Environmentalism

Letters

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Hollywood vs. the Internet

I'd like to answer Mike Godwin's unasked question: "Nobody's asking ordinary people what they want" ("Hollywood vs. the Internet," May).

Here are my ordinary credentials: married, middle income, late 20s, technologically competent, broadband customer. I used to buy a substantial amount of music (pre-teen through 22?23 years old). In recent years, however, my music tastes differed so greatly from mainstream and alternative music that I found it hard not to waste my money buying albums I did not like. I tried to develop highly subjective criteria for making good guesses on these discs. My gambles occasionally paid off, but mostly they failed. I eventually stopped buying music altogether.

If I could sift through a music label's library or a new album to find songs that I like, and then burn them on a CD, I just might start buying music again. Would I share a song with a friend? Why not? I grew up sharing mixed tapes with friends. It resembles marketing more than piracy. When I heard musicians I really liked, I bought their music because a mix tape never qualified as a fan's proper asset. Digital delivery doesn't change that.

The music industry should worry less about my stealing their content and more about someone new stealing their business. They can slap a watermark on a CD or MP3 that protects it from unlicensed activities, but they can't force people to buy it. Pandora's box is open. The power to tailor CDs to the individual exists. The music moguls can either embrace this model or fight it. If they fight it, they leave the door wide open for an enterprising company to stroll in and make itself at home. Artists sign with labels because they see it as the only way to sell albums and make a living. If a viable alternative can give them similar exposure and income, they will go where the money is. And customers like me will follow them.

Chad Fasca
New York, NY

Are all these smart people nuts? The ability to copy music and movies has been with us for years. The reason people don't often copy things today is not because they don't want an "imperfect" analog copy; 99 percent can't tell the difference and never will.

The reason is that most people have lives. Time is too precious to waste on finding and copying a $10 disc or tape. Nobody who could have afforded to pay for the original disc in the first place is going to bother ripping it off. Sure, college kids may; they notoriously have more time and ingenuity than money. Some others may copy some songs from a CD onto a cassette or CD to play in the car.

So what? They can do that now, and the recording industry survives.

So you can transmit digital stuff to your Internet buddies. Is that a lot different from lending your tape to the student in the next dorm room or the officemate in the next cubicle?

Piracy won't happen as long as the industry doesn't rip us off at $80 a movie or $25 a CD. The deterrent to piracy is not "watermarks" and intolerable restrictions on software. It's a reasonable price for the product—one that makes it too costly in terms of customer time to bother stealing it. That deterrent works just fine today. It will continue to work in the future.

Dave Hein
Tucson, AZ

Addiction Hungry

In "Hungry for the Next Fix" (May), Stanton Peele writes, "The main factor in successful resolution of a drug or alcohol problem is the ability to find rewards in ordinary existence and to form caring relationships with people who are not addicts." What a bunch of touchy-feely crap!

As someone with personal experience with addiction, I can tell you why I used to drink and smoke too much: I liked it! It had nothing to do with "caring relationships" and everything to do with how it made me feel.

I loved booze from the first sip. My boss, on the other hand, has two drinks and starts to feel queasy or sleepy. A drinker he ain't. Since alcoholism runs in my family, and not his, I have every reason to believe those studies that show a genetic link at the root of some, if not most, alcoholism.

This suggests a chemical cause and justifies the search for a pharmacological solution, the "magical elixir" that Peele disparages. Maybe naltrexone doesn't work for alcoholics, and certainly methadone is a poor substitute for heroin, but the effort is scientifically justified.

Peele argues that psychotherapy, in particular an approach he calls "motivational enhancement," does as much good as attempts to induce total abstinence. While this may be true, before I believe moderation is an effective treatment for alcoholics, I will have to see studies that have multiyear follow ups and studies where the results are not dependent on the responses of the subjects being studied. After all, what sort of answer can you expect from the "Are you still beating your wife?" type of question?

I will tell you one thing about abstinence: It works. I haven't had booze for over 13 years, cigarettes for over 10. It's hard to implement but easy to maintain. Moderation, on the other hand, is easy to implement but hard to maintain. Let me give you an example: We all know people who have quit smoking, but how many people do you know who have gone from two packs of cigarettes a day to half a pack—and kept it there? Or from a pack a day to just two or three cigarettes a day? Nice in theory, but almost impossible in practice.

