22 Oct 2012: Opinion

Why Are Environmentalists
Taking Anti-Science Positions?

On issues ranging from genetically modified crops to nuclear power, environmentalists are increasingly refusing to listen to scientific arguments that challenge standard green positions. This approach risks weakening the environmental movement and empowering climate contrarians.

by fred pearce

From Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring to James Hansen’s modern-day tales of climate apocalypse, environmentalists have long looked to good science and good scientists and embraced their findings. Often we have had to run hard to keep up with the crescendo of warnings coming out of academia about the perils facing the world. A generation ago, biologist Paul Ehrlich’s The Population Bomb and systems analysts Dennis and Donella Meadows’ The Limits to Growth shocked us with their stark visions of where the world was headed. No wide-eyed greenie had predicted the opening of an ozone hole before the pipe-smoking boffins of the British Antarctic Survey spotted it when looking skyward back in 1985. On issues ranging from ocean acidification and tipping points in the Arctic to the dangers of nanotechnology, the scientists have always gotten there first — and the environmentalists have followed.

And yet, recently, the environment movement seems to have been turning up on the wrong side of the scientific argument. We have been making claims that simply do not stand up. We are accused of being anti-science — and not without reason. A few, even close friends, have begun to compare this casual contempt for science with the tactics of climate contrarians.

That should hurt.

Three current issues suggest that the risks of myopic adherence to ideology over rational debate are real: genetically modified (GM) crops, nuclear power, and shale gas development. The conventional green position is that we should be opposed to all three. Yet the voices of those with genuine environmental credentials, but who take a different view, are being drowned out by sometimes abusive and irrational argument.

In each instance, the issue is not so much which side environmentalists should be on, but rather the mind-set behind those positions and the tactics adopted to make the case. The wider political danger is that by
The issue is not which side environmentalists should be on, but rather the mind-set behind their positions.
taking anti-scientific positions, environmentalists end up helping the anti-environmental sirens of the new right.

Most major environmental groups — from Friends of the Earth to Greenpeace to the Sierra Club — want a ban or moratorium on GM crops, especially for food. They fear the toxicity of these “Frankenfoods,” are concerned the introduced genes will pollute wild strains of the crops, and worry that GM seeds are a weapon in the takeover of the world’s food supply by agribusiness.

For myself, I am deeply concerned about the power of business over the world’s seeds and food supply. But GM crops are an insignificant part of that control, which is based on money and control of trading networks. Clearly there are issues about gene pollution, though research suggesting there is a problem is still very thin. Let’s do the research, rather than trash the test fields, which has been the default response of groups such as Greenpeace, particularly in my home country of Britain.

As for the Frankenfoods argument, the evidence is just not there. As the British former campaigner against GMs, Mark Lynas, points out: “Hundreds of millions of people have eaten GM-originated food without a single substantiated case of any harm done whatsoever.”

The most recent claim, published in September in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology, that GM corn can produced tumors in rats, has been attacked as flawed in execution and conclusion by a wide range of experts with no axe to grind. In any event, the controversial study was primarily about the potential impact of Roundup, a herbicide widely used with GM corn, and not the GM technology itself.

Nonetheless, the reaction of some in the environment community to the reasoned critical responses of scientists to the paper has been to claim a global conspiracy among researchers to hide the terrible truth. One scientist was dismissed on the Web site GM Watch for being “a longtime member of the European Food Safety Authority, i.e. the very body that approved the GM corn in question.” That’s like dismissing the findings of a climate scientist because he sits on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — the “very body” that warned us about climate change. See what I mean about aping the worst and most hysterical tactics of the climate contrarians?

Stewart Brand wrote in his 2009 book Whole Earth Discipline: “I dare say the environmental movement has done more harm with its opposition to genetic engineering than any other thing we’ve been wrong about.” He will see nods of ascent from members of a nascent “green genes” movement — among them environmentalist scientists, such as Pamela Ronald of the University of California at Davis — who say GM crops can advance the cause of sustainable agriculture by improving resilience to changing climate and reducing applications of agrochemicals.

Yet such people are routinely condemned as apologists for an industrial conspiracy to poison the world. Thus, Greenpeace in East Asia claims that children eating nutrient-fortified GM “golden rice” are being used as “guinea pigs.” And its UK Web site’s introduction to its global campaigns says, “The introduction of genetically modified food and crops has been a disaster, posing a serious threat to biodiversity and our own health.” Where, ask their critics, is the evidence for such claims?

The problem is the same in the energy debate. Many environmentalists who argue, as I do, that climate change is probably the big overarching issue facing humanity in the 21st century, nonetheless often refuse to recognize that nuclear power could have a role in saving us from the worst.
For environmentalists to fan the flames of fear of nuclear power seems reckless and anti-scientific.
Nuclear power is the only large-scale source of low-carbon electricity that is fully developed and ready for major expansion.

Yes, we need to expand renewables as fast as we can. Yes, we need to reduce further the already small risks of nuclear accidents and of leakage of fissile material into weapons manufacturing. But as George Monbiot, Britain’s most prominent environment columnist, puts it: “To abandon our primary current source of low carbon energy during a climate change emergency is madness.”

Monbiot attacks the gratuitous misrepresentation of the risks of radiation from nuclear plants. It is widely suggested, on the basis of a thoroughly discredited piece of Russian head-counting, that up to a million people were killed by the Chernobyl nuclear accident in 1986. In fact, it is far from clear that many people at all — beyond the 28 workers who received fatal doses while trying to douse the flames at the stricken reactor — actually died from Chernobyl radiation. Certainly, the death toll was nothing remotely on the scale claimed.

“We have a moral duty,” Monbiot says, “not to spread unnecessary and unfounded fears. If we persuade people that they or their children are likely to suffer from horrible and dangerous health problems, and if these fears are baseless, we cause great distress and anxiety, needlessly damaging the quality of people’s lives.”

Many people have a visceral fear of nuclear power and its invisible radiation. But for environmentalists to fan the flames — especially when it gets in the way of fighting a far more real threat, from climate change — seems reckless, anti-scientific and deeply damaging to the world’s climate future.

One sure result of Germany deciding to abandon nuclear power in the wake of last year’s Fukushima nuclear accident (calamitous, but any death toll will be tiny compared to that from the tsunami that caused it) will be rising carbon emissions from a revived coal industry. By one estimate, the end of nuclear power in Germany will result in an extra 300 million tons of carbon dioxide reaching the atmosphere between now and 2020 — more than the annual emissions of Italy and Spain combined.

Last, let’s look at the latest source of green angst: shale gas and the drilling technique of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, used to extract it. There are probably good reasons for not developing shale gas in many places. Its extraction can pollute water and cause minor earth tremors, for instance. But at root this is an argument about carbon — a genuinely double-edged issue that needs debating. For there is a good environmental case to be made that shale gas, like nuclear energy, can be part of the solution to climate change. That case should be heard and not shouted down.

Opponents of shale gas rightly say it is a carbon-based fossil fuel. But it is a much less dangerous fossil fuel than coal. Carbon emissions from burning natural gas are roughly half those from burning coal. A switch from coal to
Many environmentalists are imbued with a sense of their own exceptionalism and original virtue.
shale gas is the main reason why, in 2011, U.S. CO2 emissions fell by almost 2 percent.

We cannot ignore that. With coal’s share of the world’s energy supply rising from 25 to 30 percent in the past half decade, a good argument can be made that a dash to exploit cheap shale gas and undercut this surge in coal would do more to cut carbon emissions than almost anything else. The noted environmental economist Dieter Helm of the University of Oxford argues just this in a new book, The Carbon Crunch, out this month.

But this is an unpopular argument. Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club, was pilloried by activists for making the case that gas could be a “bridge fuel” to a low-carbon future. And when he stepped down, his successor condemned him for taking cash from the gas industry to fund the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign. Pope was probably wrong to take donations of that type, though some environment groups do such things all the time. But his real crime to those in the green movement seems to have been to side with the gas lobby at all.

Many environmentalists are imbued with a sense of their own exceptionalism and original virtue. But we have been dangerously wrong before. When Rachel Carson’s sound case against the mass application of DDT as an agricultural pesticide morphed into blanket opposition to much smaller indoor applications to fight malaria, it arguably resulted in millions of deaths as the diseases resurged.

And more recently, remember the confusion over biofuels? They were a new green energy source we could all support. I remember, when the biofuels craze began about 2005, I reported on a few voices urging caution. They warned that the huge land take of crops like corn and sugar cane for biofuels might threaten food supplies; that the crops would add to the destruction of rainforests; and that the carbon gains were often small to non-existent. But Friends of the Earth and others trashed them as traitors to the cause of green energy.


Can Environmentalists Learn
To Love a Texas Coal Plant?

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A planned carbon capture and storage plant in West Texas is being billed as the “cleanest coal plant in the world,” Marc Gunther reports. But can the $3 billion project help move the global power industry toward the elusive goal of low-carbon electricity, or is it just another way of perpetuating fossil fuels?
Well, today most greens are against most biofuels. Not least Friends of the Earth, which calls them a “big green con.” In fact, we may have swung too far in the other direction, undermining research into second-generation biofuels that could be both land- and carbon-efficient.

We don’t have to be slaves to science. There is plenty of room for raising questions about ethics and priorities that challenge the world view of the average lab grunt. And we should blow the whistle on bad science. But to indulge in hysterical attacks on any new technology that does not excite our prejudices, or to accuse genuine researchers of being part of a global conspiracy, is dishonest and self-defeating.

We environmentalists should learn to be more humble about our policy prescriptions, more willing to hear competing arguments, and less keen to engage in hectoring and bullying.

POSTED ON 22 Oct 2012 IN Biodiversity Business & Innovation Oceans Policy & Politics Policy & Politics Science & Technology 


What can I say: you are right. I cannot but agree with you. I still am member of Greenpeace, but for a few months (the awakening came late) I have had ever more doubts - over exactly the issues you named (I would only add CCS). They (we?) do much right. But they also do much bad in their dogmatism. I am not sure whether the net effect is still positive.

