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No pre-emption with environment

Alan Braunholtz

On Earth Day, our president selects a pleasant spot for a photo shoot to declare that the environment is in better shape than 30 years ago. Parts of it are, and for this we can thank the environmental laws his administration is trying to overturn as quietly as possible.

Environmental organizations are fighting to publicize and slow down this assault. Their effectiveness is one reason laws are changed and partisan judges selected.



The air and water may be a little cleaner, but 30 years ago rivers actually caught fire. Other aspects of our Earth aren’t faring so well. The oceans are in danger of collapsing, species are going extinct at a rate not seen since the dinosaurs disappeared, wilderness is vanishing and there’s that irksome question of global warming.

Environmental issues require understanding of a lot of probable theories. There is no “burning tablet” of revelation. Good science involves some doubt, testing theories and selecting the best one. This isn’t like popular politics, which loves to parade in black and white and has a habit of being very selective in what it listens to. The Bush administration has a record of censoring and distorting information to suit its “we’re either with us or against us” beliefs.



This has gotten so bad that prominent scientists, including 20 Nobel laureates, several former science officials and many others released a statement charging “the manipulation and misrepresentation of science for political gains.” See http://www.physicstoday.com/vol-57/issue-4/p30.htm for a more detailed story.

Once we’ve eroded the impartiality of scientific advisory committees, the next government will follow suit to justify its agendas. Science, truth and knowledge will be the losers. Unfortunately, politicizing science leads to cultured ignorance on both sides of an issue, making the reaching of common ground and a solution that much harder.

Congress used to have an Office of Technological Assessment. Working groups of scientists responded to questions from members of Congress concerned with ecological legislation. A huge effort went into these reports, and they were a superb resource for building policy. But then Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich didn’t like their reports and eliminated the OTA.



That trend continues. When the State Department submitted a report to the U.N. emphasizing the seriousness of global warming, Bush dismissed it as “a report put out by the bureaucracy.” In 2003, in an EPA report the White House replaced references to a National Research Council report on climate change and studies showing record rises in temperature with an American Petroleum Institute one that reported no conclusive evidence. Christine Todd Whitman decided to eliminate this section instead of embarrassing the EPA. She described the political environment as brutal, and resigned around this time.

Fortunately, the International Panel on Climate Change is largely outside the reach of our government’s meddling. It exists within the U.N. and is made up and led by scientists. It assesses the scientific, technical and socio-economic information concerning the risk of climate change by reading peer reviewed and published literature. It maintains its objectivity by carefully avoiding policy recommendations or shaping research programs and it is peer reviewed by over 1,000 scientists. Due to the comprehensive and balanced nature of its work ,it is probably the most important foundation for information on which to base climate change policy.

There are many organizations that disagree with climatatic-change science. Fair enough, but many of these have ties to the fossil fuel industry, engage in tactics of dubious honesty and the same people keep turning up. The Science and Environmental Policy Projectis one. It’s the creation of one man and mainly self publishes or releases articles to the mainstream media. Few appear in scientific peer-reviewed journals. Scientists are hard to bamboozle with jargon and have the knowledge to criticize weak arguments.

One of SEPP’s tactical triumphs is the Leipzig declaration at the European Academy for Environmental Affairs, a paper tiger set up by a right-wing German plant professor. SEPP penned the declaration and 100 scientists signed it. It is referred to all the time as proof that no consensus exists.

Problem is journalists David Ollinger of the St. Petersburg Times and Ojvind Hesselager of Denmark researched into the signers. They found some who were uncontactable, others who denied signing it or even knowing of its existence. Some had no training in science or any field related to the climate, and others obtained grants from the oil and coal industry.

The Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine sponsored a mass mailing to everyone with a science degree. This mailing included a petition and an article mimicking the prestigious peer reviewed journal of the National Academy of Sciences. NAS had to disavow itself from this mailing. The deceptive article criticized global warming science. In a country with 10 million people with science degrees in any field, OISM received around 15,000 signatures, though one may be your dentist. This is trotted out as 15,000 American scientists disagree with global warming.

Other common arguments against climate change:

n Carbon dioxide is not a pollutant, it’s part of the carbon cycle. By this logic, acid rain is OK and only a part of the nitrogen and sulfur cycle. These guys should be spokesmen for the Avon sewer plant stink.

Water vapor is the main greenhouse gas: yes it is but it only stays in the atmosphere a couple of weeks. CO2 lasts for over a century so a little extra every year builds up to a lot. Henry Ford’s model T’s CO2 is still there effecting the CO2 equilibrium.

n Accurate U.S. measurements using satellites say the atmosphere isn’t getting hotter. While this ignores the measured temperature increases on the surface, it is also out of date. From 1979 to the late 1990s, no increase could be seen, but since then satellite measurements have matched or exceeded global warming computer models.

There are realms of organizations and arguments, and it’s always worth giving an organization’s credentials a look. I find Google or http://www.wikipedia.com a good place to start.

While there are arguments about how much and how rapidly we’re affecting the climate, only a vocal few think we’re having no effect. These people must drive without insurance knowing they’ll never crash. Our government apparently prefers to listen to them.

It’s strange that while we believe in a rushed pre-emptive action against a possible threat based on inconclusive evidence, we’re happy to drag our feet on the possibility of global warming.


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