Tuesday, April 22, 2008

In memoriam: Earth Day

From the venerable pages of the WSJ, an editorial by former Greenpeace leader Patrick Moore, on science vs. politics. Excerpts with emphasis and comments:
...the environmental movement is not always guided by science. As we celebrate Earth Day today, this is a good lesson to keep in mind.
Keep this in mind, you readers who have yet to take freshman composition. Your thesis should be clear, catchy, and relevant.

At first, many of the causes we championed, such as opposition to nuclear testing and protection of whales, stemmed from our scientific knowledge of nuclear physics and marine biology. But after six years as one of five directors of Greenpeace International, I observed that none of my fellow directors had any formal science education....

Bad sign, to say the least. Some science-y examples:

...Science shows that adding chlorine to drinking water was the biggest advance in the history of public health, virtually eradicating water-borne diseases such as cholera. And the majority of our pharmaceuticals are based on chlorine chemistry. Simply put, chlorine is essential for our health.

...Greenpeace...[has] opposed its use for more than 20 years.

Opposition to the use of chemicals such as chlorine is part of a broader hostility to the use of industrial chemicals. Rachel Carson's 1962 book, "Silent Spring," had a significant impact on many pioneers of the green movement. The book raised concerns, many rooted in science, about the risks and negative environmental impact associated with the overuse of chemicals. But the initial healthy skepticism hardened into a mindset that treats virtually all industrial use of chemicals with suspicion.

1. Chlorine. 2. Phthalates that, among other uses, occur in PVC, which is good for all sorts of things.

Greenpeace now has a new target called phthalates (pronounced thal-ates). These are chemical compounds that make plastics flexible. They are found in everything from hospital equipment such as IV bags and tubes, to children's toys and shower curtains. They are among the most practical chemical compounds in existence.

...These chemicals make easy targets since they are hard to understand and difficult to pronounce. Commonly used phthalates, such as diisononyl phthalate (DINP), have been used in everyday products for decades with no evidence of human harm. DINP is the primary plasticizer used in toys. It has been tested by multiple government and independent evaluators, and found to be safe.

Despite this, a political campaign that rejects science is pressuring companies and the public to reject the use of DINP....

...None of the potential replacement chemicals have been tested and found safe to the degree that DINP has. The Consumer Product Safety Commission recently cautioned, "If DINP is to be replaced in children's products . . . the potential risks of substitutes must be considered. Weaker or more brittle plastics might break and result in a choking hazard. Other plasticizers might not be as well studied as DINP."

For what purpose have Greenpeace et al. turned out like this? No answer? Hmm?

...This fear campaign merely distracts the public from real environmental threats.

We all have a responsibility to be environmental stewards. But that stewardship requires that science, not political agendas, drive our public policy.

1 comment:

elephantschild said...

Got a book recommendation for you. The March of Unreason: Science, Democracy, and the New Fundamentalism. Written by a flaming lefty, no less.

I'm rather surprised it hasn't been banned!