If Peele is advocating moderation therapy as better than nothing, no one would disagree. But I don't think that's what he's preaching. He's preaching that abstinence is too tough, so don't even try it. Instead, put yourself in the hands of your friendly, trained psychologist. This might work for alcohol abusers, but not for the addicts, where loss of control is a given. "One is too many, a thousand not enough" is all too true.

Peter V. Burrows
Waupaca, WI

I could not possibly correct all of the selective uses of facts and misinterpretations in Stanton Peele's article without writing an article possibly longer than his, but here are some examples.

Peele completely ignores all of the rather extensive evidence for a genetic basis for addiction, especially alcoholism. He freely commingles facts related to drug dependence and abuse with addiction. They are three different conditions.

Peele severely distorts the views of Drs. Leshner and Gordis by saying that they believe that addiction should be treated primarily with drugs. This level of nonsense can only be due to willful lying or pathological ignorance. The idea of treating addiction with medicines is an area of research, but it is nowhere near a reality. When it does become a reality, it is not expected to obviate the need for treatment.

Peele completely ignores the fact that recommended treatment includes four of the five ingredients that he mentions: identifying the problem, getting the addict to believe that change is possible, making the addict responsible for carrying out changes necessary for his recovery, and letting addicts know that they have many people to support them on their path to recovery.

Peele is wrong that reducing substance use—as opposed to abstinence—is a viable treatment. Studies have shown that 2 percent or less of addicts can ever again use their addictive drug normally. Encouraging an alcoholic to drink is like giving someone who has an allergy to penicillin a week's worth of the drug and saying, "Here, take this, but just don't get a rash or stop breathing."

Finally, Peele confuses harm reduction with the real goal of treatment, which is to teach addicts how to have a good life. Those of us in the field of addiction medicine want the best for our patients, not just a little less misery.

James T. Hamilton, M.D., J.D., FAAFP
Newport Beach, CA

Green With Ideology

I am very disappointed by the content and slant of arguments presented in Ronald Bailey's "Green With Ideology" (May). While there may be a smear campaign against Lomborg, he should have expected it: His stance required him to find the right numbers and the perfect quotes, and to manipulate data to reach his predetermined conclusion. Many scientific experts have come to conclusions about the environment that are opposite Lomborg's.

While I understand Bailey's comments on the role of "doomsday" environmentalists, he doesn't provide effective arguments to downplay their theories. Most reliable data show that global warming is happening, weather patterns are changing, ice caps are melting, coral reefs are dying, and species are going extinct. Do we need more doom? The environmental movement, like most, has used negative tactics to get its message across—sometimes that is the only way to make people listen. But one should not confuse dramatic urgency with untruth. The health of systems is just as important to the earth as it is to our individual bodies.

Bailey writes: "The environmental canon is built on doom. In 1962 Rachel Carson's Silent Spring predicted that modern synthetic chemicals, especially pesticides, would cause epidemics of cancer and kill off massive quantities of wildlife." OK, maybe the cancer epidemic wasn't caused by chemicals, pesticides, and their byproducts, but if not, then what did cause it? Bailey doesn't even argue his case. At this point it is nearly impossible to quantify how many species are affected by synthetic chemicals. What we do know is that many species are devastated by habitat destruction, which is directly linked to population growth.

Another point Bailey makes is that the world isn't running out of "non-renewable" fuels or mineral resources. Generally speaking, the availability of oil or other nonrenewables is not a concern to modern environmentalists. Their concern is the availability of clean fuels and other alternatives.

Mother Nature is resilient. I think that is obvious. If she weren't we'd have much larger problems. But the fact remains that man does affect the environment negatively and his population continues to grow. Changes must occur.

Scott Ryan Whinery
Via e-mail

Ronald Bailey's protests against the "hidden agenda" underlying attacks on Lomborg were rather shrill and vacuous. A primary thesis seems to be that because some "environmentalist" scientists changed their views over the course of a quarter century, they cannot be trusted. If adherence to ideology is Bailey's measure of good science, I wonder about his "agenda." His bibliography makes me wonder more.

