Policy Digest: Environmental issues

People’s Climate March

Climate protestors are busy preparing signs, floats and a “papier-mâché tree embedded with axes” for the People’s Climate March in New York City this Sunday. Thousands are expected to gather and march through the streets of Manhattan with the goal of convincing U.N. members to band together and drastically cut the use of fossil fuels across the globe. Marchers may believe they are taking to the streets in an effort to make lives better, but Alex Epstein, president and founder of the Center for Industrial Progress, writes in a recent Forbes.com article, that “[i]n fact they’re supporting policies that would cut billions of lives short. Literally.”

Epstein argues that the use of fossil fuels, far from making lives worse, has meant that people across the globe are better off. Life expectancies have risen, access to clean air and water has increased and the number of climate related deaths has plummeted—all thanks to fossil fuels.

The climate march will include a noise-making exercise at 1 p.m., where “marchers will be encouraged to use instruments, cellphone alarms and whistles to make as much noise as possible, helped by at least 20 marching bands and the tolling of church bells across the city.”

“We’re going to sound the burglar alarm on people who are stealing the future,” said Bill McKibben, co-founder of 350.org, the group sponsoring the event.

But who is really trying to steal the future? Read what Epstein has to say here.

Al Gore’s 24 reasons for hope

Al Gore held his yearly “24 Hours of Reality” live marathon webcast this week. Spending much of the 24 hours awake and in front of the camera, Gore gave millions of viewers “24 Reasons for Hope” about climate change and the future of mankind.

You can read the whole list of reasons here, but far from being hopeful, they contain Gore’s usual distortions about solar and wind power. They also highlight some really depressing developments aimed at shutting down the energy that is making lives better across the globe, such as “coal-fired power plant regulations in the U.S. signal closing the door on fossil fuels.”

Tuning in briefly to the webcast, I found myself drawn away from what Gore was saying to the fabulous view of the New York City skyline behind him, seen through the floor-to-ceiling windows in his broadcast studio in the Brooklyn Naval Yard. In that view alone, I can find at least 24,000 reasons to be hopeful for the future of mankind: Bridges, ships, skyscrapers, cars, clean drinking water, power plants and hospitals and the people who benefit from them. These feats of engineering and human ingenuity are made possible by the cheap, reliable and plentiful energy that Gore is intent on making scarce, expensive and intermittent.

Some Real Reasons for Climate Hope

To hear a calm voice of reason amid Al Gore’s pompous bloviation and the shrill preparations for the climate protest alarm-fest, check out a talk by Judith Curry, a climate scientist at the Georgia Institute of Technology, who spoke at the George Marshall Institute on the “State of the Climate Debate.” In her talk, Dr. Curry questioned the climate science “consensus,” arguing that the data included in the most recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) actually “weakens the case for human factors dominating climate change in the 20th and early 21st centuries.” Calling both the scientific claims and the entire political debate over climate change “vastly oversimplified,” Curry questions the evidence that humans are causing catastrophic warming of the planet, increased severity of storms, dangerous sea-level rise and extreme weather events.

After the Climategate emails surfaced, Curry began to worry that scientists were putting the “policy cart in front of the scientific horse.” Curry recounts voicing concerns about the integrity of climate science and the danger of mixing politics with science. “I figured these were ‘motherhood’ and ‘apple pie’ statements and that other scientists would start speaking out on these topics,” said Curry. “Instead,” she says, she was met with “silence.”

Although I didn’t agree with everything she said, Curry offers invaluable insight into the climate change debate, from the perspective of a thoughtful scientist willing to question the “consensus” and speak out to defend science, even in the face of a highly politicized debate. You can view the talk, download the talk slides or Curry’s report here.

The National Academy of Pseudoscience?

This week, the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences held a two-day meeting on genetically engineered foods. The goal of the council, which advises the government on the regulation of technology, was to seek out the facts about safety and “environmental” concerns about GMOs for their 2016 report. But the majority of the remarks the council heard were disturbingly un-scientific.

The committee heard from Jeffrey Smith, who
blames GMOs for a whole slew of diseases (from autism to cancer) without a shred of evidence. The council also invited Gilles-Éric Séralini, infamous author of a junk-science study involving tumor-prone rats, to speak about the safety of GMOs. Even a representative from Greenpeace, an organization dedicated to making sure that third-world poor are afraid to eat a life-saving vitamin-enhanced rice, was given time before the Academy.

Jon Entine, science journalist and executive director of the Genetic Literacy Project, seemed to be the lone voice standing up against pseudoscience and fear-mongering and in defense of the technology of genetic engineering. You can read a transcript of his remarks here. In his talk, he predicted that the pseudoscience advocates and anti-GMO activists invited to speak will be “[e]mboldened by the implicit endorsement that an appearance at the Academy confers, they will resume their campaigns to scare the public about a safe technology. Don’t be shocked that for years to come, they will make hay that they have been “consulted” by the National Academy of Sciences about GMOs.”

I second that prediction.