BOOK REVIEW News Weekly
Scientific rejoinder to green hysteria
, May 12, 2012
LITTLE GREEN LIES:
An Exposé of Twelve Environmental Myths
by Jeff Bennett
(Ballan, Victoria: Connor Court)
Paperback: 280 pages
Reviewed by Michael Gilchrist
Commenting on the present book, Little Green Lies, former Labor politician, Gary Johns, now an associate professor in the Public Policy Institute of Australian Catholic University, writes: “At last, the intellectual firepower to cut through the ‘little green lies’ told by environmentalists. Professor Bennett turns his mind to 12 key propositions at the core of green ideology, and demolishes them all. This book must be on the bookshelf of every person concerned for a better environment and a better society.”
In recent years the statistics on attitudes to environmental issues, and in particular the claims made about man-made climate change, suggest that the percentage of Australian sceptics is gradually increasing. Broadly speaking, about one-third of the population are sceptics (climate is primarily due to natural factors), one-third are unsure as the evidence is conflicting, and a further third believe that the human race is the main driver of climate change.
The gradual waking-up process has been aided in part — despite the one-sided mass media coverage — by the publication of a succession of well-researched books setting out the weaknesses in the Green case on a range of issues.
The latest of these is Little Green Lies, which covers a wide range of related environmental issues particularly dear to the Greens and their followers.
The author, Jeff Bennett, is professor of environmental management in the Crawford School of Economics and Government at the Australian National University, a distinguished fellow of the Australian Agricultural and Resource Economics Society and a fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia. He lectures, researches and consults on the economics of environmental policy issues and is therefore well qualified to cast a critical eye over some of the Greens’ policy aspirations. Indeed, there are numerous tempting targets.
For example, among the crazy outcomes of the radical environmentalists’ emotional attachment to “saving the planet” are the unsightly, unhealthy, potentially hazardous wind-turbines that blight many rural landscapes; or the meddlesome local council building regulations in coastal areas that anticipate future dangerous sea-level rises. A modern Jonathan Swift would have a field day.
Even more serious, when “little green lies” form the basis of government policies, the results can be damage to our economy, job losses and increased energy costs.
Professor Bennett considers each of the 12 propositions in a separate chapter, although many of them are interrelated.
As he puts it, we read and hear “little green lies” everywhere: “we are running out of landfill space”, “population growth must be controlled”, and “economic growth and the environment are incompatible”. They are becoming as common as little white lies, but their effects can be more damaging.
Writes Bennett: “Many of these perceived environmental threats are simply misunderstood, at best, or deliberately misleading, at worst. Such lies deserve closer scrutiny so that their significance in directing environmental public policy can be better understood.”
Take, for example, the following little green lie: “Modern agricultural practices always conflict with the environment”.
Environmental advocates, including groups such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, try to convince consumers to buy organic or non-genetically-modified food — or, better yet, to grow their own. But is this type of agriculture more environmentally-friendly than modern agriculture?
Not necessarily, argues Bennett. Herbicides, for example, allow minimal tillage farming that reduces soil erosion, and genetically-modified (GM) crops require fewer insecticides. But advocates believe that they are preventing people from harming the environment and themselves if they can instil the little green lie.
On the other hand, there are costs associated with spreading such green lies. If the political force generated by the agriculture-versus-the-environment lie is sufficiently strong, farmers may be deterred from using herbicides. This ban would mean reduced farm profits and a few farmers may even go out of business. People would also have to pay more for the food that would have otherwise been produced more cheaply using herbicides.
Bennett then examines the “stronger” version of the so-called precautionary principle as follows: “Under the strong version, the proponents of change have to demonstrate that there is no chance of environmental harm arising from their proposal under the burden-of-proof assignment that can be characterised as ‘guilty until proven innocent’.”
In the past, the development of cars, aeroplanes, electricity and reticulated water was accepted because their future benefits would most likely far outweigh their costs. Today, equivalent innovations and developments face mountains of red (and green) tape as long as the “little green lies” hold sway over politicians and bureaucrats.
Bennett provides equally effective critiques of the Green stances on such areas as population growth, renewable energy and climate change. Regarding the latter, he writes: “At best, then, the IPCC position must be regarded as contestable rather than a consensus: There is sufficient dissent from enough sufficiently well qualified scientists to maintain a robust questioning of the human-induced or ‘anthropogenic’ climate change hypothesis. Geological evidence provides evidence of climatic variability across past millennia and there is nothing to suggest this will not continue into the future.”
Bennett concludes: “If one can push the emotions to the side, it becomes clear that little green lies are potentially counterintuitive in terms of their environmental consequences. This is because of their inappropriate focus on just one dimension of the issue at hand and because they are typically based on the preferences of an individual or a specific interest group. If taken to their logical policy conclusions, such lies can be counterproductive for the environment and society as a whole.”
Michael Gilchrist is editor of AD 2000.