Conservation, the Environmental Apocalypse, and the Birth of Modern Environmentalism
The beginnings of the environment as an issue can be traced to the conservation movement of the late 19th and early 20th century associated with figures like Gifford Pinchot, head of the Forest Service under Teddy Roosevelt and John Muir, founder of the Sierra Club. They were Republicans but many Democrats also embraced the movement; Woodrow Wilson created the National Park Service in 1916. And the New Deal in the 1930’s had a prominent place for conservation activities, most famously in the creation of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) where young men were employed to improve forests and national parks. Trail systems and lodges from that era are still widely used today.
With varying degrees of strictness the conservation movement’s guiding principle was to insulate unspoiled parts of nature from development by market forces, thereby preserving them for healthy leisure and recreation. The movement, like all future iterations of the environmental movement, assumed an unending conflict between man and nature that required good people to take the side of nature.
As development proceeded over the course of the 20th century, the stresses on nature became ever larger and more obvious, leading to the emergence after World War II of an apocalyptic strain in the conservation movement. The argument gained traction that economic and population growth would, if unchecked, destroy the environment and lead to civilizational collapse. Accompanying that strain was a milder version of the idea that directly challenged the old conservation ethos: simply conserving what was left of nature was not enough. The reality of the interdependent natural world meant that man’s activities were having dire effects everywhere on the planet—where people lived and where they didn’t. These activities were upsetting a finely balanced system, resulting in the degradation of both nature, as conventionally understood, and people’s lives.
Restoring and preserving that balance was what it meant to be an environmentalist.
The movement proved enormously effective as a reform movement. Carson’s book veered toward the apocalyptic, but the movement she inspired was laser-focused on practical reforms that would immediately reduce pollution and safeguard the environment. A raft of legislation in the Johnson administration followed like the Clean Air and Water Quality Acts and, in the Nixon administration, the creation of the Environmental Protection Act and the promulgation of the NEPA (National Environmental Protection Act) standards. This legislation and subsequent action was directly responsible for a radical reduction in pollution of all kinds in the next decades.
But the apocalyptic strain of environmentalism, which saw industrial society as an imminent threat to human life and to the planet, was not eliminated by these reforming successes. Instead a closer relationship evolved between mainstream environmentalism and a radical view of the fundamental dangers of industrial society. The first manifestation of this was the anti-nuclear power movement which arose in the 1970’s and was turbo-charged by the 1979 Three Mile Island incident, Building on public fears of nuclear meltdowns and radiation poisoning, the movement was successful in stopping the build-out of nuclear power in the United States.
In the 1990’s, as a scientific consensus emerged that greenhouse gases were steadily warming the earth, this movement was superseded by the climate movement. Here was clear proof that industrial society and human civilization were counterposed. Initially meliorist in orientation, the movement has become more radical as it has gathered strength.
The quest to eliminate the possibility of dire scenarios has met the reality
that industrial societies built on fossil fuels are likely to change only slowly,
for both political and technical reasons.
This has promoted a sense that radical action to transform industrial society must be taken as fast as possible. That view has gained hegemony within the Democratic party infrastructure, supporting activist groups and associated cultural elites.Practical objections about the speed with which a “clean energy transition” can be pursued and concerns about effects on jobs and prices are now outweighed for most Democrats by the perceived urgency of the mission. That has set the Democrats apart from the working class voters they aspire to represent for whom these practical objections and concerns loom large.
It has become a significant factor in the Great Divide that has opened between postindustrial metros and the rural areas, towns and small cities of middle America.
After World War II the movement took a different turn. The devastation of the war, combined with the breakneck pace of economic development, fed a sense that industrial civilization was out of control and threatened the entire planet. The key figures promulgating this view were Henry Fairfield Osborn Jr. (Our Plundered Planet, 1948) and especially William Vogt, whose Road to Survival was also published in 1948. Vogt was an ornithologist and ecologist whose experiences in the developing world had convinced him that economic growth and overpopulation would inevitably lead to civilizational collapse unless both growth and population were radically curtailed.
Vogt argued that beliefs in progress were weighing humanity down and were actually “idiotic in an overpeopled, atomic age, with much of the world a shambles.” He concluded that the road to survival could only lie in maximizing use of renewable resources and accepting lower living standards or reduced population.
In his language and outlook, one can see all the strands of apocalyptic environmentalism (now focused on climate change) that we see today. This especially applies to his description of the United States and its economic system.
More benignly, Vogt’s (and Osborn’s) books marked the evolution of conservationism into environmentalism. Stripped of the apocalyptic verbiage, they were arguing that conservation of nature was not enough. The interdependence of man and nature meant that human activities could not be isolated and instead were having negative effects on the entire planet—wilderness, settled areas, oceans, everywhere. The balance of nature was being destroyed, dragging down the natural world and humanity with it. Restoring that balance, not merely conserving parts of the ecosystem, was the new meaning of being an environmentalist.
Also key to Vogt’s analysis was the concept of “carrying capacity”—how much the environment/planet could sustainably bear of a species’ imprint before disaster ensued. This was not precisely defined but it is easy to see the relationship of this idea to how climate change is conventionally thought of today.
The burgeoning strength of the environmental movement started what became a blizzard of legislative action to protect the environment and roll back pollution. That began under LBJ with the Clean Air Act, Solid Waste Disposal Act, Water Quality Act and Air Quality Act. Then under Nixon there was the National Environmental Policy Act, proximate to the Santa Barbara oil spill and widely-publicized Cayahoga River fire, establishing the (NEPA) environmental standards and reviews that are still with us today. Also under Nixon, the Environmental Protection Agency was established, the Clean Water and Endangered Species Acts passed and the Clean Air act strengthened. The first Earth Day was on April 22, 1970, clearly marking the environmental issue as a mass cause for those on the left of the political spectrum.
An interesting aspect of all this activity is that it was meliorist and profoundly reformist. That is, despite its origins in the Vogtian Silent Spring, with its apocalyptic overtones, the drive to clean up the environment was pursued through a steady accumulation of legislation and consciousness-raising about the issue. There was a sense that the problem was solvable through such activities and did not require the massive changes in economic activity and human behavior that an advocate like Vogt would have called for. Of course, there was always a radical fringe of the environmental movement, typified by Edward Abbey’s 1975 novel, The Monkey Wrench Gang, and the Earth First! group, formed in 1980, but they were a small and not particularly influential part of the overall movement.
Not only was environmentalism of this era reformist but it was very successful reformism. Consider: Because we are now so used to having a fairly clean environment in terms of air and water quality, it is easy to forget just how far we have come since the early 1960’s. Rivers and lakes back then were far more likely to be polluted and essentially unsafe for human activity than not; the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland famously caught fire in 1969. But since that era, water quality has improved dramatically; the number of water bodies meeting standard quality criteria has roughly doubled. Such icons of pollution as Boston Harbor have been cleaned up. And everywhere towns and cities are investing in waterfront leisure developments that would have been a tasteless joke a generation ago.
Air quality has increased dramatically as well. Between 1970 and 2021, emissions of the six key air pollutants that impact public health—ozone, particulate matter, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide and lead—were cut by 78 percent, even as GNP has increased increased by nearly 400 percent. Acid rain has declined by two-thirds and smog is down by about a third. These trends are truly amazing and would have been considered scarcely believable back in 1970. They underscore the tremendous success of modern reformist environmentalism.
As earth day approaches, activist groups have amplified their predictions of an impending environmental disaster. A brief survey of the evidence shows that the situation isn’t nearly as dire as they claim.
Earth Day is just around the corner. Activists outfits like Environmental Working Group (EWG) are using the run-up to this annual celebration to promote fear of pesticides and, for some reason, the musings of Michelle Pfeiffer. Let’s use the time a little more wisely and consider just two examples that illustrate how much progress we’ve made in promoting human flourishing and protecting the environment.
The point of this exercise, to plagiarize myself from this time last year, is to remind the world that doomsday isn’t inevitable. As we deploy more resources to solve the very real environmental problems we face, life on this planet gets better.
Let’s start with a well-established theory from economics known as the Environmental Kuznets Curve (EKC): economic growth is initially accompanied by increased pollution. Over time, however, we acquire enough resources to invest in technologies that promote sustainability. As the authors of a 2020 study noted:
The EKC literature suggests that economic growth may affect environmental welfare through three different channels: scale effects, composition effects and technique effects. The growth of the economic scale would result in a proportional growth in environmental pollution, and the changes in the industrial structure would lead to the reduction of pollution intensity.
Further economic growth causes technological progress through which dirty and obsolete technologies are replaced by upgraded and cleaner technologies that improve environmental quality.
That’s a foundational point worth remembering because EWG and its ideological allies would have you believe the opposite conclusion, that our “exploitation” of earth’s resources is inherently destructive.
Evidence from all over the world exposes the folly of such thinking.
Let’s consider some examples.
