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« There's the science and there's the Vatican science | Main | On encyclicals »

Green policy - complicity in genocide?

Matt Ridley has republished his Times column from yesterday at his blog. It picks up many of the themes that have been the focus of BH in recent days, particularly the curious moral corner into which the greens have worked themselves:

Without abundant fuel and power, prosperity is impossible: workers cannot amplify their productivity, doctors cannot preserve vaccines, students cannot learn after dark, goods cannot get to market. Nearly 700 million Africans rely mainly on wood or dung to cook and heat with, and 600 million have no access to electric light. Britain with 60 million people has nearly as much electricity-generating capacity as the whole of sub-Saharan Africa, minus South Africa, with 800 million.

His post also contains the valuable information that Britain has, like the USA, banned investment in fossil fuel power stations in developing countries.

Matt is an admirably polite writer, even in the face of gross provocation from environmentalists. Tom Fuller, who has also been discussing these matters, is much blunter about what it all means:

[T]o be agonizingly clear, there is a case to be made for saying the aggregate effect of Green policy in the developing world is perilously close to being complicit in genocide.

That's about the size of it.

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Reader Comments (47)

Oh, dear!
And when will those of us who have been arguing this for decades ever going to be heard?

Apr 29, 2015 at 10:55 AM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

A Greenpeace insider describes them as an evil organisation profoundly antihuman.

interview, book

Apr 29, 2015 at 11:03 AM | Registered CommenterPatagon

Will the Pope have anything to say on the matter?

Apr 29, 2015 at 11:07 AM | Registered CommenterMartin A

Mike Jackson: 'when will those of us who have been arguing this for decades ever going to be heard?

Well, Mike, it's been (and still is) a long haul - in the West that is. But the message is well understood in the so-called developing world, where essentially all the world's poorest people live. And has been for a long time. That's why the Copenhagen was - from the West's perspective - a failure. And why Paris is equally doomed to fail.

Patagon: the Bish missed Fuller's closing comment:

China is doing more for the world’s poor than Greenpeace.
He might have included Save the Children, Christian Aid etc. ...

Apr 29, 2015 at 11:18 AM | Registered CommenterRobin Guenier

We seem to have got a bit stuck on man produced global warming.

Deaths through Green imposed restrictions on water, food, medicine, hygiene, energy etc are already with us.

It is not even about tipping points either. The deaths can't be reversed, but the Green causes can be stopped. Simply by withdrawing tax payer funding, and redirecting the money into technological development.

Putting an end to Greenocide, will mean mass unemployment for Greens. Given their track record, who cares?

Apr 29, 2015 at 11:29 AM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

I guess the UK policy came from the 2010 coalition agreement, administered now by Ed Davey and Vince Cable, yet another example of a tiny percentage "green" vote getting 100% control of a particular area of policy.

A much fairer solution would be to give a 10% vote share party control over 10% of spending in most areas, not 0% in most areas and 100% in a few. Of course, green toys would be thrown out of prams.

Apr 29, 2015 at 11:32 AM | Unregistered CommenterMikky

Totally agree.

Today we have reports of rain forest disappearing at an unprecidented rate from WWF. They forget that it was at their bleating that rain foresty was felled to grow palm oil trees for biofuel.

One word---HYPOCRITS

Apr 29, 2015 at 11:43 AM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Marshall

Martin A

Will the Pope have anything to say on the matter?
I would dearly like to hope so but I'm not holding my breath.
Cumbrian Lad's post yesterday was cross-posted to WUWT where it has had a good reception, one of the commenters suggesting that he might like to do a follow-up laying bare the extent to which environmental philosophy is fundamentally anti-Catholic. (I would go further and say fundamentally anti-Christian and even pro-pagan, in the genuine meaning of the word) Unfortunately very many Catholics today don't see that. They see "the environment" as being something made by God (fair enough!) and the environmentalists' determination to care for it as being something God would approve of.
But even a cursory reading of the Bible should tell them that "man's place in nature" is to be in charge of it and not subject to it. God would hardly approve of an obsession with the environment at the expense of mankind and while being poor is not of itself wrong, deliberately depriving people of the right to improve their lives (physically, spiritually, however) certainly is.
But we know how skilful the eco-warriors can be in convincing others of their own (self-)righteousness.

