|When Skepticism is Heresy |
Salim Mansur - Monday,26 February 2007
The NDP member for Ottawa Centre, Paul Dewar, rose in the House of Commons last November and denounced Stephen Harper's Conservative government for appointing Christopher Essex to the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council. Dewar condemned Essex, a University of Western Ontario professor of applied mathematics, because he "denies the science of climate change."
The key passage in the NDP denouncement reads, "To appoint climate skeptics to the body that determines what government-funded science is undertaken in Canada's universities is indefensible."
The NDP is a political face of a worldwide movement that will not tolerate skepticism about global warming and climate science. The ire of Dewar and his party against Essex's NSERC appointment is found in the open letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper that he signed in the company of roughly 60 scientists from around the world, requesting that "balanced, comprehensive public-consultation sessions be held so as to examine the scientific foundation of the federal government's climate-change plans." But Essex has never been called before an appointed scientific body questioning his assessments. No one has yet successfully convicted him a heretic for not accepting supinely the wisdom of the belief that "the science of climate change" is settled and cannot be questioned.
Yet just such a body, the Danish Committee on Scientific Dishonesty, was convened and pronounced judgment on Danish scientist Bjorn Lomborg for writing his The Skeptical Environmentalist--a process reminiscent of any of the inquisitions that have punished skeptics of official dogma. DCSD tried and found Lomborg guilty of publishing a book questioning the evidence for global warming--questioning "contrary to the standards of good scientific practice." This inquisition is not a myth; it took place in the 21st century, in a country on a continent proud of its contributions to the enlightenment of the modern world.
The Skeptical Environmentalist, Lomborg examines the apocalyptic claims of the environment lobby and finds them inflated, if not just plain wrong. He voiced his dissent in a Wall Street Journal column: "I used to believe in the litany of our ever-deteriorating environment.
. . . When I set out to check it against the data from reliable sources--the UN, the World Bank, the OECD, etc.--a different picture emerged. We're not running out of energy or natural resources. There is ever more food, and fewer people are starving. In 1900, the average life expectancy was 30 years; today it is 67. We have reduced poverty more in the past 50 years than we did in the preceding 500. Air pollution in the industrialized world has declined--in London, the air has never been cleaner since medieval times."
Lomborg's reputation was restored by the Danish Ministry of Science, responsible for convening the DCSD, when it eventually declared its verdict invalid. His case illustrates what happens when science is appropriated by the cultural and political elites. Science lives by questioning, and in its absence or denial, what then pretends to be science is doctrine blessed as "official" and policed by a hierarchy of priestly bureaucrats, in a manner akin to a church. The scientific quest works through conjecture and refutation; as philosopher Karl Popper argued, logically speaking, science can't prove any hypothesis true, but only dismiss it as false, leaving the whole enterprise fundamentally hypothetical.
Science is an activity of fallible humans, coping with fallibility while striving to unlock the workings of nature.
The delightfully iconoclastic Richard Feynman, the 1965 Nobel laureate for physics, observed, "All scientific knowledge is uncertain," and "freedom to doubt is an important matter in the sciences and, I believe, in other fields. It was born of a struggle. It was a struggle to be permitted to doubt, to be unsure."
Essex and his co-author, University of Guelph economist Ross McKitrick, wrote their book on global warming, Taken By Storm, because they "got tired of seeing science twisted into a prop for political ideology." Science that is turned into doctrine is bad science, and public policy based on bad science does more harm than good, impoverishing people while having little effect on Mother Nature and her workings.
|Author : Agriville User |
|Date Posted : 2/5/2008 5:26:04 AM|
|Re: Environmental Despotism|| Report this Message | Reply to this Message |
|It's amazing how attractively packaged scientific nonsense consistently finds its way into Canada's self-proclaimed "national" newspaper. In early January, the Globe and Mail shocked readers by announcing that "four prominent federal politicians"--including Health Minister Tony Clement--were toxic. This news may not strike Canadians as earth-shattering, since we're long accustomed to thinking of politicians as toxic with taxation, spending and regulation. But the "toxic" the Globe's science sleuths had in mind was not in their public policies, but rather, their chemical makeup. |
As the Globe put it, chemical testing of NDP Leader Jack Layton, former environment minister Rona Ambrose and Liberal environment critic John Godfrey "found a bewildering cocktail of contaminants in the elected officials. They all had residues from stain repellents, flame retardants, and insecticides, among other deleterious substances."
