Category Archives: activism

Small ‘e’ Environmentalist

I know several people who, when asked their political views, claim to be “small ‘c’ Conservatives”. They do so because they feel they are genuinely conservative in the sense that they adhere to somewhat traditional values or the status quo, but it can also mean they support a conservative fiscal policy for government – in the sense that spending is kept under control, taxes kept within reason and budgets are balanced. They call themselves thus primarily to distinguish themselves from the more reactionary ‘Conservatives’ – be they neo-Conservatives or plain old right-wing nuts. Most of the ones I know are generally ‘pro-choice’, in favour of rights for gays and so on, and are strong advocates of small government – not to the point of Libertarianism or anarchy – but not full of make-work projects for bureaucrats and their friends either. The term is also used by people who adhere to conservative views, but aren’t a member of the Conservative Party (or Republican Party in the US), mainly because they believe those parties have been hi-jacked by the more extremist elements with whom they don’t want to be associated.

I often feel the same way about Environmentalism. As a movement it seems to have largely been taken over by extremists, alarmists, opportunists and hypocrites. Some of the extremists seem to have either a bizarre, utopian anti-capitalist or anti-western agenda, others are plain old racists in disguise. Still others stand to make a killing through Carbon trading and government subsidies; concern over the environment may be merely a cynical cloak for otherwise unabashed greed.

It takes a fair sized ego (perhaps even some sort of Messianic Complex) to think one can ‘save the planet’. Unfortunately, what I find common is what PJ O’Rourke once noted: there are a lot of people who would do anything to “save the planet”, except take a science course. The end result is a lot of politicking, shoddy science, more taxes, more proposed regulation, intrusiveness, calls for McCarthy-style witch hunts and show trials, irrational hysteria, and worse.

Disagreeing with them about anything brings charges that one is ‘killing the planet’ or doesn’t care about the future, or is right wing or a redneck or brainwashed by big business. Nothing could be further from the truth. There are many people who care deeply about the world, but are alarmed by all the alarmism.

There’s no denying the importance of clean air and drinking water. I’ve been to Southeast Asia and seen how polluted the water is, and how smoggy the air around Southern China is. I’ve been to Eastern Europe and seen the impact that decades of lax controls had there on all the beautiful old buildings. Heck, I’ve been to Sudbury several times in my life and can recall quite well when the surrounding landscape resembled the moon and the whole area stunk of sulphur. I don’t think companies should be allowed to pollute the air or waterways, particularly in areas where people live, if there are other options.

I’m all for alternative energy sources, so long as they are genuinely efficient, and so long as they are suitable replacements for current energy sources. I’m not entirely convinced that any of them are apart from nuclear. I don’t think the massive subsidies being provided by governments is the right way to go about it either. The reality is that access to cheap energy has played a main role in enabling a productive surplus in industrialized countries, and it is ironic that this very same productive surplus, which has enabled nearly everyone to have access to the internet, the opportunity for higher education and escape from a life of chronic drudgery, including all the neo-Luddites who seem to think everyone should go back to subsistence farming (which is probably not what the really want, but they refuse to understand that that is the logical consequence if some of the crazier proposals they insist on were actually implemented.)

I’m appalled by gratuitous waste (particularly over-packaging and cheap disposable crap) but it’s really not my business what other people do or buy. Heck, as far as enviro-cred goes, I’m up there: I don’t drive, I don’t use pesticides or herbicides, I shop locally and eat mostly in season fruit and veg (mostly because it’s cheaper and tastes better), shop second-hand for most clothes and household items, look for quality over quantity and generally avoid being wasteful. But again, what other people choose to do is simply not my business. I think it’s silly to spend more on a car than some people pay for a house, I’ve never understood the appeal of a debt-financed lifestyle to keep up with the Jones’s. Don’t get me wrong – I’m quite happy to make fun of them – but I don’t think it’s evil, or wrong, it’s their life after all, not mine.

I don’t think the world is likely to end any time soon, or that the projected catastrophes will turn to anything. The entire concept of some ‘tipping point’ happening when concentrations of atmospheric CO2 reach 500 ppm are utter nonsense, considering CO2 is logarithmic, and that most of the scarier projections (not predictions!) are based on taking the most extreme interpretation of dubious computer models, not actual experiments or observation (which often contradicts the models).

What I find quite often as well is that Environmentalists often claim to want to save the planet for future generations, but seem quite comfortable ignoring the suffering endured by the already living. I’ve never quite understood the rationale of being so concerned about people who may not ever exist at the expense of those who are currently alive, except that they are really only concerned about their own kids and grand kids and so on. Other examples are even less comprehensible to me. Greenpeace are quite happy to try to shut down a little mine in Rosia Montana, Romania (Gabriel Resources is hardly in the same league as Alcoa or BHP Billiton) but I don’t see them demanding a clean up of the Chao Phraya River in Bangkok.

