Untrustworthy Enivronmental Science

Of Republicans with high levels of science knowledge, less than half trust environmental scientists.ELENA LACEY; GETTY IMAGES

Adam Rogers writes at WIRED Americans Trust Scientists Until Politics Gets in the Way.  Excerpts in italics with my bolds

Nothing’s more American than a science-hero—an indomitable, big-brained hasher-out of ideas that change the world, that make the impossible possible. At least since Ben Franklin sat with the founders, and certainly since Vannevar Bush explicitly connected the US’ future to federal funding of science after World War II, the idea of sciencing the shit out of everything has been core to the American character. Like many surveys and studies before it, a new report from the Pew Research Center confirms this truth: Americans love and trust scientists. In 2019, 86 percent of Americans said they had a great deal or a fair amount of confidence in them—up 3 percent from the year before.

That’s higher than confidence in the military (82 percent), or even in public school principals (80 percent)! It’s even higher than, can you believe it, the news media (47 percent, ahem) or elected officials (35 percent).

Except, like the polling nerds say, you have to check the cross-tabs—the particulars of who answered what question, and how. This particular survey compared trust in specific types of scientists. Specifically, it covered dietitians and nutrition scientists, clinicians and biomedical researchers, and (here we go) environmental health specialists and environmental scientists. In other words: nutrition, doctors, and climate change.

And then the pollsters asked for the respondents’ political affiliations. Which: Uh oh.

Of Democrats with high levels of science knowledge (which turns out to be a thing you can pop-quiz for), just about nine out of 10 people trust environmental scientists. Of Republicans with high levels of science knowledge? Less than half. “We often see that public attitudes around climate, energy, and environmental issues are strongly correlated with party ideology, where other kinds of science issues are not,” says Cary Funk, a social scientist and lead author of the new study. This is called “motivated reasoning,” Funk says. “The idea is that your partisan identity kind of trumps the role of knowledge in your beliefs.”

It’s an outcome familiar to climate communication researchers. The Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, for example, has found rising belief among Republicans that climate change is human-caused and policy steps should be taken to combat it, but that program’s research still consistently finds a party disparity. “We’re starting to see the signal appear out of the noise and say, yeah, my direct experience reflects climate change,” Anthony Leiserowitz, the Yale program director, told me late last year. “But that’s still a small influence compared to the dominant factor, which is politics.”

Put aside Evangelicals, who often vote Republican and stereotypically express skepticism in a range of scientific conclusions. The people in the Pew study, by and large, accept the conclusions of medicine, of basic physics, of organic chemistry. But even though the methods and philosophies that produced those conclusions are the exact same methods and approaches climate scientists use, if you’re a Republican, odds are you don’t buy it.

Other research, from Pew and elsewhere, has found divides in the amount of trust people have in scientists who study other fields with policy valances, such as genetically modified foods or vaccines. But those divides don’t fall along party lines. It’s just climate.

Why? What powers this motivated cognition? It’s one thing to believe that which confirms your priors, but how do people acquire priors for climate science? At a time when “climate science” means everything from wildfires to emerging diseases to mass migration, how do people still see it as merely an environmental issue?

[Comment:  The author seems oblivious to the history of progressively more extreme environmental scares, trumpeted in the media, then later dropped in favor of a new and different one.  Bernie Lewin’s book provides the story of how each one was promoted taking the public in, and adding to the erosion of confidence.  The sequence of expanding scares was:
Synopsis of the environmental scare history (lest we forget) is at Progressively Scaring the World ]

Some researchers blame the 1970s. See, before then, most of the science that Americans so loved was, in one terminology, “production science.” Even the basic, research work led to cool new stuff, which could become salable new products. Corporations love that. But with the rise of modern environmentalism in the middle and late 20th century came “impact science” that looked at the harms of those industrial-era products—asbestos, DDT, dioxins, chlorofluorocarbons, nuclear waste, and more recently greenhouse gases and plastics. “Environmentalism and the conservation movement take off really at about the same time, the 1970s … but originally those think tanks didn’t pay too much attention to environmentalism,” says Riley Dunlap, an emeritus sociologist at Oklahoma State University.

Thomas Edison in his Menlo Park Lab.

Then, just as international environmentalism started to peak in the early 1990s, the Soviet Union fell apart. Conservatism lost its Big Bad. “We think the conservative movement really substituted a Green Scare for the declining Red Scare,” Dunlap says. The party’s funders turned to fighting the regulatory apparatus that would come with more environmentally sensitive policies.

To Dunlap and others, that’s why Republicans scoff at climate science while embracing, say, particle physics. “They haven’t heard Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity talking about physics,” Dunlap says. “But they’ve had a constant barrage saying global warming is the mother of all environmental issues, the one with the most dire consequences, and in the eyes of the conservatives, the most serious consequences for regulations.”

[Note: The author is also unaware of how alarmists reduce away the complexity of climate science down to their simple pre-determined assertion: Humans are making the world dangerously warmer. Explanation is at Climate Reductionism
That’s why those cross-tabs keep showing the Republicans think climate science is a grift. They mostly trust nutrition science, even though in reality lots of nutrition science (and certainly the mass media coverage of it) is, according to at least one high-powered science watchdog, in need of radical reform. They mostly trust physicians, even though study after study shows that attention and gifts from pharmaceutical reps have a profound influence on what drugs physicians prescribe. These folks aren’t as infallible as we all might hope.

In fact, call me cynical, but I was actually heartened by some of the parts of the Pew study that suggested broad-based skepticism.

“Overall views of scientists are generally positive, but it tends to be a soft support,” Funk says. “It tends to be lower when it comes to counting on scientists to do their job well, on working in the public interest. And then you see the low degree or widespread skepticism around issues of scientific integrity.” Only about one in five Americans thought scientists were as up front about their own conflicts of interest as they should be. And 71 percent of African American respondents, and 63 percent of Latinx respondents, reported professional or research misconduct as a moderately or very big problem. That was higher than what white people said by 20 points and seems worth following up given the scientific establishment’s frankly crummy history with minorities in research.

On a more positive front, people reported trusting scientists more when the data they used was more open—a major goal of the open science and reproducibility movements. Good science works on fixing science.

More Republicans than Democrats thought that scientists’ policy decisions are no better than anyone else’s and that scientists are just as likely to be biased as non-scientists. The thing is, that’s true.

Scientists are human beings. The practice of science, though, remains the single best way for humans to acquire information about how the universe actually works, and then to act on it. If it’s the case that a well-funded conservative movement found a way to convince people that climate change—the single biggest existential threat humanity faces—simply wasn’t happening, they could do it again. The same thing could work with telling people that vaccines violate their personal autonomy or that environmental protections are too stringent.

The cautionary tale here isn’t about petrochemical donors to Republicans enhancing the motivated cognition of their base. It’s about how little Americans know about how science is actually supposed to work as a practice. If they did, they’d make the connection between the broad, informed skepticism that in fact drives science to improve, to continually reach toward the fundamental truths that allow deeper understanding and, candidly, cooler stuff—across every subfield. Those are the results that lead to better policy for everyone instead of higher profits for a few.

See also: Eco Footprint Nonsense

 

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Trudeau’s Empty Plastic Gesture

Bjorn Lomborg writes in the Globe and Mail about Canadian PM Justin Treudeau showing off by proposing to ban single-use plastics. Sorry, banning plastic bags won’t save our planet. Excerpts in italics with my bolds.

Last week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a plan to reduce plastic pollution, which will include a ban on single-use plastics as early as 2021. This is laudable: plastics clog drains and cause floods, litter nature and kill animals and birds.

Of course, plastic also makes our lives better in a myriad of ways. In just four decades, plastic packaging has become ubiquitous because it keeps everything from cereals to juice fresher and reduces transportation losses, while one-use plastics in the medical sector have made syringes, pill bottles and diagnostic equipment more safe.

Going without disposable plastic entirely would leave us worse off, so we need to tackle the problems without losing all of the benefits.

The simplest action for consumers is to ensure that plastic is collected and used, so a grocery bag, for example, has a second life as a trash bag, and is then used for energy.

But we need to be honest about how much consumers can achieve. As with other environmental issues, instead of tackling the big-picture problems to actually reduce the plastic load going into oceans, we focus on relatively minor changes involving consumers, meaning we only ever tinker at the margins.

More than 20 countries have taken the showy action of banning plastic bags, including even an al-Qaeda-backed terrorist group which said plastic bags pose “a serious threat to the well-being of humans and animals alike.”

But even if every country banned plastic bags it would not make much of a difference, since plastic bags make up less than 0.8 per cent of the mass of plastic currently afloat on the world’s oceans.

Rather than trying to save the oceans with such bans in rich countries, we need to focus on tackling the inferior waste management and poor environmental policies in developing regions.

