The Week That Was
February 1-7, 1999

SEPP President S. Fred Singer, out in Palo Alto, California, this month as Visiting Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, is making the West Coast global warmers a tad nervous apparently. When Stanford announced that Singer would be giving a seminar lecture to faculty and students on his favorite topic February 10, "alerts" were shotgunned onto the Internet faster than the Greens glom onto an EPA grant.

Stanford Professor Stephen Schneider personally warned some 80 members of the Stanford faculty via e-mail that Singer was, after all, the "controversial dean of the climate contrarians, a small minority of largely elliptical critics of mainstream science and scientists." He then reminded faculty members that a pro-warming speaker was scheduled for the same time slot, and that if they had "serious interests in sound scientific study of climate change and its potential impacts" they'd join him there.

"Keep cool, my friend," said Singer, who found all the fuss extremely amusing. In Singer's e-mail reply, copied to Schneider's list of faculty, he thanked him for his "ringing endorsement" and suggested that a "good debate"--The Elliptical Critics vs. The Hyperbolics--might be "instructive."

Actually that's a bit of an understatement. The list of speakers for the Environmental Policy Forum at Stanford this quarter is a litany of the usual pro-warming suspects. Lots of hype, little substance. Stanford parents, is this the education you're paying for?

"Mainstream science," by the way, appears to be raising a few global warming doubts of its own. Associated Press reports (February 5) that a study prepared for the National Research Council has determined that "current systems for observing the planet's climate change are inadequate and raise questions about the accuracy of some findings."

"This may be a shock to many people who assume that we do know adequately what's going on with the climate," said Kevin Trenberth, a scientist with the National Center for Atmospheric Research who is well-known for his assumptions that we do know adequately what's going on with the climate.

Speaking of which, "marine educators" (no, not the boot-camp variety) at Oregon State University's Hatfield Marine Science Center say the North Pacific Ocean is "acting strangely": increases in the summertime water temperature in the Bering Sea "seem to have triggered a collapse of the food chain," gray whales migrated down the coast three weeks late, mole crabs are becoming more common, a seabird, the common murre, is becoming less common (Associated Press, January 29)

"What happens to the murres will happen to us eventually," intones biologist Robert Pitkin. "They're telling us they don't have enough to eat. This means the ocean is not healthy. And eventually we need to start asking the question of why is the ocean not healthy."

El Nino may not be to blame, say the Hatfield Center educators. "Is it global warming? We don't know." But, hey, let's raise the issue anyway.

Down in Beverly Hills, California, the fur is flying over a radically different issue. According to a report (February 4) in the Los Angeles Times, animal rights activists are trying to force furriers to put a warning label on new fur coats explaining how the animals were killed--"i.e. the possibility that they were clubbed, electrocuted, gassed, stomped to death [wouldn't that ruin the pelt?], or drowned." Under pressure from activists, the Beverly Hills City Council voted to put the initiative on the ballot for a special election May 11. Fur buyers, says the Times, are outraged. Fur sellers are apoplectic.

Actually this was the logical next step for a movement that has lost much public support. The old strategy of attacking women on the street and spray-painting their fur coats garnered animal rights activists a raft of bad publicity. Some fur-bearing species--for example, beaver and coyote--are overpopulated and have become a public nuisance. Others, like mink and sable, are ranch-raised and don't have an "endangered species" hook. The public knows this and, partly as a result, wearing fur is back in fashion.

Should the measure pass, we suggest this crusade be taken to its logical conclusion. Let's see these same labels on leather shoes and belts, in the meat section of the supermarket, and prominently displayed on restaurant menus, lest anyone delude themselves into thinking their free-range chicken was "cuddled" onto that plate.

The United Nations sees world population stabilizing in the middle of the next century at about 8 billion, but it's a world too old and too non-white to suit some people. The Denver Post (February 6) says "a little known global hazard," the graying ("Floridization") of the developed world's population, will place "an unprecedented economic burden on working-age people" and "may actually do more to reshape our collective future than deadly superviruses, extreme climate change or the proliferation of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons." (Dr. Kevorkian, you're being paged.)

The Boston Globe (February 8) warns of a "population time bomb" if the U.S. Congress doesn't appropriate more money for the covertly named UN Population Assistance Fund. Globe editors are especially concerned about "sub-Saharan Africa, parts of the Middle East, and Southern Asia" (What? Not Latin America?). We are reminded that the 1997 British television documentary, "Against Nature," alleged that health clinics in such parts were already offering Norplant, condoms, and sterilization (in some cases, coerced sterilization, according to testimony presented before the U.S. Congress last year). It was vaccines and antibiotics the clinics were running short of--also part of "population assistance" perhaps.

Claims that amalgam dental fillings are leaking mercury into our bodies and resulting in a host of neurological disorders turn up from time to time. Perhaps the most famous was the sheep study presented by CBS News' "60 Minutes" a few years back that failed to note that sheep, being ruminants, regurgitated food--and stomach acid--which had a rather unique effect on their amalgam fillings. (We're trying to picture a sheep in the dentist's chair.)

In any case, two psychologists at the University of Heidelberg recently examined two groups of people--one complaining of neurological problems from their amalgam fillings, one not--to try to determine if people were indeed being poisoned by their dental fillings (The New Scientist, February 6). Minute traces of mercury, as it turned out, showed up in both groups. What was different was that "a high proportion" of those complaining of illness had "a history of psychological problems," were "emotionally unstable, showed depressive symptoms and a slightly obsessive attitude towards their body and health." The researchers concluded that "while they were not imagining their symptoms, if they had not heard in the media that amalgam may be harmful, they would have looked for other causes to blame."

And while we're on that subject, a Zogby poll last week found that Vice President Albert Gore is a significant factor in President Clinton's baffling popularity with the American public (Washington Times, February 8). It is not just "the economy, stupid"; 25 percent of likely voters are fearful of having Mr. Gore as president.


Until next week...

TW2 is compiled by SEPP Research Associate Candace Crandall

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