There’s an old saying, If you don’t like the weather in [insert your state] ____, just wait five minutes.
Something similar could be said for climate change media coverage. For example, maybe you didn’t think much of a Telegraph story from a month ago, which warned that global warming was going to be catastrophic for the UK. Not to worry: This week, the Telegraph has a piece you might like better, headlined:
Global warming: time to rein back on gloom and doom?
Marc Morano, at spinmeister central, is doing cartwheels over it. Naturally, the latest, greatest climate controversy (#982) is more complex than climate skeptics would have you believe. Still as Fred Pearce writes at Yale Environment 360, Read More
The biotech discourse is infected with a bugaboo spread by both fringe types and mainstream influentials. It is the belief that GMO foods are deadly or potentially harmful. Two illustrative examples of this mindset recently appeared on the same day. Read More
Bernie Mooney, who writes the excellent Contrary to popular Belief blog, has contributed a guest post:
Last Thursday, the NYU Global Center for Academic & Spiritual Life, in conjunction with GMO Free New York held a panel debate called GMO Labeling: Do We Need It? It was a civilized discussion, but the deck was stacked.
The panel included moderator/journalist Frederick Kaufman, CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, Dr. Carolyn Dimitri of NYU Steinhardt, Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health and two representatives from anti-GMO lobbying groups, Jean Halloran of the Consumers Union and Patty Lovera from Food & Water Watch.
The lone scientist on the panel was Dr. Walter S. De Jong from the Cornell University, Department of Plant Breeding and Genetics. This affable potato breeder gets the award for willingly walking into the belly of the beast. Read More
When James Hansen, the newly-retired NASA scientist talks, people who care deeply about energy and climate change pay attention.
For example, when Hansen says “game over” for the climate if Canada’s oil sands get developed, people take to the streets. When he publishes a study that says global warming has caused recent heat waves and droughts, it’s big news.
So what are we to make of the marginal notice paid this week to the results of an eye-popping paper just published by Hansen and a co-author in the journal Environmental Science & Technology? Read More
One of the first and best critiques I read of contemporary environmentalism appeared in a well known progressive magazine. The author took the green movement to task for its romanticization of nature and “its deep suspicion of all things technological.” He also criticized environmentalism’s demonization of biotechnology and the “crusade” waged against it, which he said was built on “a tangle of misperceptions, flaws, and half-truths.”
This essay was published in the Sept/Oct 1996 issue of Mother Jones magazine. What’s fascinating about the piece is 1) how far ahead of its time it was, and 2) how much of its critique remains just as relevant today.
The author, Walter Truett Anderson, challenged the same green dogma in 1996 that today’s eco-critics, such as Mark Lynas and Emma Marris, have been poking a stick at. It’s amazing to consider how little the green movement has progressed since then. Naturally, greens were as allergic to self-reflection in the mid-1990s as they are today. Read the responses in the letters page from some of the representative voices of environmentalism (at the time).
When Anderson’s piece was published in the mid-199os, he seemed to anticipate the Anthropocene, or least aspects of it that eco-pragmatists have tried to highlight:
The world is changing very quickly, and we desperately need a vision that engages this new world honestly and creatively, with daring and hope and perhaps even a touch of optimism…The world is becoming more densely populated, not less; more urbanized, not less; more technological, not less. Most important of all, human beings are exerting ever more — not less — power in nature, having a greater impact on ecosystems. This is our world, and this is our work.
And this is where we live. Do we still need Mother Nature to help us find our way?
If you follow public debate on genetically modified foods, you know that Monsanto is routinely portrayed as the devil’s spawn. The multinational agricultural company is the arch-villain in the GMO wars. In liberal and environmental media stories, Monsanto is the baddie that poisons the earth with impunity and monopolizes the global seed market. Indeed, as Michael Shermer wrote several months ago in Scientific American:
Try having a conversation with a liberal progressive about GMOs—genetically modified organisms—in which the words “Monsanto” and “profit” are not dropped like syllogistic bombs.
All this leads the conservative National Review Online to ask:
Whence the Left’s hate for Monsanto?
Well, it owes to a mishmash of anti-corporatist ideology, natural fallacy (GMOs are not natural!) and precautionary principle extremism. But here’s the odd thing. If you read through the reader responses to the NRO article, you’ll see lots of GMO-fearing conservatives who also hate Monsanto. What’s that about? Read More
Two films and speakers about genetically engineered seeds; the history & future of farming; and why leading scientists think GMOs threaten human health and sustainabile food production systems.
