341 Sensible Environmentalists

The late novelist-physician Michael Crichton, in his 2003 “Remarks to the [San Francisco] Commonwealth Club,” presciently said:  “The greatest challenge facing mankind is the challenge of distinguishing reality from fantasy, truth from propaganda.  Perceiving the truth has always been a challenge to mankind, but in the information age (or as I think of it, the disinformation age) it takes on a special urgency and importance.”  His admonition now guides Patrick Moore, who in 1971 helped launch and lead Greenpeace for 15 years.  One of the most radical environmental organizations, employing confrontational tactics, Greenpeace challenged various countries and corporations, trying to eliminate atmospheric nuclear testing and halt the killing of whales and baby seals.  He and his “little band of protesters” showed how a few “dedicated people could effect real change at a global level.”  Within a decade Greenpeace became a major movement, bringing in $100 million a year with offices and staff around the world.  

But ultimately Moore grew disillusioned with the organization he’d founded.  He came to believe:  1) “sustainable development” provides  the key to preserving the environment; and 2) the increasingly extremist and irrational views of many of his erstwhile allies discredit them.  Rather than protesting problems he wanted to propose solutions.  So he wrote two truly significant books.  The first was Confessions of a Greenpeace Dropout: The Making of a Sensible Environmentalist (Beatty Street Publishing Inc.; Kindle Edition, c. 2010, rev. 2013).  Explaining, he said:  “The truth is Greenpeace and I underwent divergent evolutions.  I became a sensible environmentalist; Greenpeace became increasingly senseless as it adopted an agenda that is antiscience, antibusiness, and downright antihuman.  This is the story of our transformations” (p. 9).  Holding a PhD in ecology, Moore was the only credentialed scientist among Greenpeace leaders!

Moore thinks Greenpeace and similar environmental organizations “have adopted policy after policy that reflects their antihuman bias” and rejected the very scientific and technological innovations that help both people and environment.  Too many of them “are stuck in the 1970s and continue to promote a strain of leftish romanticism about idyllic rural village life powered by windmills and solar panels” (p. 19).  “They oppose forestry even though it provides our most abundant renewable resource.  They have zero tolerance for genetically modified food crops, even though this technology reduces pesticide use and improves nutrition for people who suffer from malnutrition.  They continue to oppose nuclear energy, even though it is the best technology to replace fossil fuels and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  They campaign against hydroelectric projects despite the fact that hydro is by far the most abundant renewable source of electricity.  And they support the vicious and misguided campaign against salmon farming, an industry that produces more than a million tons of heart-friendly food every year” (p. 16).  In the book’s conclusion, having given ample scientific data to support his views, Moore repeats and expands upon these pivotal points, which are the essence of this treatise.  

Though he discusses, in scholarly detail, many of these issues, he mainly seeks to show how “environmentalism has gone off the rails and has become an apocalyptic religion that is self-defeating and demoralizing” (p. 46).  To illustrate he cites a declaration by Robert Kennedy Jr. that can easily be duplicated by the likes of Joe Biden:  “Our generation faces the greatest moral and political crisis in human history.  Will we take the steps necessary to avert catastrophic global warming or will we doom our children to a new Dark Ages in a world that is biologically and economically impoverished and defined by ever diminishing quality of life? . . .   The scientific debate is over except among a few polluter-financed junk scientists and ideologically blinded flat Earthers’” (p. 47).  That none of these assertions are true—and can easily be disproved—seems not to concern either Kennedy or the ruling class he represents.  

A 1984 conference in Kenya prodded Moore to become a sensible, rather than a radical, environmentalist.  Here he understood, for the first time, the importance of helping people work wisely and productively with the natural world.  Sustainable development could be both ecologically attuned and technologically advanced.  “I came away from Nairobi a changed person.  I now realized that as an environmentalist I could either act as if the more than seven billion people didn’t matter (or pretend they didn’t even exist) or I could expand my thinking to include them as part of the challenge.  The latter approach seemed both more honest and more intellectually stimulating.  It got me outside the box of purely environmental thinking and into the real world of recognizing the entire system” (p. 170).  