Posted by ZielonyGrzyb on 22 Oct 2012

Science also used to build predator drones, and other hi tech munitions used to murder anyone who would resist the will of ruling elites. Any discussion of the merits or otherwise of science must differentiate between different sciences and in whose interests they are used and the implications for democracy and participatory politics. The more reliant on hi tech and science we are the less democratic our societies and the more control resides with faceless technocrats.

Posted by Christopher Shaw on 22 Oct 2012

What GMWatch actually say, Fred, is that there was a failure by the Science Media Centre to mention that the critic of the new study that the SMC quote was a member of the body that had approved the GM maize brought into question by the new study. They also point out that the same scientist is also on the board of the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI) – a biotech and food industry lobby group whose backers include BASF, Bayer and Monsanto, and that this is also not mentioned by the SMC. They also give examples of how nearly all the other scientists quoted by the SMC have significant conflicts of interest - some of them even more glaring, and that none of these are mentioned by the SMC.

There has also long been concern over the way in which EFSA is riven with major conflicts of interest, so much so that the European Parliament this year refused to sign off on EFSA's budget over this issue, and the Court of Auditors has also just criticised EFSA for its poor handling of such conflicts. This makes for a somewhat more complex picture than your article suggests.

Posted by Sam Mason on 22 Oct 2012


My case rests. We're going to meltdown the world so that you can make narrow, focused arguments about single issues. We might as well be arguing about abortion given the lack of systems thinking going on here? Does Yale not teach ecology anymore? Or energy literacy? Perhaps all of the Ivies have been captured by the corporation?

Posted by Mary Logan on 22 Oct 2012

Well yes, ZielonyGrub, science is used in designing drones as it is in designing dams, solar panels, etc. etc.

Science can be used for good or evil. The decisions to order and pay for the drones are the place to focus. These decisions were not made by scientists but by politicians - almost none of whom are trained in science. It seems silly to attack 'faceless technocrats' for decisions taken by Barack Obama and his cabinet.

Some key decisions are taken secretly, either by military leaders or by corporations. The latter are probably least accountable and most in need of restraint.

We ARE reliant on science - for power, medicine, transport and not least computing.

Posted by david flint on 22 Oct 2012

On GM goods, I agree. But nuclear power and shale gas involve more complicated questions than Fred discusses.

The problem with nuclear power is the cost and time associated with the technology. Why would you build a nuclear reactor if there are cheaper renewable alternatives, and increasingly, there are. And why would you build it if you can bring true clean renewables online faster? The emissions that come with a 15-20-year wait for reactors to come online can be considerable, as Mark Jacobson has well documented.

As for natural gas wells, the industry has much work to do to bring fugitive methane emissions down enough to ensure that the net climate forcing is actually lower than coal. And just because it can be done, doesn't mean it will. The numbers are hard to pin down here, but Tom Wigley at NCAR has produced some worrisome analyses that suggests switching to natural gas could make things worse in the short term at least.

Posted by James Hrynyshyn on 22 Oct 2012

So scientists weren't involved in the designing and manufacture of drones? Scientists are not gods, beyond criticism or beyond acting against the interest of humanity.

I didn't 'attack' faceless technocrats, I raised the issue of humanity being asked to take the risks created by others, without ever knowing who the 'others' are. For example, the news today reports suggestions that complex cocktails of chemicals are causing declines in bee populations. We face the risk, who takes the blame?

Posted by Christopher Shaw on 22 Oct 2012

Fred, thank you for your illuminating article. I hope this will find a wide audience and open some minds.

After reading it I find myself re-examining my position on shale gas, although I'm not convinced its development will necessarily result in less coal use, or understand why those profiting from it would ever be motivated to cede their energy territory to non-carbon sources like nuclear/renewables.

Posted by cwurtz on 22 Oct 2012

Since you beging with Rachel Carson, I have to remark that The Silent Spring was directed against the scientific consensus of her time, in the form of economic entomologists who maintained that science showed that pesticides were the best way to control plant pests. Her criticism of those scientists, who got good incomes from industry, is similar in form to the critiques of GMO foods today.

The green critiques of nuclear power and fracking are not anti-science at all the former focuses on the long-term impossibility of getting rid of the nuclear waste, the latter on the pollution problems caused by fracking, here brushed off as minor side effects. (Central green point: there is no such thing as a "side" effect!) There is also a disagreement about what it will take to control climate change very few greens would maintain, as Pearce seems to, that it can be done without reducing, rather than replacing, energy use.

Finally, GMOs. Here the point is that a) most of those endorsing them are not from regulators, they are from industry and b) the preferred method of scientific study seems to be to use the product freely and see if it causes any problems. Greens argue for the precautionary principle - using the same approval process that we use for new drugs (minus the corruption).

Posted by John C. Berg on 22 Oct 2012

This article is outrageous — glibly defending the role of science while claiming there's no scientific stand against fracking. Spurious. On gas, the *author* is the one lacking in understanding when defending gas solely on its clean burning nature, as if the only thing that matters about a fuel is the point of combustion.

In gas, it's the extraction and delivery that count for the genuine harm. He notes, for example that CO2 emissions have declined since the fracking boom but makes no account of methane emissions from the practice — when methane is 20x more powerful a greenhouse gas than CO2 AND it's widely seen by infrared photography to be leaking from all manner of natural gas infrastructure — which also coincidentally causes genuine public health concern. The science
on these two controversies is growing (see below).

I agree that the enviros' view of fracking should be nuanced and we should use gas widely *to the extent that it gets coal dethroned* as core piece to our way of producing electricity. However to claim that no science is involved in the push back against gas is arrogant and wrong. For a paper by Cornell's Bob Howarth on the fugitive emissions of methane from gas see:

Posted by Anne Butterfield on 22 Oct 2012

"When Rachel Carson’s sound case against the mass application of DDT as an agricultural pesticide morphed into blanket opposition to much smaller indoor applications to fight malaria, it arguably resulted in millions of deaths as the diseases resurged."


It is a shame that you polluted the rest of this article with this reference.

Yes, you say "arguably," but please point to one study that makes a serious attempt at controlling for the effects of continued widespread agricultural usage of DDT. In order to refer to a counterfactual (in the sense of speculation about what might have happened) quantity of deaths absent the opposition - you need to deal seriously with what would have happened, er, absent the opposition - in other words more widespread resistance. Please also note that proper usage of DDT requires well-funded and organized governmental infrastructure - features that were absent due to the same lack of funding that prevented other effective means for controlling malaria (draining swamps, building good housing, nets, etc.) from being maximally implemented.

Please also note that DDT was not banned (or even the subject of treaties as opposed to to false claims of "bans") for vector control (although the opposition to indiscriminate agricultural usage did lead to less usage for vector control).

Please note that in some areas usage of DDT for agricultural purposes continued with a negative impact on rates of malaria.

DDT is not a magic bullet that would have saved millions of lives. It certainly could have been used more effectively than it has been used, but your reference here was sloppy. It is irresponsible to be sloppy like that when you are addressing these issues.

Posted by Joshua on 22 Oct 2012

It's interesting to me that Rachel Carson's eagerness for modified mosquito technology has been ignored in most of these discussions.


She thought these types of genetic strategies were a good method to reduce chemical use. See also GMOs....

Posted by Mary on 22 Oct 2012

The author has vastly oversimplified the issues in all three topics. Especially the GMO debate. To assert that the opponents of GMO foods are all doing so from a nonscientific stance and that their argument is that there is a conspiracy to poison the world is absolutely false (unless you are using Alex Jones as your example of a typical GMO opponent).

Look up the research and investigations at the Institute for Responsible Technology and you will find that anti-GMO sentiment is based on real science. The track record of GM crops around the world is appalling for many reasons. It has been found by researchers that the use of GMO crops has actually increased the use of harmful pesticides and chemical fertilizers, which should raise huge red flags for those who call themselves environmentalists.

Posted by milo on 22 Oct 2012

As a scientist and a long time environmentalist, I say kudos for speaking about the hypocrisies that you rightly identify.

There are more.

For instance the same environmentalists who insist that fracking should be subjected to a scientific assessment of its net impacts prior to it being allowed — are completely silent regarding wind energy, which is environmentally worse.

Unfortunately the main science behind today's environmental movement is political science.

Posted by Energy Expert on 22 Oct 2012

Fred Pearce reliably brings good sense to every subject he reports on, as he does in this essay.

He is equally sensible and scientifically current on population/overpopulation — another subject that has moved on from early environmentalist over-reaction. His recent book on the realities of world demographics is titled THE COMING POPULATION COLLAPSE. (If you find your immediate reaction is to reject the title statement, that’s a good reason to look into his book and the sound research it reflects.)

Posted by Stewart Brand on 22 Oct 2012

Congratulations to Fred and Yale e360 for taking this topic on. All over the country local green groups oppose wind power because, they assert without any scientific basis, that "infrasound" is a health risk.

See: http://modeshift.org/419/afraid-of-the-wind/.

Here in northern Michigan green opponents of biomass, many of whom burn wood for winter heating and cooking, oppose raising the state renewable energy standard, in part because they assert particulates from high-tech, efficient, electrostatically-controlled small and locally-powered wood biomass plants are a health hazard.

Climate emissions in the U.S. are the lowest they've been in a generation. Coal consumption in the U.S. is plummeting. The six-state Ohio River Valley's economy is surging and air quality is improving. Much of this is due to a natural gas production boom that is replacing coal as a fuel source. But in the debate over the relative risks of coal consumption and hydrofracking and natural gas production, the green community has tilted heavily to barring the technology. This from a community that only a few years ago viewed natural gas a "bridge fuel." This is tender stuff, for sure. Especially when China produces over 3 billion metric tons of coal annually, its climate emissions are the highest (by far) in the world and rising fast.

See: http://www.circleofblue.org/waternews/2012/world/choke-point-china-ii-introduction

Not a great time for science on either side of the ideological divide around environmental problems.

Posted by Keith Schneider on 22 Oct 2012

Mr. Pearce seems genuinely surprised that the environmental/green movement is anti-science in recent days. I would like to move to wherever he's been living for the last forty years, because the so-called Greens have *always* been anti-science.