I really wanted to attend this, so I could learn who those leadings scientists were. But I had tickets to a Rangers game that night. Also, I’m not sure I would have had the stomach to sit through a double feature on GMO paranoia and misinformation, especially with one of the movies being Jeffrey Smith’s Genetic Roulette. It’s pretty amazing that someone as disreputable as Smith has been legitimized by popular talk show hosts and celebrity environmentalists like David Suzuki and Jane Goodall.
Goodall, as you probably have heard, is under fire for apparently plagiarizing portions of her new book, Seeds of Hope (which has now been postponed). For science-based fans of Goodall, the news gets worse. Michael Moynihan points out in the Daily Beast:
One of the more troubling aspects of Seeds of Hope is Goodall’s embrace of dubious science on genetically modified organisms (GMO). On the website of the Jane Goodall Foundation, readers are told—correctly—that “there isscientific consensus” that climate change is being driven by human activity. But Goodall has little time for scientific consensus on the issue of GMO crops, dedicating the book to those who “dare speak out” against scientific consensus. Indeed, her chapter on the subject is riddled with unsupportable claims backed by dubious studies.
Many of the claims in Seeds of Hope can also be found in Genetic Roulette: The Documented Health Risks of Genetically Engineered Foods, a book by “consumer advocate” Jeffrey Smith. Goodall generously blurbed the book (“If you care about your health and that of your children, buy this book, become aware of the potential problems, and take action”) and in Seeds of Hope cites a “study” on GMO conducted by Smith’s “think tank,” the Institute for Responsible Technology.
Like Goodall, Smith isn’t a genetic scientist. According to New Yorker writer Michael Specter, he “has no experience in genetics or agriculture, and has no scientific degree from any institution” but did study “business at the Maharishi International University, founded by the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.”
With that background and his blatant GMO nuttiness, Smith is easy to ridicule. But what does it say about people like Goodall who endorse such a charlatan? What does it say about a highly regarded environmental educational center that promotes Smith as a credible source on genetically modified foods?
Mark Hoofnagle is unsparing in what he thinks it says:
It makes environmentalists look like idiots, as it distracts from actual threats to the environment with invented threats and irrational fears of biotech…I’m irritated with the anti-GMO movement because it’s an embarrassment. It’s Luddism, and ignorance masquerading as environmentalism. It’s bad biology. It’s the progressive equivalent of creationism or global warming denial. It’s classic anti-science, and we shouldn’t tolerate it.
Ah, but most greens and foodies not only tolerate anti-GMO craziness, they wink at it. Why is that?
It wasn’t that long ago that peak oil was on everybody’s minds. The basic scenario: Global energy demand would soon outstrip the world’s oil supply. Some of the more feverish types believe this will lead to a civilizational breakdown and a post-apocalyptic Mad Max landscape.
Peak oil anxieties first penetrated mainstream media in the mid-2000s, with concerns about Mideast oil running out.
A 2004 National Geographic cover story pronounced:
Humanity’s way of life is on a collision course with geology—with the stark fact that the Earth holds a finite supply of oil. The flood of crude from fields around the world will ultimately top out, then dwindle. It could be 5 years from now or 30: No one knows for sure, and geologists and economists are embroiled in debate about just when the “oil peak” will be upon us. But few doubt that it is coming.
In the New York Times magazine, Peter Maass wrote in 2005:
Few people imagined a time when supply would dry up because of demand alone. But a steady surge in demand in recent years — led by China’s emergence as a voracious importer of oil — has changed that.
This demand-driven scarcity has prompted the emergence of a cottage industry of experts who predict an impending crisis that will dwarf anything seen before. Their point is not that we are running out of oil, per se; although as much as half of the world’s recoverable reserves are estimated to have been consumed, about a trillion barrels remain underground. Rather, they are concerned with what is called ”capacity” — the amount of oil that can be pumped to the surface on a daily basis. These experts — still a minority in the oil world — contend that because of the peculiarities of geology and the limits of modern technology, it will soon be impossible for the world’s reservoirs to surrender enough oil to meet daily demand.
That same year, John Vidal reported in the Guardian that oil production could peak within a year. The subhead of his piece: “Kiss your lifestyle goodbye.”
Anyone familiar with environmentalism knows how earnest it is. Saving the planet is serious business, right? Ever watch panels where people are talking about climate change or endangered species? These people don’t joke around, they don’t poke fun at themselves or their cause.
Because it is a righteous cause, and they are righteous people. Environmentalists, like the Blues Brothers, are on a holy mission.
And that’s why environmentalism, like the Catholic church, is a doomed institution. Read More