Dueling Twins

Environmentalism

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The 'Dueling Twins'

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Enter the 'HALL' of the Dueling JAMES Twins!

Do you know what a pessimist is? A person who thinks everybody as nasty as himself, and hates them for it.
- George Bernard Shaw

Point:

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Environmental Pangloss
           
James Hall, From the Left

"It's the best of all possible worlds."  Dr. Pangloss, Voltaire's Candide
 
"Thank God mankind cannot yet fly, and lay waste to the sky as well as the earth."  Henry David Thoreau.

Since the time of Emerson and Thoreau, Americans have spoken in praise of nature and in condemnation of humanity's frequently careless attitudes towards it.  Even then, the friends of nature disagreed over the extent that mankind could exert harm on the earth.  Emerson believed that given time, nature would heal mankind's depredations, while Thoreau believed that humans did irreparable harm.  That argument continues today, with scientists, environmentalists, and politicians taking both sides of the issue.

Today's extremists appear to be divided between the Chicken Littles who tell us the sky is falling and the Panglosses who tell us that everything is okay.  The truth undoubtedly lies somewhere in between these positions--in the hands of scientists and naturalists looking at particular environmental problems and considering particular solutions.

One of the latest Panglosses is the statistician Bjorn Lomberg, who argues in "The truth about the environment" that since four of the arguments made by Chicken Littles Paul Ehrlich and Lester Brown apparently aren't as strong as they were thought to be, that everything is okay environmentally.  What are these arguments?

1. Natural resources are running out.

2.  The population is ever growing, leaving less and less to eat.

3.  Species are becoming extinct in vast numbers; forests are disappearing and fish stocks are collapsing.

4.  The planet's air and water are becoming ever more polluted.

Now Lomberg does a good job of dismantling the first two arguments.  But his arguments depend on the fact that humanity has had fifty years to work on the problem of efficient food production and use of raw materials.  What Ehrlich and Malthus failed to take into account is the human reaction to problems--when one has them, one solves them.  The growth of population in China, for example, has been resolved through draconian measures of birth control.  And the Green Revolution, created by science to combat starvation, has successfully resolved that problem.

In short, arguments one and two don't apply because we recognized them as problems and worked actively to resolve them.

Arguments three and four offer less help to the enemies of environmentalism.  Lomberg recognizes that the threat of biodiversity loss "is real, but exaggerated." The loss of tropical forests is not 2-4% per year as some have claimed, but only 0.5%.  This means the tropical forest will last four to eight times longer than estimated.  Is this cause for celebration, or does it just delay the inevitable?

As for species lost, Lomborg argues that it's much less than the 50% that some environmentalists estimated, perhaps as little as 0.7%.  But Lomborg's figures apparently cover only animals, and don't mention plant, insect or microbe species, all of which might prove very useful to medical research and in preserving the ecological balance of the land.  And again, the lesser losses only string out the time until a significant loss of biodiversity happens--unless we take action.

Most damning of his arguments is his statement that pollution is exaggerated.  Why?  Because "air pollution diminishes when a society becomes rich enough to be able to afford to be concerned about the environment. (p.4)"  In other words, when places like America and Europe develop environmental groups and environmental politics result in laws like the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts.  In other words, things get better because the environmentalists push to make them better.  This argument can hardly make anti-environmental people happy.

Lomborg acknowledges that air pollution is increasing in many developing countries, but assumes that when they become wealthy, they'll have their environmental movements, too.

At the same time, though, Lomborg argues that people worry more about the environment than they need to, make more of environmental disasters like El Nino than they should, and worry about problems like waste disposal that are easily dealt with. Yet when Lomborg puts together a table (p.6) to demonstrate the cost/risk ratio of many policies, he makes the point that many of the most effective environmental policies have already been made.  In other words, the very success of the environmental movement works against some of their current attempts to make things better.  Emission controls for industrial plants, for example, save millions of lives compared to seat belts or air bags.

Lomborg would calculate a cost/benefit ratio for things like the Kyoto Treaty to prevent global warming, but his figures hardly provide support for those who deny that global warming exists.  He bluntly states that CO2 emissions are responsible for climate warming.  His argument is that it is simply less costly to pay the price for that warming--use the money to recompense those affected by warming--than to try and prevent it.