Cleaner air than ever before
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Since 1970, the EPA notes, the combined emissions of six common pollutants have plummeted by almost 80 percent, facilitating “dramatic improvements in the quality of the air that we breathe,” the agency added. To get more specific:
Between 1990 and 2020, national concentrations of air pollutants improved 73 percent for carbon monoxide, 86 percent for lead (from 2010), 61 percent for annual nitrogen dioxide, 25 percent for ozone, 26 percent for 24-hour coarse particle concentrations, 41 percent for annual fine particles (from 2000), and 91 percent for sulfur dioxide.
The EPA attempted to pat itself on the back by attributing these declines to its regulatory actions. But that analysis is incomplete. [Unmentioned was the fact consumption of clean-burning natural gas increased 23% during the same period these pollutants declined.] Meaningful environmental protection efforts don’t come cheap; wealthy countries are usually the only ones with the resources to reduce pollution. There’s a tight correlation between a nation’s GDP and the number of deaths attributed to outdoor pollution.
To enlarge, double-click image or open in new tab.
Our World in Data drew two very important observations out of these numbers; both point to the importance of economic growth as a weapon against pollution. Death rates tend to be lowest in the poorest and wealthiest countries. Nations with higher death rates, India, for instance, are often emerging economies that haven’t yet turned their attention to pollution reduction. There are some outliers to this trend, of course. Certain countries have high rates of pollution but low rates of respiratory mortality, Our World Data also explained:
Countries such as Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Kuwait, and the UAE have a comparably lower risk of premature death, despite high levels of pollution. They do, however, have a significantly higher GDP per capita than their neighbors … Overall health, wellbeing and healthcare/medical standards in these nations significantly reduce the risk of mortality from respiratory illness.
Sustainable food production increasing
In response to critics of animal agriculture, I’ve recently noted that the environmental footprint of food production is significantly smaller in developed countries. The trend is similar whether we consider the amount of land dedicated to farming or the use of inputs like fertilizers and pesticides. Even looking at agricultural carbon emissions, the ultimate boogeyman these days, we can see that economic growth fuels important reductions. Our World in Data helpfully noted that.
We see a very strong rich-poor country divide. High-income countries tend to have energy-intensive industry or service-based economies. Food systems can contribute as little as 10% to total emissions.
Another way to verify this trend is to consider the environmental impacts of local vs. global food production. The latter invites the use of technological innovations and economies of scale that offset the emissions farmers inevitably generate. Policies that unnecessarily restrict access to tools like biotech crops depress crop yields and force more land into food production, further boosting carbon emissions.
There are more examples of economic growth driving increases in sustainability, but the point is clear: our planet gets “greener” as we get wealthier. The warnings that we’re running out of time “to restore nature and build a healthy planet” will grow more shrill as Earth Day approaches. Just remember to take the doomsday predictions with a grain of salt and reflect on the tremendous progress we’ve made in living sustainably.
Pascal Bruckner writes at City Journal Apocalyptic Daze. Excerpts in italics with my bolds.
Secular elites prophesy a doomsday without redemption.
My point is not to minimize the dangers that we face. Rather, it is to understand why apocalyptic fear has gripped so many of our leaders, scientists, and intellectuals, who insist on reasoning and arguing as though they were following the scripts of mediocre Hollywood disaster movies.
Around the turn of the twenty-first century, a paradigm shift in our thinking took place: we decided that the era of revolutions was over and that the era of catastrophes had begun. The former had involved expectation, the hope that the human race would proceed toward some goal. But once the end of history was announced, the Communist enemy vanquished, and, more recently, the War on Terror all but won, the idea of progress lay moribund. What replaced the world’s human future was the future of the world as a material entity. The long list of emblematic victims—Jews, blacks, slaves, proletarians, colonized peoples—was likewise replaced, little by little, with the Planet, the new paragon of all misery.
No longer were we summoned to participate in a particular community; rather, we were invited to identify ourselves with the spatial vessel that carried us, groaning.
How did this change happen? Over the last half-century, leftist intellectuals have identified two great scapegoats for the world’s woes. First, Marxism designated capitalism as responsible for human misery. Second, “Third World” ideology, disappointed by the bourgeois indulgences of the working class, targeted the West, supposedly the inventor of slavery, colonialism, and imperialism. The guilty party that environmentalism now accuses—mankind itself, in its will to dominate the planet—is essentially a composite of the previous two, a capitalism invented by a West that oppresses peoples and destroys the earth. Indeed, environmentalism sees itself as the fulfillment of all earlier critiques. “There are only two solutions,” Bolivian president Evo Morales declared in 2009. “Either capitalism dies, or Mother Earth dies.”
So the planet has become the new proletariat that must be saved from exploitation —if necessary, by reducing the number of human beings,
as oceanographer Jacques Cousteau said in 1991.
One could go on citing such quotations forever, given the spread of the cliché-ridden apocalyptic literature. Environmentalism has become a global ideology that covers all of existence—not merely modes of production but ways of life as well. We rediscover in it the whole range of Marxist rhetoric, now applied to the environment: ubiquitous scientism, horrifying visions of reality, even admonitions to the guilty parties who misunderstand those who wish them well. Authors, journalists, politicians, and scientists compete in the portrayal of abomination and claim for themselves a hyper-lucidity: they alone see clearly while others vegetate in the darkness.
The fear that these intellectuals spread is like a gluttonous enzyme that swallows up an anxiety, feeds on it, and then leaves it behind for new ones. When the Fukushima nuclear plant melted down after the enormous earthquake in Japan in March 2011, it only confirmed a feeling of anxiety that was already there, looking for some content. In six months, some new concern will grip us: a pandemic, bird flu, the food supply, melting ice caps, cell-phone radiation.
The fear also becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, with the press reporting, as though it were a surprising finding, that young people are haunted by the very concerns about global warming that the press continually instills in them. As in an echo chamber, opinion polls reflect the views promulgated by the media. We are inoculated against anxiety by the repetition of the same themes, which become a narcotic we can’t do without.
Atime-honored strategy of cataclysmic discourse, whether performed by preachers or by propagandists, is the retroactive correction. This technique consists of accumulating a staggering amount of horrifying news and then—at the end—tempering it with a slim ray of hope. First you break down all resistance; then you offer an escape route to your stunned audience. And so the advertising copy for the Al Gore–starring documentary An Inconvenient Truth reads: “Humanity is sitting on a time bomb. If the vast majority of the world’s scientists are right, we have just ten years to avert a major catastrophe that could send our entire planet’s climate system into a tail-spin of epic destruction involving extreme weather, floods, droughts, epidemics and killer heat waves beyond anything we have ever experienced—a catastrophe of our own making.”
Now here are the means that the former vice president, like most environmentalists, proposes to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions: using low-energy lightbulbs; driving less; checking your tire pressure; recycling; rejecting unnecessary packaging; adjusting your thermostat; planting a tree; and turning off electrical appliances. Since we find ourselves at a loss before planetary threats, we will convert our powerlessness into propitiatory gestures, which will give us the illusion of action. First the ideology of catastrophe terrorizes us; then it appeases us by proposing the little rituals of a post-technological animism.
But let’s be clear: a cosmic calamity is not averted
by checking tire pressure or sorting garbage.
Another contradiction inherent in apocalyptic discourse is that, though it tries desperately to awaken us, to convince us of planetary chaos, it eventually deadens us, making our eventual disappearance part of our everyday routine. At first, yes, the kinds of doom that we hear about—the acidification of the oceans, the pollution of our air—charge our calm existence with a strange excitement. The enemy is among us, and he waits for our slightest lapses, all the more insidious because he is invisible. If the function of ancient rites was to purge a community’s violence on a sacrificial victim, the function of our contemporary rites is—at first—to dramatize the status quo and to exalt us through proximity to cataclysm.
But the certainty of the prophecies makes this effect short-lived. The language of fear does not include the word “maybe.” It tells us, rather, that the horror is inevitable. Resistant to all doubt, it is satisfied to mark the stages of degradation. This is another paradox of fear: it is ultimately reassuring. At least we know where we are heading—toward the worst.
One consequence of this certainty is that we begin to suspect that the numberless Cassandras who prophesy all around us do not intend to warn us so much as to condemn us.
In a secular society, a prophet has no function other than indignation. So it happens that he becomes intoxicated with his own words and claims a legitimacy with no basis, calling down the destruction that he pretends to warn against. You’ll get what you’ve got coming!—that is the death wish that our misanthropes address to us. These are not great souls who alert us to troubles but tiny minds who wish us suffering if we have the presumption to refuse to listen to them. Catastrophe is not their fear but their joy. It is a short distance from lucidity to bitterness, from prediction to anathema.
What is surprising is that the mood of catastrophe prevails especially in the West, as if it were particular to privileged peoples. Despite the economic crises of the last few years, people live better in Europe and the United States than anywhere else, which is why migrants the world over want to come to those places. Yet never have we been so inclined to condemn our societies.
Perhaps the new Green puritanism is nothing but the reaction of a West deprived of its supreme competence, the last avatar of an unhappy neocolonialism that preaches to other cultures a wisdom that it has never practiced. For the last 20 years, non-European peoples have become masters of their own futures and have stopped regarding us as infallible models. They are likely to receive our professions of environmentalist faith with polite indifference. Billions of people look to economic growth, with all the pollution that accompanies it, to improve their condition. Who are we to refuse it to them?