Research from 2015 shows that less than 5 per cent of land-based plastic waste going into the ocean comes from OECD countries, with half coming from just four countries: China, Indonesia, Philippines and Vietnam. While China already in 2008 banned thin plastic bags and put a tax on thicker ones, it is estimated to contribute more than 27 per cent of all marine plastic pollution originating from land.

Moreover, banning plastic bags can have unexpected, inconvenient results. A new study shows California’s ban eliminates 40 million pounds of plastic annually. However, many banned bags would have been reused for trash, so consumption of trash bags went up by 12 million pounds, reducing the benefit. It also increased consumption of paper bags by twice the saved amount of plastic – 83 million pounds. This will lead to much larger emissions of CO₂.

When Kenya banned plastic bags, people predictably shifted to thicker bags made of synthetic fabric – which now may be banned. But Kenya had to relent and exempt plastics used to wrap fresh foods such as meat and other products.

We also need to consider the wider environmental impact of our bag choices. A 2018 study by the Danish Ministry of Environment and Food looked not just at plastic waste, but also at climate-change damage, ozone depletion, human toxicity and other indicators. It found you must reuse an organic cotton shopping bag 20,000 times before it will have less climate damage than a plastic bag.

If we use the same shopping bag every single time we go to the store, twice every week, it will still take 191 years before the overall environmental effect of using the cotton bag is less than if we had just used plastic.

Even a simple paper bag requires 43 reuses to be better for the environment – far beyond the point at which the bag will be fit for the purpose.

The study clearly shows that a simple plastic bag, reused as a trash bag, has the smallest environmental impact of any of the choices.

If we want to reduce the impact of plastic bags while still allowing for their efficient use, a tax seems like a much better idea. A 2002 levy in Ireland reduced plastic bag use from 328 bags a person per year to just 21 bags.

And if we really want to make a meaningful impact on ocean plastics coming from land, we should focus on the biggest polluters such as China, Indonesia, Philippines and Vietnam, and emphasize the most effective ways to cut the plastic load, namely better waste management in the developing world.

We should also recognize that more than 70 per cent of all plastics floating on oceans today – about 190,000 tonnes – come from fisheries, with buoys and lines making up the majority. That tells us clearly that concerted action is needed to clean up the fishing industry.

If our goal is to get a cleaner ocean, we should by all means think about actions we can take as consumers in rich countries to reduce our use of unnecessary plastic bags. But we need to keep a sense of proportion and, if we’re serious, focus on change where it’s really needed.

Bjorn Lomborg is president of the Copenhagen Consensus Center.

See Also Plastic Trash Talking

Waste Management Saves the Ocean

Plastic Trash Talking

Following a viral video of a turtle with a straw in his nose, plastics suddenly went from the “greatest thing since sliced bread” to environmental villain. This post first summarizes the waste plastic problem discussed in a recent GWPF paper. As in other cases of environmental issues, plastic trash talking conflates several problems, including littering, waste recycling and plastics disposal. Secondly, we shall see that the obvious advantages of incineration are resisted out of (can you guess?) fear of global warming from CO2.

As reported in GWPF, Dr. Mikko Paunio of the University of Helsinki has warned that the UN’s decision to regulate waste plastic as hazardous and restrict exports will unleash a “surge of waste” on many EU countries. Paunio urges a rapid expansion of waste incineration capacity to stop the plastic waste problem turning into a public disaster. His paper is Saving the Oceans and the Plastic Recycling Crisis. Excerpts in italics with my bolds.

Executive Summary

The United Nations has just decided to add mixed and contaminated plastic waste to the schedule of materials that are regulated under the Basel Convention. This decision will have major implications.

Firstly, it represents a major victory for the environment because it will effectively prevent a large proportion of exports of plastic waste to developing countries. Much of this material ends up in the oceans, so the UN decision does away with a major contribution to the problem of marine waste.

However, it will also mean that the problem of what to do with plastic waste will return to countries that produce it. What is worse, the EU is putting in place stringent new rules on plastic recycling, which will only increase the size of the problem, as will its new rules on landfill.

As a result, EU countries will find themselves faced with a growing mountain of plastic waste, and with few means at their disposal to deal with it. The EU has previously been deeply opposed to incineration of waste because of green dogma: they believe that recycling is virtuous in its own right, as well as seeing it as part of the fight against climate change.

And even if they were to change their views, there could still be major problems because the incineration capacity available falls far short of what is required.

A rapid expansion of waste incineration capacity is urgently required to stop the plastic waste problem turning into a disaster.

The global waste crisis

The Campania (Naples 1990s) trash crisis is a clear warning to governments about the problems that can be caused by blindly following green ideology. Now, it has become clear that a much larger crisis, global in scale, may almost be upon us. The global plastics ‘recycling’ industry is already on the verge of meltdown as a result of China’s import ban. Not only the biggest plastic waste exporter – the European Union – but also the rest of the English-speaking world, Japan and even Brazil, a developing country, are now witnessing rapidly growing mountains of plastic waste. In all these countries, the people who have in good faith been sorting their plastic waste for recycling can quite rightly feel betrayed.

Wealthy countries have tried to deal with China’s import ban by exporting waste to countries like Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam. However, waste management in these places is often primitive, and the result has been severe problems with marine pollution. So even though these imports bring much-needed revenue, the situation is becoming so bad that legislative barriers are being raised to prevent them.

plastic_paper_straws

One of the most important developments, which has received little international attention,
is the silent decision of hundreds of municipalities in the US to stop recycling solid waste altogether. These are not ‘Trumpian’ decisions, but decisions made by both Democrats and Republican administrations at local level across the country.

The EU’s confused position on incineration

So the EU’s policy response to the marine plastic waste problem has been to adopt policies that will do little to reduce plastic waste, and which will probably cause the problem to become worse. The example of the Campania crisis, which was only resolved by extensive use of incineration, is therefore likely to become important. Incineration is superior to all other waste management options in terms of climate change mitigation, because it avoids the complex and resource-hungry schemes involved in, for example, turning it into diesel fuel or converting it to some other product. Meanwhile, incineration directly reduces demand imports of coal used in large quantities to produce heat and electricity. Recycling is certainly worse on other fronts too, not least the fact that recycling plants release microplastics in their wastewater streams, while only delivering low-quality recycled material that cannot
be used in important applications like food packaging.

The Commission has argued in favour of incineration, but only very rarely. In a paper entitled, ‘A Clean Planet for All’, released before UNFCCC COP 25 in Katowice, it argued for a carbon-neutral economy fuelled by biomass, although it was reticent about explaining where this biomass should come from. The answer is found in an accompanying document, which explains that it will actually be waste that is burned, and suggests that waste incineration capacity should increase to 100 million tons in 2050.

However, mostly it has been strongly against the idea. For example, in reference to the Circular Economy proposal, it said that of the possible approaches to waste management, recycling was to be preferred, apparently on climate change mitigation grounds, although it presented no evidence to support this claim. It also said that reprocessing waste into fuels is not recycling, but is, like waste incineration, ‘material recovery’. As a result, it has declared that its new cohesion fund will not fund waste incineration plants.

Advantages of  Burning Plastic

You will read in alarmist media about the dangers of incineration releasing chemicals such as hydrochloric acid, sulfur dioxide, dioxins, furans and heavy metals, as well as particulates. It is true that incomplete combustion of any hydrocarbon is to be avoided. But mainly detractors are using chemophobia against plastic incineration because of their obsession with CO2. Some common sense is provided by Flo-Bro The surprising benefits of burning plastics. Excerpt below with my bolds.

The plastic revolution

Whilst travelling, we’ve witnessed how several Asian countries such as Cambodia and Indonesia have turned into plastic junkyards. Inland and coastal areas are littered with a colourful mixture of bags, bottles, cups, trays and everything else, it is truly a sad and terrible sight. A lot of countries, not just in Asia, suffer from bad solid waste management. Moreover, littering seems to be a deep engrained cultural element. Whilst care for the environment seems to be on the last stage of people’s and the government’s interests, the nature is suffering and people too.

Reaction to Vermont proposal requiring clear plastic trash bags.

Owing to the favourable properties of plastic – strength, durability and light weight, we embraced them in all areas of life. Plastics have created a revolution and improved the quality of life immensely, however, nowadays they seem to be one of greatest plagues of our planet. I can’t enumerate the number of times I came across an article talking about the great plastic vortex the size of Europe in the Pacific, and that the ocean will soon contain more plastic than fish.

The chemical elements of plastic

Most of the packaging plastics which pollute the environment are based on two to four chemical elements. Polystyrene, polyethylene and polypropylene are made of carbon and hydrogen, whilst PET (polyethylene terephthalate), used for bottles, contains also oxygen. Nylon, a polyamide, which is used to make fibres, also contains oxygen and nitrogen in its structure. These elements are essentially the same ones that fossil fuels are made of. This should be of no surprise, since plastics (long chain hydrocarbons) are also made of the same crude oil, as their “short chain” relatives- gasoline and diesel.