At the rotten core of some Environmentalists’ arguments is the notion of overpopulation. PJ O’Rourke, in his excellent book All the Trouble in the World had a chapter on the argument of world population entitled: Plenty of Me, Way Too Much of You. It sums up the attitude perfectly, implied but rarely admitted.

In a nutshell, any claim of ‘over-population’ is basically saying that some other people don’t have a right to live. Almost like the jihadi suicide bombers, there seems to be a deep-rooted hatred of life, at least human life. Or perhaps it’s just a modern form of ancient tribalism, somehow wired tightly into allegedly civilized brains.

This isn’t the same fascination that most of us share at one time or another in the face of huge natural disasters. There are many people who believe that world resources aren’t just finite, but will run out soon, and they want to be sure there’s enough for them and their friends and family and descendants. Of course, other people and their descendants are a threat to that. The idea of killing them outright (like, say, what the Germans tried, resulting in the Holocaust) is seldom advanced, so there are vague claims that more should be done regarding contraception, that laws should be passed limiting the number of kids people have…

Especially in the Third World. Forgetting for a moment that countries with high birth rates also tend to have high infant mortality rates. Forget too the actual fact that around the world birth rates and population projections are actually falling, and that it is widely agreed that the best way to reduce birthrates anyway isn’t through forced contraception or ‘family planning’, but educating girls. A lot of supposedly ‘over-populated’ areas actually have lower population densities than most of Northern Europe, and since the highest birthrates are still in the Third World, most references to forced contraception and so on refer at least implicitly to them. Heaven forbid they might want to immigrate to places where fertility rates are below replacement levels. Indeed, claims of overpopulation being a threat to the environment is the last area where one can be a politically-correct racist.

In addition, I find that many Environmentalists have an ideological agenda that has little to do with the actual environment and more to do with either perpetual fund-raising or with vague, puritanical notions of what people ‘should’ be doing. Take for example, the annual seal hunt in Newfoundland every year, which brings out the pictures of white baby seals, and boatloads of protesters. This annual hunt brings in around $14million for Newfoundland according to Global Action Network. Considering the number of well-funded Environmentalist groups who use this seal hunt as an annual rallying point, collectively they could easily just buy out all the fishermen – pay them not to hunt the seals – and be done with it. Heck, Paul McCartney could easily afford to himself. But it’s very likely that the various groups probably rake in more funds via brochures with pictures of cute baby seals being massacred, that they probably depend on the seal hunt more than the Newfoundlanders do.

Another problem with this flood of hysteria and disinformation spread so widely is that genuine environmental threats are drowned out. How many people just chuck old batteries in the garbage, for instance? And in some instances, what people think is the cause of a problem might actual be something different. An example is the cause of toxic algae in lakes – a new study recently showed phosphates, not nitrates to be the culprit. The wrong information can lead to costly solutions that end up being completely ineffective at best. Even scarier is the seemingly instant acceptance of the proposal to dump lime into oceans to combat an alleged problem of ocean acidification by various bloggers and media outlets. If you’re up on your latest global warming climate change scares, this is one of the latest. Never mind that the feasibility study on which this hare-brained scheme is based was funded by Shell (as in the Big Oil company Royal Dutch/Shell Group). I find it rather odd that none of the major ‘Environmentalist’ blogs made much of an issue of that fact, nor that they have anything but a positive view on the proposed scale of meddling.. Even if ocean acidification is really a major concern and the cause of it really is atmospheric carbon-dioxide, doesn’t mean that this or any other large scale operation to counter-act it would be a terribly good idea.

My last peeve has to do with the overuse of either “they” or “we” when referring to what ‘should’ be done. It’s always their over-consumption, or we should be shopping less, never declarations in the first-person singular. As The Onion jokes, 98% of Americans think others should use public transit. I often wonder about the motives of many of these people too. I get the sense that it has little to do with the environment at all, and rather more to do with egotism – with displays of righteousness and (moral) superiority over others – and as means to exercise control over the behaviour of others – dictating what car they should drive (if at all), how much they should shop, what they should eat, how they should think and so on. Being sanctimonious is fun for lot of people and almost nothing allows for wider array of opportunities for it than being an Environmentalist. Worst are the jet-set environmentalists – the Al Gores and Laurie Davids who live in mansions and have a luxurious lifestyle that is well beyond reach of all but the super-rich, but travel the world in private jets lecturing others to save electricity or change their lightbulbs. It’s a little difficult to believe there’s any looming crisis if even the most ardent proponents aren’t willing to make even minor lifestyle changes.

I’ll end with a pertinent quote from HL Mencken:

The urge to save humanity is almost always only a false-face for the urge to rule it.

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Loony activist groups – just how low can they go?