Their current hysterical fad happens to coincide (loosely) with scientific findings, but none of their recommended "solutions" have done so. In fact, I think that you'd find that the opposition to global warming theories would be much reduced if the problem statement was not always packaged with unworkable "solutions" packages.

Forty years of anti-nuclear electricity hysteria has emerged from the movement, with nothing but lies and exaggeration to support it. The least research or knowledge of physics shows that "radioactive or contaminated forever" or even "for millions of years" is a baseless lie.

Zero harmed at TMI. Zero deaths and predicted deaths from radiation exposure at Fukushima. Twenty-eight total deaths out of 134 emergency responders at Chernobyl — which isn't even relevant to a discussion of western nuclear electricity generation. Recently a UCS representative stated on national public radio "Nuclear winter is not the answer to global warming." If you don't see the inherent lie in conflating atomic weapons with electricity production, then you need to learn more about the topic. Incidentally, UCS is also a major leader in the charge against GM crops.

This is the kind of thing that has been going on for forty years with nary a grunt from folks like Pearce. And now he wakes up and notices.

The nuclear electricity industry in the USA has reduce CO2 emissions by about 35 billion tons over the last three decades and prevents the emission of 1.2 billion tons of CO2 every year. Without ever killing anyone. More people have fallen from windmills than have been killed by the nuclear electricity industry. Natural gas pipelines explode every year, if not every month, killing scores of people.

If the "Greens" had gotten out of the way, nuclear electricity would now make up 80 percent of our electricity instead of 20 percent and our CO2 emissions would be 5 billion tons lower per year.

Unfortunately, the reality is that most folks don't use the scientific method. They ignore the evidence and the facts. They prefer a set of delusions consistent with their peer group. The "greens" have an extensive peer group mutually supporting their delusions and few of them are brave enough to stare the real inconvenient (to them) truths in the face — that they've been wrong for forty years, that they've lied to the public for forty years, that they are a huge cause of our current global warming predicament.

The lies and need to feel like part of a movement has led the Greens to cause global warming.

Posted by Jeff Walther on 22 Oct 2012

Great post, environmentalists and the far left can be as enslaved by their ideology as the religious and far right. I switched my stance on nuclear as much because the arguments against were pitiful as the arguments for were backed up by facts and data.

Same goes for GM foods and fracking, although the court is still out on fracking until they tell us what chemicals they are pumping in to the ground.

Posted by gerry on 22 Oct 2012

"See what I mean about aping the worst and most hysterical tactics of the climate contrarians?"

When I think of climate change and hysteria, contrarians do not come to mind. Who is throwing around language like 'destroy the planet?' And 'saving the planet for our grandchildren?' And 'millions of deaths?'

The 'tactics' of climate contrarians are to disagree in public with the current madness of crowds. There is no difference between the GMO panic and the climate change panic. The same prediliction drives both.

Posted by MarkB on 22 Oct 2012

I am a scientist that used to lead backpacking trips for the Sierra Club, but now view them and many 'environmentalists' as anti-science Luddites. Nuclear power is indeed the answer to high standards of living for the world with almost no environmental impact.

No one was killed by radiation at Fukushima and in the opinion of health experts any additional cancer deaths will be too small to measure (and that is based on the linear non-threshold theory, which is almost certainly wrong). Fukushima was a case of poor design and a cataclysmic natural event, destroying old reactors. It would have been straightforward to have protected these reactors from the tsunami. However, this is about as bad a nuclear accident as one can imagine ... old reactors, complete meltdowns of cores, hydrogen explosions (also easily prevented) ... but, once again, no one was killed and no one is likely to suffer any health effects.

On the other hand, turning to coal (lignite, the filthiest version) in Germany (new 2.2 GW plant) will not just lead to more CO2, but measurable deaths. In the US alone coal-burning is estimated to cause 24,000 early deaths PER YEAR due to emissions.

Fracking may need more research, but there is evidence that due to methane leaks (10X more potent greenhouse gas than CO2) it has no beneficial effect whatever on climate change.

To my mind, if you add up the numbers nuclear is the way forward. Renewables (better named unreliables) are a delusion that will simply mean burning more coal. Fortunately the countries that actually matter the most, China and India understand this. I just hope they can get their in time. They are also likely to be leading the 'Advanced Western Countries' there in the future.

Posted by SteveK9 on 22 Oct 2012

I believe much of the problem with science that could lead to suspicion is that much of scientific activity is based on solving symptoms and not root causes. For example, the symptom of overpopulation is hunger. Science has focused on increasing food supply to 'solve' hunger with the end result the world population tripling with negligible effect on hunger. Science focuses on the symptoms of unhealthy lifestyles with amazing new drugs that soon lead to supergerms. Our irrepressible need for 'growth' leads to the symptom of energy shortages which leads to the scientific 'cure' of fracking.

We need scientists with the courage to speak the truth about the limits of nature rather than techno-optimists that believe science can solve all things.

Posted by John Dyer on 22 Oct 2012

Fred: what you must understand is that the IPCC 'consensus' is fraudulent, knowingly so.

Every process engineer, as I was once, looks at the heat transfer assumptions, and says 'How could they be so stupid?'. The Earth cannot radiate IR as an isolated black body in a vacuum.

The Big Mistake comes fro Meteorology which imagines that a pyrgeometer measures 'back radiation'. As I also have a PhD in Applied Physics from Imperial when we were taught by Nobel prize Winners when it meant something, I can easily explain why - it breaches 'Poynting's Theorem'.

There can be no CO2-AGW. The positive feedback is a scam. Tell your mates that the next climate change is rapid cooling to a new Little Ice Age.

Posted by AlecM on 22 Oct 2012

Environmentalism has ALWAYS been tied to Junk Science if you start with Rachel Carlson. The only thing PROVEN was that DDT thinned eggshells and killed insects.

The missing part that was glossed over by the head of the EPA, who actually banned DDT after the hearings did not, was that they never showed higher MORTALITY from the thinned eggshells. Go ahead and do the search for the papers that showed MORTALITY!!!

The other problem is the embracing of Linear No Threshold as the default for evaluating harm. When there have been NO empirical studies to prove it is a reasonable default and many instances where it is NOT valid (look up Hormesis), this is again quite un-Scientific.

Sorry, the environmental movement fell to good cause corruption in my childhood.

Posted by KuhnKat on 22 Oct 2012

It's actually Pearce and his ilk that are science deniers if they claim there is no compelling science and facts that work against nukes, fracking, and GMO crops.

Nukes = not economically viable, too slow and unreliable to build, no solution to the highly toxic waste, unsustainable fuel supplies, catastrophic risk to society

Fracking = poisons water supplies, makes climate change worse from e.g. methane leaks, requires massive amounts of water which is not good with increasing droughts

GMO crops = untested, failed to deliver on promises of increased yield, have resulted in increased use of pesticides (associated with bee colony collapse)

It's a little amusing that while Pearce lectures on the necessity of following science he quotes Mark Lynas, who is not any kind of authority, as though this somehow makes his argument persuasive. He might as well quote the pizza delivery man!

>> “Hundreds of millions of people have eaten GM-originated food without a single substantiated case of any harm done whatsoever.”

Given that no one knows what they are eating and there has been no long-term clinical trials of GMO consumption then that statement is clearly worthless.

Trying to label people who oppose nukes, fracking, and GMO crops as "anti-science" makes as much sense as calling someone who opposes nuclear bombs as "anti-science". It's a weak, dishonest tactic used by techno-utopians who love nukes, fracking and GMO because it all promises more consumption for less money. It is, of course, a lie.

Posted by Paul King on 22 Oct 2012

Could Fred Pearce have chosen worse examples to demonstrate the “anti-science beliefs” of environmentalists? GMO agribusiness, hydro-fracking, and the nuclear industry each provide innumerable appalling examples of corporate Big Tech irresponsibility and ruthlessness—including bribery of regulators, outright fraud, crony capitalism, criminal negligence, and rigging the results of studies. Why should anybody trust the “science” produced by industries with such an obvious disregard for the public interest?

Monsanto may be more despised for its underhanded, monopolistic business practices than its “science”—and yet isn’t its “science” contaminated by its gangsterish corporate culture? Maybe the meltdowns at Fukushima haven’t killed anybody yet, but the continual lies of its corporate owner, TEPCO, do little to assuage the all-too-understandable Japanese fears of nuclear contamination. And as far as fracking goes, why Dick Cheney convince Congress to give the natural gas industry the so-called “Halliburton loophole” in the Safe Drinking Water Act — which exempted its drilling operations from EPA regulation — if it had nothing to hide?

Posted by Ando Arike on 22 Oct 2012

This article is completely wrong. The opposition to genetic modification, nuclear energy, and hydraulic fracturing is clearly based upon science, not to mention common sense. Science, by
the way, can be infected by an adherence to ideology just as easily as the 'green' movement is accused of being. In science, this often happens in the form of an infantile infatuation with
power that drives an obsession with technologies such as genetic modification and nuclear energy. Science is only useful when it is part of a balanced and harmonious worldview that, among other things, takes into account the limits of technology and an appreciation of natural processes. The only things that will ever be necessary for sustainable existence are simplification and observation and imitation of the rest of nature.

In regard to the negative effects of the technologies mentioned in this article, one does not have to look very hard to see everyday proof of the damage they do. Intense chemical pollution, previously-unknown weeds, farmer suicides, high cancer rates, loss of homes, crippling birth defects, poisoned foods, flammable water supplies, toxic byproduct pools, the
constant threat of war, etc.

Anyone who can be aware of the facts, such as those shown here...


... and still argue in favor of these technologies, is about as unscientific and inhuman as possible.

Posted by on 22 Oct 2012

"That’s like dismissing the findings of a climate scientist because he sits on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — the “very body” that warned us about climate
change. See what I mean about aping the worst and most hysterical tactics of the climate contrarians?"