Robin Guenier
I'm not sure which side of the equation you were planning to put SCF and Christian Aid. I'm afraid I put them on the Greenpeace side, along with (I am sad to say) CAFOD and Oxfam. They are very good at "firefighting", very bad at the long haul. There are times when it appears that they know how to make sure that their "aid" is just enough to prevent the starving from dying without ever getting them to the point where they might become self-reliant.
They are fully signed up to the CAGW meme especially the bit about the poor being the ones that will be worst affected but never follow through to the obvious (to me, anyway) conclusion that the answer is to make them less poor. As Lomborg has said, that is more efficient and cheaper.
And also more ethical.

Apr 29, 2015 at 11:52 AM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

You can sum up the Guardian's campaign with the following poster campaign.

Large photo of open grave in African soil.
Strap line reads: Join the Guardian's divestment campaign to make sure poor Africans stay in poverty and die young.

Apr 29, 2015 at 12:08 PM | Unregistered CommenterStuck-Record

I'm guessing they will just look to China for investment anyway so it's yet more gesture politics. As it happens we can't generate any enthusiasm at home for investment in fossil fuel (or nuclear power) at home either regardless that we didn't even ban it. Who needs a ban when all you need is blatantly stupid leaders?

Notice how it is much easier to ban fossil fuel investments than weapons sales. Not too concerned about the 3000 Africans dying every day from war, hunger, malnutrition etc but they do obsess about future generations of Africans having to suffer an ever-greening Sahara, more rainfall & better crop yields.

Apr 29, 2015 at 12:37 PM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG

Green is the new Black,

Apr 29, 2015 at 12:37 PM | Unregistered CommenterNCC 1701E

Mike Jackson: I too put SCF, Christian Aid, Oxfam etc. on the same side as Greenpeace. I do so with considerable regret. I was, for example, dismayed in 2010 when Christian Aid (a charity that - like Oxfam - I had long supported) tried to block a World Bank loan to South Africa for the construction of a coal-fired power station. Your point about resolving the 'poor will be worst affected' issue by making them less poor is continually overlooked.

Apr 29, 2015 at 12:42 PM | Registered CommenterRobin Guenier

Tom rightly picks on ATTP for saying fossil fuel use in Africa is a 'serious and complex issue'.

Apr 29, 2015 at 12:50 PM | Registered Commentershub

Perhaps a word in Justine Greening's ear by her voters, might have a marginal (at least) effect.....

Apr 29, 2015 at 1:05 PM | Unregistered Commentersherlock1

You may be making too much of this financing fiasco because the European and American banks are not the only game in town. The Chinese are flush with cash and have recently started an Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) to compete with the World bank that will soon make the European and American bank superfluous. Africa will get it's financing for their fossils power plants from Asia and the Euro-American center of finance will be left twiddling its thumbs in a corner. Those with the gold make the rules.

Apr 29, 2015 at 1:06 PM | Unregistered CommenterSean

I never thought I would live to see the day when I was backing the Chinese over the Americans but that day has come or is fact approaching.
I am still suspicious of China's motives but less so than I was since their current policies appear —stress appear — to be more to do with development than aggrandisement. The days when they felt the need to go head to head with the Soviet Union on the long-held belief that each was a threat to the other's interpretation of the same ideology (always a good excuse for an argument) are gone. So there is less reason to collect properties in some game of Global Monopoly.
It will be interesting to see what transpires though I doubt I shall be around for their end game. If there is one.

Apr 29, 2015 at 2:02 PM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

Mike Jackson: 'backing the Chinese over the Americans'?

Well maybe - for the reasons we're discussing above. But China's is a pretty unpleasant regime. Where would you prefer to live - China or the USA? In any case, as Britain has demonstrated over the years, development and aggrandisement can amount to the same thing.

Apr 29, 2015 at 3:36 PM | Registered CommenterRobin Guenier

Robin Guenier
I wouldn't dispute. Let's just say that in the present set of circumstances a financial counterweight to the World Bank and the IMF might be a good thing.
If my contention that China no longer feels the need to play what I called "Global Monopoly" is right then it lowers the international temperature.
Yes, the Chinese regime is pretty unpleasant but I'm not keen on judging their standards by ours except where the two come into direct conflict. As we have been arguing elsewhere in relation to Africa it is up to the Chinese to sort their internal affairs and I'm sure they will when the time is ripe. I'm sure the Chinese leaders are shaking their head in disbelief at the shambles which is the UK General Election.

