COVER STORY: ENVIRONMENT: Don't spoil a good story with the facts ...
by Peter Westmore
News Weekly, October 18, 2003
The recent visit to Australia of Bjorn Lomborg, the Danish statistics professor and author of the bestseller, The Skeptical Environmentalist, has predictably been met with fierce criticism.
Labor's Shadow Minister for the Environment, Kelvin Thompson, was given time on the ABC to criticise the visit. "I believe that [Lomborg's visit] is because neither the Institute of Public Affairs [who sponsored his visit] nor the Howard Government give a damn about the environment," the ABC quoted Mr Thompson as saying.
An opinion piece in the Melbourne Age said that Lomborg's book had been "methodically trashed by world-leading scientists writing in the most prestigious journals".
Professor Lomborg has been targeted because he was active in the environmental movement, and is a former Greenpeace member who left the organisation after coming to the conclusion that it was run by zealots.
The fierce polemics against Professor Lomborg - who accepts the need for all of us to care for the environment - highlights the extent to which the environmental issue has been hijacked by people who are profoundly hostile to industrial development, and regard human beings as the enemies of the environment.
Many politicians have been swayed by environmentalist organisations into implementing this agenda, at enormous cost to the community.
To take a few current illustrations in Australia.
The rush towards wind farms for generating electricity is largely driven by radical environmentalists' opposition to more conventional, cheaper, more reliable and arguably cleaner forms of power generation, such as from coal or gas-fired power stations, or hydroelectricity.
The fact that wind farms only operate when strong winds are blowing means that they are an unreliable source of electrical energy.
The failure to build new base-load power stations was a major contributor to the Californian energy crisis a couple of years ago, and the recent black-outs in much of Italy.
Australia faces a looming electricity crisis, as a result of growing consumption, and an unwillingness of governments to establish new base-load power stations, because they emit carbon dioxide, one of the dreaded "greenhouse gases".
Unless new power stations are built in Victoria, NSW and Queensland within the next few years, Australians will face the same rationing with electricity that they face with water.
The greenhouse effect - rapid heating of the atmosphere, in consequence of the rise in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere - is regularly reported in the media as a fact, although many reputable climate scientists reject the theory.
It is on the assertion that the "greenhouse effect" is provably true that the Kyoto Protocol was enacted in 1997, mandating compulsory limits on greenhouse gas emissions. This is a major reason why few power stations are currently being built throughout the Western world.
The 2002-2003 drought in Australia, the current drought in Europe, and recent tornadoes in the United States have all been blamed on the greenhouse effect.
Yet a body of climatologists, having looked at the scientific literature over recent decades, has concluded,
"A review of the research literature concerning the environmental consequences of increased levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide [CO2] leads to the conclusion that increases during the 20th Century have produced no deleterious effects upon global weather, climate, or temperature. Increased carbon dioxide has, however, markedly increased plant growth rates. Predictions of harmful climatic effects due to future increases in minor greenhouse gases like CO2 are in error and do not conform to current experimental knowledge."
Subsequently, some 19,000 American scientists - of whom 2,660 are physicists, geophysicists, climatologists, meteorologists, oceanographers, and environmental scientists - have supported the statement, which has been posted on the Internet by the Global Warming Petition Project (www.oism.org/pproject).
Another scare campaign involves the alleged destruction of the Murray-Darling Basin, leading to demands to cut irrigation water to farmers by up to 30 per cent.
Environmental groups such as the World Wildlife Fund and the Australian Conservation Foundation have been in the forefront of this campaign. While parts of the Basin have been damaged by rising salt, caused by inappropriate land use decades ago, the health of the river system has markedly improved over recent years, and continues to make a major contribution to both regional development and Australia's economy.
Scare campaigns, posing as science, have caused incalculable damage to Australia over recent decades, as they have done overseas. It is time we are told the truth, and that truth, not propaganda, forms the basis of public policy.
- Peter Westmore is President of the National Civic Council