Leaving Greenpeace in 1986, he returned to his childhood home on Vancouver Island and launched a fish farm, growing salmon.  Rather than depleting the oceans’ wild salmon, growing them in seawater ponds promised to both provide fresh fish for market and protect the species.  To his amazement his old Greenpeace associates condemned him!  In a few years large corporate fish farms made it impossible for him to compete, but this endeavor opened doors for him to support the forestry business, which “was being unfairly used as a whipping boy.”  His family had, for 75 years, run a sawmill, so when he had an opportunity to work as director of the Forest Alliance in British Columbia he jumped at the chance.  This elicited a “firestorm of public and private invective” from tree-hugging radicals who called him an “eco-Judas.”  Their anger was fueled by documents such as “Forests in Trouble,” published by the World Wildlife Fund which claimed there was a worldwide “crisis,” irresponsibly repeating “many of the false claims being spread by the anti-forestry” forces.  Trees are an eminently renewable resource, absolutely needed for our well-being, and Moore believes they “are the answer to many questions about the future of human civilization and the preservation of the environment” (p. 244).  Well-tended forests can perpetually provide us with invaluable materials and concurrently recycle carbon dioxide.  In addition to tapping wood energy, using fossil fuels properly suits a “sensible” environmentalism, particularly when used in the transportation system.  In fact:  “It may turn out to be a very good thing that humans discovered fossil fuels and started burning them for energy,” because CO2 greens the planet and helps counteract harmful cooling!   “This is perhaps my most heretical thought:  that our CO2 emissions may be largely beneficial, possibly making the coldest places on earth more habitable and definitely increasing yields of food crops, energy crops, and forests around the entire world” (p. 462).

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

A decade after publishing Confessions of a Greenpeace Dropout, Patrick Moore updated it in Fake Invisible Catastrophes and Threats of Doom (NP:  Ecosense Environmental, Kindle Editions, c. 2021).  “Awhile back it dawned on me,” he says, “that the great majority of scare stories about the present and future state of the planet, and humanity as a whole, are based on subjects that are either invisible, like CO2 and radiation, or extremely remote, like polar bears and coral reefs.  Thus, the vast majority of people have no way of observing and verifying for themselves the truth of these claims predicting these alleged catastrophes and devastating threats.  Instead, they must rely on the activists, the media, the politicians, and the scientists—all of whom have a very large financial and/or political stake in the subject—to tell them the truth.  This welcomes the opportunity to simply invent narratives such as the claim that ‘CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels are causing a climate emergency’” (p. 11).  Such propagandists “are definitely a scurrilous and dishonest lot” and honest scientists have an ethical obligation to refute and denounce them.  A prime example of such the propaganda scientists should pillory is Al Gore’s “effective piece of misinformation in his film An Inconvenient Truth.” (p. 66).  

Rather than touch upon all of the issues he considers—e.g. endangered polar bears and walruses, genetically modified seeds, pernicious plastics, etc.—I’ll focus on two chapters.   One addresses the current “climate of fear and guilt.”  Earth’s climate is ever-changing—“sometimes relatively rapidly, sometimes very slowly, but always surely.  Hoping for a “perfect stable climate” is as futile as hoping the weather will be constantly pleasant, day-after-day, forever!  Yet alarmists routinely cry out about an “existential threat” to our climate if radical steps are not taken to stop global warming.  They irresponsibly cite both higher and lower temperatures, both more snow and drought, disappearing glaciers and species’ extinction, dying forests and coral reefs, crop failures and acidic oceans, cancer and heart disease.  In fact, Moore insists, “there is no hard evidence that any of these things have been or will be triggered by human-caused emissions of CO2.  It is all conjecture based on the hypothesis that carbon dioxide controls temperature, which itself has never been determined as fact.”  Most of these claims are predictions, not observations, and are too frequently “based on simulations, which are computer-generated models created by authors who decide what they want their model to predict and then build assumptions into the model that provide them with the results they are looking to achieve” (p. 33).

The alleged culprit fueling the global warming hysteria is, of course, CO2.  We humans are allegedly pushing inordinate amounts of it into the atmosphere, thereby endangering life on earth.  This is manifestly untrue!  The actual amount of CO2 has been declining for 150 million years.  Today’s level is “much lower than it had been during the majority of the existence of modern life” and was 15 times higher at its inception.  Though you’d never imagine it if you listen to the doom-sayers decrying the “climate crisis,” the earth has been cooling for the past 50 million years.  “The irony of what the alarmists are saying concerning the temperature of the Earth and that it is too hot, is that it is actually colder than it has been during most of life’s existence, and that life, historically, has better flourished during the warmer periods than the comparatively colder periods, like we are in today” (p. 59).   We’re now, geologically, in The Holocene Interglacial era, during which there was a 4,000-year Climatic Optimum wherein “the average temperature of the Earth was at least 1ºC (1.8ºF) warmer than today.”  The Sahara Desert was then green and supported “towns and livestock-herders” (p. 69).  It’s called “Climatic Optimum” for a reason—it was a wonderful time for all kinds of life to flourish. 