Apr 29, 2015 at 4:01 PM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

Mike Jackson Robin Guenier China or USA?

It is sad that it has now become a battle between least desirables, rather than most preferable.

If I was starving, I would accept food from the first to offer. I would remember those who refused to offer. In years to come, I might be described as bitter and twisted, if offered a hand of friendship, by those who had refused to help me, when I needed it most.

If the USA thinks it can be the dominant world power, and decide who lives and dies, the USA has lost its sense of rights.

Apr 29, 2015 at 4:03 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

Ding, ding, ding: golf charlie gets the cigar with 'greenocide'.

Apr 29, 2015 at 4:29 PM | Unregistered Commenterkim

China has large investments in infrastructure projects in Africa. African countries show some of the highest growth rates (obviously, because there is room and it is possible). Hans Rosling advises people to buy property in Africa, including in Somalia.

The UNFCCC/Vatican way of thinking about development is a shopworn and tattered cliche from the 60s and 70s - 'people are bad, people destroy environment, we are floating in a pale blue spaceship, we should let drowning people die otherwise they might drag the boat down, etc, etc'. It carries influence because John Holdren the Malthusian is the Obama science advisor and there are many similarly high-minded boffins in the development/aid circles.

Apr 29, 2015 at 4:33 PM | Registered Commentershub

Tom's a level headed D
With A+ thinking, as you see.

Apr 29, 2015 at 4:45 PM | Unregistered Commenterkim

This may help to clarify China's position (and Africa's likely keenness to follow them): LINK

It's an English translation of an article about a paper by Professor Ding Zhongli (a geophysicist and VP of the Chinese Academy of Sciences). There's a lot of interesting material here. But this is perhaps the most relevant extract:

... the massive propaganda “human activity induced the global temperature increase” has been accepted by the majority of the society in some countries, and it has become a political and diplomatic issue. Why do the developed countries put an arguable scientific problem on the international negotiation table? The real intention is not for the global temperature increase, but for the restriction of the economic development of the developing countries, and for keeping their own advantageous positions.
That's a position that would explain how it is that, as Tom Fuller points out, 'China is doing more for the world’s poor than Greenpeace'.

Apr 29, 2015 at 5:25 PM | Registered CommenterRobin Guenier

…600 million have no access to electric light.
It has to make you wonder; under the wicked heel of the British Empire, countries of Africa had an infrastructure of roads, rail, electricity, telephones, TV and radio, and water, along with schools, hospitals and other public buildings built for them. What has gone wrong?

Certainly, those “charities” already mentioned have done little to help, here, at all. One reason that I refuse to contribute to any of them; the only charities that get any money from me are the smaller, local ones, and the RNLI.

Apr 29, 2015 at 5:42 PM | Registered CommenterRadical Rodent

Your understanding of the Catholic Church's teaching is not mine, which is why I am both surprised (a bit) and disheartened that the Vatican appears to be listening to the extreme extremists in the matter of climate change. I don't know what the position of the African bishops is on the subject or even if they have one but the major growth area in Catholicism today is in Africa and parts of Asia, in other words the very parts of the world that are likely to be most adversely affected if Schellnhuber and Sachs get their way.

That rather ironic position has been noted before. Africa was coming along quite nicely until the British were coerced into leaving. I make no judgment, merely record the fact.
As for charities, there are three that I have encouraged people who are disillusioned with the majors to think about: WaterAid (about which I started having second thoughts when they signed up to the AGW scam), Mary's Meals which provides free meals for children in Kenya, the only catch being they have to turn up for a morning's schooling first!, and Mercy Ships.
Every one of them is leaving the people in a better state than when they arrived. And therefore by implication at least, better fitted to be a generation able to take the responsibility for their own futures that the NGOs appear to be determined they are not to have.

Apr 29, 2015 at 6:17 PM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson


So are they blaming the riots in Baltimore on Global Warming.

Apr 29, 2015 at 6:26 PM | Unregistered Commenterjamspid

Mike, I don't equate the Vatican with all of Catholicism. The priests have shrugged the burden of faith off their shoulders, onto the congregation.