I’ve tried to avoid reading anything about the horrific Greyhound bus death. I’ve tried to avoid finding out as few details as possible about it. I can’t imagine what the victims family and friends must be going through or what the victim must have gone through but I’m a strong believer that people inadvertently pushed into the media spotlight should really be left alone and at best anything from strangers should be supportive in order to avoid further victimizing those who are grieving.

Not one, but two notoriously attention-whoring groups have both decided to use this poor young man’s sensationalist death for their own ends.

I wouldn’t say that PeTA reached a new low in attempting to compare his death to the slaughter of animals. However they had already reached rock bottom with their “holocaust on a plate” ad campaign.

The other group, the notoriously anti-gay Westboro Baptists also decided to piggyback on this news item. The connection (if any) that they appear to have been trying to make was even more tenuous than that of PeTA, and their tactics possibly even more appalling. Somehow, in their sick, twisted little heads, this murder was apparently God’s Wrath against Canada’s tolerance of abortion and gays and have decided to picket the funeral.

Each group is exploiting a case that generated international headlines merely to attract attention to themselves and their causes. The problem is there are legitimate concerns for animal welfare, and there are legitimate reasons to oppose abortion, but sensationalist tactics by extremist groups do absolutely nothing to further any cause or stimulate rational debate, but only go to show thinking people what these groups really are.

Both groups at the core appear to be filled with people utterly devoid of humanity. You have to be a complete sociopath to be capable of the tactics that these two groups are using. To use some random, innocent man’s horrific death as a media platform is simply vulgar.

The Denier’s multi-million dollar funding machine

According to Exxonsecrets.org, run by Greenpeace, Exxon is engaged in a ‘multimillion dollar campaign’ to create public confusion about global warming. http://www.greenpeace.org/usa/assets/binaries/exxon-secrets-analysis-of-fun. All told, between 1998 and 2006, Exxon is alleged to have spent nearly 23 million dollars funding various groups that publish studies and pay scientists to publish studies that claim something other than the ‘consensus’ of man-made CO2 emissions causing global warming.

My first thought when I actually read this was THAT’S IT ??

Greenpeace/Exxonsecrets pored over XOM’s annual tax returns for the numbers, and then summed them up in the article linked above. They were kind enough to summarise all the data from Exxon for the reader, warning the public of a veritable Denial Machine hell-bent on suppressing the Truth about Global Warming.

The TOTAL DOLLAR AMOUNT from Exxon to these alleged ‘denial groups’ between the years of 1998-2006 is $22,854,423. Keep in mind, however that this total is spread over 80 groups over a period of eight years. Curiously, the same article claims “several organizations and journalists have confirmed that ExxonMobil is the only known oil company to fund a network of organizations that deny the science and urgency of global warming”. So no other oil company engages in that sort of funding then? Environmentalists are a lot of things, but they aren’t lazy. If ConocoPhillips or Imperial Oil or Royal Dutch Shell or some other petroleum company was funding these ‘deniers’ en masse, it would be equally widely-publicized.

I haven’t yet dug into what the coal industry is alleged to have spent, but coal companies have never been responsible for pathetic (though certainly publicity-generating) pictures of sad-looking, dying oily birds and therefore don’t make for a particularly great target.

So the sum total from the ‘oil industry’ to ‘denialists’ is that same $23 million spread among 80 organizations. This is an average of $287,000 each, spread over eight years, or just the equivalent of just under $36,000 per year for each organization. This is the average per organization per year that has gone into funding this veritable Machine that is alone responsible for any confusion the public might have regarding Man’s role in causing the earth to warm at an ‘unprecedented rate’ that will cause future catastrophe.

Not that I would ever turn down such an amount, but that’s probably roughly the amount of salary that I earned in that same eight years as I made my way up through a variety of entry-level to middling positions. So basically, the sum total of this ‘multimillion dollar campaign’ would in reality only be enough to fund a single and not terribly well-paid junior research assistant for eighty different groups.

Now, it is true that this oh-so generous $23 million over eight years isn’t distributed evenly to each of the groups. The Property and Environment Research Center got a piddling $55,000 in that time period. The American Enterprise Institute fared better under their largess, but no single organisation seems to have been able to get Exxon to cough up more than the Competitive Enterprise Institute managed – barely over $2 million in that time frame – and under pressure from Environmental groups, they’ve since been cut off.

I’m actually familiar enough with CEI to know that they have a life outside of global warming – they fund studies on other things Exxon might be interested in such as capital gains taxes or securities regulations and so on, but let’s just pretend that every last cent did indeed go to funding these “denialists”.

Don’t take it on my word alone when I say that a couple of million here, or 23 million in eight years isn’t a lot of money even from a company that pulled in $40 Billion in 2007. If anything, Exxon’s a cheapskate. Really, if they were funding these organisations because what Environmentalists claim about global warming is such a threat to their future earnings don’t you think they’d be spending a little more than such a tiny fraction of their profits? They probably spend more on post-it notes and staplers. But numbers in isolation are still meaningless – unless there’s something else to compare them to.