Environmental worry is universal; the sickness of the end of the world is purely Western.
To counter this pessimism, we might list the good news of the last 20 years: democracy is making slow progress; more than a billion people have escaped absolute poverty; life expectancy has increased in most countries; war is becoming rarer; many serious illnesses have been eradicated. But it would do little good. Our perception is inversely proportional to reality.
The Christian apocalypse saw itself as a hopeful revelation of the coming of God’s kingdom.Today’s has nothing to offer. There is no promise of redemption; the only hope is that those human beings who repent of their errors may escape the chaos, as in Cormac McCarthy’s fine novel The Road.
How can we be surprised, then, that so many bright minds have become delirious and that so many strange predictions flourish?
FINALLY – the Truth about Plastics & the Environment
I recently became aware of this research and video presentation The Great Plastics Distraction (H/T Patrick Moore). For those who prefer reading a text to watching a video, I prepared a transcript of the talk below in italics with my bolds added.
My name is Dr Chris DeArmitt and I’m going to tell you about plastics and the environment.
But first i’m going to start with a story. I once read a wonderful book called Factfulness, and it told a story about how important it is that we act based on facts. Before the early 1990s parents were advised to place their infants to sleep on their front, contrary to advice from clinical research. If they had listened to that scientific evidence then they might have prevented over 10,000 infant deaths in the UK and at least 50,000 infant deaths in Europe, the USA and Australasia. But they didn’t listen. In fact it took decades for doctors to change their advice even when the data was so clear that thousands more died unnecessarily.
This talk aims to reset the way we think about plastics in the environment by showing that our current beliefs don’t match reality. The science tells us the exact opposite of what we’re being told online. And the reason it’s important to know the truth is that when we ignore the facts and the science we end up destroying the very thing we set out to protect.
Here’s an outline of the topics we will cover. First a summary of what we believe now. Then a look at what the evidence tells us, and finally we examine reasons why these two things don’t match up.
We all recognize that we can’t believe everything we see in the media. Traditional media is less reliable than it used to be and social media is even worse. Here’s a study that shows us some numbers. Only 20 percent of people believe in the local news and only four percent of people strongly believe in social media. So we all know that we can’t trust the usual sources of information that we use. And yet that’s where our information is coming from.
So how bad is the accuracy of this information? Well they did a study on millions and millions of tweets and they found out that the lies are 70 more likely to be spread than the truth. That means that we absolutely cannot trust anything we hear on social media. Why? Because the lies are more sensational and sound newer than the truth. The truth’s too boring and even when the truth is spread it never really catches up with the lies.
That’s part of what I’m trying to address here. So what are the consequences of being told all of these lies online? Well it turns out that if you repeat a lie enough times people believe it, and it doesn’t matter how smart you are or how good you are at critical thinking, everybody’s susceptible to this. They’ve done large studies on it.
So these lies that we’re being told all the time sound like the truth because they sound familiar after a while, and we end up becoming brainwashed. And you’ll notice on all the slides that I’m presenting here there’s a little text at the bottom which (I don’t know if you can see it) here at the bottom of the page. “Every time I say something because I’m a scientist I support it with scientific evidence.” That means that there are giant scientific studies to prove what I’m saying and that’s the opposite to what you hear online. When you see something online they just claim something sensational with zero proof. Everything I say here and everything I say in my book is proven.
I just mentioned my book The Plastics Paradox. Let me tell you a little bit about that. I’ve made it my personal mission to collect and read hundreds of scientific articles to uncover the truth. I didn’t go around looking for articles that supported a pre-existing opinion. I went out and found every single piece of information I could. And why me? Well for one thing my kids were being taught lies at school and I found that totally unacceptable. So I decided to go and find the information to present to the teachers and it mushroomed into the book.
Also I’m a leading PhD. polymer scientist, so I’m uniquely qualified for this task. As a scientist I do not make, market or sell plastics. Some people say that they can’t trust a plastics expert to talk about plastics. And I find that interesting. I ask them whether they refuse to speak to a medical expert when they’re sick. Or if they’re sick do they ask a car mechanic for an opinion or a journalist. Of course you go and ask a medical expert when you want a medical opinion. So when you want an opinion about the technical details of plastics, go and ask a doctor in plastics. And that’s me.
Some of my friends ask me why I’ve devoted thousands of hours and thousands of dollars of my own money to this topic when it’s not my job. I sometimes ask myself the same question. This is why. I’m a professional scientist so I believe we should base our opinions and our actions on fact not fiction. Everything we do has an impact on the environment so we have two choices: Either we have to go and move back into caves or we can continue to enjoy the modern lifestyle we love so much while making choices that minimize our impact.
How do we do that? Well life cycle analysis is the only proven and accepted way to know what is green and what is less green. It considers all environmental impacts. That means raw materials, the manufacturing of a product, the transporting the product, the function of the product in use (for example driving your car around), repairing the product, and also waste and recycling. Companies, governments and environmental groups all rely on life cycle analysis: It’s standardized and also peer-reviewed for consistency and to make sure that nobody cheats. Any system can be improved upon but if we were to abandon life cycle analysis then we’d have to toss a coin to decide what’s green? It’s better to use a tool that’s good but imperfect than to have no tool at all.
The outcome of a life cycle analysis depends on many things including the geographical location that you’re considering so there’s no universal answer. However if you read a hundred of these life cycle analyses, the geographical aspects start to cancel out and average out. And you get some trends. So here are the trends that I’ve noted after reading a bunch of these life cycle analyses. If you can make something out of a hunk of wood, that’s usually the greenest option. So for example, wood decking and wine corks are examples where wood is greener than plastic.
But most things can’t be made out of wood, so plastic is then usually the greenest choice. Paper is sometimes greener than plastic, but usually it isn’t. Examples where plastic are greener include shopping bags or grocery bags. I found 24 life cycle analyses on grocery bags and plastics coming out greener in every single case, in every country no matter where they analyzed it. In 24 studies plastic bags were greener than paper bags and not a single case saying the opposite so here we are banning something which is categorically proven to be the greenest option. Banknotes is another example. A lot of bank notes are made of plastic and they’re proven to be greener than the paper ones because they last so much longer. And mailer envelopes is another example.
Steel, aluminium and glass are far worse due to the extreme heat and the energy needed to make them, and their density which increases the impact of transportation. So these are the general trends that we see.
Here’s a quick summary of what I discovered when writing The Plastics Paradox and reading all the science. As I said, all of this is soundly proven and you’ll find all the citations in the book and on the website. Statements I quote are verbatim so I copy and paste the statements from the scientific articles to make sure that there’s no spin on it. And as i said it’s all cited so you can check it yourself. If this information is different to what you’ve heard online or in the press, that’s because this is the first time you’ve actually heard the truth backed by hard data and presented by a professional scientist instead of some hack.
Now I want to show you some very very powerful new information I discovered after the book was published. So part of the reason for this talk is to zoom out and not just focus on plastics but look at the overall picture. I was reading a book about materials and the environment and I was absolutely shocked to my core when I turned the page and saw this pie chart on the left.
The pie chart shows that plastics are only about one percent of the material we use. All we hear about all day long is plastic, as if it were the only material, and we’re drowning in plastic. And now i suddenly discover from this book that plastics are less than one percent. I found this information so incredible that i decided to double and triple check it. And when i did I found out that a number was actually wrong. It’s actually too high: The amount of plastics we use is only 0.4 percent of materials. You can check this yourself using siri and alexa and google to ask: What’s the annual global consumption of plastics; what’s the annual global consumption of materials? And then work out the percentage.
This is absolutely shocking to hear that we’re obsessing about plastics and it’s 0.4 percent of our problem. So based on that finding I decided to do a little bit more digging. We’re told every day that we’re drowning in plastic waste. Of course no data is ever given. So I decided to go and check the data on how much of this waste is actually plastic. In the book I already found out that 13% of household waste is plastic and about 10 percent of what goes into a landfill is plastic. What i didn’t know then was that household waste is just 3% of all waste; the other 97% is industrial waste. So it turns out that plastic waste is 13% of 3%, which is 0.3% of all waste. So once again we’re told online without evidence that plastic is the cause of all of our worries and it turns out to be 0.3 percent of the waste problem.
And as we saw in The Plastic Paradox book and on the website plastics have actually dramatically reduced waste on top of that. So we’re obsessing about a tiny fraction of the problem. There’s no way we can solve the world’s problems by putting a hundred percent of our effort into 0.3 of a problem.
We hear about plastic in the oceans all the time. In the book I explained there are no huge floating islands, they just don’t exist. Scientists say they don’t exist; the man who discovered the gyres also say that they don’t exist. And there’s no soup either; it’s just been all dramatized for the sake of getting your money out of your pockets by certain environmental groups and journalists who don’t care about the facts. It turns out even in these gyres the maximum amount of plastic that you is about one game die if you were to take a game die from monopoly and put it in an olympic-sized swimming pool. that would be too much.