The Vatican (i.e., Schellnhuber) says:

The three billion poorest people continue to have only a minimal role in the global warming pollution, yet are certain to suffer the worst consequences of unabated climate change.

The strength of the skeptic position, if there is such a thing, is that it does not say 'ok poor people, you are feeling the worst consequences of climate change but we assure you, if you remain poor, you will feel less of it'.

Apr 29, 2015 at 7:46 PM | Registered Commentershub

IIRC, the Greens were promoting diesel cars about a decade ago. Now they seem to be out of favour...

Apr 29, 2015 at 8:36 PM | Registered Commenterjamesp

As a committed environmentalist, I don't often comment on blogs! Why is it that being a sceptic on man-made global warming seems to go hand-in-hand with out-dated free-marketeer ideologies and deep ignorance on issues of the environment and development? So - at the risk of irritating this part of the blogosphere (where on matters of climate science, at least, I do have immense respect), I will say something on Africa - where I spent some time among real poverty as a student of ecology and development.

Firstly - the Chinese are not motivated to help Africa's poor. They want access to resources. Hence the huge scale of their land purchases on which to grow biofuels and food on an industrial scale. China is cash-rich, but it is international money channeled by international capital, guided by a largely male Politburo of mostly engineers with zero concern for community or biodiversity ( I need not, I take it, recount China's own development policies). They will build roads, dams, ports and electric power - because that is what their resource-grab needs. They learnt how to do this from people like us.

Secondly, Africa STILL contains hundreds of millions of people in poverty because development policy - whether from the West or China, is not aimed at helping the poor - like with clean water, sanitation, and sustainable community-based agriculture (which is what they actually ask for). What they get is policy aimed at clearing the land of subsistence agriculture to feed into fickle global markets, industrialised production on vulnerale soils creating a wasteland for the future - and cities crammed with migrants unable to find work, surrounded by much worse social conditions than what they left.

As for 'green' influence on our government - it has upped our aid to 0.7% as promised by so many developed nations but few meet that - now at £12 billion/year and ring-fenced. Sadly, only about 5% of this goes on the basic needs mentioned above - the rest is geared to creating markets for our goods, and produce corrupt elites who suck money out of the pipeline and line their pockets in Swiss accounts. Our aid agencies don't seem to mind because they keep spending the money. Even sadder is that huge amounts will now be directed to 'climate change' projects.

Thirdly, if any of you are currently among the five million people in the UK who experience 'fuel poverty' you will know that the poor in Africa living on less than $2/day will never be given electricity - they will have to pay for it, like we do. So please extend a thought to how they will do this, being 'poor'. Coal burning power stations are a side-issue. And in any case, China is there for the coal itself, where it occurs - it helps them conserve their own vast reserves.

As for who helps the poorest people - it is not the aid agencies, nor the UN and EU, but the charitable and private foundations, often Christian, who actually address the problem of sustaining intact, secure and ecologically sound communities on their own land - everybody else would like that land cleared for profitable agriculture, global markets, and purchase of western machines, chemicals and fertilisers,

Anyone interested in the realities of development aid can get 'Questions of Resilience: development aid in a changing climate' from my website ( or mail me and I will gladly mail back a pdf (peter.taylor{at}

I am heartily sick of uninformed climate sceptics slagging off environmentalists. Without activists we would still have commercial whaling, dumping of radioactive waste at sea, silent springs from DDT, PCBs, toxaphenes, at risk from gender-bending chemicals, decimated forests from acid rain - without people risking their lives daily, indigenous people would be massacred by loggers and gold-miners, and now, biofuel producers. Please DO NOT confuse environmentalists with modern Green Parties nor modern Greenpeace, WWF, and other campaign groups who lost the plot some time ago.

Apr 29, 2015 at 10:36 PM | Unregistered CommenterPeter Taylor

And "toxaphenes" would be what Peter? It's another environmentalist scare word used by uninformed chemophobes. I can assure you I have been heartily sick of their broad-brush alarmism for decades.