I am interested to know which "climate contrarian" (better than denier, I guess) has suggested that scientific findings be dismissed on that basis. I know of no such statement by any leading sceptic, and would be appalled to see such. IPCC scientists and their findings are often attacked for being poor science, or for being inconsistent with observations for good reason,
but "because" they sit on the IPCC? That's ridiculous (the point you are making, I acknowledge), but as its never happened its just another straw man to denigrate sceptics.

Which is a pity, as it mars an otherwise insightful article. You should heed your own advice, and "learn to be more humble about our policy prescriptions, more willing to hear competing arguments, and less keen to engage in hectoring and bullying"

Posted by Peter Wilson on 23 Oct 2012

Yes, we should let us guide by science, and so should Mr. Pearce. He postulates that the switch from coal to shale gas is the main reason why, in 2011, U.S. CO2 emissions fell by almost 2 percent.

That is, to say the least, a statement not easy to back up with solid science. Quite the contrary Shakeb Afsah and Kendyl Salito finds that price driven displacement of coal by natural gas can account for just around 10 percent of the CO2 reductions during the period 2006-11. Nearly 90 percent of the cuts in CO2 emissions were caused by: (1) the decline in petroleum use in the transportation sector, (2) displacement of coal by mostly non-price factors, and (3) its replacement by wind, hydro and other renewables.


And when it comes to gas vs. coal in general, Nathan Myhrvold and Ken Caldeira demonstrates that even though gas is cleaner, it is not clean enough to make up for the emissions from building new powerstations, to make a real difference.

So please check up the science before stating that gas is good. Cause it's not, it is almost as bad as coal.

Posted by Gunnar Steinsholt on 23 Oct 2012

Individuals fascinated by science need to think about this predicament. This may be the creation of pseudo-scientists, who claimed incorrect or unknown facts as truth for personal glory.

The core problem is that Science has become a warrant and Scientific Method has become a bandwagon to get the warrant. Karl Popper held the view that falsification is true science. If we were to hold the view, how is GM, shale gas, or nuclear energy science? Let us not confuse science with technology.

The problem is that, in today's world, technology attracts big money but science does not. Entertainment takes precedence over truth. So, instead of branding people and views as anti-science or unscientific, lets fix the scientific institutions and establishments in the world. Lest we wish to replace the hegemony of church with that of pseudo-science.

Posted by Kapali V on 23 Oct 2012

Fred, the sad fact is that if you look into it, many of the environmentalist positions you identify as "anti-science" in their perspective are no such thing. They are very much pro-science, but the question is "whose science" is normative?

You seem to suggest that anyone who has misgivings about GMOs, nucelar power or natural gas extracted from fracking, etc. is somehow anti-science. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is properly conducted, independently financed and objective scientific inquiry that has stimulated the grave doubts about these technologies.

You seem to have fallen into the fallacy of false dichotomies. If people have some reservations about where capitalist science has led the collective human enterprise, you conclude that they are somehow "anti-science." This may well be characteristic of superficial journalists like Mark Lynas and Stewart Brand, but we had leaned to expect a bit more from your more nuanced understanding of the world.

It is clear that the industry-driven, Rockefeller financed and petroleum fueled research that has underwritten the enthusiasm for one or another of these "techno-fix" "solutions" to our cultural problems dominates the currently published literature. So, if you are asserting simply that the vast majority of the existing scientific literature supports nuclear power, GMO crops and fracking, etc., then of course you are right.

But should this be the question? Not really.

A naive appeal for "more research" in this circumstance, is not really sufficient without looking into who actually finances the research that is proposed? who stands to benefit from it? Why have whole research establishments (like universities) been able to be perverted in the pursuit of their goals by the "granting" and donation capabilities of giant multi-national firms interested in nuclear, biotech or petro-chemical solutions to looming human problems? How might serious research on human sustainability in a complex ecosystem actually get funded in this "real" world?

The really real question to investigate is: "Why does the vast majority of published science support the prospect of lemming-like collective human catastrophe by tying its hopes for the future to non-renewable, lethal and ecologically suicidal technologies?"

The answers to these questions are things you should be investigating rather than taking cheap pot-shots (like Lynas and Brand) at the so-called "anti-science" of eco-activists.

Surely you and all the other intelligent and sensitive journalists out there who are attentive to these problems should begin to engage in some extended research on the sociology of our collective "scientific" knowledge base. I think you would be appalled to learn about the human engineering that lay at the core of the "green revolution" aspirations of Norman Borlog and his Rockefeller-financed followers.

In fact you should be issuing a clarion call for all sensitive and intelligent people like yourself to join the movement to launch a truly global campaign for a mature "science of survival."

The human community needs to move beyond its immature commitment to "growth spurt" technologies of adolescence if it wishes to survive in a stable, sustainable ecosystem.

We do not need and cannot survive yet another hyped up appeal for the perverse technologies that have created our dependence on lethal gadgets, non-renewable resources and engineered organisms that cannot sustain the human prospect without vast subsidies from non-renewables.

Surely you see this, Fred.

Posted by Tim Weiskel on 23 Oct 2012

I think the negative response to your article makes your case. Sadly, many environmentalists are not scientists or engineers, and that is a core problem. As an example, depriving the developing world of the nutritional benefits of golden rice because of GMO phobia, does far more harm to real people, than all of the harms from GMOs, real or imagined.

Posted by Jeff Sepesi on 23 Oct 2012

I can agree to some extend with what is being said, but think this viewpoint misses the mark. I will give one example. I can see an argument for nuclear, but have always opposed in on what I think are rational economic grounds. I come from Saskatchewan which is one of the main sources of uranium. Our decision to develop uranium mining was predicated on promises of huge royalties and taxes and especially new opportunities for the Aboriginal people of the north. In fact, we have received about a tenth of the promised amount of resource royalties and taxes and northern Saskatchewan remains among the poorest regions of Canada (Even though some people, including aboriginal people now make a good living in the industry.)

Meanwhile, nuclear energy is extremely costly, perhaps the most expensive way to reduce carbon emissions. We do not have a limitless supply of capital to deal with climate change. Money is much more effectively spent on aggressive conservation and efficiency measures which bring permanent results at low cost with minimal waste. Opposition to nuclear is not irrational or anti-science in any way, that I can see, it is completely rational and science based. I think that the same can be said on the other issues, though the case is a bit more complex to make.

Posted by Paul Hanley on 23 Oct 2012

I read this article with disbelief because the three issues that are supposedly supported by "science" is fantasy.

For genetically modified crops and seeds, we see in the field that they are failing in certain circumstances to have certain pest resistance and studies have shown transgene introgression from genetically modified crops to their wild relatives.

For nuclear power, environmentalists have cited risks, and Fukishima is just the most recent, aside from groundwater contamination from nuclear wastes, and the National Academy of Sciences released a report on danger of pooled uranium waste storage to terrorism.

Shale gas development is under intense studies as to whether certain techniques create earth tremors (ie Ohio), rock fissures release radioactivity and heavy metals which migrate into water, and whether we have sustainable water reserves for increase shale gas development. No peer-reviewed study has disproven any of these concerns yet.

This article is beneath the quality of Yale e360 — making claims that just are not supported. It is as important to understand what science can not yet tell us, than imperiously state those with concerns are counter to science — which is exactly what this article did.

Scott Sklar , Adjunct Professor at both The George Washington University and The American University, and Affiliated Professor of CATIE, an international graduate university (Costa Rica) on land use planning, sustainable tourism, and sustainable agriculture.

Posted by Scott Sklar on 23 Oct 2012

The problem with GMO crops is that they take us in a potentially dangerous direction, without adequate testing, when we have a perfectly viable, natural, and thoroughly tested alternative: selective breeding. Humans have been altering the genes of our food crops for millennia, no one has an issue with that. However, in the case of GMOs, corporations are introducing utterly unrelated gene sequences, from species in separate kingdoms from the plants they're altering, for the purpose of profits.

A better approach would be to use the genetic information we now have about our food plants to make better choices for crossing and hybridization. That would be entirely consistent with natural sexual reproduction *and* with our knowledge of the plants' genomes.

However, I agree that the danger of people ingesting GMOs is not the major problem. The serious problem is unintended consequences, like glyphosate resistant pigweed, earworm resistant to Bt, and novel plant diseases to go with the novel genetic mixes. Financial corporation 'innovation' nearly crashed the global economy a few years ago. Governments had to step in to bail the system out. Who will bail out the world food system when the corporate experiments go awry?

Posted by KJMClark on 23 Oct 2012

Two questions:

Energy Expert wrote that "... are completely silent regarding wind energy, which is environmentally worse" what is wrong environmentally with wind energy, especially, for example, with large turbines built offshore where they are unlikely to kill birds (no rabbits eating down below), cannot be heard by anyone except perhaps a few passing birds, and can hardly be seen by anyone?

Another poster wrote:

"The problem with nuclear power is the cost and time associated with the technology ... The emissions that come with a 15-20-year wait for reactors to come online can be considerable ...". Does anyone believe our emissions problems will be solved within 20 years?

Posted by Mr. David on 23 Oct 2012

I find it rather ironic that the same people who claim those that do not agree with the findings of the IPCC and others are called, "anti-science," while they, themselves are considered "anti-science" for their stances against nukes and fracking. It seems that people will use whatever argument suits their needs, and call it "science," while attacking anything that shows the opposite as being biased, and funded by some arch-enemy. I feel that Fred did an excellent job in showing this hypocrisy.

Arguments for and against nuclear energy, fracking, GM foods, etc. should be made on scientific and economical grounds. Those who cast fear into the mix are only doing harm to themselves and others would might otherwise benefit from the technology.

Posted by Daniel on 24 Oct 2012

The flaws in your arguments are so large, it would take too much time to refute all of them. Your breezy switch between facts and "truths" (according to your own opinion) is disturbing and misleading.

Posted by Dave on 24 Oct 2012

@Hrynyshyn : China builds a nuclear reactor in about 4 years. It's not a lot more than what it takes to build a large scale wind farm, and for offshore wind, it's really, really the same ballpark, especially if like is happening currently in Germany, connecting the grid ends up taking *years* longer than foreseen.

