Monday, April 18, 2005

Is the Sky Falling?

I found this interesting press release today from the Competitive Enterprise Institute today. It goes on to bash environmentalist for trying to actually keep the earth clean and, in the end, somewhat praise them. I was confused.

WASHINGTON, April 18 /U.S. Newswire/ -- The 1970's brought us many things, including the idea that Earth was going to pot. Gloom and doom predictions by those supposedly in the know have kept "Earth Day" a main focus for the environment movement. But the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a public policy group based in Washington, D.C., and according to the Wall Street Journal, "the best environmental think tank in the country," Earth Day is nothing more than a propaganda tool used to scare the public. As evidence, CEI cites the following advances, many of which go well beyond the 30-yr. history of "Earth Day."

The world "going to pot." Hmmm... Maybe a river catching fire gave us the idea that we are polluting too much.

-- There is no "scientific consensus" that global warming will cause damaging climate change. In fact, global average temperature is only about 0.6o higher than a century ago. Outlandish claims that our earth is warming at an extreme rate mischaracterize the scientific research by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the National Academy of Sciences. The world is not in severe danger from rising sea levels. Research from Nils-Axel Morner of Stockholm University demonstrates that current sea levels are within the range of sea level oscillation over the past 300 years. And extreme weather conditions have no provable link to Global warming. Research by German scientists have demonstrated that the devastating floods in central Europe in 2002 were quite normal. And don't blame climate on the growth of vector-borne diseases such as malaria. World experts agree that "other factors" are more important when it comes to the spread of diseases. CEI senior fellow in international policy, Iain Murray.

No, there is not a consensus. And the planet's temperature has only risen .6 to 1.1 degrees (depending on the study). But two things are know. 1) Fossil fuel emissions are greenhouse gases. 2) When you add anything to a state in equilibrium, it changes the equilibrium. How much will it change if we continue at the present rate of increase? No one can really say right now. But what have we got to lose by moving to alternative energy sources? Nothing. We get off of foreign oil, bring our trade deficit under control, etc.

-- Alarmists such as Paul Ehrlich made hysterical predictions 30-plus years ago about the world running out of food. However, worldwide, the amount of food produced per acre has doubled over the past 50 years. In the United States alone, more than three times the amount of people are fed on 33 percent less farmland than in 1990. In addition, death from famine dropped during the 20th century, despite the world's population quadrupling. Advances in agricultural technology and liberalization of global trade have had an impact on alleviating the food shortage. In recent years, one very important component of the food supply- fish, has come under attack by scare mongrels that tell us rising levels of mercury in fish are putting people at risk. In fact, according to data taken from the Smithsonian Institute, mercury levels found in fish are no higher today than they were 100 years ago. Greg Conko, CEI director of food safety policy.

Yes, the farmlands are more productive. But, everything is finite. There is only so much corn you can harvest from an acre of land. And the whole thing about famine dropping has a lot more to do with the ability to transport food than actual production of food. 100 years ago, you could not move food to reagions struck by famine as easily as you can today. Tankers, planes, trucks, etc. have more to do with any drop in famine than increased production of food.

Lets see, the mercury in fish. I wanted to see this study first hand, so I went the CEI web site to find the source. Surprise, surprise, no citation for the study. So, I went to the Smithsonian website... nothing. Nothing on the web at all on this study. It turns out, the CEI source for this Smithsonian study was an FDA official that had heard about, but never seen a study by the Smithsonian. He could neither confirm, nor deny the existence of it. So, on I pressed. On further investigation, the only reference I can come up with is that it was a 1972 study that was renounced in 1974 by its own authors because they discovered mercury was part of the preservatives used by scientists at the turn of the century. Good going CEI. I always like it when people try to convince me with 33 year old studies that have been debunked by the very scientists that created it.

-- The on-going belief that using pesticides will cause cancer has never been proven and in fact, has led to the spread of serious health risks, including the West Nile Virus and malaria. Both diseases are controllable and have been drastically reduced in communities and countries that allow the spraying of DDT. In addition, credit pesticide use and artificial fertilizers for creating a worldwide boom in the production of food. The word "chemical" instilled fear in many people during the last century. However, according to a researcher, chlorine, used to disinfect drinking water, ranks right up there with the discovery of antibiotics as one of the major public health accomplishments of the 20th century. Angela Logomasini, director of risk and environmental policy.

No one can prove that smoking causes cancer either. Trying to find a 100% correlation between a drug and cancer is almost impossible to prove because it would take a study of humans in a controlled environment and at least 50% of them would have to die. Call me silly, but I am willing to make the extrapolation that a chemical that was created to kill another living organism probably is not the best for us either. Are pesticides necessary? Yes, but that doesn't mean that you can just give a blank check to the chemical industry. You can't wait for 100% conclusive proof because it will never happen.

