Wednesday, April 26, 2006


The 20th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear accident of April 26, 1986 is prompting a new wave of alarmist claims about its impact on human health and the environment. As has become a ritual on such commemorative occasions, the death toll is tallied in the hundreds of thousands, and fresh reports are made of elevated rates of cancer, birth defects, and overall mortality.

This picture is both badly distorted and harmful to the victims of the Chernobyl accident. All reputable scientific studies conducted so far have concluded that the impact of radiation has been less damaging than was feared. A few dozen emergency workers who battled the fire at the reactor succumbed to acute radiation sickness. Studies are still under way into elevated rates of cancer and cardiovascular disease among the "liquidators" who worked at the reactor site in the months following the accident. And some 5,000 cases of thyroid cancer, attributed to radioactive iodine absorbed through consumption of milk in the weeks immediately following the accident, have been detected among those who were children at the time.

There has been real suffering, particularly among the 330,000 people who were relocated after the accident. About that there is no doubt. But, for the five million people living in affected regions who are designated as Chernobyl "victims," radiation has had no discernable impact on physical health.

This is because these people were exposed to low radiation doses that in most cases were comparable to natural background levels. Two decades of natural decay and remediation measures mean that most territories originally deemed "contaminated" no longer merit that label. Aside from thyroid cancer, which has been successfully treated in 98.5 percent of cases, scientists have not been able to document any connection between radiation and any physical condition.

Where a clear impact has been found is mental health. Fear of radiation, it seems, poses a far more potent health threat than does radiation itself. Symptoms of stress are rampant, and many residents of affected areas firmly believe themselves to be condemned by radiation to ill health and early death.

In part, this is because the initial Soviet response was secretive: Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet leader at the time, addressed the issue on television only weeks later, on May 14, 1986. Myths and misconceptions have taken root, and these have outlasted subsequent efforts to provide reliable information. Combined with sweeping government benefit policies that classify millions of people living in Chernobyl-affected areas as invalids, such myths encouraged fatalistic and passive behaviors and created a "culture of dependency" among affected communities.

The United Nations Chernobyl Forum, a consortium of eight U.N. agencies and representatives of Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine, reinforced these findings. Chernobyl Forum was created to address the prevailing confusion concerning the impact of the accident, both among the public and government officials, by declaring a clear verdict on issues where a scientific consensus could be found. The Forum succeeded in this effort, and a fresh and reassuring message on the impact of radiation was made public in September.

The Chernobyl Forum findings should have brought relief, for they show that the specter haunting the region is not invincible radiation, but conquerable poverty. What the region needs are policies aimed at generating new livelihoods rather than reinforcing dependency; public-health campaigns that address the lifestyle issues (smoking and drinking) that undermine health across the former Soviet Union; and community development initiatives that promote self-reliance and a return to normalcy.

But the reception given to the Chernobyl Forum's message has been surprisingly mixed. Some officials have reverted to alarmist language on the number of fatalities attributed to Chernobyl. Some NGO's and Chernobyl charities have responded with disbelief, citing as evidence the general population's admittedly poor health. Opponents of nuclear power have suggested that self-interest has compromised the Chernobyl Forum's integrity.

Set against the impressive body of science underpinning the Chernobyl Forum, such responses reflect the tenacity not only of myths and misconceptions, but also of vested interests. The new view on Chernobyl threatens the existence of charities - such as those offering health "respites" abroad for children - that depend for their fund-raising on graphic footage of deformed babies.

The new understanding also deprives the region's officials of a routine way to seek international sympathy, even if the repetition of such appeals after two decades yields little financial aid. By misstating the problems, these approaches threaten to divert scarce resources into the wrong remedies.

The twentieth anniversary of the Chernobyl accident is an ideal occasion for all actors to do some honest soul-searching. Governments are right to worry about the fate of Chernobyl-affected territories, but the way forward will require fresh thinking and bold decisions, particularly a shift in priorities from paying paltry benefits to millions to targeted spending that helps to promote jobs and economic growth. Similarly, charities are right to worry about the population's health, but they should focus on promoting healthy lifestyles in affected communities rather than whisking children abroad as if their homes were poisonous.

All parties are right to worry about the affected populations, but, more than any sophisticated diagnostic equipment, what is needed is credible information, presented in a digestible format, to counter Chernobyl's destructive legacy of fear. The children of Chernobyl are all grown up; their interests, and those of their own children, are best served not by continually evoking the nightmare of radiation, but by giving them the tools and authority they need to rebuild their own communities.



Greenpeace on Tuesday released a report claiming the death toll from Chernobyl is many times higher than a 2005 UN estimate. But is the report based on "bad science" as critics claim? Just how many people may ultimately die as a result of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster two decades ago has long been one of the largest questions raised by the meltdown. Almost every year, a new study comes out on or near the catastrophe's late April anniversary with yet another estimate.