Apr 29, 2015 at 11:45 PM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

Peter Taylor, there are so many fallacies in your post that it would take pages to rebut them all. But I will pick just one, because it is central to the issues that we are discussing. You said:

"Thirdly, if any of you are currently among the five million people in the UK who experience 'fuel poverty' you will know that the poor in Africa living on less than $2/day will never be given electricity - they will have to pay for it, like we do. So please extend a thought to how they will do this, being 'poor'. Coal burning power stations are a side-issue."

This completely misunderstands the interaction between the making cheap, reliable power available from a zero base and economic growth. When Western countries started building power stations, hardly anyone could afford electricity as well - the main users were industry and commerce. The point is, the ratcheting effect from increased productivity and gross output generated wealth which was spread across the whole economy over time. There were more jobs, and better paid jobs, growing exponentially until eventually pretty much everyone could afford electricity in the home. That didn't happen overnight - it took well over a century (depending which country we are talking about). But the fact is, every year (barring economic recessions) more and more people got their homes connected to the grid.

That's how it should also happen in Africa, although hopefully the process will be much faster. If you look at China and India, that is exactly what is happening there, at a very rapid clip.

I will leave it to others to correct some of the other egregious howlers in your comment.

Apr 30, 2015 at 12:00 AM | Registered Commenterjohanna

In the end, it will work out well for those people still trailing behind modern civilization.

The hardcore question is how many more individuals will be sacrificed in the process by these political delays ("green" in this case).

And they are delays, nothing more. Save for a global war that is less probable than ever, capitalism will march on and continue to increment the collective wealth of our species and planet.

Apr 30, 2015 at 12:09 AM | Unregistered CommenterBrute

Peter why should the Chinese do things to help the Africans? You say they "will build roads, dams, ports and electric power - because that is what their resource-grab needs. They learnt how to do this from people like us." What is wrong? As long as these are done but without a form of colonialism, i.e, as trade, wealth will grow in Africa. The essential elements for human progress are all not present in Africa (or anywhere for that matter) but it will eventually fall into place. Wealth(ier) citizens with access to electricity and cars are less easily oppressed.

Apr 30, 2015 at 1:57 AM | Registered Commentershub


Well said, but in fact we are NOT "confusing environmentalists with modern Green Parties nor modern Greenpeace, WWF, and other campaign groups who lost the plot some time ago". It is precisely the latter bunch we are talking about! Alas it may not always appear that way but that is why people like yourself have to speak out long and loud too against this new breed of loony lefties that seem to have infiltrated so many once-sensible organisations much like the militant tendency that the Labour party eventually expelled and as they are more interested in anti-capitalism than the environment, so it is inevitable that their main opposition will be pro-capitalists.

Some of your points though are easily challenged. Many doctors in Africa are pretty certain that the ban on DDT killed 6 million people via malaria spread. Meanwhile nobody ever died form cancer due to DDT as 'silent spring' warned. The acid rain scare was proven to be overblown by the actual science that was done after the scare - that is why we never hear about it now! We didn't actually do the massive desulphurisation required and no trees suffered. The only woods (in Germany) that were constantly in the media as an example of acid rain were actually polluted by more direct means. As for whales, is it not a fact that the use of fossil fuels did more to reduce whale-killing than anything else? The ban on whales was very easy to do after we had a substitute - much like the aerosols ban. The fossil fuel transition is not so easy but it will be the engineers you unfairly derided that will manage to do it - not the environmentalists.

Yes kudos to the real environmentalists though who do a lot of good. Not so much kudos for the type of sanctimonious asses who would buy a piece of rainforest just to prevent the local people from earning their living from it. If we want to make a difference we need to provide alternative jobs & power that actually work. Otherwise we are doing more harm than good.

Apr 30, 2015 at 9:16 AM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG


First, this thread is about those organisations that are campaigning to ensure that the world’s poor are not given access to the benefits of fossil fuels. They're referred to collectively as ‘Greens’ – although many of them are concerned more with social than with environmental matters. As JamesG has said, the thread is not intended to be a criticism of traditional environmentalism, which, as you point out, has unquestionably brought about major global benefits. I don't believe anyone here is ‘slagging off environmentalists’.

Nor is this thread intended to be a criticism of those, often small, charities and foundations that are, as Mike Jackson has noted above, geared to ‘leaving the people in a better state than when they arrived’. Far from it.