If this sounds like old news, it is. The same group that tested our politicians, Environmental Defence, published a similar headline-grabbing study, "Polluted children, toxic nation," in June 2006. They tested five families--just 13 people--and according to ED, that study proved "[t]oxic chemicals . . . are polluting Canadian children and their parents. . . . Chemicals discovered in the children's bodies are associated with cancer, developmental problems, respiratory illnesses, damage to the nervous system and hormone disruption."
Environmental Defence's "science" seems to indicate we are all walking toxic dumps, with scores of disease-producing chemicals coursing through our veins. But everything we ingest contains chemicals. Beer, beef and mushrooms contain carcinogens such as hydrazine, furocoumarin and ethyl carbamate. Fish, meats and cereals contain arsenic. As Joe Schwarcz, director of McGill's Office for Science and Society, notes, "A single apple is composed of more than 300 compounds, the natural building blocks of the fruit. These include the likes of acetone and formaldehyde, both of which in the proper context can be called 'toxic chemicals.'" Consuming chemicals is a regular part of daily life and not inherently risky. For toxicologists, it's the dose, the amount, that makes something poisonous. Chemicals become toxic, depending on their dosage.
Toxicology 101 is not the Globe's strength. One had to read 15 paragraphs on toxic politicians before coming to this most important admission: "None of the individual contaminants found in the politicians were at levels currently viewed as dangerous." All that stuff about Tony Clement having 54 chemicals against Ms. Ambrose's 49 was scaremongering filler with no relevance to the crucial risk question: were they toxic at those doses?
Even had it wanted to, the Globe could not have answered this question, since Environmental Defence was curiously silent about dose and risk, saying nothing about what risk experts call the toxic reference values. There was nothing quantifying whether the level of, say, mercury was over the reference value for health risk. This is hardly a casual oversight. In its "Polluted Children" report, the median mercury value was substantially below the level defined as a health risk by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. And ED said that the best measure of chemical burden is in tissue, not blood. They didn't take tissue measures.
Environmental Defence's studies are scientifically invalid, since they are neither randomized nor large enough to produce the gold standard of science, statistical significance. As they coyly note in "Polluted Children" (page 20), their "findings are largely demonstrative." Demonstrative? Since they aren't science, what do they demonstrate but junk science?
Finally, neither the Globe nor Environmental Defence want to talk about what scientific evidence actually says about these "toxic" chemicals we carry around. With bisphenol A (BPA), found in hundreds of everyday products, the average human intake is 400 times below what the Environmental Protection Agency considers risky. And there is no conclusive evidence that maligned BPA causes prostate cancer.
So, despite all that scary talk about "toxic" chemicals "polluting Canadian children and their parents," there simply isn't any compelling scientific evidence that these chemical levels pose a significant risk to our health. Even toxic politicians can relax.
|Date Posted : 2/5/2008 5:27:06 AM|
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|It's a carbon tax. |
The Alberta government might want to call forcing Alberta's petrochemical, energy and oilsands producers to pay $350 million a year into a "climate change and emissions management fund" run by bureaucrats a growth-management strategy, but if Ottawa did the same thing, the provincial government would instantly recognize it for what it is: a carbon tax.
And they would -- rightly -- scream bloody murder.
A carbon tax is a levy charged on the consumption of carbon-based fuels or the release of carbon dioxide.