I decided to check how much plastic is actually entering the ocean. We see and hear big numbers but we don’t know what it means. It’s very hard to conceptualize these numbers. So it turns out that the amount of plastic entering the oceans is this tiny tiny number I can’t even say it, but the percentage is many many zeros with a six at the end. Clearly I’m not saying there should be plastic in the oceans, but the number is rather small compared to what we’ve been led to believe. No, there will not be more plastic than fish in the sea; that was debunked as well.
I showed that last slide to a friend and he said it would be more meaningful to compare the amount of solid sediment being washed into the oceans from rivers to the amount of plastic. So once again i went looking for the scientific data and I was able to find it. Plastics make up about 0.05 percent of the solid sediment being dumped into our oceans and rivers. It’s mainly polyethylene polypropylene polyethylene terephthalate and polystyrene; which means the plastics that we eat our food out of every day, so they’re not very much of a concern from a health point of view.
Interestingly there are also massive amounts of deadly chemicals, munitions and even nerve gas in the ocean, but no one talks about that. I wonder why they would rather focus on plastics and ignore the things which are actually proven to be toxic. So-called environmental groups are very keen to bring out the turtle pictures. There’s even a famous video of a turtle with a brown cylinder of some kind in its nose; but there was never any evidence that it was made of plastic. They never analyzed it when they were doing the video; in fact they thought it was a worm, as you can hear in the video soundtrack. They say, “Oh, is it a worm, is it a worm?” and then afterwards they suddenly declare it’s plastic without any analysis whatsoever.
If you’re concerned about turtles you should be looking at these statistics on the left hand side because I looked up turtle mortality rates and here they are. You can see that shrimp trolling accounts for up to 50,000 turtle deaths; fishery is up to 5000; collisions with boats up to 500; dredging up to 50; and other 200. And nothing at all about plastics. So that’s interesting isn’t it? If you do care about turtles, and you’re not just trying to get sympathy votes out of people and pry their money out of their pockets in terms of donations, then you would be looking at these causes of death which are the actual things that turtles suffer. But they’d rather focus on plastics because it suits their purposes.
As well as turtles we hear a huge amount about whales. I saw another article today about whale deaths, so I decided to look up the many studies on whale deaths. And once again I’ve quoted them all. From the scientific studies quoted the causes of whale deaths: entanglement in fishing gear; natural causes, and vessel strikes where boats hit them. So why are they incessantly telling us that plastics are harming whales when not one single one of these articles even had a mention of the word plastic or bag. These are multi-decade studies with thousands and thousands of whale deaths listed and not one mention of plastic or bag.
I find it absolutely reprehensible a while ago several newspapers covered a story saying that there were these massive amounts of micro plastic raining down on our national parks. They said it was several tons of microplastic deposited every year and I thought wow, that’s hard for me to imagine; let me work it out as a percentage, for example, of dust that’s deposited. So I went and found some studies on that; and i can tell you it’s a lot of work to look up all of these studies. The environmental groups like to argue with you and they like to come out with these claims, and they produce no studies whatsoever. And I’ve been working on my own with no funding, and I’ve turned up all of these studies and double checked and triple checked everything. How much hard work it is to actually check the facts, when it’s easier to spout nonsense.
So anyway let’s look at the grand canyon. You can calculate there’ll be 12 tons per year of microplastic dust on the grand canyon and that sounds like a lot. And it is a lot, but it depends on how big the grand canyon is. So i went and checked that and correlated that with the total amount of dust that would be deposited on an area that size which is 50 000 tons a year; meaning that microplastics make up 0.03% of all the dust deposited per year. So instead of hearing this tonnage number which means nothing to us, while the actual percentage is rather small. I’m not saying it should be there but again it’s safe plastics like polyethylene polypropylene and things we eat our food out of. But what’s the rest of this dust made of? The 99.97% in large proportion is quartz which is known to cause cancer; it’s also made up of a large amount of heavy metals such as lead and cadmium which are known to be toxic.
So isn’t it interesting that people would rather focus on 0.03% of safe material because it’s plastic and easy to demonize, and totally ignore things which are known to be toxic and known to cause cancer and are being breathed in in giant quantities.
There’s an example where ignoring the science leads you in the wrong direction. Here I’ve put together an NGO scorecard to see how well these so-called environmental groups are doing at telling us what’s green and what isn’t and what to do. In The Plastics Paradox book as you saw I showed that pretty much everything they’ve told us is untrue; meaning that the science says the exact opposite. And in this talk we’ve zoomed out a little bit to look at the bigger picture. And we found that if we were worried about materials use, concrete, metal and woods would be the things we would focus on.
But instead these non-governmental organizations want us to talk about plastics. If we’re worried about material waste we will be focused on manufacturing, mining, oil and gas, but instead they want us to focus on plastics. If we were worried about turtles we would be worried about trawling, fishing and boat strikes, but they want us to concentrate on plastic instead. If we’re worried about whales we’ll be looking at trawling, fishing and boat strikes, but instead they want us to talk about plastic. If we were worried about dust we’d be worried about this inorganic dust which contains quartz and heavy metals, but instead they want us to look at plastic. If we were worried about materials that use giant amounts of energy and create co2, we would be worried about gold, platinum and palladium, but they want us to talk about plastic instead. And when it comes to grocery bags, if we’re worried about things that cause harm we’d be looking at paper, cotton and bio plastic bags, but instead they want us to focus on plastic bags which are proven in every single study to be the greenest.
So if we look at how well these so-called environmental groups are doing, they’re not doing very well at all. In fact I can’t find a single area where they’re given evidence which helps the environment or matches the evidence and the science. This means one of two things: Either they’re wildly incompetent, in which case they don’t deserve our funding and our donations. Or they’re actually corrupt, in which case they also don’t deserve our funding and our donations.
How do we know which one of these two things it is? Well, it’s impossible to know somebody’s intent without being inside their mind, but recently there have been some very interesting books by former environmental group members. And they’ve come out and said, I’m ashamed to have been a part of this group. They’re just corrupt and they’re just telling you lies and scaring you to get your donations. So there are insider reports like Confessions of a Greenpeace Dropout by Patrick Moore; and there’s Apocalypse Never by Michael Schellenberger. You can find several other books along those lines regarding environmental groups where former members have left ashamed and embarrassed, and published books explaining that these guys are just trying to rip you off.
So here are the conclusions. We’ve been lied to again and again by groups keen to enrage us and trick us out of our money. We need to start basing our opinions and our policies on facts and evidence. Let’s focus on cleaning up the environment by making wise choices
And if you want to do that please tell your friends about the truths you’ve learned today. If you know a reporter please tell them; If you know a CEO or a politician, then please tell them. And if you know Bill Gates or Oprah Winfrey, so we can get some publicity for the truth, then please tell them.
As you’ve seen facts don’t catch up with lies. We need every bit of help we can get because the lies are already in people’s brains. They spread farther and faster than the truth and we’re playing catch up. We really need to make an impact if we’re ever going to change people’s minds. Stop making stupid policies and stop enriching these groups that are lying to us.
The Plastics Paradox book was written so that people could get the story. But all the information is at plasticsparadox.com. And it’s important for you to know I’m not trying to make money out of this presentation. All this information, all the peer-reviewed science is available for free at plasticsparadox.com. No registration; I’m not selling you one thing. All I’m doing as a professional scientist is telling you it’s time to look at the facts and start making progress instead of pedaling backwards.
Sadly some people are so passionately against plastics that they don’t care about the facts. They prefer to attack me online for example and that’s a shame because well-intentioned people are making harmful choices due to bad information. Just like the story about those infant deaths that we told in the beginning. So if you care about making progress please remember what we’ve said here. Go and visit the website and tell anyone you know who’s an influencer that we’ve got to redress this and start to create a brighter future together.
Thank you very much for your time.
Dr. DeArmitt wondered about why activists target plastics when they are trivial compared to other problems. To many of us, the answer is obvious: Plastics are derived from oil and gas, and therefore anathema to climatists. Fear of climate change is the driving bias behind efforts to demonize plastics, as well as many other products that make modern life possible.
The reference is to the public dismay when beloved baseball player “Shoeless” Joe Jackson was accused as one of the 1919 Chicago White Sox participating in a conspiracy to fix the World Series. One day historians may look back upon the 2020 election in this way; or not if it is the victors who write the record.
In any case this post is actually about a timely article by Joel Kotkin at Real Clear Energy. I have posted a number of his insightful essays in the past, but have mixed feelings about this one. He expresses a number of things I fear are true, but the effect is so discouraging as to suggest throwing in the towel. Judge for yourself: The article is The End Game. Excerpts in italics with my bolds and images.
With the election of Joe Biden, the environmental movement has now established suzerainty over global economics. Gone not only is the troublesome Donald Trump but also the Canadian skeptic Steven Harper. Outside of those dismissed as far right, there is virtually no serious debate about how to address climate change in the U.S. or Western Europe outside the parameters suggested by mainstream green groups.
In reality, though, few electorates anywhere are ready for extreme policies such as the Green New Deal, which, as its widely acknowledged architect, Saikat Chakrabarti, has acknowledged, is really a redder, more openly anti-capitalist version of the Great Depression-era original.
