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The Third Rock Forum - Environment

Article Title
Are Environmentalists bad for the environment?
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Submitted : 03-03-2011 17:35
Amended : 10-11-2014 13:22
Status : Approved:  
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Are Environmentalists bad for the environment? 


Environmentalism grew out of the 1960s “counter-culture” movement, spearheaded by two well-known organisations, Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth. Whilst many of their objectives and goals have been thoroughly respectable and well-grounded, they tend to prey on the fear engendered by ignorance: a fear that can so easily be transmuted to annual subscription. Their marketing campaigns have been very effective; indeed in the case of Greenpeace the activity has focused almost entirely on public relations. It features the derring-do of doughty campaigners scaling waste incinerator chimneys, or pursuing massive factory whalers on the open sea in fragile dinghies, and even being attacked by a ruthless French secret service. All this combines to form an effective image of the little man taking on the Grinch.

I have no argument with anyone who may try to remind intensive farmers and industrialists of the deleterious consequences of their actions on the surrounding environment. But environmentalism has taken a wrong turn. It is now quite frankly anti-scientific. It picks on scientifically based activities far removed from everyday experience, like nuclear power or genetic modification, safe in the knowledge that only a small fraction of the population has any formal understanding of the processes involved.

Perhaps the most insidious development of the environmentalist movement’s anti-science agenda has been the sustained campaign of vilification, aided and abetted by the media, against genetic modification. “Frankenstein food!” they cry, creating the notion of mutant food-stuffs stalking the landscape, unloved and terrifying to all good men and women.

What is the risk that people take when they eat food derived from a GM crop? We do not, after all, eat genes. We eat the DNA that expresses genes, along with proteins, fat and carbohydrates. All these are digested into their constituent parts and then re-assimilated into our own, individual DNA, proteins, etc. The common or garden pea, for example, is a modified plant, bred not to release its seed. It relies on humans for its propagation and was modified genetically thousands of years ago by our ancestors, who somehow had an intuitive understanding of artificial selection. GM crops have been grown and consumed around the world for well over ten years with no reports of any harm done to people or “contamination” of the environment.

When the Climate Change levy was introduced in the mid 1990s, the environmentalists forced the British government to make nuclear power stations pay it, alongside the fossil-fuel generators. Whatever problems nuclear power stations may present, the emission of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, methane and CFCs, or indeed acid gases, is not one of them. Nuclear power does not emit climate-changing gases and so should not have to pay the levy. But of course the environmentalists in this respect are not really interested in the environment, but in maintaining their own dogma and established media position. As far as they are concerned, there is nothing good about nuclear power. The dice must be loaded economically against it, so that it can be seen to fail. We spend huge amounts of money on intermittent energy sources like wind power, which have to be backed up by the only reliable sources we possess: fossil fuel and nuclear fission. This is unreasonable.

We have burnt far more coal, oil and gas in power stations than we would have if we had built more nuclear power stations. Our farmers use more fertiliser and pesticide than they would if they were allowed to grow GM crops. This is why environmentalists are bad for the environment.

Environmentalists enjoy powerful support in the media, invariably receiving sympathetic coverage, even when their facts are wrong and their opinions dubious. It can be quite difficult to engage with them, for example by pointing out that cars present a far greater pollution load on the planet than nuclear power stations. Campaigning against car ownership might affect subscriptions, after all. Where were they during the fuel protests in September 2000? None of them came to the defence of the fuel duty escalator, which was beginning to bite. If we are to move towards electric vehicles, where is the power going to come from?

What is so worrying about the environmentalists’ ascendancy is not only their assault on technology, but also the diversion of government’s attention from real innovative work in new sciences, like microbial bioremediation, which can be exploited to treat all forms of pollution and waste.

My plea to the environmentalists is to move on, to leave anti-science behind and pursue an active ecological approach. Above all, if they are to exercise political influence, they must be accountable and held responsible for the consequences of their influence. Conducting entirely negative campaigns against new science and technology begins to make environmentalists look medieval and dangerous. There is a sense of the hair-shirt, of a false asceticism, a sanctimonious self-righteousness and intellectual obduracy surrounding their pronouncements. Above all, their anti-science betrays a failure of imagination, often manifested by an insouciant disregard for the welfare of their fellow human beings. We all benefit from reasonably priced power and food.

This is not about progress for the sake of progress: it is about directed progress, advances that benefit us all. It is time for the people to take control of scientific advance, and thereby control of their destiny. That is what environmentalism should be all about.


Status: Approved
Reply Date : 01-11-2013 15:09
Author : Paul G

I agree with the views in this article but put the blame for the environmentalists misguided and anti-scientific fervour firmly on educationalists and scientists. Many of the more extreme views of environmentalists are provably wrong, as Bomber demonstrates. So prove them wrong. Science teachers should inform their pupils of the facts as far as they are known and expose untenable views which contradict the facts. Scientists who have a gift for communicating with the lay public have a duty to present their science in a balanced and accessible form.

Of course, it's a tough call. The media are now as dumbed-down and superficial as most of the public and have little patience with matters of any complexity. Serious discussion of issues is now a rarity on television or radio. But tough or not, it's the only way.