@Sklar : "groundwater contamination from nuclear wastes" ?? If you're talking about radioactivity in rivers, that actually comes from the drilling wastes of fracking, not nuclear industry as documented here :

And do you know the waste of coal has contaminated more than 22 percent of the hydraulic network of southern West Virginia?


Not even talking about that little spill at Kingston, Tennessee.
"arsenic levels from the Kingston power plant intake canal tested at close to 300 times the allowable amounts in drinking water"

The link with nuclear is that every time a nuclear plant has been closed by the Green, a coal plant has been built to replace it, not meeting even half the opposition the nuclear one had.

Despite that the norms about civil power nuclear waste are so stringent that not even the slightest bit of radioactivity can be expected to end up from them to river. Opposite to coal as documented above.

Posted by jmdesp on 24 Oct 2012

I have to say that I am just astounded that Yale e360 is going to defend Pearce’s trafficking in one of the biggest lies about environmentalism there is. It is pretty much exactly what he is accusing anti-nuke people of doing!

The reasons for malaria resurgence not shrouded in mystery- look at the metaanalysis of causes: http://www.malariajournal.com/content/11/1/122 The drop off in DDT use in fighting malaria was not due to some sort of environmentalist groundswell. Programs with a deliberate time limit, complacency with results, budget shortfalls, political mismanagement and instability, and resistance were all contributing factors. "Greens" were not. Of the handful (9 percent) of cases of decline in community acceptance, the cited causes were resistance and perceptions that the programs were just not working, not fears about DDT safety.

Why publish this nonsense?

If Pearce said, “GMOs arguably cause cancer” Yale e360 wouldn’t defend it. If he said “Vaccines are arguably responsible for millions of cases of autism” Yale e360 wouldn’t defend it. If he said “Global warming is arguably caused by volcanoes” Yale e360 wouldn’t defend it.

How is this any different?

Posted by thingsbreak on 24 Oct 2012

I assign Yale e360 to my university students, as one tool for keeping up with current envl news. This article will certainly be useful for discussion, but primarily because of its polemical nature. We will discuss how the argument is constructed, sources of evidence, logical fallacies, the creation of straw-men, etc.

Normally, this is the sort of discussion that we have for very different sorts of advocacy-oriented websites.

It is a shame — the author is onto an important topic, but the article does not do the topic justice. Sure, it enflames passion. But I expect better from this site. If the author thought to actually reach people who disagreed with him, and encourage them to reconsider, I fear that this type of weak argument is not the way to do it. There are many refereed articles on all three of these topics, pro and con ... has Mr. Pearce read it? As the comments show, most readers have responded to the article by reaffirming their prior position.

Posted by mlew on 24 Oct 2012

Too much overgeneralisation, methinks, e.g. here is a Friends of the Earth article explicitly rejecting the Russian Chernobyl study - and also challenging the pro-nuclear spinners.


Also, the links between peaceful nuclear programs and weapons programs are far broader and more troubling than the article suggests:


Posted by Jim.Green on 25 Oct 2012

This opinion piece is provocative, as I'm sure it was intended to be, but it paints "environmentalists" with too broad a brush.

The Environmental Defense Fund, for example, is one of the US's biggest and most important environmental group its president, Fred Krupp, served on the president's fracking panel and has a nuanced and science-based position on how shale gas should be regulated. As best as I can tell, Jason Clay, one of the leading environmental thinkers on agriculture and a top exec with WWF, has no problem with GMOs. Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth are not the entire environmental movement.

What's more, one need not be anti-science to raise important questions about the safety and costs of nuclear power, or to reach the conclusion that other forms of renewable, low-carbon energy are preferable to building more nuclear plants.

Posted by Marc Gunther on 25 Oct 2012

About fracking and GMO, I am agnostic, believing that more good scientific evidence is needed before firm conclusions about their presumed virtues or vices are established. But on the nuclear power front, I see just what Fred's article is claiming. I read the environmental literature avidly as I do websites of leftist persuasion (to which I belong). What I find is an antinuclear hysteria concerning the dangers of nuclear radiation and irresponsible attacks using Fukushima to dismiss all advantages of nuclear power. These people do not understand, or do not wish to understand, how little the waste of nuclear plants amount to. Nor do they understand, or wish to understand the health aspects of nuclear radiation (to which we are all subjected). They have irrational fears of nuclear radiation, no matter how weak the doses. Yes, they have some valid arguments about the costs to build new nuclear power plants in the USA and Europe, without realizing that much of the cost has been inflated precisely because of irrational fears of the risks entailed. China, India, Russia and others will build nuclear plants far more cheaply and with better designs. Finally, there are the worries about nuclear weapons proliferation. I'm afraid the cat is out of the bag on this one unless the U.S. and its allies renounce nuclear weapons, one cannot expect others to do so.

I'm a retired physics professor and have worked in the nuclear field in different capacities. I'm also very concerned about human induced climate change and problems concerning future energy availability. Nuclear power, especially with new designs in the offing should continue to be pursued in this regard. I am happy to see Pearce's article seeing the light of day.

Posted by mkbrussel on 25 Oct 2012

Seems to me that the author is as one sided in choosing what issues he wants to rule environmentalists as "anti-science" as the green movement is that he criticizes. To rule on subjects like nuclear power and GMOs as open and shut with respect to science and policy is not looking at both sides, like a true scientist would.

And yes, political science and earth/natural/physical sciences both come into play here. GMOs need more science before ruling out concerns — that's the measured position — not absolutest opinions either way. The body of conclusive science around GMOs just doesn't exist yet — so maintaining an open mind, exercising caution about deploying unknown technology and conducting real science is what a scientist would/should do. With respect to nuclear science, both sides have rational reasons for holding strong opinions. To criticize one or another side as irrational or anti-science is biased, not pro science. And fracking...for heaven's sake, how can you ignore the massive environmental damage being done for short term energy gain. It is certainly legitimate to raise deep concerns about tracking, yes, based on science!

I view this as an op ed airing one individual's personal opinions, not as a scholarly piece.

Posted by Deb on 25 Oct 2012

"I think the negative response to your article makes your case. "

Nice circular argument there. It's right up there with the "process engineer" who has no understanding of GHG or atmospheric physics and proclaims the world's climate scientists to be "stupid".

As for the article, it's sophistry resting on hyperbole. Too bad, because it does have some legitimate things to say about irrationality and ideology that does play a role in discussions about energy and the environment, but it paints with a broad and one-sided brush, and is in the end hypocritical, committing the same sins it criticizes. The fact is that the science is complex and we all have a tendency toward selective perception and confirmation bias — as science has demonstrated.

Posted by Marcel Kincaid on 26 Oct 2012

When the so-called science tosses full disclosure and transparency out the window, and the academic institutions represent little more than paid subsidiaries within the corporation's marketing & PR departments, I think it's incumbent on EVERYONE to call BS.

How about a different approach? How about that you GMO shills are anti-consumer awareness? Stuffing patented DNA traits into the food supply and posing that they're no different than normal food is crude, corrupt and corrosive to science-minded and non-science minded alike. Moreover, these GMO proteins are literally corrosive to our health.

I'm absolutely anti-science when the "science" is masquerading as fact whilst hiding behind a 15 year consumer information blackout. It's hard to be anti-science when the vast majority of the people aren't even aware they are the subject of a grand global-scale human feeding experiment.

Posted by GMKnowBoulder on 26 Oct 2012

"Yes, we need to expand renewables as fast as we can."

We "need" to expand renewables like wind and on-grid solar much like a prom queen needs acne. This kind of unscientific bromide undermines the thrust of much of your commentary.

The only large scale effective "renewable" has been hydro, which, as John Muir realized, brings its own brand of environmental risk — which is why few nation's outside of China are building new grand reservoirs.

Simply because a machine emits no carbon does not mean that it is green, even in the conventional sloganeering sense. And it is also no guarantee that machine is effective. With over 50GW of installed wind in the US, no coal plants have closed in consequence — and there is no evidence that any of that wind has caused a reduction in CO2 emissions.

So leave faith-based paeans to renewable energy (what a goofy phrase) to the sloganeers.

Posted by Jon Boone on 26 Oct 2012

Mr. Pearce states the case on DDT and Rachel Carson exactly wrong. It may take some space to explain:

It helps to get all the facts straight, and keep the timeline straight, too.

First, DDT has never been banned in Asia nor Africa. Even under the 2001 Persistent Organic Pollutants Treaty (POPs), any nation may use DDT, simply by sending a letter to WHO saying it intends to use it.

Second, indoor residual spraying (IRS) has never gone out of style. Not sure who is claiming environmentalists opposed it, but that's not accurate. In fact, EDF, the group that first sued to stop DDT applications anywhere, has long endorsed use of DDT in Africa and Asia for IRS.

Third, WHO's ambitious campaign to eradicate malaria was discontinued in 1965, and then officially closed down in 1969. Malcolm Gladwell's fine profile of super malaria-fighter Fred Soper, in The New Yorker, has the details. The campaign had difficulty moving into Central and Subsaharan Africa. Some nations simply did not have government structures required to carry out the highly coordinated program, which required certain and regular treatments of at least 80\% of homes in an area those problems perhaps could have been overcome, but while working on them Soper's teams discovered that mosquitoes in Africa had already developed resistance and immunity to DDT, due to abuse and overuse of the stuff in other enterprises.

Notice those years: 1965 was just three years after Rachel Carson's prediction that overuse of DDT would render it less effective or useless in fighting malaria (one of the key reasons she said use had to be curtailed) but it was seven years BEFORE EPA ordered DDT out of over-the-counter sales in the U.S.

Fourth, EPA's order banned ONLY use of DDT on crops, out of doors. Of course, EPA's jurisdiction ends at the U.S. border, and did not ban DDT from use in foreign nations.

Fifth, EPA's order specifically allowed DDT manufacture to continue in the U.S., dedicating all production of DDT to export. So the EPA "ban" on DDT effectively multiplied the amount of DDT available to use against malaria in Africa and Asia, had anyone cared to do so. Manufacture of DDT in the U.S. continued at least until 1984 (up to the implementation of the Superfund law).