We’re now in the “Neoglacial” era, wherein temperatures descended “into the coldest period since the early beginnings of the Holocene.  The Little Ice Age, which reached its coldest around 1650-1700 AD, followed the Medieval Warm Period, when the Vikings colonized and farmed southern Greenland” (p. 70).  This was followed by the Little Ice Age, from which we are now emerging.  We are in The Modern Warm Period, which began in 1700.  “Human emissions of carbon dioxide from 1700 to 1850 were insignificant and yet historical records indicate the Earth warmed at about the same rate during that period as it has since” (p. 71).  The global warming that has actually  occurred since 1850 amounts to a 1.2ºC (2.2º F) rise in temperature, which is quite typical of the ups and downs throughout the planet’s history.  Unfortunately, ill-informed activists and politicians want to radically change the world’s economy to “fight catastrophic climate change.”  Thus they promote “renewable energy—in particular wind and solar—devices which have nothing renewable in their machinery” (p. 78).  Instead, Moore insists, we should grow more trees, build more hydroelectric dams, promote nuclear energy and utilize geothermal heat pumps.  

The second chapter I’ll examine deals with nuclear energy, “one of the safest, if not the safest technology, for generating electricity on the basis of casualties per unit of energy produced” (p. 147).  In his Greenpeace days Moore mindlessly opposed it.  But having educated himself he now sees it as one of the great goods available to mankind.   It is “the most cost-effective, feasible, and timely” answer to our energy needs.  It “will likely be the most important energy technology for the next 100 years and beyond” (p. 328).  Unfortunately, environmental doom-sayers have misled the public and only a few nations have embraced it.  There have only been three significant accidents, and only one (Chernobyl) wrought fatalities.  Every year 1.35 million people die in roadway accidents, while  “there have been no more than 60 nuclear-power-related fatalities from the more than 440 nuclear power plants worldwide; and all of these fatalities were from Chernobyl and the freak accident that occurred because of their poorly designed reactor” (p. 153).  Nothing’s perfectly safe!  But nuclear power comes the closest we have when generating electricity.  On the other hand he discounts the efficacy of solar and wind power, subjecting these industries to careful analysis and showing how ultimately they can only supplement the more reliable generators of electricity we need. 

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 

In accord with Patrick Moore, Michael Shellenberger believes sustainable development requires positive “post-environmental” policies designed to wisely use nature’s resources.  He and a colleague were named Time magazine “heroes of the environment” in 2008 and he served as a respected expert reviewer of one of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports.  He has published extensively in prominent newspapers such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal for 20 years. In Apocalypse Never:   Why Environmentalism Hurts Us All (New York:  HarperCollins, c. 2020; Kindle edition), Shellenberger offers a significant critique of the movement. Representing much that Shellenberger critiques is Bill McKibben, an influential environmentalist who in 2019 published Falter to argue “that climate change is the “greatest challenge humans have ever faced.”   He writes regularly for influential media such as The New York Times and heads an organization with a $20 million annual budget.  He promotes the secular religion which has replaced God with Nature.  Its devotees have constructed an “apocalyptic environmentalism” which gives them “a purpose: to save the world from climate change, or some other environmental disaster” (p. 264).  Shellenberger believes thoughtful people, rooted in copious evidence, must reject the “apocalypse now” hysteria and champion sane solutions. 

He begins his treatise with a 2019 TV interview featuring two spokesmen for “Extinction Rebellion,” a radical group spreading climate warming fears.  Some 6000 of them had blocked bridges in London and they warned that “billions of people are going to die” if draconian measures are not adopted.  They claimed:  “‘Life on Earth is dying.’  And, ‘Governments aren’t addressing it.’”  Their endeavors garnered the praise and support of many journalists and celebrities, and one extensive survey showed that nearly half of the world’s people actually believe “climate change would make humanity extinct.”  Such alarmism is rapidly gaining political momentum—as is evident in the “green new deal” promoted by the Biden administration.  Sadly enough, such activists rarely get the “facts and science right.”  Shellenberger believes “environmental scientists, journalists, and activists” have betrayed their “obligation to describe environmental problems honestly and accurately, even if they fear doing so will reduce their news value or salience with the public.  Much of what people are being told about the environment, including the climate, is wrong, and we desperately need to get it right.  I decided to write Apocalypse Never after getting fed up with the exaggeration, alarmism, and extremism that are the enemy of a positive, humanistic, and rational environmentalism” (p. xi).

