilet to tap, if the psychological barrier can be surmounted. Oil and gas reserves that were supposed to have already run out are now projected to last far into the future due to fracking and shale oil technology innovations. Trenchless technologies now allow us to repair and replace infrastructure with minimal disruption of the surface environment. There is also abundant sensory evidence that the environment has been steadily improving. Some can remember the days when oil sheens covered rivers and lakes, when coal-fired home furnaces produced black palls over our cities, when industrial and municipal wastes were dumped on empty sites or in unsecure pits. These environmental scars have been virtually eradicated in America. Many of these improvements came about because of the efforts of dedicated environmentalists.

The reason these science-based assessments are important is that a good environmental end may not be morally compelling when evaluated in relation to other—conflicting—good ends: thousands of jobs; products to keep us well-nourished, healthy, and safe; property rights; or even another good but conflicting environmental end, such as zero water discharge versus lowest carbon footprint.

Rejecting ideology, finding balance

The ideology of many in the environmental movement also bears examining. There is a quasi-religious and especially virulent element in the environmental movement for whom, as the Journal puts it, “climate change has become a totemic cultural issue, like abortion and gay marriage…What matters is that they are on the right side of the cultural and political symbolism.”

Without weighing in on the complex issue of climate change, I am suggesting that environmentalism has become a moral lodestone to many, one in which facts, data, evidence are of secondary concern. Among these vocal activists, you will find the themes that man—exerting an unsustainable carbon footprint—is a threat rather than a transcendent creature; that man should have no more legal or ethical standing (and maybe less) than any other animal; that messy free markets are environmental threats; that states or intergovernmental organizations with people who know better ought to be establishing economic, environmental, and energy policy; in short, a materialistic interpretation of the relationship between man and the planet. And lest we think that these themes are limited to the radical fringe, some of these tenets are seeping into mainstream environmentalism.

Given a free hand, these movement activists’ energy and industrial policies could return us to the days of freezing in the winter, roasting in the summer, and perishing from lack of food and the pharmaceuticals that keep diseases at bay. More importantly, the Catholic concept of man undergoes violent deconstruction with this ideology, or quasi-religion. Man's work and dignity should not be subordinated to the natural world, which is far different from saying man should be able to rape the world to satisfy his appetites. The right balance is achieved when man is properly formed in relation to virtue and reason so that he behaves responsibly in relation to the environment. Sadly, the materialistic dogma that many of these activists espouse views virtue, and even reason, as mere human or societal constructs.

It’s important to recall that Catholics have done groundbreaking work in the sciences. In a recent Magnificat article, “The Church and the Beginning of It All”, Anthony Esolen writes about the Jesuit priest, George Lemaitre, who first espoused the Big Bang Theory (convincing Einstein), and the monk, Gregor Mendel, who is considered the father of the science of genetics. I worked with a faithful Catholic engineer with a balanced environmental perspective who is more knowledgeable than anyone in the world on the subject of automotive water/wastewater treatment. Many Catholics may be unaware of the number of highly esteemed Catholic scientists. Serious and committed Catholics, far from being anti-science, embrace honest and ethical scientific inquiry, while recognizing that the competency of science does not extend to the ultimate philosophical questions.

Certainly, there are environmental issues of concern today, even in a cleaner America: invasive species, occasional outbreaks of pathogens and toxic algae in water supplies, spills, failing and leaking infrastructure. But considering our track record in the past century, these threats are solvable, or at least manageable.

Catholics with an interest in the environment should attempt to separate legitimate science from ideological noise and organizational self-interest; not an easy task these days, and recognize that the environmental scare of the month may not be morally compelling, but this rational approach to the environment should be governed by an awareness that though man was given dominion over the Earth—women and men are more than just intelligent animals—we are also expected to be good stewards of this world and its resources.


What fun! A prominent Communist who is a climate skeptic

Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff  has repeatedly claimed international leadership for Brazil on climate change in international forums, based on successes in reducing Amazon deforestation.

But days before the start of the new year, Rousseff appointed two ministers who cast doubt on Brazil’s leadership and bode ill for the atmosphere – especially given increases in Brazil’s deforestation rates from 2012–2013 and signs that deforestation may be once again be on the increase.

