|The Week That Was
September 21, 2002
1. The Spectator (London) comments on the Earth Summit and enquires
into THE TRUE MEANING OF "SUSTAINABILITY." THE ONLY WAY TO SAVE
THE PLANET IS TO GET RID OF POVERTY, SAYS ANDREW KENNY IN THE SPECTATOR;
but at Johannesburg the eco-fascists missed the point
2 GREEN MISANTHROPISTS PROMOTE VOLUNTARY HUMAN EXTINCTION
3. THE DANGERS OF "NATURAL" HERBS: WHY THE FDA IS POWERLESS
4. THE US HAS PROBLEMS SORTING OUT ENERGY ISSUES. DO WE REALLY NEED SAUDI OIL?
5. RESPONSE TO A TORTURED SCIENTIFIC EXCUSE FOR THE KYOTO PROTOCOL
6. FROM A DUTCH FRIEND OF SEPP: A TOUCHING TRIBUTE TO AMERICA
2. Green Misanthropy, (John) Gray Misanthropy
By Todd Seavey
What are we to make of green activists who oppose electricity and want most of humanity to remain poor? What are we to make of green activists who would rather see Zambia face starvation than let people eat genetically modified crops? What are we to make of green activists who promote "voluntary human extinction"?
Finally, what are we to make of a philosopher, who once held libertarian, pro-capitalist views, later held anti-capitalist and anti-globalization views, and has finally denounced humanity as a plague upon the Earth, openly longing for our destruction as the only solution to environmental problems?
Calling them all evil might be oversimplifying. A friend of mine, Critical Review editor Jeffrey Friedman, insists that there are no evil people. He points out that political activists love to paint their opponents as evil but that usually their opponents just sincerely disagree about how to make the world a better place. No one, the argument goes, does what he does because he woke up in the morning thinking, "How can I make the world, on balance, a worse place?"
I think Friedman is wrong to say no one thinks this way, since there are at least a few bullies, sadistic murderers, violent Satanists, and gang members eager to prove how bad they are. These people are evil in the classic sense of the word. But the case of well-meaning political zealots is a more interesting one. If someone genuinely believes that blowing up an airplane will, in the long run, make the world a better place, might we say that person - despite making a terrible, disastrous error in judgment (and deserving whatever retaliation he gets) - is not evil?
Perhaps, but we are within our rights to inquire further about what "a better world" means in such a person's mind and whether he has been morally responsible in thinking that vision through. If his goal is a world of peace, happiness, and prosperity for all, we might be willing to concede he is not evil in the classic, villainous sense of the term - though we'll still happily shoot him (and so would Friedman, I should note - ultimately we both care more about consequences than intentions). If, on the other hand, the zealot's vision of "a better world" is one in which, to paraphrase Osama bin Laden, "the world runs red with the blood of infidels," it is fair to ask whether this in any meaningful way constitutes "good intentions" - though the zealot's desire to secure salvation and eternal joy for all the non-infidels means that even butchery may be an attempt (albeit a failed one) to do good.
However, it would be naive to think that classically evil motives never intermingle with people's stated good intentions. The zealot may have become a zealot in the first place in part because he loves to kill. Someone might embrace the anti-moral philosophy of Nietzsche in large part because he's eager to rationalize shoplifting and vandalism, hobbies he loved long before reading Beyond Good and Evil. Similarly, a Marxist acquaintance of mine and other left-wing activists recently had a rumble with neo-Nazis in Washington, D.C. (think of it as a re-enactment of Weimar political violence) - and while my friend went mostly out of a sincere desire to oppose fascism, surely he went in part because he enjoys a good fistfight. So "good intentions" can be a veneer over nasty, misanthropic, sadistic motives.
And that brings us back to the various green activists I mentioned at the beginning.
When an activist such as Gar Smith, webzine editor for the Earth Island Institute (the group that worked to save the "Free Willy" whale), says "There is a lot of quality to be had in poverty" and complains that electricity is "destroying" primitive cultures by bringing them media and machines and raising their standard of living, should we regard him as well-meaning? According to a report by CNSNews.com, Smith says, "I don't think a lot of electricity is a good thing. It is the fuel that powers a lot of multi-national imagery."
When the president of Zambia says his nation would "rather starve" than accept genetically-modified crops - and imminent famine creates the possibility that Zambia may one day face that very choice - should we view the anti-biotech activists who created this situation as compassionate people? Should we listen with sympathy to the hecklers who interrupted Colin Powell at the Johannesburg Earth Summit when he defended Zimbabwean property rights and American biotech? U.S. AID Administrator Andrew Natsios, according to the Washington Times, is one man who is no longer willing to give the anti-biotech activists the benefit of the doubt. He now openly criticizes them as obstacles to famine relief. Leftists may soon be forced to decide which they hate more, famine or technology, and the answer will speak volumes about whether their vaunted compassion is really misanthropy in disguise. (One precedent that makes optimism difficult is environmentalists' support for the ban on DDT, a ban that has cost millions of lives.)