In other words: if burned well, plastics create the same products as wood and fossil fuels -> water and carbon dioxide

Recycle or burn plastics?

In conventional terms, it is environmentally more sound to recycle plastics than dispose them. This approach, however, has so far proven quite challenging and more frequently results in “downcycling”.  But even downcycling requires large centralised facilities with advanced sorting lines and plastic recovery processes, which is very expensive and not applicable to solve the pollution problem.

So, you were always told that burning plastics is bad for the environment. Indeed, incomplete combustion of any hydrocarbon creates noxious smoke. As the above image depicts, burning plastics can create the same products as fossil fuel and wood. In waste incineration facilities, thousands of tons of plastic burn worldwide daily, generating heat and electricity.

Burning any material well and without smoke and noxious fumes needs a high temperature and plenty of oxygen. This is best achieved in a stove, where the heat is concentrated and can be put to good use.

As with most solutions, this one is not free of flaws. Plastics such as PVC (polyvinyl chloride), which is used for plumbing, can create more dangerous products of decomposition – such as corrosive HCl gas; and several plastics. Usually the hard plastic used in motorbikes and cars contain flame retarders, which are too not the friendliest chemicals and may create toxic fumes when burned. Based on what I’ve seen, these plastics are a minority and PVC and hard plastics are denser than water and will sink If they end up in the sea. What you see washed up on the shore are light packaging materials and foams.

Conclusion

Plastic pollution is unfriendly to animals and is undoubtedly aesthetically damaging the environment. Burning them might be the best way to quickly improve the situation. If people recognize the benefit of burning plastics in the right stove, it will save them money on fossil fuels, stop plastic pollution, limit deforestation, and improve the quality of life. Combustion of low value packaging plastics is not a totally new idea and a company has already received an award for it.

See also Fighting Plasticphobia

Duped into War on Plastic

Intro to Award Winning Book Population Bombed

Far from being a catastrophe, population growth and carbon fuel-based development are the best means to lift people out of poverty, the authors write.NASA

Update April 3, 2019

The Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) is delighted to announce that our book Population Bombed! by Canadian authors Pierre Desrochers and Joanna Szurmak has been shortlisted for the prestigious Donner Book Prize.  For those who would like an overview of the case made by the authors, below are some excerpts from their articles and interviews at the time of the book launching. At the end is posted a recent statement by a US politician taking a similar position, Yes, Babies Are a Better Solution to Climate Change Than the Green New Deal by Senator Mike Lee.

Control the Population, Control the Climate?  Not.

A recent book explains what’s mistaken about climate alarmists/activists thinking human numbers must be reduced in order to save the planet from us (H/T Master Resource). The Title is Population Bombed! by Pierre Desrochers and Joanna Szurmak who provide an introduction to their assessment in an article at Financial Post For 200 years pessimists have predicted we’d ruin the planet. They’re still wrong.  Excerpts in italics with my bolds.

In Avengers: Infinity War, the villain Thanos said: “If life is left unchecked, life will cease to exist.” Johns Hopkins University philosopher Travis N. Rieder apparently agrees, as he views each new child as an environmental externality putting “irreparable stress on the planet” in a way that “exacerbates … the threat of catastrophic climate change.” Similar ideas have been expressed by the likes of Al Gore, Hillary Clinton and Bill Gates. Feminist icon Gloria Steinem put it best: “What causes climate deprivation is population. If we had not been systematically forcing women to have children … for over the 500 years of patriarchy, we wouldn’t have the climate problems that we have.”

Population-growth catastrophism has been around for centuries. In the English-speaking world it is generally associated with economist Thomas Robert Malthus’ 1798 edition of his Essay on the Problem of Population and U.S. biologist Paul Ehrlich’s 1968 bestseller The Population Bomb. Ehrlich and his co-author and wife Anne predicted imminent environmental collapse followed by mass starvation. What they didn’t see coming was that, to the contrary, hundreds of millions of people would soon be lifted out of grinding poverty while parts of the planet became greener and cleaner in the process.

In our new book Population Bombed! Exploding the Link between Overpopulation and Climate Change we mark the 50th anniversary of the Ehrlichs’ book by explaining that their predictions bombed because their basic assumptions are flawed.

First, the Ehrlichs assume that human numbers cannot exceed the limits set by a finite system. Bacteria in a test tube of food are used to model such a system: Since the levels of food and waste limit bacterial growth, human population growth, by analogy, ultimately cannot exceed the carrying capacity of test tube Earth.

Second, they assume that wealth and development unavoidably come with larger environmental damage. This assumption is still at the core of pessimistic frameworks, which maintain that physical resource throughputs, not outcomes, matter. So, countries such as Haiti where deforestation and wildlife extermination are rampant are inherently more “sustainable” than richer and cleaner countries like Sweden and Switzerland.

Third, Ehrlich does not acknowledge that, unique among this planet’s species, modern humans: transmit information and knowledge between individuals and through time; innovate by combining existing things in new ways; become efficient through specialization; and engage in long-distance trade, thus achieving, to a degree, a decoupling from local limits called the “release from proximity.” And the more brains there are, the more solutions. This is why, over time, people in market economies produce more things while using fewer resources per unit of output. Corn growers now produce five or six times more output on the same plot of land as a century ago while using less fertilizer and pesticide than a few decades ago.

Fourth, the Ehrlichs and other pessimists also fail to understand the uniquely beneficial roles played by prices, profits, and losses in the spontaneous and systematic generation of more sustainable — or less problematic — outcomes. When the supply of key resources fails to meet actual demand, their prices increase. This encourages people to use such resources more efficiently, look for more of them, and develop substitutes. Meanwhile, far from rewarding pollution of the environment, the profit motive encourages people to create useful by-products out of waste (our modern synthetic world is largely made out of former petroleum-refining waste products). True, in some cases dealing with pollution came at a cost — building sewage-treatment plants, for example — but these are the types of solutions only a developed society can afford.

Fifth, pessimists are also oblivious to the benefits of unlocking wealth from underground materials such as coal, petroleum, natural gas and mineral resources. Using these spares vast quantities of land. It should go without saying that even a small population will have a much greater impact on its environment if it must rely on agriculture for food, energy and fibres, raise animals for food and locomotion, and harvest wild animals for everything from meat to whale oil. By replacing resources previously extracted from the biosphere with resources extracted from below the ground, people have reduced their overall environmental impact while increasing their standard of living.

Why is it then that after two centuries of evidence to the contrary, the pessimistic narrative still dominates academic and popular debates? Why are so many authors and academics still focusing on the Malthusian collapse scenario — now bound to come from carbon dioxide emissions and the teeming populations that produce them?

The prevalence of apocalyptic rhetoric may be, arguably, due to factors ranging from financial incentives among academics and activists to behavioural heuristics that dictate why worrying is a motivator, and why even well-meaning people rarely change their mind given new evidence. Short-termism may also take some of the blame: Population control and climate activists take for granted the non-scalable benefits of a carbon-fuel economy in which large numbers of people collaborate and innovate. The cognitive biases at the root of our thinking may shape, and in the end distort, the impulse to question “consensus,” particularly in an intellectual climate lacking the motivation to achieve what social psychologist Jonathan Haidt called “institutional disconfirmation.”

Far from being the catastrophe that Thanos, the Ehrlichs and other pessimists would have us believe, population growth and carbon fuel-based development in the context of human creativity and free enterprise are the best means to lift people out of poverty, to build resilience against any climate damage that increased anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions might have, and to make possible a sustained reduction of humanity’s impact on the biosphere.

Pierre Desrochers, a geography professor at the University of Toronto Mississauga, and Joanna Szurmak, a doctoral candidate at York University, are the authors of Population Bombed! Exploding the Link Between Overpopulation and Climate Change. The book was launched at an event on Oct. 15th in Toronto.

More at their website: Population Bombed!

Update October 17,2018

Master Resource just posted an interview with Desrochers (here)

What we need in order to fight environmental degradation is to make sure that people in less advanced parts of the world can also be the beneficiaries of these processes. There is no doubt in my mind that these beneficial substitutions will happen more quickly the cheaper carbon fuels are. Of course, the argument is even more powerful when you think of the social consequences of less affordable energy.

Now, as with everything else, bad political institutions in some parts of the world will result in greater pollution as more carbon fuels are burned. The solution, however, is not to ban or tax everything from coal to plastic bags, but rather to improve standards of living and public governance. In my opinion, our guiding principle as far as carbon fuels are concerned should be the creation of lesser problems than those that existed before.

