|The Week That Was
April 19 to 25
TWTW readers write to us:
“My employer [NASA] celebrated ‘Earth Day’ last week so it wouldn’t conflict with ‘Take Our Daughters to Work Day.’” We hear you; the calendar is an overstressed resource, isn’t it?
“As an ex-ARCO man, I take exception to your attributing the “Thinking” process to CEO Mike Bowlin. ARCO fired, retired and otherwise outplaced all employees with a positive IQ, i.e., those with the ability to think.” BP TAKE NOTE!
“Re: NCAR Climate Model Projections for 21st Century: ‘Earth Warms by 3 Degrees F; Winter Rain/Snow Increases 40% in Southwest and Great Plains.’ Wouldn’t more rain and snow in the Southwest (which is running out of fresh water) and the Plains (with regard to crop yields) be a good thing? (Signed) Ernie”
Dear Ernie: Don’t you realize that anything attributable to human activities is automatically bad? Sincerely,
London-based columnist Gwynne Dyer tells of the manifesto issued by the Great Ape Project: “We demand the extension of the community of equals to include all the great apes: human beings, chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans.” While we have a warm feeling for our fellow apes, we fear the logic of the GAP statement, a worthy successor to the infamous Morelia Declaration that also included plants. The New Scientist magazine asks whether “community of equals” would end up granting equality to rats and haddock? It asks rhetorically: “If a chimp kills another chimp, do we really want to hire a fleet of lawyers?” The problem is that this equality might be extended to lab animals in research labs and eventually to the supermarkets. And what about dolphins and whales? In spite of their intellectual achievements, they may have to wait behind the baby seals, who are more cuddly.
While apes don’t have any representation in the federal government, fish are represented by the National Marine Fisheries Service. A new federal program, called “Essential Fish Habitat” (EFH), is winding its way through the Federal Register for comments. EFH may become more intrusive than the notorious wetland permits and endangered-species regulations, tools used by federal officials to control private property. The NMFS plans to use EFH to assert control over “adjacent” areas, protecting “trophic links within food webs” and controlling “nutrient transfer between ecosystems.” The proposed regulations appear broad enough to exclude any and all human activities. They might even be used to stop fishing and thereby eliminate the need for the NMFS.
Aside from fish, a great concern of the federal government seems to be with frogs and other amphibians. They are regarded as some kind of thermometer for the state of the environment. Their disappearance, if real, has sparked all kinds of wild theories. We have commented earlier on the ozone depletion hypothesis of Professor Blaustein of Oregon State University, who sticks to it, unfazed by the lack of evidence for an increasing trend in solar UV radiation.
If you have favorite theory to explain the frog catastrophe, please communicate ASAP with the Department of Interior through its web page, www.frognet.gov. [We’re not kidding!]
Our Canadian correspondents tell us of the Greenpeace campaign to remove PVC plastics, wherever they might occur: in water pipes, landfills, toys, and now in medical products. Some companies have already caved, like Baxter International, a major manufacturer of intravenous [IV] bags. Both Health Canada and the US FDA are once again scrambling to conduct a costly risk assessment. The 1996 risk assessment of DEHP [a compound used to make PVC more flexible and easier to use], which reviewed more than 500 rat studies, concluded that human liver cancer threat is extremely unlikely, even at maximum exposure.
Canada seems to be targeted also by a tax-supported CBC propaganda series, featuring materials produced by Dr. David Suzuki, CBC resident scientist and ecological gloomster. For more than two decades, he has articulated the theme that humans are the curse of the Earth. Earthworms, ants, bugs, anything but humans; Suzuki hates growth and people. His latest effort, aired on CBC-TV last month, is “Turning Down the Heat,” explains how non-fossil fuel technology can avert global warming, “the greatest threat to humanity in the modern era.” You would think that a little warming might be just what Canada needs.
Needless to say, Suzuki and his government friends avoid nuclear power like the plague, even though it is widely and safely used around the world: 442 nuclear plants in 30 countries supply 17% of the world’s electricity and keep manmade carbon emission 8% below what it otherwise would be. [For comparison, the Kyoto Protocol calls for a 5.2% reduction, from industrialized countries only.]
It’s always fun to learn what environment ministers are thinking. Last month, at Leeds Castle, England, the ministers from the Group of Seven nations and Russia issued yet another statement calling for immediate action on CO2 emissions. “Climate change remains the greatest environmental threat to the world’s sustainable development, public health, and future prosperity.” Many of us would agree, provided they replace “climate change” with “Kyoto Protocol.”
They pay lip service to science, which “should continue to be developed to underpin our policy decisions.” They most certainly do not want any other kind of science, one that might upset their policy decisions. More ominous is their call for more officials trained in environmental enforcement, who can go after violators of international agreements.