Regulations introduced this week by the government of Premier Ed Stelmach would force Alberta companies that emit more than 100,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases a year to reduce their emissions by 12 per cent by July 1, or start paying the provincial government $15 per tonne for the difference.
The proposal is sensible in one way (but only one). It bases its reduction targets on production "intensity."
The 101 large emitters covered by the new regulations are only required to reduce their emissions on each unit they produce. They are not required to reduce their total emissions by 12 per cent.
Say, for example, an emitter produces one billion of whatever it produces each year and in the process emits one million tonnes of CO2.
If the province were demanding absolute emission reductions of 12 per cent, this large emitter would have to lower its emissions to 880,000 tonnes regardless of how much it expanded its business. Even if next year it was able to produce 1.2 billion units, it would still have to cut its emissions to 880,000 tonnes or start paying the government $15 for each tonne over 880,000.
Such a requirement would make industrial expansion difficult and almost surely slow the province's growth.
However, using intensity targets, if this large emitter did manage to expand its output from one billion units this year to 1.2 billion next year, it could also expand its emissions from one million tonnes to 1,060,000. While 60,000 tonnes higher than this year in absolute terms, next year's total would represent a 12-per -cent decrease in emissions per unit produced.
Most environmentalists want absolute targets. The fact that the Stelmach government opted instead for intensity targets is the smartest thing about its new regulation.
But that's about where the wisdom ends.
There is nothing market-driven about the $15 charge, for instance. It doesn't represent the value of a tonne of greenhouse gas on the open market. It is some bureaucrat's arbitrary determination (guess) of what each extra tonne would have to cost to force industries to comply with the new regulations. As such, it is more of a fine than a price.
The fact that much of the money collected will likely end up in a fund administered by bureaucrats, from which politicians and civil servants (not markets) will award grants to energy research, environmental technology and even farmers who use their land in more eco-friendly ways, means the per-tonne surcharge is really a tax.
Imagine if Ottawa were to propose taxing Alberta emitters for a fund from which Liberal politicians and federal bureaucrats could fund enviro-tech start-ups in Quebec or Atlantic Canada or Ontario: Albertans would be rightly incensed. Other than the fact that all the money from the Stelmach scheme stays in Alberta, the new provincial plan makes no more sense.
Even if the Alberta government does manage to set up a viable carbon-trading system, whereby emitters who are over their limits buy unused carbon "credits" from emitters that are under theirs, it is unlikely a true buyers-and-sellers market will ever develop.
The government will regularly have to step in to regulate the price and keep it high enough to force compliance with the emission targets. The laws of supply and demand will not be permitted to drive the cost down below this "ouch factor," or the whole system of incentives and disincentives to reduce emissions will collapse.
Europe's carbon-trading scheme constantly requires intervention by EU bureaucrats to keep it from falling apart.
Also, according to the Canadian Chemical Producers' Association, Canada's chemical industry has reduced greenhouse-gas emissions by 56 per cent since 1992. That means a lot of Alberta companies have already cut their emissions way more than 12 per cent. For these forward-acting companies, meeting the new 12-per-cent targets in less than four months will be difficult and hugely expensive.
Meanwhile, companies that have done little so far will find a 12-per-cent reduction easy.
Yet, since the provincial regulations make no allowance for past efforts, good companies stand to be penalized more than laggards.
Remember, too, that when governments talk about greenhouse-gas emissions, they do not mean pollution. Mostly, they mean carbon dioxide, which is not a pollutant.
We are talking here about transferring $350 million a year from industry to government on the theory that excess greenhouse gas in the atmosphere is causing the Earth to warm.
Oh, yeah, if the feds were doing to us what the Stelmach government is proposing, we Albertans would be squawking.
Columnist, Edmonton Journal
Tele: (780) 916-0719
Fax: (780) 481-4735
Address: 132 Quesnell Cres NW
Edmonton AB T5R 5P2
|Date Posted : 2/5/2008 5:28:10 AM|