Let’s take a look at a well-known advocacy group, taken at random, (also one for whom numbers are easy to come by – they’re less so for Greenpeace, who publish their numbers in Euros for a start). Let’s take PeTA – People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Their annual budget is $30 million.

But on to environmentalist lobby groups.

Environmental Defense’s Annual report for 2007 brings up this gem: “Total program and supporting services expenditures for fiscal 2007 reached $73.8 million” So in a single year, one single environmentalist lobby group had expenditures that were well over three times the sum total of what ExxonMobil spent on 80 lobby groups spread over 8 years. Natural Resources Defence Council fares about the same – around $75 million in 2007.

Another Dow 30 company, General Electric has been busy lobbying for subsidies for ‘alternative energy’ to the tune of $20 million in the past three years. Whoops, that’s annually, meaning around $60 million. Sorry, my mistake.  That doesn’t include their own ‘Green Week’ programming either.

In March of this year, Al Gore announced a $300 million advertising blitz on climate change. That’s more than 10X more than Exxon spent, according to Greenpeace, over eight years.

According to this site, Greenpeace, in the same time span that Exxon doled out it’s 23 million, pulled in around 2 Billion dollars. We’re not even getting into all the government grants and so on. But even with these examples it’s pretty clear where the money really is.  The World Wildlife Fund does quite well too and clears roughly the same amount.

Also, this is only a handful of examples (including, admittedly, some of the better-funded ones), but keep in mind that I haven’t factored in any government largess yet either.

Sorry, but who’s the one who’s ‘well-funded’ again?

What annoys me about some ‘greenies’

An article on CTV News yesterday, along with one of the accompanying comments, exemplify the very thing that annoys a lot of folks when it comes to environmentalists.

This article is about a new report from Environmental Defence slamming the state of the environment around Alberta’s tar sands. Within the report are the nasty photos that every one pretty much expects to see. There’s the toxic looking clouds and deformed animals and the scarred landscape. All undoubtedly horrible. At the bottom of the report they outline what they think should be done, including advocating the use of ‘dry tailings’.

An anonymous commenter then posted this:

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Under the conclusions part of this report, the authors recommend that producers switch to “Dry Tailings” instead of wet tailings.

As someone who works in the oil sands industry and occasionally on projects related to tailings, I would love for the authors to inform me of how we can magically make “Dry Tailings”. Through chemicals? That’s already been tried. Through massive driers? Well, you’ll end up burning more gas that way. Filters likely won’t work either due to the extreme solids loading of the system.

Everybody in the industry would love to hear how to make these “Dry Tailings”. Would the authors’ care to enlighten us?

It reminds me of the old Greenpeace protesters complaining about clear-cutting. As the daughter of a forester I learned that a lot of their claims were pretty nonsensical.  To the point where one of their founders up and quit the movement altogether. What are loggers supposed to do, pick the trees here and there out one by one? You can’t. Other trees are in the way.

I’ve always thought that if people really care about the environment, that rather than produce flashy brochures and documentaries and court celebrities, they’d go to University, get a BS or Masters in materials engineering or organic chemistry or any related discipline and figure out workable solutions to these problems themselves.

But that would take a lot more hard work and would be less glam than getting to lecture people at every opportunity.

McDonald’s Report card? “F”

Arrgghhh. I usually can’t stand the ‘lone crusader’ types, and that’s how one mother by the name of Susan Pagan was cast in this Orlando Sentinal newspaper article.

The comments by most people seemed to come out against her as yet another busy-body ruining a chance for the common folk to get a free happy meal. After all, she could refuse to take her own daughter there.

She could. But if my kid came home with this:

McDonald’s report card

I think this little black duck would be none too happy about it. I’d be outright appalled. I think I’d be seriously thinking of home schooling if there wasn’t a school nearby that could afford to forgo corporate sponsorship.

I’m not much in favour of controls over advertising for the most part – even advertising directed at children – but I think when it’s directed a captive audience (it’s illegal to not send your kid to school) and there’s no way to reasonably opt out then the sensible thing is an all-out ban. You shouldn’t have to relocate to the hills of Montana to get away from the reach of advertisers.

There is a world of difference between McDonald’s advertising during children’s cartoons: you can just switch off the TV. Fine if McDonald’s wants to sponsor a little league team or drop coupons in the mail, advertise in the newspaper, yahoo email, whatever. But kids have to go to school and they have to get report cards. I don’t have a problem with McDonald’s even advertising on TV – ‘hey kids, get an A, get a happy meal’. Parental authority is undermined enough by these companies and limits do need to be set.

So I say hooray for Susan Pagan!