This year, it was the turn of Greenpeace, which on Tuesday released a controversial new report (pdf) that argues that the number of Chernobyl dead may be much higher than the 4,000 estimated in a 2005 report (pdf) issued by the United Nations group Chernobyl Forum. As many as 90,000 victims may eventually succumb to radiation-related illnesses, the Greenpeace report says.

The report relied on extrapolations from data on cancer incidence taken from Russia, Belarus and Ukraine -- all countries hit hard by the vast radiation cloud which spewed out of Reactor Four after it exploded in the early morning hours of April 26, 1986. Statistics from Belarus, for example, indicate that there are 270,000 cases of cancer attributable to the Chernobyl disaster in the hardest hit areas with 93,000 of those cases likely to be fatal, according to the report. Greenpeace also cited a report by Veniamin Khudolei of the Center for Independent Environmental Assessment of the Russian Academy of Sciences which found that the mortality rate in western Russia has sharply increased in the last 15 years, suggesting a possible connection with Chernobyl radiation.

Greenpeace used the report's release as an opportunity to blast the findings of the UN Chernobyl Forum. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which is part of the Forum, came in for particular abuse during the presentation of the study in London with Greenpeace accusing it of playing down the dangers of nuclear energy. "The nuclear industry is the most dangerous in the world, and they (the IAEA) are definitely trying to minimize the results of the Chernobyl catastrophe," Ivan Blokov of Greenpeace's Russia office told the Associated Press. "We have a report showing the incredible damage caused to humans ... . Nearly every system of the organism is damaged."

The Chernobyl Forum firmly rejects the Greenpeace accusation. Its report, which said that fewer than 50 deaths can be conclusively linked to Chernobyl, argues that death by cancer among the some 5 million people who received low radiation doses would be almost statistically invisible. The report was put together by experts from a number of different agencies from within the UN including the IAEA and the World Health Organization (WHO). "Peer reviewed science only really started developing in Russia and the Soviet states after the Soviet Union collapsed," Mikhail Balonov, Scientific Secretary of the Chernobyl Forum, told SPIEGEL ONLINE in criticizing the Greenpeace results which relied entirely on locally produced studies. "If you want to get some serious conclusions from the data, it has to be in peer reviewed papers. Unfortunately none of the studies cited in the new report have been peer reviewed ... . It relies on bad science."

Gregory Haertl, a Geneva-based spokesman for WHO -- which was responsible for the health data used in the Forum report -- likewise warns against accepting the Greenpeace report at face value. "I would approach this study with care. One always has to remind people why people make such estimates," H„rtl told SPIEGEL ONLINE, in reference to Greenpeace's staunchly anti-nuclear stance.

Indeed, many scientists concede that determining where an individual health problem comes from is difficult, particularly in a part of the world characterized by poor economic conditions and unhealthy lifestyles including high rates of drinking and smoking. Haertl also says that the further one travels from the disaster zone, the more difficult it becomes to conclusively link illnesses to Chernobyl radiation.

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NASA Expert Tells Alarmists to Cool Down Climate Hype

NASA scientist James Hansen warned that environmental activists and the media better be more cautious with their rhetoric regarding "global warming." In addition, a CBS News "60 Minutes" reporter recently compared skeptics of "global warming" to Holocaust deniers. Hansen, who was responding to a question about the increased media coverage of "global warming" in recent months, issued the warning during a teleconference with a top Democratic congressional staff member, liberal environmental groups and journalists. "I am a little concerned about this, in the sense that we are still at a point where the natural fluctuations of climate are still large -- at least, the natural fluctuations of weather compared to long-term climate change," Hansen, director of the agency's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, told the participants in the April 13 teleconference. "So we don't want the public to hang their hat on a recent storm, recent hurricanes for example, because those will fluctuate from year to year," he said.

Hansen, who alleged in January that the Bush administration has been suppressing science for political purposes, believes that humans must curb greenhouse gas emissions in order to avert a climate catastrophe.

Speakers who participated with Hansen during the teleconference called the GOP-controlled Congress "regressive," referred to U.S. scientists and policymakers skeptical of the catastrophic effects of possible temperature changes as "climate loonies," derided free-market think tanks and linked scientists skeptical of "global warming" to the past tobacco industry tactics of manipulating the science on the health effects of cigarette smoke. The National Environmental Trust hosted the teleconference, which featured Hansen, Phil Schiliro, the Democratic minority chief of staff of the House Government Reform Committee, and Mark Hertsgaard, who wrote a cover story on the environment for an issue of "Vanity Fair" magazine timed to coincide with Earth Day, April 22

Schiliro, who staffed Congressman Henry Waxman's (D-Calif.) investigation and hearings on tobacco industry executives and cigarette smoking, blamed the GOP for the failure to address "global warming" issues. "There is a deep-seated, regressive view in the House on not dealing with these issues," Schiliro said. "Point well taken," responded Philip Clapp, president of the National Environmental Trust and moderator of the teleconference.