Yes, Babies Are a Better Solution to Climate Change Than the Green New Deal by Senator Mike Lee. Excerpts in italics with my bolds.

But what was surprising about the reaction to my speech on the Green New Deal is which chart garnered the most vehement anger. It wasn’t Reagan riding a dinosaur or Utah Gov. Gary Herbert battling tornado-propelled sharks or House Speaker Nancy Pelosi asserting that the resolution’s own supporters don’t know what’s in it.

No, the most controversial poster of the 14-minute speech turned out to be a simple image of six smiling babies.

Why such an aggrieved reaction to such a heart-warming image?

I’ll let Emily, a 28-year-old woman who talked to FiveThirtyEight from Spokane, Washington, explain.

We have physical proof that we cause a lot of harm to the planet, and I think the statistics show an imperative to reduce the footprint of our population, which has grown so fast. I think that having children can be immoral for a lot of reasons.

Emily is not alone in suggesting that having children is immoral. An author of the Green New Deal [Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y.] recently said on Instagram, “Our planet is going to hit disaster if we don’t turn this ship around, and so it’s basically like, there’s a scientific consensus that the lives of children are going to be very difficult. And it does lead, I think, young people to have a legitimate question, you know, ‘Is it OK to still have children?’”

Emily and the authors of the Green New Deal are not the first people to believe that bringing children into this world is a morally questionable act. Quite the opposite. The belief that the human population must be limited and controlled by government is a founding principle of the environmental movement.

As far back as 1798, when scholar Thomas Malthus published “An Essay on the Principle of Population,” utopian-seeking elites have made the case that human population growth must be controlled in order to ensure a sustainable society. These well-intentioned beliefs led to policy changes like the Corn Laws, which raised taxes on grain imports to the United Kingdom.

Opposed by classical economists like David Ricardo, who warned that such laws would make food more expensive, the Corn Laws were eventually repealed after they worsened the Great Famine in Ireland, when over 1 million people died of hunger.

Fast forward to 1968 when American biologist Paul Ehrlich published “The Population Bomb,” a book arguing that the government must take urgent action to limit population growth or humanity would face imminent ecological disaster. Ehrlich’s gloom-and-doom prophecies were quite popular with a segment of the American public as the book went on to be a best-seller.

But many economists pushed back—including University of Maryland professor Julian Simon who believed that humanity, if left free to innovate, could find new ways to make limited resources provide for an ever-expanding world population.

Simon and Ehrlich even made a bet testing their beliefs in 1980, picking five commodities to track over a 10-year period. In 1990, Ehrlich was forced to admit he lost, mailing a check to Simon in the amount that the commodities had fallen in price over that 10-year span.

Since that time, the earth has added billions more people, all while global poverty continues to fall.

What Malthus, Ehrlich, Emily, and the authors of the Green New Deal keep failing to understand is that human consumption and production patterns are not static.

Since the beginning of our species, humans have constantly been innovating and changing the world around them. In fact, it is our ability to function as a collective learning brain that sets us apart from every other animal on earth.

And, as Harvard University Department of Human Evolutionary Biology Chairman Joseph Henrich explains in his book “The Secret of Our Success,” the size of our population does matter:

The most obvious way the size of a group can matter is that more minds can generate more lucky errors, novel recombinations, chance insights, and intentional improvements. … So, bigger groups have the potential for more rapid cumulative cultural evolution.

Now the size of a population is not the only thing that matters. A society must also have in place institutions, cultural norms, and a legal framework that encourages experimentation, innovation, and creativity.

And here is where the failure of the Green New Deal as a serious response to climate change is the clearest. Instead of fostering an open-ended approach to addressing climate change, it demands top-down policy programs that forbid certain avenues of exploration, like nuclear energy, while also tacking on irrelevant policy goals, like universal health care, that have nothing to do with the issue the authors of the plan claim is so urgent.

Climates change. It’s what they do. There is even evidence that humans have been affecting the climate since at least the Neolithic era. And these changes to the climate have always presented a challenge to humanity. Today is no different.

We have always survived, and even thrived, in new environments. Just look at California. Left in its natural state, the Los Angeles river basin can support maybe 100,000 people. Today, thanks to a creative web of dams, aqueducts, canals, and pipelines, there is enough water for over 10 million people to live there.

This is the creative, practical, life-affirming path that will help us solve the climate change challenge. Instead of looking to limit and even shrink humanity’s footprint on the world, we should be looking to improve and expand it.

And yes, this means more babies.

Listen Up Kids: Bad Drinking Water Bigger Danger Than Global Warming

Clean drinking water a bigger global threat than climate change, EPA’s Wheeler says From CBS News, excerpts in italics with my bolds and images.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler says that unsafe drinking water — not climate change — poses the greatest and most immediate global threat to the environment.

In his first network interview since his confirmation last month, Wheeler told CBS News chief Washington correspondent Major Garrett that while the administration is addressing climate change, thousands are dying everyday from unclean drinking water. Wheeler is announcing the EPA’s global clean water push in a speech at the Wilson Center in Washington, D.C., Wednesday morning.

“We have 1,000 children die everyday worldwide because they don’t have safe drinking water,” Wheeler told Garrett. “That’s a crisis that I think we can solve. We know what goes into solving a crisis like that. It takes resources, it takes infrastructure and and the United States is working on that. But I really would like to see maybe the United Nations, the World Bank focus more on those problems today to try to save those children. Those thousand children each day, they have names, we know who they are.”

Diseases with the largest absolute burden attributable to modifiable environmental factors included: diarrhoea; lower respiratory infections; ‘other’ unintentional injuries; and malaria.

The U.S., Wheeler said, has a number of clean water financing programs that provide grants and loans. He wants those to be models for international organizations like the United Nations to provide money to third-world countries.

The World Health Organization estimates that at least 2 billion people globally use a drinking water source contaminated with feces. It’s unclear what, if any, new funding the Trump administration might be providing for the clean water push.

Wheeler also insists his EPA is working to combat climate change, a phenomenon to which he says man “certainly contributes.” He said the Trump administration will roll out two major regulations later this year in an effort to reduce CO2 emissions in the U.S. Those measures would replace rules limiting carbon emissions from power plants and clean car standards.

Climate change, Wheeler said, “is an important change we have to be addressing and we are addressing.” But he added that “most of the threats from climate change are 50 to 75 years out,” while unsafe drinking water is killing people right now.

Wheeler noted that the U.S. has already cut CO2 emissions, which are thought to be the primary driver of climate change, by “14 percent since 2005.” He argued that the U.S. is “doing much better than most westernized countries on reducing their CO2 emissions, but what we need to do is make sure that the whole world is focused on the people who are dying today, the thousand children that die everyday from lack of drinking water. That is something where we have the technology, we know what it will take to save those children. And internationally, we need to step up and do something there.”

Asked if he views the EPA’s mission as protecting both the environment and business, Wheeler didn’t mention business.

“Well, the mission of our agency is to protect public health and the environment and that’s what we do and we do that every day. You know, it’s public health and the environment and that is our mission,” Wheeler told Garrett.

Wheeler says that’s why he thinks the Green New Deal, the proposal championed by progressive Democrats like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, is an “aspirational” but unrealistic idea. He claims the proposal could actually jeopardize clean drinking water.

“In fact, on the drinking water side, the Green New Deal does not value — at least nowhere in the documents does it value — having reliable electric grid,” Wheeler said. “A reliable electric grid is absolutely necessary to provide drinking water. You have to have the electricity. When we go, as a first responder, when we go into a community that’s been hit with a hurricane, or some other natural disaster, the first thing we do is try to make sure the electric grid is back up and running in order to provide the drinking water for those communities.”

As the recent crisis in Flint, Michigan, painfully brought to light, clean drinking water isn’t only a global issue. CBS News has reported that lead in America’s water system is a national problem, with warning signs surfacing in cities including Newark, Chicago, Detroit, Baltimore and Milwaukee.

Wheeler said the EPA is looking at what it can do to require regular testing for water in schools and daycares later this year.

“First of all, I want to make sure the American public understands 92 percent of the water everyday meets all the EPA requirements for safe drinking water,” Wheeler said.

“We have the safest drinking water in the world. We are working to update a number of regulations, one of which is our lead and copper rule, which takes a look at the pipes. The lead pipes that we have around the country. As part of that, we’re looking at what we can do to require regular testing for schools and daycares, so that would be part of that regulation when it comes out later this year.”

Wheeler also said that the water in Flint now meets EPA standards.

“Part of the problem with Flint was there was a breakdown in once they got the data, once the city of Flint, the state of Michigan, the Obama EPA – they sat on it,” Wheeler said. “We’re not doing that. As soon as we get information that there’s a problem, we’re stepping in, we’re helping the local community get that water system cleaned up.”

