TCS Daily


Power Politics

By Matthew Elliott - February 4, 2003 12:00 AM

"A few years from now a glass of water like this could be a luxury, if politicians can't agree on a way to protect our water supplies," exclaims a fictitious assistant in a new cartoon strip published by the European Parliament.

'Troubled Waters' tells the story of Ms Vega, an attractive young MEP who, as the rapporteur for a water directive, gets embroiled in an undercover investigation into river pollution. The revelation that the chief suspect is a chemical group called Carimas causes their share price to plummet and results in a hostile takeover bid from its main competitor Fimoil. It turns out, however, that Fimoil deliberately dumped chemicals in the river near the Carimas plant to facilitate the takeover.

The moral of the story, it seems, is that companies are deterred from industrial sabotage by European Union water directives. Of greater interest, however, is the question of whether such environmental publications are information or propaganda.

Books such as 'Facts, not fear: Teaching children about the environment' (Regnery Publishing 1999), have been published as an antidote to the scientific ignorance underlying much of what now passes for environmental education. The enviro-fundamentalism identified by the authors Michael Sanera and Jane Shaw in textbooks from the United States is also found in European Union environmental publications (as well as textbooks in the member states).

'Choices for a greener future', published by the European Commission in 2002, is a case in point. The apocalyptic warning that "our global environment is under serious threat as a result of human activities" sets the tone of the booklet. Two classic environmental myths follow: the threat of global warming and the scarcity of natural resources.

"Climate change is demonstrated by a preponderance of evidence, backed by the weight of scientific opinion," asserts 'Choice for a greener future'. The Directorate General for Press and Communication obviously hasn't heard of Bjorn Lomborg.

The most accurate measure of climate change is air temperatures, which have been measured for over 20 years. They show no global warming whatsoever. There are also accurate methods of calculating sea temperatures over a much longer period of time by measuring the isotope ratio of carbon-14 in the skeletons of dead marine life to tell us when they lived and the ratio of other isotopes to tell us the temperature at that point in time. This technique has enabled scientists to accurately measure temperatures in the Atlantic and northern Europe going back thousands of years and the results make nonsense of the global warming scare.

The European Commission booklet suggests that global warming will result in "extreme weather events," meaning "more storms and floods in the north, and droughts and forest fires in southern countries." The sea temperature calculations prove that between 600AD and 1100AD temperatures were about 2°F higher than they are now. During this period, northern Europe experienced a golden age for agriculture. Greenland, now a frozen wasteland, was then a habitable Viking colony and there were vineyards in the south of England. Temperatures then dropped in the 1600s when we experienced the 'Little Ice Age' and they have been rising slowly ever since. But they are still much lower than a thousand years ago and we are in fact currently living in a rather cool period. This historical perspective makes a mockery of the assertion that "[s]cientists ... are convinced that human activities are to blame." Global temperature change did not follow industrialisation so we cannot assume that it is due to industrialisation. In any case, if it does occur, it will probably do us the power of good.

The second classic myth in 'Choice for a greener future' is the "over-use of natural resources." According to the European Commission "[w]e are also consuming fish stocks too fast. In the Celtic Sea, 12 out of 16 species of fish are classified as fully exploited, overfished or in danger of depletion." This, it must be said, is due to human activities: specifically, the activities of the European Commission, which designed the EU's Common Fisheries Policy.

There are three main reasons for the depletion of fish stocks: First, if prime fish of breeding size are caught, they must be dumped or fishermen face fines of up to €75,000. It is estimated that up to 30 million prime cod are dumped, causing a rotten mess on the seabed. Second, the Fisheries Policy allows the catching and marketing of juvenile fish well below breeding size to reduce the discard figure. Third, without a market-based quota system, too many fishermen chase too few fish. So, fish are under threat, but the problem is entirely due to the European Union.

The resources which politicians have less hand in controlling are not at all scarce. The booklet opines that "[n]atural resources ... cannot be replaced once they are used up." This is true. But what is the chance of them being used up? The scarcity of natural resources myth argument only takes into account known reserves and ignores ultimately recoverable reserves. The known reserves of copper are expected to last another 40 years but the ultimately recoverable reserves that could be extracted at a greater economic cost will last 340 years assuming present consumption levels continue. The scarcity myth ignores the fact that scarcity results in price increases, giving companies the incentive to use ultimately recoverable reserves. It also forgets that people aren't interested in the actual resources, they are interested in what the resources enable them to do. If, for example, they want to make a telephone call, they don't mind whether it is down a traditional copper cable or a fibre-optic cable or via satellite, so long as the call gets through.

Why then do the authors of booklets such as 'Choice for a greener future' disregard the facts? For enviro-fundamentalists in general, upholding these myths pays the mortgage. Enviro-fundamentalism has become a stupendous global gravy train worth billions of dollars. If they acknowledge the facts and become heretics, they risk losing the jobs, grants, conferences, international travel and journals that go with their religion.

With regards to the specific case of the European Union, enviro-fundamentalism provides a source of power. Nearly everybody-including many Eurosceptics-profess that environmental issues should be dealt with at a European level because, as the booklet puts it, "Waste discharged into the sea in one country washes up on the shoreline of another, while pollution or radiation from one nation's power plant could cause infant deformities or poison livestock thousands of kilometres away." For this reason, environmental issues are widely seen to be a legitimate competence of the Union.

Returning to the introductory quotation. What is the first thing Ms Vega says when her assistant asserts "a glass of water could be a luxury, if politicians can't agree on a way to protect our water supplies"? Does she hope her water directive will provide clean water for future generations? No. She says: "If I don't manage to win Parliament over we'll have missed a wonderful opportunity to use our environmental powers."

Is enviro-fundamentalism about power or the environment? Increasingly, as the evidence against environmental myths builds up, it appears to be about power.
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1 Comment

Environmental causes are often fought over by zealots and those for financial gain. Whether someone is an environmentalist or not shouldn't stop us all from wanting a cleaner, better preserved environment.

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