This is not the first time Hansen has aligned himself with officials from the Democratic Party. As Cybercast News Service previously reported, Hansen publicly endorsed Democrat John Kerry for president in 2004 and received a $250,000 grant from the charitable foundation headed by Kerry's wife. In addition, he acted as a consultant earlier this year to former Democratic Vice President Al Gore's slide-show presentations on "global warming." Hansen, who also complained about censorship during the administration of President George H. W. Bush in 1989, previously acknowledged that he supported the "emphasis on extreme scenarios" regarding climate change models in order to drive the public's attention to the issue.

'Climate loonies'

During the teleconference, the lack of perceived scientific consensus by some in the media and government was cited as the reason coverage has failed to inform the American people on the seriousness of "global warming," according to Hertsgaard, who wrote the April 2006 Vanity Fair cover story entitled "While Washington Slept." "People in the American media in the last six weeks have begun to say 'the debate is over.' [There is] a lot more coverage than we have ever seen of 'global warming;' a lot more pointed coverage than we have ever seen. It is very striking that it is years behind the coverage in Europe," Hertsgaard said. "People in Europe talked about the 'the climate loonies in the United States.' The Brits do not understand why people pay attention [to skeptics]," he added.

The teleconference was open to the media and fielded questions from New York Times reporter Andrew Revkin, CNN, U.S. News & World Report and other media outlets. Not a single question was posed to the panel during the teleconference challenging the panelists' views on climate change or the politics surrounding it. Some of the media questions even elaborated on the points made by the panel and offered helpful advice on strategy.

During reporter Paul Thacker's question to the panel, he helped them make one of their points regarding how D.C.-based free market think tanks are trying to cloud the "global warming" science. Thacker is associate editor at Environmental Science & Technology. "Don't forget that Steven Milloy is also the science columnist for Fox News. Give them credit," Thacker said after one panelist attempted to discredit Milloy. Milloy publishes the website, which takes a skeptical view of catastrophic climate change. Thacker then offered his own supportive thoughts to the panelists on the impact of free market think tanks. "I have often felt that these think tanks are kinda there just to dissuade journalists from covering these issues effectively and to do the sort of 'he said, she said' two-sides quote," Thacker said, referring to the free market think tanks that take a skeptical view of "global warming."

Cybercast News Service was not given the opportunity to ask a question during the teleconference despite having registered for the event. The moderator told panelists that there were no more questions from the media even though Cybercast News Service made repeated attempts to ask a question.

Skeptics compared to 'Holocaust denier'

Revkin, the reporter from the New York Times, has previously noted that industry-funded groups want "to dust the discourse with just enough uncertainty and confusion to make the public go 'never mind' and the[n] press snooze," and these efforts "have been extraordinarily effective." Revkin told the Spring 2006 issue of Society of Environmental Journalists that he hopes his upcoming climate change book, "The North Pole Was Here: Puzzles & Perils at the Top of the World," will educate politicians.

"There might even be some politicians who'll finally have a book on climate change they can understand. I haven't quite given up on grownups yet, but I'm getting close," Revkin said of his book, which is aimed at children 10 years of age and older. "Basically, my orientation as a reporter and a human being is to focus on avoiding or mitigating irreversible losses where they can be anticipated. Extinction and long-term climate change are the two biggies in the environment arena. And that shows no sign of changing," Revkin said.

CBS News correspondent Scott Pelley, who has done several high-profile reports for "60 Minutes" on climate change, also agrees that the science of "global warming" is settled. "There is virtually no disagreement in the scientific community any longer about 'global warming,'" he said. "The science that has been done in the last three to five years has been conclusive," Pelley told the CBS News's PublicEye blog in February. Pelley's profile of Hansen in a March "60 Minutes" segment failed to note any of Hansen's ties to the Democratic Party or his receipt of a $250,000 from Teresa Heinz Kerry's foundation. In addition, Pelley compared scientists skeptical of human-caused catastrophic climate change to Holocaust deniers. "If I do an interview with [Holocaust survivor] Elie Wiesel," Pelley asked, "am I required as a journalist to find a Holocaust denier?" he said in a separate interview on March 23 with CBS News's PublicEye blog. Pelley claims he attempted to find respected scientists who would contradict scientists like Hansen on "global warming" but could not locate any. "This isn't about politics or pseudo-science or conspiracy theory blogs," Pelley explained. "This is about sound science."