Summary

Septic drinking water is dangerous in every way global warming is not.  It is killing people right now, every day.  It is world wide.  It harms the most vulnerable and impoverished people.  It is a threat multiplier, potentially harming crops and risking violent conflicts over clean water access.  If you want to march for something that is needed, get some of the almost 2 Trillion US$ spent annually on global warming alarm diverted to save lives now.

 

Control Population, Control the Climate. Not.

Far from being a catastrophe, population growth and carbon fuel-based development are the best means to lift people out of poverty, the authors write.NASA

A recent book explains what’s mistaken about climate alarmists/activists thinking human numbers must be reduced in order to save the planet from us (H/T Master Resource). The Title is Population Bombed! by Pierre Desrochers and Joanna Szurmak who provide an introduction to their assessment in an article at Financial Post For 200 years pessimists have predicted we’d ruin the planet. They’re still wrong.  Excerpts in italics with my bolds.

In Avengers: Infinity War, the villain Thanos said: “If life is left unchecked, life will cease to exist.” Johns Hopkins University philosopher Travis N. Rieder apparently agrees, as he views each new child as an environmental externality putting “irreparable stress on the planet” in a way that “exacerbates … the threat of catastrophic climate change.” Similar ideas have been expressed by the likes of Al Gore, Hillary Clinton and Bill Gates. Feminist icon Gloria Steinem put it best: “What causes climate deprivation is population. If we had not been systematically forcing women to have children … for over the 500 years of patriarchy, we wouldn’t have the climate problems that we have.”

Population-growth catastrophism has been around for centuries. In the English-speaking world it is generally associated with economist Thomas Robert Malthus’ 1798 edition of his Essay on the Problem of Population and U.S. biologist Paul Ehrlich’s 1968 bestseller The Population Bomb. Ehrlich and his co-author and wife Anne predicted imminent environmental collapse followed by mass starvation. What they didn’t see coming was that, to the contrary, hundreds of millions of people would soon be lifted out of grinding poverty while parts of the planet became greener and cleaner in the process.

In our new book Population Bombed! Exploding the Link between Overpopulation and Climate Change we mark the 50th anniversary of the Ehrlichs’ book by explaining that their predictions bombed because their basic assumptions are flawed.

First, the Ehrlichs assume that human numbers cannot exceed the limits set by a finite system. Bacteria in a test tube of food are used to model such a system: Since the levels of food and waste limit bacterial growth, human population growth, by analogy, ultimately cannot exceed the carrying capacity of test tube Earth.

Second, they assume that wealth and development unavoidably come with larger environmental damage. This assumption is still at the core of pessimistic frameworks, which maintain that physical resource throughputs, not outcomes, matter. So, countries such as Haiti where deforestation and wildlife extermination are rampant are inherently more “sustainable” than richer and cleaner countries like Sweden and Switzerland.

Third, Ehrlich does not acknowledge that, unique among this planet’s species, modern humans: transmit information and knowledge between individuals and through time; innovate by combining existing things in new ways; become efficient through specialization; and engage in long-distance trade, thus achieving, to a degree, a decoupling from local limits called the “release from proximity.” And the more brains there are, the more solutions. This is why, over time, people in market economies produce more things while using fewer resources per unit of output. Corn growers now produce five or six times more output on the same plot of land as a century ago while using less fertilizer and pesticide than a few decades ago.

Fourth, the Ehrlichs and other pessimists also fail to understand the uniquely beneficial roles played by prices, profits, and losses in the spontaneous and systematic generation of more sustainable — or less problematic — outcomes. When the supply of key resources fails to meet actual demand, their prices increase. This encourages people to use such resources more efficiently, look for more of them, and develop substitutes. Meanwhile, far from rewarding pollution of the environment, the profit motive encourages people to create useful by-products out of waste (our modern synthetic world is largely made out of former petroleum-refining waste products). True, in some cases dealing with pollution came at a cost — building sewage-treatment plants, for example — but these are the types of solutions only a developed society can afford.

Fifth, pessimists are also oblivious to the benefits of unlocking wealth from underground materials such as coal, petroleum, natural gas and mineral resources. Using these spares vast quantities of land. It should go without saying that even a small population will have a much greater impact on its environment if it must rely on agriculture for food, energy and fibres, raise animals for food and locomotion, and harvest wild animals for everything from meat to whale oil. By replacing resources previously extracted from the biosphere with resources extracted from below the ground, people have reduced their overall environmental impact while increasing their standard of living.

Why is it then that after two centuries of evidence to the contrary, the pessimistic narrative still dominates academic and popular debates? Why are so many authors and academics still focusing on the Malthusian collapse scenario — now bound to come from carbon dioxide emissions and the teeming populations that produce them?

The prevalence of apocalyptic rhetoric may be, arguably, due to factors ranging from financial incentives among academics and activists to behavioural heuristics that dictate why worrying is a motivator, and why even well-meaning people rarely change their mind given new evidence. Short-termism may also take some of the blame: Population control and climate activists take for granted the non-scalable benefits of a carbon-fuel economy in which large numbers of people collaborate and innovate. The cognitive biases at the root of our thinking may shape, and in the end distort, the impulse to question “consensus,” particularly in an intellectual climate lacking the motivation to achieve what social psychologist Jonathan Haidt called “institutional disconfirmation.”

Far from being the catastrophe that Thanos, the Ehrlichs and other pessimists would have us believe, population growth and carbon fuel-based development in the context of human creativity and free enterprise are the best means to lift people out of poverty, to build resilience against any climate damage that increased anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions might have, and to make possible a sustained reduction of humanity’s impact on the biosphere.

Pierre Desrochers, a geography professor at the University of Toronto Mississauga, and Joanna Szurmak, a doctoral candidate at York University, are the authors of Population Bombed! Exploding the Link Between Overpopulation and Climate Change. The book was launched at an event on Oct. 15th in Toronto.

More at their website: Population Bombed!

Update October 17,2018

Master Resource just posted an interview with Desrochers (here)

What we need in order to fight environmental degradation is to make sure that people in less advanced parts of the world can also be the beneficiaries of these processes. There is no doubt in my mind that these beneficial substitutions will happen more quickly the cheaper carbon fuels are. Of course, the argument is even more powerful when you think of the social consequences of less affordable energy.

Now, as with everything else, bad political institutions in some parts of the world will result in greater pollution as more carbon fuels are burned. The solution, however, is not to ban or tax everything from coal to plastic bags, but rather to improve standards of living and public governance. In my opinion, our guiding principle as far as carbon fuels are concerned should be the creation of lesser problems than those that existed before.

Attesting Environmental Scares

Attesting refers to a process evaluating the truth of a claim. In metallurgy, a laboratory will perform attestation procedures to measure the purity and quality of an ore sample or an alloy material. In legal terms, a witness provides evidence or proof attesting to a version of events.

Francis Menton, the Manhattan Contrarian, raises an important question in his recent post How to Approach a Scientific Issue in the Public Arena.

So how can you, as a reasonably informed citizen, hope to come to a rational view as to which scary scientific claims to credit and which to dismiss? Unfortunately, most people’s default approach to dealing with scientific issues as to which they have no personal expertise is to defer to the asserted authority of a “consensus” of experts.

I have a proposed framework for you to apply. It’s a little more complicated than either the “follow the consensus” or “reject them all” approaches. But the good news is that it’s not all that much more complicated. And the even better news is that I think you will get the right answer in nearly every case; with, however, the proviso that that “right” answer may be ambiguity in many cases.

The Manhattan Contrarian Guide To Evaluating Environmental Scares can be summarized in four words: Follow The Scientific Method. Unfortunately, almost no journalist knows the basics of the Scientific Method (even though probably all of them were exposed to it somewhere in high school or even junior high school); and therefore, almost everything you read about environmental scares claiming the mantle of science is at the minimum misleading, if not downright wrong. Following the Scientific Method really directs you to looking at only three key questions to lead you to the right answer: 

1. What is the falsifiable hypothesis? The Scientific Method requires a falsifiable hypothesis. A falsifiable hypothesis requires a statement of the proposition at issue that by its nature can be falsified and thereby invalidated by some evidence that it is possible to acquire, and also a recognition by the proponents of the hypothesis as to what evidence, if it emerged, would be sufficient to falsify and invalidate the hypothesis. Without a statement of a falsifiable hypothesis, it is not science, no matter what the proponents may say, and therefore any claims of “scientific” consensus or “scientific” validity are an obvious fallacy.