When the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement calls for all humans to stop breeding so that humanity vanishes from the Earth - for the sake of Gaia - they at least do so with some humor, but is it unreasonable to think that there may be some good, old-fashioned misanthropy (with which any intelligent person can sympathize) underlying their ostensible concern for trees and ecosystems? In the grand scheme of things, if even a species as impressive as humanity doesn't matter, what ultimately makes trees and ecosystems so important?
Is it possible that many of these green activists are simply growing weary of decades of disguising a deep hatred of their fellow humans as a deep concern for nature?
Philosopher John Gray was once more-or-less libertarian but is now the civilization-despising author of Straw Dogs, in which he argues that humanity is inherently destructive and predatory and that we should hope the "plague" of humans will eventually vanish from the Earth, enabling it to recover from its metaphorical illness. Helene Guldberg, in her Spiked-Online review of the book, notes that Gray laments the introduction of agriculture some 10,000 years ago as an attack on nature, while Guldberg counters that we should "celebrate the birth of agriculture...for marking the start of human civilization." In adopting his anti-agro view, Gray, previously a hardcore conservative (at least for a few years after his more libertarian phase) has reached a reactionary reductio ad absurdum: He has come to hate modern society so much that he joins the environmentalist radicals of Earth First! in longing to go "back to the Pleistocene!" (There are times when one suspects that all the world's fanatical causes are basically interchangeable, as when the Palestinian spokesman at the Earth Summit used all of his time to condemn Israel instead of touting environmentalism.)
We live in strange times when a conservative is echoing radical environmentalists, while Guldberg, part of the Marxist crowd associated with Spiked-Online and the Institute of Ideas, sticks up for Western civilization, industry, and science (actually, Marx himself, who admired progress and condemned the "idiocy" of rural life, probably would have approved, but nowadays Guldberg and company's sentiments make them unusual on the left). The Australian philosopher Chandran Kukathas suggested a decade ago, when Gray first began toying with extreme conservative and environmentalist views, that Gray should be labeled "blue-green" (in keeping with the European practice of calling leftists red, conservatives blue, and environmentalists green). Brian Micklethwait argues on Samizdata.net that Gray is just a grouchy pessimist and always has been.
And people should be allowed to be grouchy pessimists, even grouchy misanthropes who wish humanity would vanish. But if those are the sorts of motives that underlie their manifestos against biotech corn and their protests against multinational agriculture companies, we probably shouldn't delude ourselves into thinking they have the public good in mind when they make policy recommendations. It may be time to stop philosophizing with the greens and start psychoanalyzing them in much the same way that we do other hate groups.
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3. Herbal Highs: "Natural" Is Not A Synonym For Safe.
The 1994 Dietary Supplement and Health Education Act, passed in response to a massive lobbying campaign by the supplement industry, turned the clock back a hundred years to the days of the traveling snake-oil salesmen. It exempted "natural" dietary supplements from proof of safety, efficacy, or purity. The only requirement is that they not be promoted as preventing or treating disease (WN 7 Jan 00). Not to worry, backers such as Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) insisted. If any problems show up, the FDA can take a supplement off the market. How does the FDA do this? They must go to court to demonstrate that the substance is harmful. "When the bodies start piling up," as one FDA official put it. Well, in the case of ephedra, the pile of bodies is higher than anyone knew. The leading supplier of ephedra, Metabolife International, was required to report all consumer complaints of bad reactions to the FDA. But it now turns out that the company had more than 1300 undisclosed complaints involving ephedra, about 80 of which involved death or serious injury. Ephedra is a herbal stimulant, sold on the internet as herbal "Ecstacy," the street drug it chemically resembles. The FDA has fought unsuccessfully to ban ephedra for years. The Department of Justice has now undertaken a criminal investigation of Metabolife, but the real solution is to repeal the 1994 Dietary Supplement and Health Education Act. Source:
From WHAT'S NEW by Robert L. Park Friday, 16 Aug 02 Washington, DC (THE UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND and THE AMERICAN PHYSICAL SOCIETY) Opinions are the author's and are not necessarily shared by the University or the American Physical Society, but they should be.
4. Saudi Oil Benevolence?
S. Fred Singer, Letter to Editor, Wash Times 8/18/02
Former CIA analyst Richard Johnson and syndicated columnist Georgie Anne Geyer evidently hold very different views on whether the Saudi regime is a true friend of the United States, or a sponsor of terrorism rather than a fighter against it (Commentary and Forum, August 18, 2002).