Yet getting hysterical about the likes of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is a waste of emotional energy. The real power of the environmental movement derives from those who occupy “the commanding heights” of our society – at the corporate, media, and academic realms. Though arguably not holding views as economically ludicrous as AOC’s, mainstream corporate greens are far more likely to successfully impose their version of environmental justice on the rest of us.
A finer shade of green
The modern environmental movement was launched from the top of the economic food chain. The Rockefeller Brothers, for example, funded some of the earliest environmental work, notably on population control. Today, these depositories of old money built on fossil fuels, including not just the Rockefellers but also the Fords, have become leading advocates of radical climate policies.
In 1972, the influential book Limits to Growth was published with backing from major corporate interests, led by Aurelio Peccei of Fiat. The book’s authors suggested that the earth was running out of natural resources at a rapid pace and called for establishing “global equilibrium” through restrictions on growth and “a carefully controlled balance” of population and capital. These conclusions, mostly accepted in top media, academic, and political circles, turned out to be almost comically off target, as production of food, energy, and raw materials accompanied not the predicted mass starvation but arguably the greatest rise of global living standards in history.
Yet despite this record, a growing and powerful faction of the corporate aristocracy still embraces the ideals of the Club of Rome, seeking to cut human consumption and limit economic progress. Like religious prelates in the Middle Ages, today’s environmentalists – who The Nation’s Alexander Cockburn has aptly named “greenhouse fearmongers” – see no contradiction between imposing austerity on the masses and excusing the excesses of their ultra-rich supporters. Like sinful aristocrats and merchant princes in medieval times, our “green rich” can even buy a modern version of indulgences through carbon credits and other virtue-signaling devices. This allows them to save the planet in style. In 2019, an estimated 1,500 GHG-spewing private jets were flown to Davos carrying attendees to a conference to discuss the environmental crisis. Few high-profile climate activists, including celebrities, seem willing to give up their multiple houses, yachts, or plethora of cars.
The de-growth solution
These worthies likely don’t share the notion advanced by Barry Commoner, a founding father of modern environmentalism, that “capitalism is the earth’s number one enemy.” Today’s green elites have no interest in breaking up tech oligarchies, limiting Wall Street’s financial power, or lessening the burdens of green policies on the poor and working class. Nor are they likely, at least for now, to embrace such things now bandied about by extreme green academics and activists, such as considering an insect diet, restricting meat, curbing procreation, or even advocating total human extinction.
Rather, many elites have embraced the concept of “degrowth,” which foresees less economic expansion, a declining population, and a radical end to upward mobility. One set of proposals from the IPCC endorses this notion and openly rejects “a capital-oriented culture“ seeing a more centralized approach as critical to saving the planet.” The World Economic Forum’s founder Klaus Schwab, the lord of Davos, for example, envisions the rise of a new business class motivated by “virtuous instincts” that include such things as eliminating fossil fuels. This woke corporate mindset is sold as a form of “stakeholder capitalism,” while following the progressive cultural agenda on gender and race as well.
Though couched in laudable intentions, this agenda also is remarkably self-serving. The British Marxist historian James Heartfield suggests that “Green capitalism” provides a perfect opportunity to maximize return on artificially scarcer resources, like land and agricultural products, notably through mandates and tax breaks for renewable energy. The green economy has already spawned its first mega-billionaire, Elon Musk, whose core businesses benefited enormously on regulatory and tax policies that favor his products. In the future, expect other, less innovative oligarchs happy to take advantage of centrally imposed scarcity, making money under the pretext of “human survival.”
Who pays when things don’t work
The wealthy, such as Jeff Bezos – who earlier this year gave $10 billion to environmental groups – can demand strict policies to curb climate change because they can afford the effect of these policies. It won’t restrict their ability to make billions, maintain mansions in the style of Hapsburg royalty, or fly in private jets. By contrast, oil riggers, factory employees, or construction workers who drive old trucks to work will be seriously harmed by bans on fossil fuels. For them, the forced march to a prearranged green utopia won’t be so sweet, and the promise of “green jobs” no substitute for the real thing,
For these workers and their families, the price of green piety is reduced resources for schooling, medical bills, or even food. California, with its lion’s share of multibillionaires, suffers the highest poverty rate, adjusted for costs, of any state and a widespread expansion of energy poverty. These policies are already threatening to raise costs on the east coast, where wind energy prices are estimated to be five times conventional electrical generation. Similarly, as many as one in four Germans, and three-fourths of Greeks, have cut other spending to pay their electricity bills, which is the economic definition of “energy poverty.”
To date, these negatives have done little to slow California’s madcap attempt to go “all electric.” This policy is doomed to fail as it seeks to boost electricity use while removing the most affordable and reliable ways to supply it. Worse yet, these policies will also have damaging environmental effects, forcing the creation of massive new solar plants in the state’s most vulnerable agricultural areas and open space. A 2015 study by the Carnegie Institution for Science and Stanford University suggests that building enough solar power to reduce U.S. emissions by 80 percent in 2050 could require upwards of more than 27,500 square miles, destroying both farmland and unique natural habitats along the way.
California is seeking similar emissions cuts by mandating building and transport electrification using solar and wind power, but state climate leaders have yet to disclose the location or scale of devastated land that their policies require. According to a 2019 report by The Nature Conservancy and the state’s own technical experts, as much as 3 million acres – nearly 4,700 square miles – could be sacrificed by 2050, including much of the state’s Central Valley and, if neighboring states agree, sprawling industrial development throughout the western U.S. Overall, electric-car production and solar plants pose their own, though rarely reported, environmental problems, particularly connected to mining for rare-earth materials.
The “Test run”
The tragic, and relentlessly disruptive, coronavirus lockdowns can be justified as a real response to a clear, present, and sometimes-lethal danger. But some greens also see the lockdowns as a “test run” for the kinds of regulations we may face under future green regimes. The “visionary” Davos mogul Schwab, for example, sees the pandemic as an opportunity for a major “reset,” one preliminary to a post-growth regime based on the more enlightened values of the economic elect.
This new order would follow the Davos script, locking down whole parts of the economy and restricting consumer choice, notably for housing and transportation. To sell this somewhat unpalatable agenda, greens and their elite allies have imposed an orthodoxy that excludes dissent. Today, open rational discussion about how to best protect the planet is about as rare as open debate over God’s existence would have been in the Catholic Church of the eleventh century. There’s even a movement, already adopted in France and Belgium, to make what’s called “ecocide” a crime.
Today even veteran climate scientists – such as Roger Pielke, Judith Curry, or Greenpeace co-founder Patrick Moore, are treated as heretics for questioning global-warming orthodoxy. Longtime activists such as Michael Shellenberger and even radical propagandist Michael Moore, whose recent documentary “Planet of Humans” exposed the ecological impact and corporate profiteering of “green” power, have suffered de-platforming for offending the sensibilities of green activists and their billionaire patrons.
This is a poor way to tackle a complex scientific issue, where open inquiry and debate are needed, observes Steve Koonin, President Obama’s undersecretary of energy for science.
Are there better, fairer solutions?
What the green end game is likely to produce is an increasingly static and hierarchical society, perhaps torn apart by raging class conflict between the oligarchs and their allies, on one side, and the beleaguered middle and working classes, on the other. We can already see signs of this in California, where Latino and African-American activists object to paying for the fantasies of the green grandees, a phenomenon also seen in grassroots movements in France, the Netherlands, and Norway. The impact on developing countries, in particular, could be severe, with potentially gruesome consequences.
But, ultimately, we may not have to choose between a better economy and a better environment.
For example, we could encourage, not ban, the substitution of cheap and plentiful natural gas for higher emission fuels, such as coal or diesel, a strategy that has already proven to substantially reduce U.S. emissions, and that could become even more effective if carbon capture or renewable gas technologies mature. We also could encourage the current trend to online dispersion of work, which could hold terrific opportunities not only for reducing emissions but also for reviving family life and encouraging entrepreneurialism.
We must not let our lives be constrained by the concentrated power of an unelected ruling class, whose agenda would reinstate a version of the hierarchical society of feudal times.
EPA’s mission has been straight forward since its founding. Protect human health and the environment. Doing this ensures that all Americans – regardless of their zip code – have clean air to breathe, clean water to drink, and clean land to live, work, and play upon. Under President Trump, we have done this as well, if not better, than any recent administration. This is great news, and like most great news, you rarely read about it in the press.
During the first three years of the Trump Administration, air pollution in this country fell 7 percent.
Last year, EPA delisted 27 Superfund sites, the most in a single year since 2001.
And agency programs have contributed more than $40 billion dollars to clean water infrastructure investment during President Trump’s first term.
For much of the latter part of the 20th century, there was bipartisan understanding on what environmental protection meant. Some of it was captured in legislation and some it by established practice. These principles formed a consensus about how the federal government did its job of protecting the environment.
But unfortunately, in the past decade or so, some members of former administrations and progressives in Congress have elevated single issue advocacy – in many cases focused just on climate change – to virtue-signal to foreign capitals, over the interests of communities within their own country. Communities deserve better than this, but in the recent past, EPA has forgotten important parts of its mission. It’s my belief that we misdirect a lot of resources that could be better used to help communities across this country.