Talking of training programs, the Harvard Institute for International Development offers an Executive Program in July to teach all kinds of topics related to climate change, including monitoring and enforcement. The program fee is only $8500, a good investment if you are considering a career change. But then again, if you have spare cash, why not donate it to the Science & Environmental Policy Project?
And now an Earth Day Special (published by S.Fred Singer as an op-ed in the Washington Times):
EARTH DAY THEN AND NOW
April 22 -- the last Earth Day of the century. Time to look back to 1970 when it all got started. What were the realities and fears then -- and what are they today?
Thirty years ago, the environment was not in such good shape. Air and water pollution were widespread -- but were gradually getting better even before EPA came on the scene in December of 1970. Rivers and lakes were polluted with poorly treated sewage. Too much in the way of nutrients produced eutrophication: Algal blooms and massive fish kills; lack of oxygen and lots of stink; the Cuyahoga river caught fire; Lake Erie was dying or dead, according to some. Air pollution had actually killed people in Donora, Penna., and smog was making people sick. Acid rain wasn’t yet recognized as a problem, but sulfur emissions were already beginning to decline in response to public pressure.
And what were some of the fears? DDT was supposed to kill off the plankton in the oceans, which was supposed to stop release of oxygen to the atmosphere, and we would all -- gasp die. Supersonic transport aircraft were supposed to chew up the stratospheric ozone layer and we would all die of skin cancer; so the program was canceled. Nuclear safety was uppermost in people’s mind, the fear of dying from nuclear explosions or at least from radiation-caused cancer. So reactor construction was fought and delayed with law suits, requiring costly retrofits and making atomic power very expensive. And let’s not forget the 1971 National Academy report warning of a coming ice age and predicting an imminent glacial fate for the world There was indeed a rich menu of disasters to choose from. By 1972, the Club of Rome study added depletion of resources: the world would run out of oil, metals, land and food before the end of the century; it made big news. Prof. Paul Ehrlich preached zero population growth and predicted mass starvation, a dying ocean, cancer epidemics, and massive die-offs in cities because of air pollution all within a decade. Today, these old fears seem quaint how could anyone have believed them? But we now have new ones to take their place.
In 1970 also, Senator Muskie of Maine was competing against Richard Nixon, to see who could be more environmentally correct. The National Environmental Policy Act begat impact statements and the EPA. Muskie’s Clean Air legislation managed to cripple the American automobile industry by requiring too much too soon. (When oil prices tripled a couple of years later, Detroit nearly went out of business.) Finally, by 1974, the National Academy of Sciences produced a multi-volume cost-benefit study that [surprise, surprise!] backed up Muskie who had authorized the report through EPA. The study accomplished that goal by omitting important costs items, like inspection and enforcement, and by computing the benefits in two different ways and then adding the two numbers. After this double-counting exercise, the total benefits became “commensurate” with the costs. (Almost) everyone seemed pleased with the outcome and hardly anyone questioned Muskie’s automobile emission limits.
Today, after the nation spent tens of billions or perhaps hundreds, the environment is in great shape. Rivers are flowing clean, with salmon returning to New England and to the Hudson. Smog is mostly gone except in a few cities like Los Angeles. We don’t hear much about acid rain. Oil is plentiful and cheap too cheap, some would say. Nuclear plants are running well; the several accidents that were predicted to happen haven’t happened. Disposal of spent nuclear fuel is a PR problem not a technical one. There is no world famine and population growth around the globe is slowing down.
But we now have lots of environmental organizations, whose existence depends on creating new fears. And EPA feels compelled to justify its ever-expanding budget. So here goes:
Pesticides and radiation fears are still going strong with EPA stirring the pot on radon , second-hand smoke, and chemicals. Since cancer epidemics cannot be demonstrated, the catchword is “hormonal disrupters.” No evidence for this, of course, except a research paper that was withdrawn after no one could reproduce its results. So it’s back to global disasters, much more fashionable and exciting than worrying about real problems, like how to dispose of growing piles of garbage.
Ozone depletion no longer seems as threatening as it did seven years ago when CFC production was banned (in industrialized countries). I suppose that’s because no one has ever observed the increase in solar ultraviolet radiation that was supposed to lead to epidemics of skin cancers.
So now we have the fear of climate change. Al Gore, known as the “ozone man” a decade ago, is now hyping global warming along with much of the media establishment and even some of the science crowd. The federal government is pumping $2 billion a year into global change research, but the atmosphere is not playing along. No warming trend is seen by weather satellites. And to make matters worse, a respected team of economists has just demonstrated that global warming would actually be good for you. But we have known this from the history books.
The last word on this topic belongs to the late Prof. Aaron Wildavsky, who correctly typed global warming as “the mother of all environmental scares.” Will it still be there 30 years from now or will we dream up new hobgoblins to frighten the populace in surrendering their money and freedom to government regulators and international inspectors?