Bjorn Lomborg's skepticism is probably a good thing for the environmental movement.  Criticism is likely to keep them on their toes, and since the problems of the environment are so numerous, a cost/benefit calculation is a necessary step to figure out what needs to be done to fix things.  But enemies of the environment have little to cheer about when one looks closely at Lomborg's figures, for he assumes that a vigorous environmental movement is fighting to reverse pollution and slow environmental depredation. A vigorous environmentalism, in other words, is necessary for his skepticism--Pangloss needs Chicken Little, after all.

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Rebuttal:

If the Ice Age cometh, I will certainly owe SARTRE and his do-nothing friends an apology.  But frankly, it will be a cold day in hell before ANYTHING printed in Lew Rockwell dotcom turns out to be realistic.  They know even less about science there than they know about political and economic theory, if that's possible.

McMaken's thought that a "cooling trend at the poles" signals another ice age is simply bad interpretation of inaccurate science. There isn't a cooling trend "at the poles"--there's a slight cooling trend at the South Pole.  On the other hand, the Antarctica peninsula recorded the highest raise in temperature in the world over the last twenty years, and ice in the northern polar regions has been reported by NASA as thinning out fast. Mountain glaciers are retreating, tropical plants and animals are advancing northward.

But global warming doesn't mean that every part of the globe turns toasty warm in a uniform way.  The changes in weather patterns caused by slow warming may cause some areas of the planet--like the eastern United States and South Pole--to temporarily get colder for a time. Overall, most measurements indicate that things are getting warmer, and seizing on one indicator--the South Pole--is the last refuge of scientific illiteracy.

McMaken's counterargument to that is that warm is better, anyway.  Tell that to the residents of coastal areas, lowlands, and the Pacific Island nations threatened with the permanent flooding of their property.  McMaken's last refuge, then, is to claim, in essence, that "Stuff Happens."  The thermometer goes up, it goes down, and nothing one can do about it.  All in God's hands, you know.

This is a strange argument, indeed, from the Culture (or is it Cult) of Personal Responsibility.  Those who tell us that we are responsible for our own actions fall mute when it comes to taking responsibility for air and water pollution, global warming and whatnot.  Take responsibility, Americans, for your wasteful lifestyle that creates a quarter of the world's CO2 and other greenhouse gases.  Take responsibility for the incandescent lightbulbs, the SUVs, the three televisions, swimming pool heaters, central heat and air, etc., etc., etc.  If we can't stop global warming, we can recognize that we've caused a good part of it, and take steps to help all those we've impoverished and made homeless.  Doing nothing is no longer an ethical choice.

James Hall, From the Left

Counterpoint:

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Singing in the Rain

"Since everything is made for an end, everything is necessarily for the best end" - attributed to Dr Pangloss

The "truth about the environment" may be one of the most useless topics with which we could burden ourselves. The essential question is simply: "Who cares"? Are we to conclude that our predicament is a bargain and that we are obliged to continue its misery? Forget who is right the irreparable damage has already been done - when man began walking on just two limbs.

The environmental wackos are more dangerous than melanoma. Their prescription secures more torment than extinction. But for those who question such wisdom, consider the probability that global warming is more myth, while the next ice age is far more likely. In "Your Friend Global Warming" by Ryan McMaken you are presented with a history lesson that demonstrates that the cold and snow are the norm, while fun in the sun is saved for short vacations. If you rely on scientific evidence to disprove this thesis our eyes will glaze over and your chances are no better than one in two that you will be right.

What is exactly wrong with raising the mean temperature? We can avoid those long visits to the sunshine state, because the winter doldrums will never have us snowed in. It is hard to be serious about man's motivation to control mother nature. Our Chicken Little would be better heeded if we apply such warning to our human condition. Is it prudent to clean up the pigpen that we call our planet? Of course it makes sense to live in cleanliness and dignity as opposed to filth and poverty. So why do the fanatics so confuse the two? It should be self evident that the common interest is to extend prosperity and to diminish destitution. Real means of creating wealth will serve humanity. Leave the healing to Mother Nature.