2.What is the most damning adverse evidence against the falsifiable hypothesis? The Scientific Method provides that no hypothesis can ever be definitively proved, although accumulation of evidence consistent with the hypothesis can give increasing confidence over time of its correctness. However, one piece of adverse evidence can disprove a scientific hypothesis; and indeed, if an advocate of a scientific hypothesis does not concede that proposition, then you know that this is not real science. In any event, it is always much more important to look to adverse evidence challenging a hypothesis, no matter how little of it there may be, than to whatever reams and reams of evidence there may be allegedly consistent with the hypothesis. That stuff can regularly be used by advocates to mislead and misdirect you.

3.How do advocates of the hypothesis respond to the most damning adverse evidence? If they have an answer to it, let’s see it! It is particularly telling if advocates just refuse to address the best points of their opponents. If that is going on, you are completely justified in concluding that they have no answers, and that their proposition is false.

Now, let us apply these three questions to the cases of glyphosate and climate change.

Glyphosate.

What is the falsifiable hypothesis? I would say that it is this: “High levels of exposure to glyphosate are associated with increased risk of developing blood cancers, particularly non-Hodgkins lymphoma.” It’s easy and clear. And clearly falsifiable.

What is the most damning adverse evidence against the falsifiable hypothesis? Well, there is this from the statement of Monsanto VP Scott Partridge after the jury verdict: “More than 800 scientific studies and reviews—and conclusions by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. National Institutes of Health and regulatory authorities around the world—support the fact that glyphosate does not cause cancer.” That’s a start. To pick just one of the 800, in my November 2017 post I cited the U.S. Agricultural Health Study, which followed 89,000 farmers and their wives for 23 years from 1993 to 2016, and found “no association between glyphosate exposure and all cancer incidence or most of the specific cancer subtypes we evaluated, including NHL [non-Hodgkins lymphoma]. . . .”

How do the advocates respond to the most damning evidence? In this case, the answer is, basically, they have little in response. My understanding is that, rather than addressing the mountain of adverse studies (mostly done by people having no association with Monsanto), they principally relied on one outlier UN report, produced by a guy who promptly became a consultant to the plaintiffs’ lawsuit industry, and which reached its ambiguous conclusion in significant part by altering the conclusions of the underlying work that it cited. For more details, read my November 2017 post. But the most significant point is that, under the Scientific Method, the adverse evidence is far more important than any evidence that might be cited as consistent with the hypothesis, even if extensive. In this case, a falsifiable hypothesis has been quite definitively invalidated.

As you can see, if you just follow the Scientific Method, you quickly find that those on the side that glyphosate does not cause cancer have far the better side of the argument. Perhaps it is not 100% definitive, but it is close.

Climate Change

What is the falsifiable hypothesis? There isn’t one! And good luck trying to find a statement of the official falsifiable hypothesis from any advocate of climate alarmism. I have previously invited readers and commenters on this blog to give me a statement of the falsifiable hypothesis on which climate alarmists claim there is a “consensus,” and I have never gotten even an attempt of any kind. I hereby make the invitation again. To get an idea of the shell game you are dealing with, try going to this NASA web page titled “Global Climate Change/Facts.” (What is that page still doing there over a year and a half into a Trump presidency??!!) Here’s the leading headline: “Scientific Consensus: Earth’s climate is warming.” Is that a falsifiable hypothesis? Absolutely not! It’s a trivial non-falsifiable statement whose result can be manipulated by whoever gets to pick the start date of the analysis. See my post of August 9 here. And then they provide a list of some dozens of pooh-bah “scientific” organizations that supposedly subscribe to this non-falsifiable non-scientific proposition, everything from AAAS, to ACS, to AGU, to AMA, to AMS, to APS, to NAS, and on and on and on. It’s embarrassing! How stupid do they think you are? (Another question is, how stupid are they? Do our scientific leaders even understand what the Scientific Method is?) Any other candidates for the falsifiable hypothesis? Now this is me trying to help these guys out, rather than them speaking for themselves, but how about “the climate is warming and we are the cause”? Or maybe, “accumulating greenhouse gases from human sources are causing catastrophic warming of the atmosphere”? OK then, what is the evidence that, if it emerged, would be conceded to invalidate whichever of these hypothesis (or some other one) that you pick? You will never get that out of them.

What is the most damning adverse evidence against the falsifiable hypothesis? This is a little tough to deal with when no one will tell you the falsifiable hypothesis, but let’s assume it is the last one there (“accumulating greenhouse gases from human sources are causing catastrophic warming of the atmosphere”). Well, there is the clear demonstration that natural factors such as solar effects, ocean currents (El Niño/La Niña), and volcanoes are more than sufficient to explain all global temperature variations since reasonably accurate data are available (the 1950s) without the need to take into account any effects from human greenhouse gas emission. And then there is the demonstration that the so-called “tropical hot spot” (decreased lapse rate of temperatures with increasing altitude in the tropics that would necessarily accompany any hypothesized greenhouse warming caused by human emissions) does not exist in the data. And then there is the demonstration that the earth’s temperatures were warmer in early years (Medieval Warm Period, Roman Warm Period, Holocene Climate Optimum, etc.) — when human greenhouse gas influences could not have played a part — than they are today. And then there is the demonstration of alteration of the global temperature record by the advocates of alarmism to remove the peak of temperatures that previously existed in the early 1940s. I could go on.

How do the advocates respond to the most damning evidence against the hypothesis? And here the answer is, they don’t and they won’t. Go to anything resembling an official defense of the “global warming consensus” and see if you can find any kind of answer to any of these damning points. For example, try NASA’s Global Climate Change site, under the heading “Evidence.” You will just find point after point of evidence supposedly consistent with the hypothesis (stated here as “warming of the climate system is unequivocal” — again, obviously non-falsifiable). Temperatures have risen! The oceans have warmed! Ice sheets have shrunk! Less snow! Sea levels have risen! OK, guys, but how do you know that slightly higher temperatures underlying all of these things have not been caused by something natural like increasing solar activity, shifting ocean currents, or temporarily low volcanic activity? They just won’t address these things! Why not? Really, it’s embarrassing.

If you arm your brain with the basics of the Scientific Method, it is immediately obvious that this whole thing is a charade.

Comment

Menton’s approach resembles “evidence-based” medicine and law, as I have discussed in the article Objection: Asserting Facts Not in Evidence! There as here, the deliberation starts with an “answerable question”, meaning a conclusion of yes or no, based upon all relevant evidence.

With respect to global warming/climate change, I have posed the question this way: Are rising fossil fuel emissions causing rising global temperatures? When a claim involves correlation between two variables, asserting that one causes the other, the legal profession applies the Bradford Hill protocol to assess causation factors. The deliberation requires evidence concerning the strength and certainty of the correlation. That discussion is in the article Claim: Fossil Fuels Cause Global Warming

For the history of environmental scares see Progressively Scaring the World (Lewin book synopsis)

Fighting Plasticphobia


Despite the welcome presence of plastic items in our lives, there is mounting plasticphobia driven by the usual suspects: Multi Million Dollar enterprises like Greenpeace, Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, etc. The media and websites stoke fears and concerns about traces of chemicals used in making plastic products. The basic facts need reminding in this overheated climate of fear, so this post exposes widely observed poppycock about plastics with facts to put things in perspective.

Definition: pop·py·cock ˈpäpēˌkäk/informal noun meaning nonsense.
Synonyms: nonsense, rubbish, claptrap, balderdash, blather, moonshine, garbage; Origin: mid 19th century: from Dutch dialect pappekak, from pap ‘soft’ + kak ‘dung.’

Below are some points to consider in favor of plastics.  Examples below frequently mention plastic bags, bottles, and food containers, all subject to demonizing reports from activists.

Plastics are functional.

It feels like we have always had plastic. It is so widespread in our lives that it’s hard to imagine a time without it. But in reality, plastic products were only introduced in the 1950s. That was a time when the Earth’s population was 2.5 billion people and the global annual production of plastic was 1.5 million tonnes. Now, nearly 70 years later, plastic production exceeds 300 million tonnes a year and the world population is on its way to 8 billion. If this trend continues, another 33 billion tonnes of plastic will have accumulated around the planet by 2050.

Versatile plastics inspire innovations that help make life better, healthier and safer every day. Plastics are used to make bicycle helmets, child safety seats and airbags in automobiles. They’re in the cell phones, televisions, computers and other electronic equipment that makes modern life possible. They’re in the roofs, walls, flooring and insulation that make homes and buildings energy efficient. And plastics in packaging help keep foods safe and fresh.

Example: Conventional plastic shopping bags are not just a convenience, but a necessity. Plastic shopping bags are multi-use/multi-purpose bags with a shorter life. They are used not just as carry bags for groceries, but are essential – reused to help manage household and pet waste.

They are not just a convenience to carry groceries, but a necessity playing an important role to facilitate impulse purchases and for the management of household and pet waste; and in Toronto, organics collection. They have very high alternate use rate in Ontario of 59.1% (Ontario MOE (data).