Determined to show “it’s not the end of the world,” Shellenberger devotes a number of chapters to defusing the misleading claims environmental activists make as they scheme to panic the public.  He shows why “Earth’s Lungs Are Not Burning.”  Despite much media madness, we need not worry about the Amazon’s rainforest!  Certainly there are fires in that vast region—and a fear-monger, such as Greta Thornberg, can easily take pictures suggesting the whole region is endangered—but in fact fires are nothing new.  Some of the more arresting photos weren’t taken in the Amazon and others had been taken many years ago.  “In reality, almost everything the news media reported in summer 2019 about the Amazon was either wrong or deeply misleading” (p. 30).  Actually earth’s “forests are returning, and fires are declining.  There was a whopping 25 percent decrease in the annual area burned globally from 1998 to 2015” and “new tree growth exceeded tree loss for the last thirty-five years, by an area the size of Texas and Alaska combined” (p. 32).  The globe, thanks in part to more available carbon dioxide, is greening!  And that’s a good thing!

Shellenberger champions nuclear power, lamenting its unfair, fear-inducing misrepresentations.  He laments the influence of proponents of the “Green New Deal” such as New York’s Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who calls for the abolition of the industry.   Should she have even the slightest interest in the truth she should compare Germany with France.  Heavily invested in nuclear power, France spends half as much for electricity and emits only one-tents of the carbon emissions!  “Had Germany invested $580 billion into new nuclear power plants instead of renewables like solar and wind farms, it would be generating 100 percent of its electricity from zero-emission sources and have sufficient zero-carbon electricity to power all of its cars and light trucks, as well” (p. 152).  But the Germans congratulate themselves for their “green” commitments!  More broadly, during the past 50 years, “the world spent about $2 trillion for nuclear, and $2.3 trillion for solar and wind” and “received about twice as much electricity from nuclear as it did from solar and wind” (p. 152).   Soon after WWII, President Eisenhower stressed the prospects of “atoms for peace,” providing cheap energy for the world.  If only the world had embraced his vision!  But within a decade environmental activists injected fears of radiation into the public mind.   Folks such as Ralph Nader and Jane Fonda, groups like the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, and the Natural Resources Defense Council, all “tapped into significant anxieties over nuclear weapons among baby boomers who had been subjected to duck-and-cover drills, where teachers ordered them to prepare for the apocalypse by hiding under their desks as schoolchildren, not to mention both government and Hollywood propaganda films” (p. 162).   They successfully opposed building any nuclear power plants, using the courts to delay and needlessly encumber their construction.   They thereby deprived the world of its best electrical energy source.

Unfortunately, these activists persuaded politicians to build air polluting fossil fuel plants or invest in patently misguided solar and wind power plants (which he calls the “unreliable”).  Wind and solar sound wonderfully “renewable” until you dig into the data.  Neither of them are constant, so you must have other power plants (usually natural gas) up and running to supply energy when the wind dies and the sun sets.  Here again Germany is instructive.  For 20 years the Germans have promoted “renewables,” investing nearly a half-trillion dollars in them.  However, “Germany generated just 42 percent of its electricity from wind, solar, and biomass, as compared to the 71 percent France generated from nuclear in 2019.  Wind and solar were just 34 percent of German electricity, and relied upon natural gas as back-up.”  But, ominously, serious problems have surfaced.  “Germany’s electricity grid came close to having blackouts for three days in July 2019.  Germany had to import emergency power from neighboring nations to stabilize its grid” (p. 184).  Still more:  “Renewables contributed to electricity prices rising 50 percent in Germany since 2007.  In 2019, German electricity prices were 45 percent higher than the European average” (p. 184).  So, Shellenberger concludes:  “there is no amount of technological innovation that can solve the fundamental problem with renewables.  Solar and wind make electricity more expensive for two reasons:  they are unreliable, thus requiring 100 percent backup, and energy-dilute, thus requiring extensive land, transmission lines, and mining.  In other words, the trouble with renewables isn’t fundamentally technical—it’s natural” (p. 185).  Few things better illustrate apocalyptic pipe-dreams that building inefficient windmills while disabling nuclear power plants!  But that’s us—not homo sapiens but homo credulous, willing to believe anything!