President Rousseff’s recent statements on climate change

Just three months ago in her address to the UN General Assembly in New York, President Rousseff discussed the challenge of climate change and lauded the Secretary General for convening a leaders' summit, which she said would strengthen the negotiations under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change:

Climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our times. To overcome it, we need a sense of urgency, political courage and the understanding that each of us should contribute according to the principles of equity and common but differentiated responsibilities…

The Brazilian Government will strive to ensure that the outcome of negotiations leads to an agreement that is balanced, fair and effective.

President Rousseff went on to highlight Brazil’s success in the last decade in reducing Amazon deforestation nearly 80% below the 1996–2005 annual average.

Brazil’s actions to control Amazon deforestation (conceived and put into action under the previous administration), and President Rousseff’s assuming international leadership on climate change are good signs for the global struggle to avert disastrous climate change. But her late-December selections for the ministries of Agriculture and Science seem to tell a very different story.

Bad choice #1: Katia Abreu, Minister of Agriculture

The new Minister of Agriculture Katia Abreu was the president of the National Confederation of Agriculture (the national association of large and middle-size landowners and ranchers). As senator, she led the Congress’ powerful anti-environmental, anti-indigenous “bancada ruralista”, or large landowners’, caucus and earned the title among environmentalists of “chainsaw queen.”

The choice was clearly aimed at shoring up precarious support for Rousseff’s Workers’ Party (PT) in the Congress, but at the potential cost of both indigenous rights and the environment. In the polemical 2012 revision of Brazil’s Forest Code, Abreu vehemently promoted radical weakening of forest protection legislation, which was opposed not only by environmentalists but the National Academy of Sciences and Brazilian Society for the Advancement of Science.  She also supports proposed Constitutional Amendment 215, strongly opposed by indigenous peoples since it would effectively halt the legal recognition of indigenous territories.

Bad choice #2: Aldo Rebelo, Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation

Rebelo is clearly out of touch with modern science on climate change.

The new Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation Aldo Rebelo is a long-time Communist Party of Brazil congressman and vocal anti-environmental advocate, and the principal author of the divisive and controversial Forest Code revision.

Rebelo is also on the record rejecting climate science. Note his frankness in a July 2014 letter to his former colleague in the Congress and current policy director for the Brazilian NGO Instituto Socioambiental, M├írcio Santilli, in response to Santilli’s critique of his proposed revision to the Forest Code. (Note: I’ve translated part of the fourth paragraph from Portuguese, broken up the paragraph for ease of reading online)

"The positivist scientism that you call natural science and contrast with my devotion to dialectical materialism is not magical enough to convert me to the article of faith that is the theory of global warming, which is incompatible with current knowledge.

Science is not an oracle. In fact, there is no scientific proof of the projections of global warming, much less that it is occurring because of human action and not because of natural phenomena. It is a construct based on computer simulations.

In fact, my tradition links me to a line of scientific thought that prioritizes doubt over certainty and does not silence a question at the first response. Parallel to the extraordinary advances and conquests that Science has bequeathed to the progress of Humanity, come innumerable errors, frauds or manipulations always spun in the service of countries that finance certain research projects or projections.

I am curious to know whether those who today accept the theory of global warming and its alleged anthropogenic causes as unshakeable dogma, are the same ones who some years ago announced, with identical divine certainty, global cooling.

Interestingly, old-line Communist Rebelo is on exactly the same page on climate science as the hardest of the hard-core tea partiers in the United States: it’s all speculation – “scientism” – not real science."

I wonder what he does with the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and its 2,000+ climate scientists and experts, its ever-increasing certainty that climate change is mostly caused by human beings and will, if not urgently addressed, lead to catastrophic consequences? Or the clear evidence, rehashed at every climate conference for at least the last decade, that the poorest countries that have contributed the least to the problem are those that are already suffering the most drastic consequences in the form of sea level rise, floods and droughts?



For more postings from me, see  DISSECTING LEFTISM, TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC and AUSTRALIAN POLITICS. Home Pages are   here or   here or   here.  Email me (John Ray) here.  

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1 comment:

Joseph said...

If the danger of smoking is analogous to the danger of climate change, are anti-vaping activists analogous to anti-nuclear activists?