A move to reusable bags will not eliminate the need for shorter-life bags. Householders will have to supplement their use of reusable bags with a paper or kitchen catcher type bags for household and pet waste. In Ireland, the virtual elimination of plastic bags because of a high bag tax, led to a 77% increase in the purchase of kitchen catchers which contain up to 76% more plastic than conventional plastic bags and a 21% increase in plastics consumed. The fact they are a necessity is reinforced by Decima Research which shows that 76% of Canadians would purchase kitchen catchers if plastic shopping bags are not available at retail check outs.

Beyond bags, manufacture of goods such as automobiles increasingly use plastics to reduce weight and fuel consumption, as well as meet requirements for recycling.

Plastics are Cheap.
Alternatives consume much more energy. Plastics are made mostly of petroleum refining by-products.

Paper bags generate 50 times more water pollutants, and 70% more emissions than plastic bags.
Plastic bags generate 80% less solid waste than paper bags.
Plastic bags use 40% less energy as compared to paper bags.
Even paper bags manufactured from recycled fiber utilized more fossil fuels than plastic bags.

On top of all this, if plastic bag bans like California’s end up causing people to use more paper bags — instead of bringing their reusable ones to the store — it’ll certainly end up being worse for the environment. Research shows that making a paper bag consumes about four times more energy than a plastic bag, and produces about four times more waste if it’s not recycled.

These numbers can vary based on agricultural techniques, shipping methods, and other factors, but when you compare plastic bags with food, it’s not even close. Yet for whatever reason, we associate plastic bags — but not food production — with environmental degradation. If we care about climate change, cutting down on food waste would be many, many times more beneficial than worrying about plastic bags.

Plastics are Durable.
Plastics are highly inert, do not easily degrade or decompose. Without sunlight, they can last for centuries.

Almost all bags are reusable; even the conventional plastic shopping bag has a reuse rate of between 40-60% in Canada.

Conventional plastic shopping bags are highly recyclable in Canada because there is a strong recycling network across the country. Recycling rates are quite high in most provinces.

Plastics are Abused.
Because plastic items are useful, cheap and durable, people leave them around as litter.
Plastics should be recycled or buried in landfill.

In a properly engineered landfill, nothing is meant to degrade. No bag – reusable or conventional plastic shopping bag – will decompose in landfill. which actually helps the environment by not producing greenhouse gases like methane.

This myth is based on a common misunderstanding of the purpose of landfills and how they work. Modern landfills are engineered to entomb waste and prevent decomposition, which creates harmful greenhouse gases like methane and carbon dioxide.

Plastics are Benign.
Plastics are not toxic, nor do they release greenhouse gases.

In Canada, plastic shopping bags are primarily made from a by-product of natural gas production, ethane.

Polyethylene bags are made out of ethane, a component of natural gas. Ethane is extracted to lower the BTU value of the gas in order to meet pipeline and gas utility specifications and so that the natural gas doesn’t burn too hot when used as fuel in our homes or businesses. The ethane is converted, and its BTU value is “frozen” into a solid form (polyethylene) using a catalytic process to make a plastic shopping bag.

There have been claims that chemicals in plastics can leach into food or drink and cause cancer. In particular, there have been rumours about chemicals called Bisphenol A (BPA) and dioxins. Hoax emails have spread warnings about dioxins being released when plastic containers are reused heated or frozen. These are credited to Johns Hopkins University in America, but the university denies any involvement.

Some studies have shown that small amounts of chemicals from plastic containers can end up in the food or drinks that are kept inside them. But the levels of these are very low.

Studies may also look at the effect of these chemicals on human cells. But they will often expose them to much higher levels than people are exposed to in real life. These levels are also much higher than the limits which are allowed in plastic by law. There is no evidence to show using plastic containers actually causes cancer in humans.

The European Food Safety Authority did a full scientific review of BPA in 2015 and decided there was no health risk to people of any age (including unborn children) at current BPA exposure levels. They are due to update this in 2018.

In the UK there is very strict regulation about plastics and other materials that are used for food or drink. These limits are well below the level which could cause harm in humans.

“Generally speaking, any food that you buy in a plastic container with directions to put it in the microwave has been tested and approved for safe use,” says George Pauli, associate director of Science and Policy at the US FDA’s Center for Food and Safety and Applied Nutrition.

Elizabeth Whelan, of the American Council on Science and Health, a consumer-education group in New York think that the case against BPA and phthalates has more in common with those against cyclamates and Alar than with the one against lead. “The fears are irrational,” she said. “People fear what they can’t see and don’t understand. Some environmental activists emotionally manipulate parents, making them feel that the ones they love the most, their children, are in danger.” Whelan argues that the public should focus on proven health issues, such as the dangers of cigarettes and obesity and the need for bicycle helmets and other protective equipment. As for chemicals in plastics, Whelan says, “What the country needs is a national psychiatrist.”

Plastics are A Scapegoat.
Rather than using plastics responsibly, some advocate banning them.

The type of bag you use makes less importance than what you put into it. When it comes to both climate change and trash production, eliminating plastic bags is a symbolic move, not a substantial one. Encouraging people to cut down on food waste, on the other hand, would actually mean something.

Litter audit data from major Canadian municipalities shows that plastic shopping bags are less than 1% of litter. The City of Toronto 2012 Litter Audit shows that plastic shopping bags were 0.8% of the entire litter stream.

Focus on the less than 1% of plastic bag litter does not address the other 99% of litter. Litter is a people problem, not a litter problem. Even if you removed all plastic shopping bag litter, 99 % of the litter would still be a problem.

Believe it or not, plastic bags are one of the most energy efficient things to manufacture. According to statistics, less than .05% of a barrel crude oil is used for the manufacturing of plastic bags in the US. On the other hand, 93% to 95% of each barrel is used for heating purposes and fuel.

In fact, most of the plastic bags used in the US are made from natural gas, 85% of them to be exact. And although plastic bags are made from natural gas and crude oil, the overall amount of fossil fuels they consume during their lifetime are significantly lesser than paper bags and compostable plastic.

So, banning or taxing plastic bags will really do nothing to curb America’s oil consumption. After all, it hardly uses a fraction!

Resources:  

https://news.grida.no/debunking-a-few-myths-about-marine-litter

http://www.allaboutbags.ca/myths.html

https://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/green-science/paper-plastic1.htm

Top 7 Myths about Plastic Bags

https://www.plasticstoday.com/extrusion-pipe-profile/fear-plastics-and-what-do-about-it/13536413858942

https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/causes-of-cancer/cancer-controversies/plastic-bottles-and-food-containers

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2010/05/31/the-plastic-panic

https://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/features/mixing-plastic-food-urban-legend#3

Duped into War on Plastic

Step aside Polar Bear, It’s Turtle Time!

Everyday now, everywhere in the media someone else is lamenting the presence of plastics and proposing ways to end straws and other plastic items.  Terence Corcoran in Financial Post explains how we got here:  How green activists manipulated us into a pointless war on plastic  Excerpts in italics with my bolds.

The disruptive Internet mass-persuasion machine controlled by the major corporate tech giants, capable of twisting and manipulating the world’s population into believing concocted stories and fake news, is at it again, this time spooking billions of people into panic over plastic. Except…hold on: Those aren’t big greedy corporations and meddling foreign governments flooding the blue planet with alarming statistics of microplastics in our water and gross videos of turtles with straws stuck up their noses and dead birds with bellies stuffed with plastic waste.

As Earth Day/Week 2018 came to a close, the greatest professional twisters and hypers known to modern mass communications — green activists and their political and mainstream media enablers — had succeeded in creating a global political wing-flap over all things plastic.

That turtle video, viewed by millions and no doubt many more through Earth Day, is a classic of the genre, along with clubbed baby seals and starving polar bears. Filmed in 2015 near waters off the coast of Guanacaste, Costa Rica, the video was uploaded as news by the Washington Post in 2017 and reworked last week by the CBC into its series on the curse of plastics: “ ‘We need to rethink the entire plastics industry’: Why banning plastic straws isn’t enough.”

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo introduced a bill to ban single-use plastic shopping bags. In Ottawa, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wants the G7 leaders to sign on to a “zero plastics waste charter” while British Prime Minister Theresa May promised to ban plastic straws.

No need for a secret data breach, a Russian bot or a covert algorithm to transform a million personal psychological profiles into malleable wads of catatonic dough. All it takes is a couple of viral videos, churning green activists and a willing mass media. “Hello, is this CBC News? I have a video here of a plastic straw being extracted from the nose of sea turtle. Interested?”

One turtle video is worth 50-million Facebook data breaches, no matter how unlikely the chances are that more than one turtle has faced the plastic-straw problem. If the object in the unfortunate turtle’s nasal passage was a plastic straw (was it analyzed?), it would have likely come from one of the thousands of tourists who visit Costa Rica to watch hundreds of plastics-free healthy turtles storm the country’s beaches for their annual egg-hatching ritual.