You're probably right about how foreign governmental involvement (whether Chinese or Western) in Africa has not been geared to poverty alleviation. That’s regrettable – arguably tragic. But the point being made here is simple: access to fossil fuels has helped over 1 billion people escape debilitating poverty over the past three decades and it’s reprehensible that foreign governments and so-called charities are seeking to stop poor people in Africa in particular from doing likewise.

Note: ‘over three decades’. As Johanna says, there’s no suggestion that the benefits would be available instantly. I first visited China in 1979. Most of the people I saw then were desperately poor and the infrastructure decrepit. Since then over 600 million people have been lifted out of poverty and the country is utterly transformed. Despite Africa being very different, I see no reason why much the same cannot happen there - and probably more quickly. But it certainly won’t if major organisations succeed in snuffing it out.

I accept, incidentally, that the Chinese Politburo seems only just to be waking up to the need to deal with the environmental degradation that has resulted from its massive economic growth. But that, I suggest, is a separate question – although it’s one from which African economies should be able to learn.

PS: it’s good to come across you again, Peter. I read (and recommended) your book Chill in 2010 and for a time followed your website.

Some here may find this article about Peter's book interesting.

Apr 30, 2015 at 9:39 AM | Registered CommenterRobin Guenier

Peter Taylor:

As a committed environmentalist, I don't often comment on blogs!
You have rather started off on the wrong foot, there. Why should being a committed environmentalist prevent you commenting on blogs?

You then move on to declare that you have lived amongst real poverty in Africa as a student of ecology and development, implying that you were primarily there for your own benefit, and not those of the locals. Did you in any way attempt to improve the lot of the locals while you were there? There are many who are prepared to do that; many of them will be engineers, and most will be attempting to give the locals what helped to improve our lot in the “West” – cheap, reliable energy, the main source of which is fossil fuels.

Sorry of you see any of these responses to your comment as harsh, but things are harsh in the real world.

Apr 30, 2015 at 9:48 AM | Registered CommenterRadical Rodent

RR: I hope my response doesn't come over as 'harsh'. I have a lot of time for Peter.

Apr 30, 2015 at 10:41 AM | Registered CommenterRobin Guenier

Peter Taylor, I am - to use your phrase - heartily sick of uninformed climate activists falsely accusing climate sceptics of not caring about the environment. Think of all the environmental issues you mention - how often do you hear these raised these days? That's right - hardly ever. And why is that? It's because fanatical hysteria over climate change pushes much more serious environmental and poverty-related issues out of the limelight. Particularly by those groups who as you say have 'lost the plot'. As you yourself quite rightly say, what poor people in Africa need is clean water and sanitation, not some percentage reduction in GHG emissions.
Take a look at this recent thread and search for 'environment'. You will find dozens of climate sceptics who are concerned environmentalists and/or have considerable professional expertise in that area.

Apr 30, 2015 at 3:34 PM | Registered CommenterPaul Matthews

I appreciate the feedback - and came back for thanks everyone who commented and I will aim to respond when I have some time tomorrow...but just to say, twas other sceptic sites (for which I go for valuable comment on recent science) that coloured my view that sceptics continually take aim at environmental things of which they have limited experience....and hence, an apology, especially to Paul Matthews for lumping anyone in the same boat.

I will respond though - about DDT, Acid Rain, desulphurisation etc....hopefully tomorrow.

Apr 30, 2015 at 9:21 PM | Unregistered CommenterPeter Taylor

Peter Taylor makes a good point on the curiously market driven approach of Government aid. Where the on-the-ground charities (and I count the Christian presence as a major part of that, separate to the Christian aid groups) are doing work that is very direct, the large aid budgets are spent to benefit the donors, not the recipients. That is also what worries me about the UN lobby of the Vatican. In the questions and answers that Dellers et al reported from Ban Ki Moon at the PAS meeting BKM was quite explicit that what he was after was the moral power of the RC Church to enable the UN to strongarm Governments into supporting the Sustainable Development aims; a lot of which are means to UN ends that many of us would be uncomfortable with. It is very much self interest, rather than the interest of those that need help.

Apr 30, 2015 at 10:07 PM | Unregistered CommenterCumbrian Lad

I would like to dispel a few myths so often aimed at discrediting environmentalists - and start with DDT.
First off: DDT is NOT banned worldwide. It is readily available and recommended for indoor use, particularly in Africa, where the WHO guidelines leave it to individual countries to decide on the risks and benefits, especially with regard to Malaria control. When it was banned in the USA and northern Europe, production facilities were sold off (to India and South Africa, I believe).