Sixth, malaria infections and deaths continued to decline, especially after DDT use to fight the disease fell off. At peak DDT use, in 1959 and 1960, malaria infections worldwide numbered about 500 million, and 4 million of those people died. Infections and deaths have declined, year by year including those years of "resurgence," so that by 2010, according to WHO, infections had fallen by 50 percent, to 250 million deaths were cut more than 75 percent, to fewer than 800,000.

There are a couple of other facts to remember about the science and law, when we get sucked into stupid discussions about Silent Spring by people hell bent on smearing Carson's reputation.

Carson's science was, and is, rock solid. Not a single study she cited in 1962 has ever been retracted or countermanded or rebutted by peer-reviewed research. It's important to remember that a panel of the nation's best biology and pesticide scientists studied Carson's book, at the order of President Kennedy. The President's Science Advisory Council issued its report on May 15, 1963, and it found Carson's book completely accurate, scientifically. The panel recommended that the government immediately act to cut DDT use, something Carson did not recommend, because the panel found dangers of the stuff to be acute.

Much of what is cited against Carson is pure fiction. Audubon did NOT count more eagles in DDT years no science study ever found DDT not harmful to birds DDT remains a toxic poison that kills entire ecosystems.

DDT advocates also hope you don't understand how the law works. EPA was reluctant to act against DDT, and the agency undertook the regulatory hearings on DDT only after two separate federal courts had found DDT to be an uncontrollable poison in the wild, and had ordered DDT use and production completely banned, under then-existing pesticides laws. Those orders were stayed so EPA could conduct hearings on new label instruction proposed by the DDT industry. The new label, incidentally, proposed that labeled uses include only IRS spraying for health reasons but had that label been approved, DDT would have been available over the counter. Abuses would be the fault of the purchaser of the stuff.

The 9,000-plus page hearing record fully confirmed the harmful effects of DDT on wildlife, when DDT was used outdoors. On that basis, EPA administrator William Ruckelshaus ordered the manufacturer-suggested label instead be made a regulation, which would stop over-the-counter sales, and end any possibility of abuse in the U.S. Under U.S. law, and under EPA's organic act, such a regulation can only be issued if the science backing the regulation is sufficient (we do not allow government regulation by whim). Two cases were brought to challenge EPA's rule, one by DDT manufacturers who said the rule was too tough, and one by environmental groups who said the rule was too lax. Both cases were decided in favor of EPA, both cases stating that the science record was sound and clear, and EPA's regulation was justified on the record.

This is important. If the science had been bad, or had later been discovered to be bad, had the wildlife effects been found to be exaggerated, any party wishing to use DDT could challenge the regulation in court and get it overturned. Since 1972, to the best of my knowledge, no one has challenged the regulation.

In 1970 the National Academy of Sciences did a review of DDT and few other chemicals, and offered policy advice on regulation. NAS said DDT was one of the most beneficial chemicals ever synthesized, but it found that the harms outweighed the benefits. In 1970, NAS called for a rapid phase-out of DDT. (There was an unfortunate editing error, in which NAS listed the annual infection rate, 500 million cases, as the number of lives saved by DDT at 4 million deaths per year, however, if we assumed DDT use had started in 1942, and stopped ALL malaria deaths until 1970, there would be 112 million lives saved but we know that the impact on malaria deaths did not really bite until after 1960, and 112 million is somewhat short of 500 million. Alas, NAS has never sent out an erratum not that I have found.)

Today, bednets tend to be two or three times more effective than IRS with DDT in preventing malaria infections. Some bednets are DDT impregnated, in areas where local populations of mosquitoes are determined to be susceptible to the poison but rotation of pesticides is used to try to prevent resistance to pesticides in the insects.

Great success against malaria since 2000 is obtained through the use of Integrated Vector Management (IVM, or IPM in the U.S.) -- the methods Rachel Carson urged to be used to fight malaria, in 1962. Had we listened to Carson in 1962, and acted then, DDT might still be a great tool to fight malaria, and millions more lives might have been saved. Regardless, millions of lives are being saved due to the work and writings of Rachel Carson, and anyone who argues otherwise is absolutely, completely dead wrong.

Come on over to Millard Fillmore's Bathtub if you want citations.

Posted by Ed Darrell on 27 Oct 2012

Pearce mentions the study in Food and Chemical Toxicology (by Séralini and co-authors) as primarily about the potential damaging impact of Roundup herbicide. Roundup was an expired patent held by Monsanto: the active ingredient – glyphosate – is now mainly manufactured and exported by China, with Monsanto losing valuable markets. There are some points of interest. The Séralini study was published 19th September, a day when Monsanto shares went up 2.9 percent, adding $1.4billion to the value of Monsanto. Séralini’s book `Tous cobayes !’ (We are all guinea pigs) was published 26th September. Séralini thus missed by one day the 50th anniversary of the publication of `Silent Spring’ (27th September 1962).

`Silent Spring’ also attacked an out-of-patent chemical – DDT, which was subsequently banned in North America and elsewhere except for limited uses.

Patent law allows an inventor a 17-year monopoly on the understanding that forever-after anyone can use the invention without paying royalties. Séralini is trying to stop us benefitting from glyphosate – a safe and relatively cheap weedkiller, just as Rachel Carson tried to stop us using DDT - a safe and cheap insecticide. No doubt chemical companies will have a new, more expensive and patented weedkiller to replace glyphosate, as they did to replace DDT. The investors who bought Monsanto share on 19th September knew what they were doing.

I wish people attacking chemical biocides would do so when they are in-patent, when the patent holders suffer financial loss, rather than out-of-patent, when users suffer.

Posted by Dave Wood on 27 Oct 2012

For those of you criticizing nuclear power, the point is you have to show it worse than the realistic alternatives. You describe the risks, but the issue is to weigh the relative risks and benefits with other technologies.

Posted by Mike on 27 Oct 2012

Has Fred Pearce never heard of Dr. Sandra Steingraber? Doesn't seem possible. But she can be very informative for him about the good science backing the call for a ban on fracking.

As stated by other commenters above, the fugitive emissions are another huge issue, but what about the poisoning of good farmland and groundwater? Is it worthwhile to destroy our future opportunity to grow food locally in exchange for maybe 10 years of cheap gas?


Posted by John T on 28 Oct 2012

Fred Pearce basically opines that environmentalists should either put up pristine, crystal clear, positivistic science or shut up. As we have seen from the climate change debate, this is exactly the ammunition that the lay-waste capitalists, climate contrarians, and those that believe humans should, "... have dominion ... over all the earth (sic)," regardless of consequences, are using to stall policy and action to preserve any modicum of habitat or quality of life for any organism.

The failure of science has not been in earnest research to investigate and report problems with our environs. The failure of science has been its inability to answer the rhetorical strategies of the offenders who lay a labyrinth of doubt in quantitative and qualitative research turning the slightest vulnerability of positivistic certainty into demands for a stalling, defeating trip back to the drawing board so that if researchers can only tweak their evidence just a little more they may be worthy of convincing the ever-willing offenders that they should subside. (If my sarcasm isn't clear, let me clarify that the offenders will not subside without rule of law or other strong coercion.)

Opposition to Frankenfoods is timely with the impending weather and upcoming holiday (12/29/2012). Mr. Pearce sums up the argument as one of potential damage from human consumption and asks for proof of danger. It is heuristically, if not scientifically, sound to err on the side of caution. Commercial concerns (Kraft) didn't wait for scientific green lights to put their genetically altered corn into the human food supply in 2000 when it turned up in Taco Bell brand taco shells while still being prohibited on the market. And is the argument the danger of human consumption at all? What about the threat to domesticated crops that have been human selected over hundreds and thousands of years that are now threatened with cross-pollination from genetically modified crops – especially major staples like rice, corn, and potatoes. What would happen if GM crop contamination threatened global food supplies? Corporate concerns would surely be able to rein in the problem immediately and would have backup stores of food to avert a major famine (sarcasm).

And isn't Franken just an alliteration of fracking? In the spirit of the season, let's call it Frankenfracking. Wasn't the thesis that Dr. Frankenstein unleashed his scientific power without regard for the community, that suffered greatly, a lesson in uncertainty? Yes, the United States of America last year became the Earth's number one country in carbon emission reduction thanks largely to the natural gas coming from the Frankenfracking process, mostly in Pennsylvania (Sounds a lot like Transylvania, doesn’t it? But that's not scientific nor historically accurate). Are the people concerned about their water and seismic activities just a bunch of townspeople with torches (careful how close you get to that faucet) looking to persecute a monster? Anyone willing to wade through the research is welcome to peruse this chock-filled-with-science data-base: http://www.bucknell.edu/script/environmentalcenter/marcellus. Many uncertainties exist about Frankenfracking to date but the gas is coming out of the ground lowering our carbon load contribution and increasing the wealth of many people. Should Pennsylvania become a “geography of sacrifice” (after Valerie Kuletz' coined term for studying atomic bomb testing sites (1998)) because potable water becomes unobtainable or earthquakes have yielded human shells uninhabitable, perhaps the entire Marcellus shale portion of the state could be transformed into a giant Halloween theme park (again with the sarcasm). Like with GM crops, science is researching but industry plods ahead, uncertainties be damned. The native American philosophy of considering the effects of common actions on the next seven generations is another valuable heuristic to apply to Mr. Pearce's, “it must be proved wrong, first” attack on caution for uncertainty.