That 'so called' magic of the modern age technology has offered the promise to solve the rescue task from the ill effects of the industrial era. All we ever hear is that we have entered into the information age, so where is the problem! Were we not told that the Third World could skip the stage of all those smoke stacks? Hasn't Thomas Malthus been proven wrong, we can propagate like rabbits?

Yes extinction is forever . . . But creation is the province of the divine. Mankind is more concerned with inhibiting their environment, while ignoring controlling themselves. If balance is the most sensible course, our mutual goal should be to temper our own appetites. Social upheaval will cause greater disruptions than any rise in the sea level. Waterworld was a bad movie, there will not be a sequel in real time.

Scientists have seldom proved to be the most enlightened thinkers, as a group. The genius of a Newton is the exception. The norm is a technician that toils to detect a discovery that is usually misapplied. For every breakthrough we take one step forward and often two back. So how can anyone reasonably place their confidence within a community that is shooting neutrons at a moving target that they can't measure or identify? Common sense is the best protection for society.

Yes it is better not to build with asbestos, but we can safely use magnesium silicate. The application and circumstance can be found when and where it can be appropriate. So apply the same perspicacity to public policy when it comes to reducing the risks and improving the prospects for improving the environment. Apple pie is everyone's favorite dish not just for satisfying the taste, but because it is the symbol of wholesomeness. The only aspect that is healthful about the environment contest is who will drop dead first! Either from a heart attack during a running session or from an abundance of red meat.

Thoreau understood human nature best, while Emerson knew that man is a temporary aberration. The environmentalists are the true Panglosses, for they believe in themselves. How sad they incorrectly conclude that solutions are within their hands. The Chicken Little it the real optimist. He awaits an end to this failed experiment - a miscarriage in human excess. The coming Ice Age will cool off some of that plethoric conceit.

James Hall aka SARTRE

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Final Word:

Well, we have an admission. The 'bad seed' rejects Austrian economics and is a closet Keynesian. Now that is the real ethical choice for economics! OK - our plan is exposed. We have gone out of our way to pollute the air so the polar caps will melt and flood the entire state of Florida . . . Who could blame us for such a compassionate plot?

The debate that claims science as their source has many voices. At the core of conflicting conclusions is the empirical method of opposing doubts. Are we supposed to believe that the 'so called' science of global warming is motivated by pure motives of credible inquiry? Or does the political equation enter into their hypothesis? The scientific community is notorious for their bad politics, now we are supposed to believe their latest speculation will benefit mankind because it comes from technocrats?

But if you peel back this onion, you will see a hidden agenda that is based upon a false view of the world. They assume that Man is the measure of all things and that personal responsibility is defined as a willingness to conform to the dictates of the high priests of their chosen elites. In this case we have the same scientists, who expound a distorted and tortured Darwinism, now professing an extension of natural selection, to the atmosphere of acceptable social conduct.

The ultimate consequence of these environmental nazis, is to run us through their cleansing camps on the way to our showers. The only personal responsibility we have is that for keeping an open mind and rejecting calls of wolf as a substitute for rational inquiry. Kyoto proved that science can't be trusted when it is offered as a rationale for political compliance. There is no guilt in living within the borders of a balanced consumer society. Excess is the enemy, not thrifty use of resources. There is no intrinsic evil in central heating. Wasn't it these same quacks that condemned us mountain folks for burning wood to heat our houses? Just what do you want us to do? Move to Florida! Don't you need air conditioning to survive in the sunshine state?

If global warming is a proven fact and man is the cause of this result, does that mean that the social liberal has finally acknowledged a connection among facts, consequences and responsibilities? If that was so, then maybe there would be some progress within the political arena. But the odor that freshens this air has more of an aroma suited to the sty than a bed of roses.

Common sense is lacking within this debate. Opposing scientists marshal their august credentials when they combat each other. But we need to lower the volume and arrive at intelligent conclusions that can be supported with enthusiasm, not amplified with false fears. Making this a chicken and egg question is a recipe for additional distrust. No wonder the Greens are so reluctant to allow it to be sorted out by God . . .

James Hall - 'The Right'


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