Secondly: its banning in the northern developed countries as an agricultural pesticide had little to do with potential human risk - it accumulated in food chains and had disastrous impact on birds at the top of the chain - eagles, hawks, falcons, as well as herons, egrets and storks, and most famously, songbirds on farmland. Furthermore, insects (as well as the Malarial parasite) were developing rapid resistance. Other chemicals were available that had no such impacts.

Thirdly, on human risks....animal studies showed a) impact on reproduction, b) carcinogenicity (liver cancer in rats); and the chemical accumulates in fatty tissues, such as breasts. Human studies could not isolate a comparable DDT-free population for epidemiological analysis, and so there was 'no evidence...' etc etc. that the levels found in human breast tissue and milk were hazardous.

DDT is an organo-chlorine pesticide developed from wartime German nerve-gas technology and later marketed for agricultural warfare against is broad spectrum, killing both pests and beneficial insects; it is above all very persistent and mobile in the food chain. It was cheap - a consequence of the research costs having already been born by its early discoverers.

Virtually all organo-chlorines were phased out and replaced by organo-phosphorous compounds which more readily break down to harmless components in the environment. (but are also not without problems). This includes a huge class of chemicals known as PCBs, used mainly as electrical insulators, and sent to landfill at the end of the components life. Initially, these volatile compounds were regarded as harmless and there were no disposal controls. However, they are also extremely persistent and accumulate in fats and oils - they can be found today (after decades of a ban) throughout the Arctic food chain (including the tissues of indigenous peoples far removed from their points of use) because they condense in the cold air masses after release from landfill further south. Only in recent decades have they been found to suppress the immune system, change genders, affect reproduction and be potentially carcinogenic.

These mistakes - made because of the 'limits of science' to predict environmental behaviour and toxicity, were what led to the evolution of the the Precautionary Principle.....which, incidentally, I helped to draft with respect to ocean protection legislation. As this is another favourite whipping boy I will post a little on it next - it is widely and perhaps deliberately misunderstood.

May 1, 2015 at 1:22 PM | Unregistered CommenterPeter Taylor

Peter Taylor, the DDT scare was thoroughly debunked by Steve Milloy ( years ago. Others have tried, and failed, to disprove his work.

To recap the process for banning it, Paul Driesssen wrote:

"... helped persuade the Audubon Society to launch the Environmental Defense Fund for the sole purpose of demanding a DDT ban.

Why would Audubon do such a thing? Its own research and Department of the Interior studies showed that bird and animal populations were exploding during the two decades when DDT was used most widely. Countless other studies documented that the life-saving chemical was safe for humans and most wildlife, including bald eagles. People actually tried to kill themselves with DDT – and repeatedly failed.

An EPA scientific panel conducted six months of hearings, compiled 9,312 pages of studies and testimony, and concluded that DDT was safe and effective, was not carcinogenic, and should not be banned. Nevertheless, without attending a single hour of hearings or reading a single page of the panel’s report, EPA Administrator William Ruckelshaus banned U.S. production and use of DDT in 1972 ..."

While it is true that it was never completely banned, it was effectively banned because the US produced most of it, and the domestic market was shut down. In addition, the US put pressure on aid recipients not to use it, and before long malaria and other blood borne disease rates in places like Africa began to climb rapidly.

Demonising DDT was a human catastrophe for millions of the world's poorest people - another triumph for misguided "environmentalists" who are not concerned about wind turbines shredding millions of birds and bats.

May 1, 2015 at 1:58 PM | Registered Commenterjohanna

On the Precautionary Principle

This arose because by the mid-1980s, some serious mistakes had been made - due to the abject failure of computer simulation and the use of predictive models - particularly of the ocean's ability to dilute and disperse known toxic substances. Other substances produced and released in large quantities were initially thought completely harmless - such as PCBs and CFCs...though some scientists had issued warnings. In addition, inorganic relatively simple substances released on mass also brought problems that had not been predicted - such as SO2 and acid rain (afflicting both forests and lakes) and nitrogen run-off in agriculture.