So, if this is where we are – with misdirected policies, misused resources, and a more partisan political environment – and we want an EPA for the next 50 years – how do we get there? One way to do this – and I’ve spent more than 25 years thinking about this problem – is to focus on helping communities become healthier in a more comprehensive manner.
Communities that deal with the worst pollution in this country – and tend to be low-income and minority – face multiple environmental problems that need solving. Many of the sites EPA has responsibility for are in some of the most disadvantaged communities in this country. And I will point out a truism. Neglect is a form of harm, and it’s not fair for these communities to be abandoned just because they don’t have enough political power to stop the neglect.
So where does this put us as a country in 2020? The truth is this country is facing a lot of environmental and social problems that have not been dealt with the right way up until now. And while the focus of the next 50 years should not be like the last 50, it should be informed by it.
Many towns and cities in the United States are using the same water infrastructure they’ve used for over 100 years, and many schools use lead water pipes long after such pipes were banned from new buildings. The American public views our pesticide program through the lens of the trial lawyers who advertise on television instead of the way we manage the program. And the Superfund Program – which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, has become focused on process, rather than project completion.
These issues are challenging and would be difficult for any administration in office. But they would be easier to solve if people in power were more aware of the consequences of poor environmental policies.
It’s very disappointing to see governors on the East Coast, such as Governor Cuomo, unilaterally block pipelines that would take natural gas from Pennsylvania to New York and New England. These poor choices subject Americans to imports of gas from places like Russia, even in the face of evidence that U.S. natural gas has a much cleaner emissions profile than imported gas from Europe. Governor Cuomo is doing this in the name of climate change, but the carbon footprint of natural gas to New England through pipeline is much smaller than transporting it across the ocean. It also forces citizens in Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine to use more polluting wood and heating oil to heat their homes because of gas shortages in the winter months, which in turn creates very poor local air quality.
And there are many examples of poor environmental outcomes here in California, despite its environmental reputation. It should go without saying that dumping sewage into San Francisco Bay without disinfection, indeed without any chemical or biological treatment, is a bad idea, but that’s what been happening for many years, against federal law.
And just last month, the rolling blackouts created by California’s latest electricity crisis – the result of policies against power plants being fueled by natural gas – spilled 50,000 gallons of raw sewage into the Oakland Estuary when back-up wastewater pumps failed. As state policymakers push more renewables onto the grid at times of the day when renewables aren’t available, these environmental accidents will happen more often. CARB seems to have no appreciation for baseload power generation. Or at least their regulations don’t.
Instead of confusing words with actions, and choosing empty symbolism over doing a good job, we can focus our attention and resources on helping communities help themselves. Doing this will strengthen this country from its foundation up – and start to solve the environmental problems of tomorrow. We could do a lot of good if the federal government, through Congress, puts resources to work with a fierce focus on community-driven environmentalism that promotes community revitalization on a greater scale.
This will do more for environmental justice than all the rhetoric in political campaigns.
Over the next four years the Trump Administration is going to reorganize how it approaches communities so it can take action and address the range of environmental issues that need to be addressed for people and places in need. In President Trump’s second term, we will help communities across this country take control and reshape themselves through the following five priorities.
Creating a Community-Driven Environmentalism that Promotes Community Revitalization.
Meeting the 21st Century Demands for Water.
Reimagining Superfund as a Project-Oriented Program.
Reforming the Permitting Process to Empower States. And,
Creating a Holistic Pesticide Program for the Future.
For communities, traditionally, EPA has focused on environmental issues in a siloed manner that only looks at air, water and land separately, and states and local communities end up doing the same. We will change this, and look at Brownfields grants, environmental justice issues, and air quality in each community at the same time and encourage them to do the same.
Since EPA’s Brownfields Program began in 1995, nearly $1.6 billion dollars in grants have been spent to clean-up contaminated sites and return blighted properties to productive reuse. To date, communities participating in the Program have been able to attract an additional $33.3 billion dollars in cleanup and redevelopment funding after receiving Brownfields funds.
And when combined with the Opportunity Zones created in the landmark 2017 Trump tax bill, economic development, job creation and environmental improvements can truly operate together at the same time. A study published last month found that Opportunity Zones, which have only been in existence since 2018, have attracted about $75 billion dollars in private investment, which in turn has lifted about one million people out of poverty through job creation in a very short time. While all the economic data isn’t available yet for 2019, it’s possible that Opportunity Zones are one of the biggest reasons black unemployment in this country fell to its lowest recorded levels ever in 2019.
One other way we are going to help communities is by creating one consolidated grant program that combines several smaller grants from multiple programs. It will help focus local communities to view environmental problems holistically, and it will help refocus EPA.
We can meet the 21st Century Demands for Clean Water by creating an integrated planning approach using WIFIA loans, our Water Reuse Action Plan, and our Nutrient Trading Initiative to improve water quality and modernize legal frameworks that have been around since the 19th Century. Over 40 percent of water utility workers are eligible to retire. We need to do a better job recruiting and training for 21st century threats to the water utilities industry.
And we can reinvigorate the Superfund Program. Roughly 16 percent of the U.S. population lives within 3 miles of a Superfund site today. That’s over 50 million Americans. EPA has allowed litigation and bureaucracy to dictate the pace of Superfund projects, instead of focusing on improving the environmental indicators and moving sites to completion. We need to fully implement the recommendations of the 2018 Superfund Task Force and reimagine the approach to clean up sites using the latest technologies and best practices.
We can improve the way we handle pesticide regulation. We do a good job approving pesticides on an individual basis, but we have not excelled in explaining to the public our holistic approach to pesticide management. The media and the courts tend to view our individual pesticide decisions in a one-off fashion, which has left the American public uninformed on our science-based process.
We will take into account biotech advances and better examinations of new active ingredients. Just this week, we announced a proposed rule that would remove onerous and expensive regulation of gene-edited plant protectants. We will safeguard pollinators to support the agriculture industry. And we can decrease reliance on animal testing to a point where no animal testing takes place for any of the agency’s programs by 2035.
Here are five things EPA is doing – five new pillars that have gone largely unnoticed by the public – that are changing the way the agency operates today.
The first pillar is our Cost-Benefit Rulemaking. We are creating cost-benefit rules for every statute that governs EPA. The American public deserves to know what the costs and the benefits are for each of our rules. We are starting with the Clean Air Act, which will provide much better clarity to local communities, industry and stakeholders. And we will implement a cost-benefit regulation for all our environmental statutes by 2022.
Our second major pillar is Science Transparency.
The American public has a right to know the scientific justification behind a regulation. We are creating science transparency rules that are applied consistently. This will bring much needed sunlight into our regulatory process. Some people oppose it, calling it a Secret Science rule. Those who oppose it want regulatory decisions to be made behind closed doors. They are the people who say, “Trust us, we know what’s best for you.” I want to bring our environmental decision-making process out of the proverbial smoke-filled back room. The Cost-Benefit and Science Transparency rules will go a long way in delivering that. After finalizing the Science Transparency rule later this year, EPA will conduct a statute by statue rulemaking, much like the Cost-Benefit rule.
Guidance documents are the third pillar of agency change, and it’s an area we’ve made a lot of progress, and we have shined even more light.
The agency for years was criticized for not making guidance documents – which have almost the force of law – available for public review. The costs involved to uncover guidance documents became a major barrier for anyone wanting to improve their communities. Last year, EPA went through all our guidance documents from the agency’s beginnings, and we put all 10,000 documents onto a searchable database. We also rescinded 1,000 guidance documents. Now all our guidance documents are available to the public, for the first time. This is a huge change in administrative procedures at EPA, perhaps the biggest change in at least a generation.
The fourth pillar is our reorganization of all 10 of our regional offices to mirror our headquarters structure.
All the regional offices across the country now have an air division, a water division, a lands division, and a chemical division. This was a change that was needed for decades.
As the fifth pillar of EPA fundamental change, we have implemented a Lean Management System that tracks real metrics with which the agency can measure success or failure.
There is a lot of good news in these changes, but the best news is this: the problems I’ve highlighted are structural, and when a problem is structural or organizational, an agency can be changed. Until the Trump administration, EPA was not able to track how long it took to complete a permit, a grant process, or a state implementation plan, or really any meaningful task the agency had before it. Organizations do change; it can be hard, but they do change, and when they change, it’s usually for the better.
Conclusion: As I said at the beginning, EPA data points to 2020 air quality being the best on record. Here in California, where the modern environmental movement began – and from where President Nixon brought it to the rest of the country – it’s important to acknowledge the role states have in being laboratories for democracy, and in this case, laboratories for environmental policy.
But for environmental policy to work nationally, the federal government and states must work together as partners, not as adversaries. To do this involves a new vision, and for a country searching for a new consensus, on the environment as well as on many other things, this can seem tough. But I believe we can find a new consensus, if we strive to.
I believe that by focusing EPA toward communities in the coming years, our agency can change the future for people living in this country who have been left behind simply for living in polluted places. We are a nation made up of communities, and communities are the foundation of this nation, not the other way around.