-- A popular environmental concern warns us that air quality is getting worse and is making us all sick. However, statistics show over the last 20 years, carbon monoxide levels have dropped 58 percent, despite an increase in vehicle miles traveled; ozone concentrations have decreased by 17 percent; and the ambient concentration of lead has plummeted 96 percent. Marlo Lewis, CEI senior fellow.

Gee, maybe the is because of the Clean Air Act and the ban on leaded fuels. I can say from first hand experience, companies do not reduce pollution out of goodwill towards their fellow man. They only reduce pollution after kicking and screaming and being forced to by the government. And, even with the Clean Air Act, there are many parts of this country that have never met the minimum standards even with decades in which to comply. So, once again, I am confused. Is the CEI praising environmentalists here? I thougt this was a bashing excercise.

-- "Tree huggers'" claims of mass de-forestation are completely unfounded based on the numbers. In the early part of the twentieth century, people cut down twice as many trees as they planted; now the United States grows 36 percent more trees than it harvests. Some researchers believe tree numbers are larger today than when Columbus arrived in 1492! In fact, less dependence on wood for fuel and construction has led to a decrease in wood consumption by half since 1900. Look to private conservation efforts, not federal government, for the 86 percent increase in reforestation, which helps create habitat for endangered species. Species like the California Condor are becoming extinct and environmentalists tout the Endangered Species Act for helping the condor and many other species. While the ESA's sole purpose is to save species, in fact, not one recovered species has been helped by the ESA, according to many experts. Like the California Condor and the Wood Duck, countless species have been saved through the hard working efforts of private individuals and organizations. Robert J. Smith, Senior Environmental Scholar.

This is true. Forests are getting larger in the US. This is because the reduction in farmland and regrowth in New England. At the turn of the centry, you could not go to New England to see the leaves change because there were no trees. But, unsurprisingly, what the CEI doesn't say that the US is the only nation where forests are growing faster than they are being cut down. Even Canada is cutting down fast than they are growing. World wide, we are cutting down trees far faster than they are gowing.

And for the claim that not a single species has been helped by the ESA, one only needs to look at our nations symbol, the bald eagle, to see how it has worked. Without the ESA, the bald eagle would be on the verge of extinction, if not already extinct by now. It has been a combination of law and efforts by environmentalist that have saved the national bird.

The CEI presents a very, very skewed portrait of the environmental community. On the one had, it derides environmentalist as crying wolf, and on the other, it gives them credit for saving the wood duck, cleaning the air, saving the condor. In the end, I can't tell what the CEI's point in this press release was, other than to try to confuse people. Much of what the CEI points to as positives are the result of envirnonmental action, not inaction. If this is really the Wall Street Journal's idea of the 'best think tank,' I am going to have to re-evaluate my confidence in their market research also.

CEI's press release


MaxedOutMama said...

Judging by WSJ profitablity figures, you might be right to be skeptical of their market research!

I found that article confusing too. Pesticides and herbicides (some of them) DO cause cancer. It's a question of limiting concentrations and trying to use less toxic chemicals. But I think the richer nations have not always been responsible or realistic about what environmental solutions we decide to impose.

DDT did cause problems in the environment, and it did threaten large bird species by thinnning shells. It was banned when I was in high school or junior high. At that time we never ever saw even crows. Now all the larger bird species are coming back. That having been said, I am not sure whether the claims about massive deaths from malaria do justify the total ban worldwide.

It seems to me like we are picking pretty birds (because we can afford too) over poor kids with dark skins (not as cute, I guess). It's not a pleasant tradeoff. Shouldn't the more developed world be paying for our pretty birds by funding the cost of other mosquito eradication/control/barrier programs for these areas? My conscience isn't comfortable with what I've read about that particular issue.

Effective environmentalism is a matter of good research and striking a realistic balance. There are far too many of us humans not to have a massive impact on the environment, but it takes a lot of money to treat sewage and prevent deforestation, etc. We have tremendous scientific ability; I think we need to get very serious about developing alternate energy sources such as nuclear power.

Dingo said...

yeah, I just could not figure out their point. And I was not picking and choosing, I posted the entire release.

I agree, it is about striking a balance. And a lot of being an environmentalist is not about the birds and trees, but about protecting humans from ourselves.

As for the DDT. I think there are some places it may need to be used, but we don't need it in the US. I also think an even better idea is to find a cure/vaccine for malaria. We have been using the same preventative medicine for 100 years. The problem is, is that there is no money in finding a cure for malaria. Drug companies know that they would lose money because none of the affected countries could afford to pay high prices, and developed nations don't need it, so we wouldn't be subsidizing the costs.