It was the failure to predict thesholds of damage, timing of onset and rate of development of damage, as well as cellular toxicity (and the impossibility of epidemiology for widespread contaminants) that led to changes in the law. Hitherto, if a substance or practice was suspected of causing damage, those concerned had to prove that damage before action could be taken. Such proof was nigh impossible and placed the burden of finance upon the litigant.

The move to change the 'burden of proof' was led at first by scientists working for government labs (in particular German and Scandinavian fisheries) - and the cause taken up politically by Greenpeace and other environmental groups. It was a combination of astute political action at the UN by Greenpeace AND the scientific case, that won the day. Eventually I worked as advisor to the UN to write new legislation. This is all written up in Jackson (ed) 'Clean Production Strategies' Stockholm Environment Institute.

And to be clear on the Precautionary Principle: it is not ANTI-SCIENCE. IT acknowledges the limits of scientific modelling and prediction (something readers of this blog should readily appreciate!). It changes the burden of proof - the discharger or dumper must prove harmlessness. And as many of you will also appreciate, that is also very hard to do - so then comes the clause of 'clean production' - ie. don't produce toxic waste if you don't need to. The latter is about cost and availability of alternatives - also built into the legislation. To the latter end, environmental activist scientists helped create a Paris office of the UN focused entirely upon communicating clean production best practices.

Now for a swipe at the Greens! You would have thought that 20 years serving at the sharp end of environmental science and legislation, coupled to analysing and running and criticising complex global models of the planetary system would have gained me some listening space after I analysed AGW models. Not at all! Instead, I was subject to scurrilous and libelous personal attacks and 'we know where you live' threats in my neighbourhood! That was a big wake-up for me.

Something has seriously changed in the Green Movement. It deserves careful analysis - not the petty commentary about communists, socialists, or religious fanatics. Huge numbers of well-meaning and caring young people are being misguided into meaningless action against climate change. The phenomenon relates to the structure of campaigning organisations, the media (and how some newspapers and journalists become 'campaign' oriented), vested interests (NGOs and even parliamentarians and UN committee chairs - with membership heavily invested in renewable energy technologies) and some very unhealthy naivety around the nature of democracy. Modern 'greens' would be quite happy to see greater global governance, without giving a thought to how it would be made accountable - as long as they had a place on the committees. They would happily see global taxes banked at the IMF - without a thought about modern forms of corrupt banking practice. They embrace aerospace technologies for wind, manufactured by the same companies that make nuclear power stations, and turn a blind eye to the environmental hell-hole that is Chinese rare-earth mining for these aerospace products. They have long lost sight of the real environmental issues - appearing now to be all-consumed with a messianic zeal that seriously damages the critical faculties they once had.

There is nothing remotely similar to communism, or socialism, nor the Catholic Church....the phenomenon demands a new social and political psychology - but hopefully, somewhat better than now directed at AGW 'denialism' - I haven't given up on social anthropology - indeed, I rejoined the Royal Anthropological Institute with this in mind, and next year, they are running a major conference on....climate change! I will keep you informed.

We had better leave the development issues to another time! It is all about soil and water where Africa is concerned - but electricity is what fascinates. That would be a long discussion!

May 1, 2015 at 1:58 PM | Unregistered CommenterPeter Taylor


DDT has nothing to do with nerve gas. Nerve gas compounds are organophosphorous compounds so the DDT replacements are in fact much more closely related to nerve gas than the DDT. In fact, farmers who are careless with their organo phosphorous pesticides can exhibit symptoms of nerve gas exposure but the exposure dosages needed for that are much higher than the weaponized materials.

May 1, 2015 at 9:48 PM | Unregistered CommenterSean

Hi Peter

Are you coming back to discuss any of the issues that have been raised about your comments?

May 2, 2015 at 11:55 PM | Registered Commenterjohanna

Peter: your response to johanna? For example, here's a comment I made to you:

... the point being made here is simple: access to fossil fuels has helped over 1 billion people escape debilitating poverty over the past three decades and it’s reprehensible that foreign governments and so-called charities are seeking to stop poor people in Africa in particular from doing likewise.
Do you agree?

May 3, 2015 at 7:36 AM | Registered CommenterRobin Guenier


May 4, 2015 at 3:28 PM | Registered Commenterjohanna

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