If we can do the work before us – break down the silos between us as an agency and elsewhere – I believe we can both protect the places we love and bring back the places that have been hurt by pollution – and make them even better than they were before.
I see EPA beginning its second half century with big challenges, but ones that can be overcome with the same skill and tenacity that helped this agency, and this country, overcome the challenges of the last 50 years. I hope everyone can support our agency as we work to deliver this vision of a great environmental future for all Americans – regardless of where they live.
Earlier this morning I read a great article by Shellenberger at Forbes. Above is his tweet. When I returned to Forbes to read and post on the article, here is what I saw:
While I look for the text now gone missing, here are some overviews of the book, and why activists will want it suppressed. Update: WUWT archived the article before it was revoked (here)
See Update at End, July 10, 2020 Extract from Book
‘Apocalypse Never’ Review: False Gods for Lost Souls
Environmentalism offers emotional relief and spiritual satisfaction, giving its adherents a sense of purpose and transcendence. Source: John Tierney at Washington Post (paywalled)
Amazon Book Description
Climate change is real but it’s not the end of the world. It is not even our most serious environmental problem.
Michael Shellenberger has been fighting for a greener planet for decades. He helped save the world’s last unprotected redwoods. He co-created the predecessor to today’s Green New Deal. And he led a successful effort by climate scientists and activists to keep nuclear plants operating, preventing a spike of emissions.
But in 2019, as some claimed “billions of people are going to die,” contributing to rising anxiety, including among adolescents, Shellenberger decided that, as a lifelong environmental activist, leading energy expert, and father of a teenage daughter, he needed to speak out to separate science from fiction.
Despite decades of news media attention, many remain ignorant of basic facts. Carbon emissions peaked and have been declining in most developed nations for over a decade. Deaths from extreme weather, even in poor nations, declined 80 percent over the last four decades. And the risk of Earth warming to very high temperatures is increasingly unlikely thanks to slowing population growth and abundant natural gas.
Curiously, the people who are the most alarmist about the problems also tend to oppose the obvious solutions.
What’s really behind the rise of apocalyptic environmentalism? There are powerful financial interests. There are desires for status and power. But most of all there is a desire among supposedly secular people for transcendence. This spiritual impulse can be natural and healthy. But in preaching fear without love, and guilt without redemption, the new religion is failing to satisfy our deepest psychological and existential needs.
Review from Charles Battig
Michael Shellenberger has green activist credentials going back to his high school years. Yet over the ensuing years, he has had an environmental reality epiphany which now has manifested itself most clearly in his recent book “Apocalypse Never,” and with his starting the ecomodernism movement.
The subtitle of the book, “Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All,” echoes the similar conclusions of Moore and Lomborg.
Schellenberger had a few road bumps on the way to his current reality check.
Notable was his 2002 support of the “New Apollo Project,” which called for a major global science and economics research program to make carbon-free baseload electricity less costly than electricity from coal by the year 2025 at an expenditure of $150 billion over a decade.
The Obama administration adopted many of the renewable energy proposals, but Schellenberger documents that much of the money went to “companies that enriched donors to the Obama campaign” but failed to produce the promised renewable energy advances.
Disillusionment gave way to reality, and in 2017, Shellenberger told the Australian:
“Like most people, I started out pretty anti-nuclear. I changed my mind as I realized you can’t power a modern economy on solar and wind… All they do is make the electricity system chaotic and provide greenwash for fossil fuels.”
He has made numerous efforts to support nuclear power.
His current book skewers many of the claims of eco-environmentalists, including mass extinctions, saving of the whales by Greenpeace, waste plastic fouling the ocean for thousands of years, and increases in extreme weather events.
He reflects upon his early devotion to environmentalism as a manifestation of “underlying anxiety and unhappiness in my own life that had little to do with climate change or the state of the natural environment.”
It became a quasi-religion offering “emotional relief” and “spiritual satisfaction” for those, like him, who may have lost the guidance of traditional spiritual faiths.
Schellenberg concludes with the observation that “the trouble with the new environmental religion is that it has become increasingly apocalyptic, destructive, and self-defeating.”
So here are three environmentalists with different degrees of eco-activism in their past, but all now willing to speak out against the incessant climate propaganda of human-related guilt, the purveyors of anxiety, and the poisoners of childhood joy and wonder.
Climate change is the norm; it is not mankind’s original sin. The readers here are encouraged to read the works of these climate realists.
Book burning scene from movie version of Fahrenheit 451.
Excerpt from now inaccessible article (posted at GWPF):
I may seem like a strange person to be saying all of this. I have been a climate activist for 20 years and an environmentalist for 30.
But as an energy expert asked by Congress to provide objective expert testimony, and invited by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to serve as Expert Reviewer of its next Assessment Report, I feel an obligation to apologize for how badly we environmentalists have misled the public.
Here are some facts few people know:
* Humans are not causing a “sixth mass extinction”
* The Amazon is not “the lungs of the world”
* Climate change is not making natural disasters worse
* Fires have declined 25% around the world since 2003
* The amount of land we use for meat — humankind’s biggest use of land — has declined by an area nearly as large as Alaska
* The build-up of wood fuel and more houses near forests, notclimate change, explain why there are more, and more dangerous, fires in Australia and California
* Carbon emissions have been declining in rich nations for decades and peaked in Britain, Germany and France in the mid-seventies
* Adapting to life below sea level made the Netherlands rich not poor
* We produce 25% more food than we need and food surpluses will continue to rise as the world gets hotter
* Habitat loss and the direct killing of wild animals are bigger threats to species than climate change
* Wood fuel is far worse for people and wildlife than fossil fuels
* Preventing future pandemics requires more not less “industrial” agriculture
In reality, the above facts come from the best-available scientific studies, including those conducted by or accepted by the IPCC, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and other leading scientific bodies.
Some people will, when they read this imagine that I’m some right-wing anti-environmentalist. I’m not. At 17, I lived in Nicaragua to show solidarity with the Sandinista socialist revolution. At 23 I raised money for Guatemalan women’s cooperatives. In my early 20s I lived in the semi-Amazon doing research with small farmers fighting land invasions. At 26 I helped expose poor conditions at Nike factories in Asia.
I became an environmentalist at 16 when I threw a fundraiser for Rainforest Action Network. At 27 I helped save the last unprotected ancient redwoods in California. In my 30s I advocated renewables and successfully helped persuade the Obama administration to invest $90 billion into them. Over the last few years I helped save enough nuclear plants from being replaced by fossil fuels to prevent a sharp increase in emissions
Until last year, I mostly avoided speaking out against the climate scare. Partly that’s because I was embarrassed. After all, I am as guilty of alarmism as any other environmentalist. For years, I referred to climate change as an “existential” threat to human civilization, and called it a “crisis.”
But mostly I was scared. I remained quiet about the climate disinformation campaign because I was afraid of losing friends and funding. The few times I summoned the courage to defend climate science from those who misrepresent it I suffered harsh consequences. And so I mostly stood by and did next to nothing as my fellow environmentalists terrified the public.
In a comment below Rob Brantly adds some contextual facts about Forbes from zerohedge:
It is notable that the Forbes family no longer controls the magazine as a majority stake was sold in 2014 to a “group of Asian investors known as Integrated Whale Media. The new ownership team is led by Hong Kong-based Integrated Asset Management, founded by Tak Cheung Yam. Another investor with a significant stake is Singapore businessman Wayne Hsieh, the co-founder of Asustek Computer” (NY Post).
This group is either left-leaning or is not willing to alienate the establishment status quo. Forbes publishes the article — and then gets a quick rebuke from the Asians.
Similarly, a few years ago the Financial Times was bought by Nikkei Inc., the dominant Japanese financial publisher. It, too, is left-leaning by American standards — and the FT, which was already left-of-center, has clearly become more liberal since the ownership change.
20 million Americans participated in the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970. That was more than three decades before the birth of high school dropout Greta Thunberg, the Swedish environmental activist on climate change, diagnosed with Asperger’s, high-functioning autism, and obsessive-compulsive disorder,
We now look back at quotes from Earth Day, Then and Now,” by Ronald Bailey, Reason.com. May 1, 2000 of the spectacularly wrong apocalyptic predictions from Earth Day 1970.
Considering the current doomsday predictions scaremonger activists are verbalizing about global warming that will result in the demise of civilization within the next decade, many of those unscientific 1970 predictions are being reincarnated on today’s social and news media outlets.
Many of the same are being regurgitated today, but the best prediction from the first earth day five decades ago, yes 50 years ago, was that the “the pending ice age as earth had been cooling since 1950 and that the temperature would be 11 degrees cooler by the year 2000”.
The 1970’s were a lousy decade. Embarrassing movies and dreadful music reflected the national doomsday mood following an unpopular war, endless political scandals, and a faltering economy.
The first Earth Day was celebrated in 1970— okay, “celebrated” doesn’t capture the funereal tone of the event. The events (organized in part by then hippie and now convicted murderer Ira Einhorn) predicted death, destruction and disease unless we did exactly as progressives commanded.