Promote nuclear power as a carbon reduction solution?! The Committee on Technical Bases for Yucca Mountain Standards summed up this argument best in their 1995 report answering two questions: “1) Whether it is reasonable to assume that a system for post-closure oversight of the [nuclear waste] repository can be developed, based on active institutional controls, that will prevent an unreasonable risk of breaching the repository's engineered barriers or increasing the exposure of individual members of the public to radiation beyond allowable limits[?] 2) Whether it is reasonable to make scientifically supportable predictions of the probability that a repository's engineered or geologic barriers will be breached as a result of human intrusion over a period of 10,000 years (p. 105)[?]” The committee (so often a proxy for science) flatly answered these questions, “no.” With the very recent history of the Fukushima (an alliteration of Frankenstein and God knows what else) Daiichi nuclear disaster it has become more clear, still, in spite of claims to the contrary like Mr. Pearce's, that the safety of nuclear power has not and cannot be engineered. When will these nuclear boosters stop? Certainly if we can positvistically prove by scientific methods that nuclear power is inherently unsafe, they will stop. (Again, this is sarcasm – such boosters are unrelenting and I will avoid innuendos of waiting for penny stocks to pay off.) Should we decommission every nuclear power plant on Earth immediately? Certainly not until the carbon crisis is abated, but should we replace one human extinction threat with another by active development of nuclear power technology? (Note to environmentalists and others: never leave an open ended question lest the offending fiends might supplant the seemingly obvious answer – NO.)

Mr. Dean, is it that environmentalists are failing science? How long can the rational debate go on? The rabid capitalists will keep the firemen in deliberation while our eco burns to the ground. How shrill must the voice of science become before qualitative sense reveals the calls for unending quantitative proof the obfuscating tactics that they be? We are human processors witnessing the products of millions of years of evolution rapidly dwindle with solutions firmly within our grasp only to be told by you that we should wait a little more for another protracted debate to play out while the Earth is ruined. The positivistic posture of the scientific community has brought us to an avaunt-guard environmental voice that will act because science has failed to do so outside very narrow rational mandates set by the offenders. When will we see science stand up to industry instead of being its mollified hand-maid, constantly placated by the call for more data? No, Mr. Dean, you raise an interesting point, but it is the environmental movement that has been failed by science.

Posted by Eric L. Samson on 29 Oct 2012

So instead of storing nuclear material in a mountain facility, far from the multitudes, environmentalists are promoting storage at individual nuclear facilities, near populations centers, and major waterways. Yes, this sounds sensible to me. The committee also found Yucca Mountain to be safer than any of these storage facilities, but because it was not safe enough, groups are promoting less safe storage areas.

Have we become that averse to risk, that we will not do anything lest we may subject ourselves to additional risks? Life is a risk. Most of these scientific endeavors are much safer than the alternatives, but because they are not absolutely risk-free, we reject them. You may criticize the modified crops all you like, but the net result is higher yields, and less hunger.

Instead of scientific advancements against an imaginary safety barrier, why not compare them to current practices.

Posted by Daniel on 29 Oct 2012

If the medical community rejected "bridge" treatments for illnesses and conditions, such as transplants, because they weren't cure-alls, we would not have survival rates far exceeding the expectations even at the time of the procedures. Exploiting natural gas fields beyond the conventional is not an end in itself, and none of its promoters claims so. There is some concern about contamination of water supplies, just as there is in the Alberta Oil Sands, but the technology is advancing on those fronts very quickly.

By utilising these sources of energy, we can hold the line (at least) on emissions, while development of fully sustainable and renewable technologies can proceed with somewhat less urgency.

A very well-thought article. I hope it can open the lines of rationality to some of the nay-sayers.

Posted by Barrie on 29 Oct 2012

Thanks for the article! As a gun kissing, bible thumping, human caused climate chage-denying, right-wing teaparty nut-job, let me just say that getting rid of coal/oil plants in favor of nuclear and natural gas is something that I could support. Heck, with the steady pricing of electricity that nuclear could provide, I may just get an electric. Wow, I suddenly feel so dirty!

Posted by David on 31 Oct 2012

This article may have contributed thirty years ago. Today it is nonsense. Decades ago, there was a question of scientific uncertainty. Today, the question is: why do scientists lie through their teeth?

The American east coast has just been struck by an historic storm. There are screams that electricity may not be restored for ten days. Scores of nuclear power plants, in the path of the storm, meekly shut down, per safety requirements, then came back up as giant suppliers of life sustaining energy. Yet there are irrational scientists who push to replace these generators with wind mills. If people were stupid enough to listen, the grid would be down for years. And many would die in the coming winter.

I engineered a score of nukes and two score fossil fuel power plants. I have come to despise the color green. It is a lie, a threat to my country.

Posted by Mr. R. L. Hails Sr. P. E. on 31 Oct 2012

Interesting article and comments. I see the article as common sense. Like anyone else, environmentalists can become ideologically obsessed and discount evidence that does not fit with their desired viewpoint. In the comments, the degree of support for the contention is incredible - not so much from the people who like the article as from the people who disagree and fall into exactly the situation described! Sam Mason: GM foods ARE a conspiracy! Any number of posters who quote arguments against fracking but don't realize the lack of any reference to the benefits of it weakens their argument, as does a lack of any argument that the flaws are fundamental.

Another example from an early post: Hrynyshyn talks about the cost and time lag for a nuclear power plant vs. cheaper renewable alternatives: First - how much of the cost and time lag are due to building the plant vs. fighting the legal battles to allow building the plant? As noted above, for example, the time frame may be twenty years, but it is less than 4 years, plus legal battles. The time portion of the argument is entirely circular. Second - the "cheaper renewable alternatives" is the truly unscientific portion of this argument. Nuclear is an on-demand power source, what is the "cheaper renewable alternative" on-demand power source? Wind and solar, for example, are not on-demand power sources. That is not a question - it is a statement. The inability to come to grips with that statement is fundamentally unscientific.

Lastly - Weiskel: "whose science is normative?" Normative science does not have any "whose" associated with it. Normative science is based on observation, experiment, and data. The science that is properly based in observation, experiment and data is normative, no matter whose it is.

On a different note: the anti-growth posters here have an argument, but they need to recognize it is a philosophical one. Questions like whether it is appropriate to have children in an overpopulated world, or what the appropriate population for the planet is are not scientific questions.

Posted by mnemos on 31 Oct 2012

I don't understand why anyone cares who specifically is hurt or helped by what, or about who specifically has power or what system sustains that power. Not when it comes to a POLICY. If the policy makes sense, it makes sense without regard to those trivial questions.

When it comes to POLICY, what validates our self-identity fantasies also ought to be checked at the door. Scientists and environmentalists presumably are human beings, just like fundamentalists and warmongers. Everybody has feeling as far as I know, so what. Let each tend to their own, without claiming a superior right to a societal psychic subsidy.

Posted by john werneken on 31 Oct 2012

The common thread that you're looking for is the view that Man is a plague on the planet.

There's some rationale for that concern: We require this planet - staying within certain limits - for our survival, let alone our fluorishing.

But although it may be true that Man is now powerful and populous for his actions to affect the planet as a whole, I'm not aware of any scientific finding that shows that we're making the planet any less supportive of our lives.

So I think that the above view must come from somewhere else.

It's not so clear to me where that comes from.

It's certainly true that there's a substantial number of people who self-identify as Enlightened and who thus see themselves as having a remit to see to it that the Great Unwashed don't, in their ignorance and shallowness, behave in unapproved ways.

Maybe that in & of itself is enough to give such people (the former) a strong feeling that anything that they happen to accept as true must BE true - and thus must be something that Man must be controlled in accordance with.

Why the reactions against things that in the past have been blackballed by ancestor groups, but that would in fact improve the situation in the currently favored areas?

Knee-jerk emotionalism.

The Enlightened see their existence as a continual battle with the not so anointed.

This tends to lead to a general feeling of not having to consider their pet causes in the full context of Man and his existence qua Man.

Nuclear power is a clear example: The reality of its benefits vs harm analysis is wildly positive - but emotionalists react to it in a horror of Man's messing with Nature in yet more "unnatural" ways.

And second-order emotionalists react similarly by being told such things in emotion-laden terms.

Thinking is difficult but important - as is honestly perceiving one's actual place in the overall scheme of things.

Posted by Ryan Dyne on 01 Nov 2012

Keith wrote "In fact, I think that you'd find that the opposition to global warming theories would be much reduced if the problem statement was not always packaged with unworkable "solutions" packages."

You, Sir .. NAILED IT! For most of my life I had counted myself an extreme, tree-spiking environmentalist. However I now find myself constantly on the side of, for example, global warming denialists, not because I agree with them, but because I FEAR the world that would be created if governments started tackling the problem with solutions being offered by the environmentalists. (In short, they would both NOT work AND we all become poorer and miserable).

Posted by Bob of Portlandia on 02 Nov 2012

Regarding the GHG emissions of shale gas vs. coal, please see ‘‘Greenwashing gas: Might a ‘transition fuel’ label legitimize carbon-intensive natural gas development?’’ by Eleanor Stephenson, Alexander Doukas, Karena Shaw in Energy Policy, 2012, 46, 452-459.

Posted by Andrew on 02 Nov 2012

I agree about 65 percent with the author's points. I think GM is a great tool to deal with our quickly changing climate dynamics, and that fracking can to a certain extent be a bridge to a low-carbon energy future (don't even get me started on well depletion rates and water contamination issues though).

What I think the greens are ultimately fighting for though is a more Jeffersonian democratic system, where human error can be minimized, by a decentralized means of production with federal guidelines.

Nuclear energy is inherently antithetical to this in that it requires centralized production and socialized costs (government insurance & generational pollution). Money would be better spent on R&D for storage technology for renewables than insuring new generation reactors.

The author also seems to breeze over the issues of corporate control of genetic information. This sets a dangerous precedent in the courts which has the high potential for abuse.

Posted by CC on 03 Nov 2012

Humans are disaster-reactive, so we mobilize and political movements get energy and money
when there is a crisis to react to.

As far as scientists arguing with one another - that is part of the process, but real scientists argue only over facts and evidence and lines of logic argument ... anything else is ideology and contaminates science.

The bankster elites, Republican Party, right-wing think-tanks and all those affiliated with the above-mentioned groups have systematically waged a decades-long disinformation campaign and simultaneously sought to infiltrate and undermine environmental and progressive groups. They have been quite successful and the media overload most Western consumers face today also makes them more susceptible to propaganda with the Deaver/Atwater Gingrich/Rove school does so effectively - the environmental movement has been under sustained attack from very wealthy interests.