In support of her position, Ms. Geyer expresses appreciation to the Saudis, claiming "they have deliberately kept oil prices low at our request." I had not been aware of this and have been always under the impression that, as the leading oil monopolist, the Saudis have simply tried to maximize their profits. If they did try to raise the world price - and they can do this easily by curtailing production and oil exports - they would reduce their oil income and profits. If, for whatever reason, they stopped exports completely, oil prices would triple but their income would shrink to zero. Not a smart move.
Incidentally, such a drastic price jump would damage the U.S. less than most other industrial nations. Only about a percent of electric production comes from oil; most comes from cheaper domestic coal. Gasoline prices might rise by one dollar a gallon, at least for a few months, while oil demand falls and other supplies, from Russia and elsewhere, come onto the world market. The real damage would be to Third-World economies that depend on oil imports for all their energy needs.
5. Dangerous Interference With The Climate System?
By S. Fred Singer
In a recent Science article supporting the Kyoto Protocol, O'Neill and Oppenheimer discuss the ultimate objective for climate policy. They propose that a temperature rise of 1 - 2°C would constitute a "safe" level of global warming by estimating that it would be tolerable to corals and the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS).  There are several ways to respond.
First, one can simply consider their figure a welcome reassurance that warming from increased greenhouse gas (GHG) levels will ever pose a problem. Since the existing increase in GH forcing has not produced a measurable temperature rise of the atmosphere , contrary to model expectations, it is highly unlikely that a future rise will exceed 1°C under any reasonable projection of population and fossil-fuel use.
Second, we know that natural temperature increases in recent millennia have been greater than 2°C -- without harmful consequences. In the case of coral reefs, analyses of ocean bottom sediments from the tropical North Atlantic show extremely rapid temperature increases (within decades) of up to 3°C within the past 3000 years . Even higher values occurred during the Holocene Climate Optimum between 5000 and 8000 years ago. For the WAIS, geological data show a more or less steady regression of the grounding line since the last glacial maximum of about 18,000 BP . It seems little affected by temperature fluctuations shorter than millennial. With melting continuing at the same rate, the ice sheet will disappear in about 5000 years , which is near the upper limit proposed by .
Finally, the ultimate objective for climate policy is spelled out in Article 2 of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC): " to achieve stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system "  (emphases added). The treaty does not specify this level, or indeed whether it should be greater or lower than the present one. Note that Article 2 expresses concern about the climate system rather than ecological systems, economic activity, or human health.
I would argue that the drafters of the FCCC were chiefly concerned that a higher level of GHG might cause climate instabilities . This difficult scientific question has not been adequately addressed in IPCC reports. Geological evidence shows greater climate stability during the warmer Holocene than during the last glaciation . Further, climate variability was generally greater during the Little Ice Age than during recent warmer periods. While one cannot conclude that a future warming of the climate will increase stability further, it does seem more probable.
President George W. Bush stated on June 11, 2001 that the Kyoto emission targets "were arbitrary and not based on science" since "no one can say with any certainty what constitutes a dangerous level " . Indeed, the IPCC has never responded to the 1997 request for guidance on this issue by the chairman of the Kyoto negotiations .
1. B.C. O' Neill and M. Oppenheimer, Science 296, 1971 (2002)
2. National Research Council, Reconciling Observations of Global Temperature Change (Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, 2000). The report confirms the validity of weather satellite data that show no appreciable warming of the bulk of the atmosphere. See also S.F. Singer, Science 292, 1063 (2001)
3. L.D. Keigwin, Science 274, 1504 (1996)
4. H. Conway et al., Science 286, 280 (1999)
5. R. Bindschadler, Science 282, 428 (1998)
6. The texts of the FCCC (1992 Global Climate Treaty) and of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol are available at <www.unfccc.de>
7. S.F. Singer, Eos (Transactions of AGU) 78, 584 (1997); Eos, 79, 188 (1998)
8. J.C. Stager and P.A. Mayewski, Science 276, 1834 (1997). See also R. B. Alley et al. Abrupt Climate Change: Inevitable Surprises. Report of the National Academy-National Research Council. National Academy Press, Washington, DC. 2002
9. R. Estrada (Chairman, 1997 Kyoto Conference), lecture at Center for Environmental Science and Policy, Stanford University, February 11, 1999
6. From the Netherlands: A memoir to September 11
Ocean Bird, I wish to tell you
Oh ocean bird, I wish to tell you
Oh ocean bird how must I tell you
Oh ocean bird, how must I tell you