Behold the coming apocalypse as predicted on and around Earth Day, 1970:
“Civilization will end within 15 or 30 years unless immediate action is taken against problems facing mankind.” — Harvard biologist George Wald
“We are in an environmental crisis which threatens the survival of this nation, and of the world as a suitable place of human habitation.” — Washington University biologist Barry Commoner
“Man must stop pollution and conserve his resources, not merely to enhance existence but to save the race from intolerable deterioration and possible extinction.” — New York Times editorial
“Population will inevitably and completely outstrip whatever small increases in food supplies we make. The death rate will increase until at least 100-200 million people per year will be starving to death during the next ten years.” — Stanford University biologist Paul Ehrlich
“Most of the people who are going to die in the greatest cataclysm in the history of man have already been born… [By 1975] some experts feel that food shortages will have escalated the present level of world hunger and starvation into famines of unbelievable proportions. Other experts, more optimistic, think the ultimate food-population collision will not occur until the decade of the 1980s.” — Paul Ehrlich
“It is already too late to avoid mass starvation,” — Denis Hayes, Chief organizer for Earth Day
“Demographers agree almost unanimously on the following grim timetable: by 1975 widespread famines will begin in India; these will spread by 1990 to include all of India, Pakistan, China and the Near East, Africa. By the year 2000, or conceivably sooner, South and Central America will exist under famine conditions…. By the year 2000, thirty years from now, the entire world, with the exception of Western Europe, North America, and Australia, will be in famine.” — North Texas State University professor Peter Gunter
“In a decade, urban dwellers will have to wear gas masks to survive air pollution… by 1985 air pollution will have reduced the amount of sunlight reaching earth by one half.” — Life magazine
“At the present rate of nitrogen buildup, it’s only a matter of time before light will be filtered out of the atmosphere and none of our land will be usable.” — Ecologist Kenneth Watt
“Air pollution…is certainly going to take hundreds of thousands of lives in the next few years alone.” — Paul Ehrlich
“By the year 2000, if present trends continue, we will be using up crude oil at such a rate… that there won’t be any more crude oil. You’ll drive up to the pump and say, ‘Fill ‘er up, buddy,’ and he’ll say, ‘I am very sorry, there isn’t any.’” — Ecologist Kenneth Watt
“[One] theory assumes that the earth’s cloud cover will continue to thicken as more dust, fumes, and water vapor are belched into the atmosphere by industrial smokestacks and jet planes. Screened from the sun’s heat, the planet will cool, the water vapor will fall and freeze, and a new Ice Age will be born.” — Newsweek magazine
“The world has been chilling sharply for about twenty years. If present trends continue, the world will be about four degrees colder for the global mean temperature in 1990, but eleven degrees colder in the year 2000. This is about twice what it would take to put us into an ice age.” — Kenneth Watt
History seems to repeat itself as there will be a disproportionately influential group of doomsters predicting that the future–and the present–never looked so bleak. I guess we’ll need to critique the 2020 doomsday predictions in the year 2050 and see if they were any better than those from the first Earth Day 50 years ago.
Several environmental groups filed a lawsuit Wednesday claiming several agencies in the Trump administration have failed to protect green sea turtle habitat as required by the Endangered Species Act.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, says the turtles’ nesting beaches in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina, as well as their ocean habitat, face threats from sea level rise brought on by climate change and plastic pollution, according to a news release from the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the plaintiffs.
Other plaintiffs are the Sea Turtle Oversight Protection and the Turtle Island Restoration Network. The lawsuit asks the court to rule that several federal agencies are in violation of the Endangered Species Act and order them to designate sites – unspecified as yet –as critical habitat for the turtles.
Interior Department Secretary David Bernhardt Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross Margaret Everson, principal deputy director of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Chris Oliver, assistant administrator for fisheries at the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration National Marine Fisheries Service A UPS driver started posting dog pictures in 2013:It’s now a viral sensation with 1.6M likes
Climate change, sea level rise The lawsuit acknowledges that green sea turtle populations have been on a general increase over the last few years, but notes the National Marine Fisheries Service and Fish & Wildlife Service found in 2016 that threats from climate change and sea level rise mean the turtles still need protection under the Endangered Species Act.
The act prohibits federal agencies from authorizing activities that will destroy or harm a listed species’ critical habitat.
“Floridians should be proud of how far we’ve come with green sea turtle recovery, but the fight’s not over yet,” said Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Now the feds have to step up and ensure that sea turtles have safe passage to nest on our beaches. These imperiled animals can’t afford any more delays.”
Green turtle populations around the world are listed as either endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
A 144-pound sea turtle was rescued by Indian River County police after being struck by a boat.
The remarkable turnaround in the US economy was achieved despite large and expensive Green efforts to stop economic projects and infrastructure. While needed energy pipelines and power plants remain unbuilt in coastal places like New York and California, the heartland will be a battleground for activists wanting to leave the best sources underground in favor of aboveground dilute and intermittent wind and solar power.
Next year will be a pivotal one for many of Minnesota’s most controversial environmental debates, from mining to climate change and the 2020 elections. Here’s a look at some of the big questions heading into 2020:
File photo courtesy of the Timberjay PolyMet Mining has won state and federal approval to break ground on its $1 billion copper-nickel mine near Hoyt Lakes.
1. Will PolyMet move forward? PolyMet Mining has won state and federal approval to break ground on its $1 billion copper-nickel mine near Hoyt Lakes. But the project now faces serious questions after Minnesota courts put several permits on hold by this year.
First, The Minnesota Court of Appeals ordered a lower court to examine if state regulators hid concerns the federal government had with a key water safety permit. The Court of Appeals is also investigating whether Glencore, the Swiss mining giant that owns a majority of PolyMet’s shares, should be named on state permits, and whether the plan for a tailings dam at the mine is safe enough.
On top of the permit issues, PolyMet’s majority owner Glencore is now facing a bribery investigation in the United Kingdom and is in the midst of a leadership change.
After a year of turmoil, 2020 could be pivotal for a project that has faced 15 years of environmental review and could bring hundreds of jobs to the Iron Range. If built, it would be the first copper-nickel mine in the state.
2. Will the Line 3 pipeline get built?
Another controversial project on the brink of construction is Enbridge’s Line 3 oil pipeline. The Canadian energy company is hoping to build a 337-mile pipeline through northern Minnesota to replace an aging and corroding one that is operating at half capacity. State regulators on the Public Utilities Commission granted the $2.6 billion project a Certificate of Need and approved its route.
In July, however, the Court of Appeals ruled the PUC failed to consider the impact an oil spill could have on Lake Superior’s watershed, setting the project back months. A new environmental assessment was completed earlier this month by the Department of Commerce, modeling a spill into a tributary of the St. Louis River. In a worst case-type scenario, the research found oil would be unlikely to reach Lake Superior.
Final Line 3 Replacement Project routek
The five-member PUC now needs to vote again on whether to approve Line 3, which also needs federal permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, to move forward.
Opponents of Line 3, who argue building new fossil fuel infrastructure would further contribute to climate change, have protested the Walz administration at many public events and have taken steps to disrupt Enbridge’s existing infrastructure. Will wide-scale protests follow if Line 3 does get approved for construction?
3. Will the Legislature pass any climate change policy?
The 2019 session ended with very little new climate and energy policy, despite a Democratic push to make Minnesota’s power grid carbon-free by 2050 and GOP support for a measure to make it tougher to build new fossil fuel projects.
While 2019 was ultimately focused on writing a two-year budget, such debates could find new life at the Legislature in 2020. Especially since lawmakers will have a healthy pot of unused money from Xcel Energy, from the funds the energy company pays to store nuclear waste in Minnesota.
4. Will there be a showdown over the study of mining near the Boundary Waters?
Ever since the Trump administration canceled a study that could have led to a 20-year ban on copper-nickel mining in the Rainy River watershed, some Democrats have tried to finish the research or at least get the federal government to disclose what it found.
While U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum and others have not been successful in Congress, the state Department of Natural Resources has asked for the information to include in its environmental review of a mine Twin Metals Minnesota wants to build just outside the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
The DNR won’t say if it will proceed with its review if the federal government stonewalls the agency. But the state has left open the possibility of a showdown with the pro-mining Trump administration. “We will request the information, we expect to get it,” Barb Naramore, an assistant DNR commissioner, told reporters. “If for some reason it’s not forthcoming we’ll need to evaluate the implications of that at that point in time.”
5. How will environmental issues play in the 2020 elections?
The 2020 elections carry massive stakes for local environmental issues. If Trump is re-elected, his administration is likely to continue support for Twin Metals. Many of the Democratic frontrunners have said they oppose mining in the Rainy River watershed, including Pete Buttigieg, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Joe Biden has not, although the Obama-Biden administration launched the study on a 20-year mining ban in the Rainy River watershed and took other steps to stymie Twin Metals.
Trump has generally supported pipelines, while Warren and Sanders have also opposed Line 3.
At the Legislature, Republicans would likely need to keep a majority in the state Senate to head off the most aggressive parts of Gov. Tim Walz’s climate change agenda in 2021. While not all DFLers support the governor’s measures, minority Democrats in the Senate recently launched a “Clean Energy and Climate Caucus” with an eye on passing some form of Walz’s legislation.