'Climate hysteria'

Milloy of blasted Hansen for appearing with Democratic Party officials and environmental groups. "It's disappointing to see someone who holds himself out to be an unbiased 'scientist' politicize himself by aligning with Democrat Party interests. On the other hand, at least he's publicly acknowledged that he's a 'political' scientist," Milloy, who is also the portfolio manager of the Free Enterprise Action Fund, told Cybercast News Service. Milloy also said he was glad to see Hansen attempt try to rein in the linkage of recent storm events like Hurricane Katrina to "global warming." "It's good to see Jim Hansen recognize that the global warmers have gone off the deep-end in terms of climate hysteria. I'm certain, though, that we'll have to remind him of his statement next time he takes his usual dive off that cliff," said Milloy.

Milloy said he was not surprised that many in the news media now believe the debate over climate change is over. "The 'global warming' lobby hopes to stop all dissent by shutting out, shouting down and intimidating any opposition," Milloy said, noting that Gore has refused the opportunity to debate climate skeptics on this issue. "The warmers apparently know that their hysteria doesn't hold up to scientific analysis, so silencing the opposition is their primary tactic," Milloy said.

During the April teleconference, Hansen did not back down from his belief that greenhouse gas emissions generated by human activity are going to have dramatic negative impacts on the earth's climate. "But the reality to the scientists is that there are many signs now that things are going in the direction expected and at the rates expected and even in some cases" faster than expected, Hansen said.


Another Australian windfarm project bites the dust

Federal Environment Minister Ian Campbell infuriated another state government yesterday by overriding plans to build a wind farm. Less than a month after he blocked a wind farm in Victoria to "save" the orange-bellied parrot, Senator Campbell froze funding yesterday for a similar project near Denmark on the south coast of Western Australia. The minister said he had written to Regional Services Minister Warren Truss asking him to refuse further requests for funding for the project. "Senator Campbell strongly opposes further funding for the Denmark Community Windfarm group until the expressed wishes of the local community are taken into account through the introduction of a national wind farm code," Senator Campbell's spokeswoman said.

Earlier this month, the minister set off a war between Canberra and Victoria when he invoked rarely used federal powers to block the $220 million Bald Hills wind farm in Gippsland on the grounds it could kill one rare orange-bellied parrot a year. The Victorian Government has demanded he reconsider.

Last night, West Australian Planning Minister Alannah MacTiernan described Senator Campbell's latest decision as tragic. "It is a joke that at a time when we have got some really hard issues to deal with, we've got an environment minister who has no interest in sustainability, that at a national level we are not only getting zero leadership, we're getting minus zero leadership," she said. "These are big issues. We need leadership at a national level and Campbell is as much a joke as (Denmark area MP) Wilson Tuckey is as an environment minister. Other than going around and doing a bit of bashing of the Japanese on whales, he hasn't shown any capacity to deal whatsoever with the big issues we are facing."

Ms MacTiernan has been accused of ignoring advice from a state government planning committee that voted three to two against the proposed wind farm. But she said a departmental report prepared on the project was "substandard and flawed". The report excluded information from Western Power recommending the wind farm site, and ignored advice from its own department that the farm was not visually obtrusive, she said. "This has got nothing to do with this report, because Campbell, well before he had ever seen this report, had been down there (at the proposed site) with Wilson Tuckey trying to stir the possum," she said. She said the project was formally opposed by only about 60 families, including many who did not live at Denmark.

Senator Campbell will also have the final say in the development of a new iron ore mine in northern Western Australia, which yesterday won state government approval despite the possible presence of a bird even rarer than the orange-bellied parrot - the night parrot. The West Australian Government gave its final environmental approval for Fortescue Metals Group's iron ore mine at Cloud Break in the Pilbara, part of a $1.8billion development stalled by sightings last year of three night parrots, which were once thought to have been extinct.

State Environment Minister Mark McGowan was critical yesterday of Senator Campbell's decision to block the Bald Hills wind farm on environmental grounds, saying it had been possible to approve the Pilbara mine by imposing strict conditions. "I would be surprised if Senator Campbell was to knock back this (iron ore mine). I'm positive he won't knock it back. His decision in Victoria was based on it being a marginal seat - it was not environmental," he said.



Many people would like to be kind to others so Leftists exploit that with their nonsense about equality. Most people want a clean, green environment so Greenies exploit that by inventing all sorts of far-fetched threats to the environment. But for both, the real motive is to promote themselves as wiser and better than everyone else, truth regardless.

Global warming has taken the place of Communism as an absurdity that "liberals" will defend to the death regardless of the evidence showing its folly. Evidence never has mattered to real Leftists

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