... add to that the fact that the hippies who started the movement got older, had mortgages and kids to send to college and the movement got monetized - everyone had a non-profit 501C3 and funding sources began to control the politics through the "deliverables" they wanted to see for their buck$ ... the movement got watered-down ... Gen-X had no politics and has been politically useless and this too-cool-to-care posture has carried over to subsequent generations (Gen-Y and the Millennials).

Posted by Jeff Softley on 03 Nov 2012

Overall, spot on, your synthesis is well founded. However, the side effect of Germany deserting nuclear fuel is tiny on the global annual production of CO2 scale. North America produced 6.6 billion metric tons of CO2 was produced from energy production alone in 2010 [EIA]. The Global annual rate is ~20 Gtonnes per year. An estimated additional 300 million tonnes, over 8 years is insubstantial compared to their progress towards cleaner fuel sources. Introducing such a number is irrelevant.

I do not think they should abandon nuclear, but I do believe in progressive utilization of alternative energy, e.g. syngas or CSP. In fact, there are many things essential to a future of energy ubiquity.

In light of your shale gas opinions, I feel that you are at the same awkward position as the environmentalist you attack. By disagreeing with Germany but agreeing with shale gas you have placed yourself in a fundamentally indefensible position. The exploitation of shale will reduce the intensity but still drive growth of consumption in terms of CO2 globally. A speed bump possibly, perhaps, but support for old carbon remains a slippery slope.

We could do a great many things, but I am an eternal pragmatist: I suggest learning to love wet winters and hot summers.

Posted by Brian McDonald on 03 Nov 2012

Because environmentalists will do what ever the mob leads or tells them to do.

Posted by Brain on 03 Nov 2012

Fred has done what he set out to do, foster a discussion.

Some of the comments reflect exactly the point of his article. That some in the movement have become so adamant about their position that any suggestion that they discuss the issues rationally and scientifically is a personal attack.

Dogma and ideology are best left to our religious friends.

We have no choice but to discuss ALL the options.

We do not have time. We need solutions fast.

And please, in respect of nuclear, I do not like it in its current incarnation, but we will need it. Please research widely. The nuclear industry is one dimensional and tied to its military past. It is stuck in a time warp with little advancement and old technology.

This has stifled good science and research into cleaner, safer, better solutions.

We desperately need a new era of good nuclear science investigating how to do it differently, safely, cleanly etc. BUT this will require commitment and serious funding, and it will take time.

Support nuclear research! We can do it better!!

Posted by Marcus Clarke on 03 Nov 2012

I take issue with Fred's basing his criticism of the environmental movement as a whole solely on the actions of three organisations.

I don't know much about Friends of the Earth or the Sierra Club, but I long ago lost any respect for Greenpeace. They became a "protest corporation" a long time ago, who have to seek out high profile issues to maintain their bottom line.

As to biofuels : to say most "greens" are against biofuels seems to me a sweeping and possibly inaccurate statement. I have heard many environmentalists argue against using dedicated corn crops to produce ethanol instead of wood waste or other byproducts, but that does not constitute being against biofuels as a whole.

Posted by Claire on 03 Nov 2012

As a scientist and an environmentalist, I have shared the author's concern about potential anti-science biases expressed by some environmentalists. But to lump legitimate educated concerns about the risks of new technologies with the irrationality of climate denial undermines the author's case. My unease with the author's arguments only increased as he cherry-picked his way through his supporting evidence, seemingly exhibiting the prejudices and sweeping overgeneralizations that he decries in others. The topic deserves discussion, even if this flawed essay fails in its support of its thesis. How do we best guide our new technologies so that we don't create monsters, without throwing the baby out with the bathwater?

Posted by Ruth Greyraven on 15 Nov 2012

Good article. I'd also point out that the same people who want to ban all GMO crops are also the same crowd that demand Federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. There are more issues that could arise from genetically engineering human DNA than plant DNA, so it appears politics plays a larger role than science for many in the environment movement.

Posted by Stan on 20 Nov 2012

The article raises some important questions, but it is as selective with its arguments as it alleges the environmentalists to be.

GM food: Yes, no short-term effects are known but we know nothing about long-term consequences on humans, crop mutation, and on biodiversity. GM-Food is a large-scale human experiment and there's not even a labeling requirement in the US. Not offering an opt-in choice is unethical and equals a mandatory draft for participating in this experiment. This is why the European Union has been much more cautious about this than the U.S., where industry interests always come before human health and well being.

Nuclear: The "low" carbon footprint of nuclear is a fairy tale that the nuclear industry has successfully spread. It is only true if we exclude extraction and enrichment or nuclear fuel, if we ignore the large carbon footprint of the construction and dismantling of nuclear power plants, and most importantly, if we ignore the skyrocketing costs for waste processing and disposal. Not to speak about the immense costs of radioactive wastelands, such as Chernobyl, Fukushima, Sellafield, or Thee Miles Island. And all that doesn't even go into the question of human death toll, cancer rates, and mutation due to nuclear power.

Fracking: Again, this only sounds great as long as the extraction process is ignored. No, it's not only the risk of polluting water. Extraction natural gas, and particularly fracking, also emits large amounts of methane into the atmosphere so that the effects are on par with coal.
Just like many others, I am concerned about GMOs, nuclear, and fracking because I do NOT ignore science.

Posted by Bernhard Debatin on 09 Dec 2012

Isn't it the question of crop sustainability and reliability, more than the possible health effects of
genetically modified crops, that is the real potential problem with them?

Posted by Erin McMullin on 13 Dec 2012

An interesting article. I see a number of good points on GMs, and a reasonable argument on shale fuels. I disagree quite strongly with the latter for a number of reasons (most importantly that short-term investment in shale extraction technologies hurts long-term investment elsewhere, and that the environmental damage caused by fracking, etc. is not duly considered in your argument), but the logic of your argument is sound.

On nuclear power, however, you are shockingly wrongheaded. Basically, I agree with "Stan" above, but would like to reiterate and expand on a few things.

First, you seem to understand very little about the real damages caused by Fukushima. Your
adherence to "death toll" numbers is insensitive to the massive radiation pollution of land and water resulting from the meltdown, and also to the incredible emotional cost of this accident. In addition to the direct effects on those in the affected areas, Fukushima has brought on another crisis of national confidence.

Furthermore, while existing nuclear plants provide nearly carbon-free energy, we have yet to even begin responsibly dealing with the massive stockpiles of highly radioactive waste these plants produce instead. There is no viable solution -- Finland's included -- and there is none on the horizon. Scientists have crowed about the successes and benefits of nuclear power, but have hidden and/or ignored the real costs.

All man-made systems fail, and when they do we have to be prepared to deal with the consequences. It's bad enough when oil platforms poison the ocean because of human error, but when it's nuclear waste, that's a horror of another level entirely.

Science can be just as myopic as anything else. After all, it's humans who do the science, and
we're fundamentally narrow-minded. Your highly selective take on nuclear energy is a fine, if frightening and disturbing, example of this.

Posted by NH on 16 Dec 2012

Is Pearce citing Paul Ehrlich as someone who he considers pro-science? Ehrlich gives environmentalists a worse name than just about anyone. He's been wrong on almost everything and, when people read or hear what he's offering, they write off all environmentalists as know-nothing scare-mongers.

Just a few examples:

“In the 1970s … hundreds of millions are going to starve to death,” and by the 1980s most of the world’s important resources would be depleted. He forecast that 65 million Americans would die of starvation between 1980-1989 and that by 1999, the US population would decline to 22.6 million. (Ehrlich, Paul R. The Population Bomb. New York, Ballantine Books, 1968.)

“In ten years all important animal life in the sea will be extinct. Large areas of coastline will have to be evacuated because of the stench of dead fish.” Paul Ehrlich, speech during Earth Day, 1970.

“By the year 2000 the United Kingdom will be simply a small group of impoverished islands, inhabited by some 70 million hungry people … If I were a gambler, I would take even money that England will not exist in the year 2000.” Paul Ehrlich, Speech at British Institute For Biology, September 1971.

Posted by on 24 Jan 2013

Yes, I get it, and I have thought that some of my environmentalist friends can at times be so focused on their beliefs, that they can miss other extremely important considerations. The biofuels you mention are a good example. The GMO's are not. I forgive my friends with a smile, for sometimes I could agree with them, and in their passion, they may miss that. It really doesn't matter that much, because after all, they are the ones who are doing the active work, payless work, of trying to change the world. Their views can be compromised because they understand enough, there still are too few people who are aware, and too many that are aware and don't care. Under the pretense of our government doing something that will help us, extensive harm is occurring, most of which is preventable. The effect is that we are become less autonomous and more diseased and repeat a cycle of destruction of the earth, when we need to work with it to meet our own needs. Our primary need of determining the harm that can be done before application of any chemical or technology, is not law. Until that happens, nothing permanent happens.

Posted by Marie Crawford on 31 Jan 2013

What a refreshing article and discussion - please let those of us who care for the earth also be humble enough to embrace the wisdom of science and be objective.

Posted by Jessica Fleming on 19 Feb 2013

Fred, I appreciate this article. I agree that we need to be more thoughtful--and more courageous--in processing the scientific information about the challenges before us. The risks and benefits of GM foods need to be weighed, particularly given the nutritional needs of the people in undeveloped nations. On nuclear power, fortunately some environmentalists, such as Bill McKibben do understand the role this technology could play in reducing global warming. But I think your position on fracking has been overtaken by emerging information. Not only is the threat of groundwater pollution very real, but as I understand it, the methane released during extraction eliminates the end-use advantage of gas. Do you think I am misinformed in this regard?

Posted by Margaret on 25 Feb 2013

Comments have been closed on this feature.
Fred Pearce is a freelance author and journalist based in the UK. He serves as environmental consultant for New Scientist magazine and is the author of numerous books, including the newly released The Land Grabbers: The New Fight over Who Owns the Earth. In previous articles for Yale Environment 360, Pearce has written about how indigenous people are using GPS technology to protect their lands and about the promise of “climate-smart” agriculture.



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