That the turtles are not in fact threatened by plastic straws would be no surprise. It is also hard to see how banning straws in pubs in London and fast-food joints in Winnipeg would save turtles in the Caribbean or the Pacific Ocean.

Creating such environmental scares is the work of professional green activists. A group called Blue Ocean Network has been flogging the turtle video for three years, using a propaganda technique recently duplicated by polar-bear activists. Overall, the plastic chemical scare follows a familiar pattern. Canadians will remember Rick Smith, the former executive director of Environmental Defense Canada and co-author of a 2009 book, Slow Death by Rubber Duck. In the book, Smith warned of how the toxic chemistry of everyday life was ruining our health, reducing sperm counts and threatening mothers and all of humanity. The jacket cover of Slow Death included a blurb from Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau, who expressed alarm about all the chemicals “absorbed into our bodies every day.”

To mark Earth Day 2018, orchestrated as part of a global anti-plastics movement, Smith was back at his old schtick with an op-ed in The Globe and Mail in which he warns “We must kill plastics to save ourselves.” Smith, now head of the left-wing Broadbent Institute in Ottawa, reminded readers that since his Slow Death book, a new problem has emerged, “tiny plastic particles (that) are permeating every human on earth.” He cites a study that claimed “83 per cent of tap water in seven countries was found to contain plastic micro-fibres.”

You would think Smith would have learned by now that such data is meaningless. Back in 2009, Smith issued a similar statistical warning. “A stunning 93 per cent of Americans tested have measurable amounts of BPA in their bodies.” BPA (bisphenol A) is a chemical used in plastics that Smith claimed produced major human-health problems.

Turns out it wasn’t true. The latest — and exhaustive — science research on BPA, published in February by the U.S. National Toxicology Program, concluded that “BPA produces minimal effects that were indistinguishable from background.” Based on this comprehensive research, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said current uses of BPA “continue to be safe for consumers.”

Might the same be true for barely-measurable amounts of micro-plastics found today in bottled water and throughout the global ecosystem? That looks possible. A new meta-analysis of the effects of exposure to microplastics on fish and aquatic invertebrates suggests there may be nothing to worry about. Dan Barrios-O’Neill, an Irish researcher who looked at the study, tweeted last week that “There are of course many good reasons to want to curb plastic use. My reading of the evidence — to date — is that negative ecological effects might not be one of them.”

Instead of responding to turtle videos and images of plastic and other garbage swirling in ocean waters with silly bans and high talk of zero plastic waste, it might be more useful to zero in on the real sources of the floating waste: governments that allow it to be dumped in the oceans in the first place.

Update: August 4, 2018

Claim: There is a “sea of plastic” the size of Texas in the North Pacific Gyre north of Hawaii

First question: have you ever seen an aerial or satellite photograph of the “sea of plastic”? Probably not, because it doesn’t really exist. But it makes a good word- picture and after all plastic is full of deadly poisons and is killing seabirds and marine mammals by the thousands.

This is also fake news and gives rise to calls for bans on plastic and other drastic measures. Silly people are banning plastic straws as if they were a dire threat to the environment. The fact is a piece of plastic floating in the ocean is no more toxic than a piece of wood. Wood has been entering the sea in vast quantities for millions of years. And in the same way that floating woody debris provides habitat for barnacles, seaweeds, crabs, and many other species of marine life, so does floating plastic. That’s why seabirds and fish eat the bits of plastic, to get the food that is growing on them. While it is true that some individual birds and animals are harmed by plastic debris, discarded fishnets in particular, this is far outweighed by the additional food supply it provides. Plastic is not poison or pollution, it is litter.

Patrick Moore, PhD

Footnote:  Dare I say it?  (I know you are thinking it.): “They are grasping at straws, with no end in sight.”

 

 

Raw Water: More Post-Modern Insanity

Available from Amazon

Contemporary style-setters display great nostalgia for pre-industrial ways of living, without ever having to subsist in the natural world. Thus they advocate getting energy from burning trees or windmills so that evil fossil fuels can be left in the ground. Now these Luddites want to turn back scientific progress in water purification, claiming that untreated water is superior.

John Robson explains in the National Post article Raw water is proof the comforts of pampered modernity have gone too far   Excerpts below with my bolds.

With the raw-water craze, people are deliberately drinking unhealthy water for their health, writes John Robson.Postmedia News

In case you’re also in hiding from the insanity we call “popular culture,” there’s this new trend where you get healthy by drinking “naturally probiotic” water that hasn’t been treated to remove animal poop. No, I mean to remove essential minerals, ions and, um, animal poop.

The National Post says people aren’t just deliberately drinking unhealthy water for their health, they’re paying nearly $10 per litre for non-vintage Eau de Lac. Yet they would riot if asked to pay such a price for gasoline or, indeed, to drink ditch water from their tap.

Many reputable people have leapt up to condemn this fad as obviously unhealthy. But they are getting the same sani-wiped elbow that common sense, authority and pride in past achievement now routinely receive. (Can I just note here that the Oprah for President boom, which in our fast-paced social-media times lasted roughly 17 hours, foundered partly because she rose to fame and fortune peddling outrageous quackery? Donald Trump did not invent or patent contempt for logic and evidence.)

Raw water is hardly the only fad to gain in strength, the more reputable opinion condemns it. And let’s face it; reputable opinion has dug itself a pretty deep hole with its propensity for disregarding evidence and silencing dissent. I don’t just mean in the bad old days. But there must be some kind of golden mean between believing every news story with “experts say” in the headline and refusing to vaccinate your children or boil your water.

Seriously. Raw water? Doesn’t everybody know if you must drink from a tainted source it is vital to cook the stuff first? Tea wasn’t healthy primarily because of the plant’s alleged medicinal properties. Boiling water to make it meant you killed the bacteria … before they killed you.

My late friend Tom Davey, publisher of Environmental Science & Engineering, was routinely indignant that people could be induced to pay premium prices for bottled water when safe tap water was the single greatest environmental triumph in human history. But today some trendies are willing to pay premium prices to avoid safe tap water, partly on the basis of the same hooey about trace elements that made “mineral” water popular, partly out of paranoia once the purview of anti-fluoridation Red-baiters, and partly out of amazing scientific ignorance including about the presence of vital nutrients in food, especially if you don’t just eat the super-processed kind.

There. I said it. Some of what we ingest is overly processed, relentlessly scientifically improved until it becomes harmful (a problem by no means restricted to food). But some isn’t, including tap water.

I realize safe drinking water was hailed as an achievement back when mainstream environmentalists wanted the planet to be nice for people. Today’s far greater skepticism about whether human and environmental well-being are compatible creates considerable reluctance to make our well-being a significant measure of progress. But I am in the older camp. Without being insensible to the “crowding out” of ecosystems even by flourishing human communities, let alone poor ones, I still believe we can live well in harmony with nature, and only thus.

Some conservative associates think my deep unease with factory farming requires me to line my hat with tin foil. Other people believe my support for conservatism requires me to line my head with it. But I can only fit so much metal into either, and I draw the line at deliberately drinking the kind of water that used to bring us cholera epidemics.

Would it be impolite to cite this trend as proof that modernity has more money than brains, that the more a life of luxury is delivered to us as a birthright rather than being a hard-won and inherently precarious achievement, the less we are able to count our blessings or act prudently?

By all means save the whales. Get plastic out of the oceans. Protect ugly as well as cute species and their ecosystems. Know that man cannot flourish cut off from nature, and weep at Saruman’s conversion of the Shire from bucolic to industrial in the Lord of the Rings. But you can’t do yourself or the Earth any good while dying of dysentery you brought on yourself by pampered stupidity.

Ross Pomeroy adds an essay at RealClearScience ‘Raw’ Water Is Insulting (my bolds)

In 2015, 844 million people lacked access to even a basic drinking water service. These people, almost entirely from developing areas in Africa and Asia, are forced to play roulette by drinking water potentially contaminated with bacteria and viruses that cause diseases like diarrhea, cholera, dysentery, typhoid, and polio, as well as a variety of parasitic infections. Globally, a half million people die each year from diarrhea contracted via contaminated drinking water, many of them children. Another 240 million suffer from schistosomiasis, a parasitic infestation of flatworms originating from snail feces.

Here in the United States, we generally don’t have to worry about waterborne illness. That’s because our tap-water travels through a rigorous system of mechanical filtration and chemical treatment which expunges contaminants, resulting in H2O that’s clean, refreshing, and among the safest in the world.

Raw water is insulting; insulting to the health of those that drink it, to the intelligence of those who consider it, and to the hundreds of millions of people around the world who yearn for treated water free from raw contamination.