I attended a talk by Stephen Schneider in the early '90s and vividly recall Bailey questioning the conclusions of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) even back then.

Bailey seems shocked that we cannot model the biosphere-ecosphere of an entire planet with absolute certainty. We're not talking about the hydrogen atom here. I would also remind the author that when the shrill environmental books were written, the Delaware River would spontaneously combust, and Denver had worse air quality than Los Angeles. Environmental laws passed since then are directly related to air and water quality improvements we see today.

L.L. Williams
Via e-mail

Ronald Bailey replies: Apparently, Scott Ryan Whinery applauds "smear campaigns" against those with whom he disagrees and forgives environmentalists of what most people would call lying because of their sense of "dramatic urgency." In the trade, this is known as "lying for justice."

Whinery cites not a single example of incorrect data provided by Lomborg. Rachel Carson is wrong because there is no cancer epidemic. Except for smoking-related cancers, age-adjusted cancer rates have been essentially flat or falling for decades.

With regard to cleaner supplies of energy, rates of air and water pollution are falling in all developed countries. Global fertility rates have been falling for four decades and the latest United Nations projections show world population topping out at 8 billion or so in mid-century, then declining. v

L.L. Williams completely misses my point that adherence to an ideology, in this case political environmentalism, is exactly the opposite of good science. I am not at all shocked that researchers "cannot model the biosphere-ecosphere…with absolute certainty." In fact, that's exactly the point: Why would we want to remake the world's economy on the basis of such uncertain models?

The Delaware River never spontaneously combusted. That was the Cuyahoga, which now hosts a riverside dining/entertainment district in Cleveland.

Finally, both Lomborg and I cite numerous climatologists who, like Schneider, participate in the IPCC and who point out that the best temperature data from satellites and weather balloons indicate that global warming is increasing at only one-third to one-quarter the rate suggested by models. That means average global temperatures would rise perhaps 1.5 degrees Celsius in a century if current trends continue, which they won't. They'll shift as the centuries-long process of decarbonization of our fuel supplies continues, meaning that greenhouse gases will never accumulate to the extent projected, even without the imposition of draconian global energy policies.

Ralph, Ralph, Ralph

Matt Welch's article on Saint Nader ("Speaking Lies to Power," May) is terrific journalism. How refreshing to hear Nader receive a full-blown and deserved remonstrance but without his annoying tone of self-righteousness or hyperbole. Keep firing away!

Lee C. Waaks

Jenkintown, PA

The title and subtitle of Matt Welch's article implied we would be getting some real dirt, some bald-faced lies proving that Ralph Nader's appeal to truth was just the work of yet another cynical politician manipulating a public desperate for a little honesty. Instead, what we got was some bad math, a lot of hyperbolic prose, a ridiculous accusation of lunacy by association, and a variety of other rhetorical flourishes.

For example, Welch accuses Nader of lying about whether most of his votes would have gone to Gore. Welch's primary evidence? A study that "estimated" Nader supporters would have chosen Gore over Bush "47 percent to 21 percent, with the rest abstaining." Where's the lie? When I do the math, it sure looks to me like the survey shows that 53 percent, i.e., "most" of Nader's votes, would have gone to Bush or to no one.

Welch accuses Nader of overestimating the success of his appearance on the Tonight Show. Big deal. He ridicules Nader's suggestion that his positions are held by the majority but doesn't cite any evidence that Nader is wrong.

In an especially silly moment, Welch attempts to slime Nader with the goofy statements of Howard Zinn, Jim Klosterman, and a Seattle Coalition Web site. Did Nader endorse those statements? Could we find similarly goofy things said by supporters of Bush and Gore? Of course we could.

The article is full of words and phrases that appeal to emotion, such as self-delusion, schizophrenic, lunatic nonsense, wrongheaded ravings, and incoherent fantasies. It didn't take long to conclude that Welch's argument was not, in fact, reason at work. It was just another self-indulgent, sarcastic hatchet job in the Rush Limbaugh mode.

The article begins with a citation of Nader's book as if it were a review, but nowhere does it bother to examine the book's central question: How will things ever change when the two major parties control the system, and voters feel compelled to vote for the lesser evil, rather than the candidate they really want? That's a topic that deserves discussion, not just a dismissive reference to "European-style proportional representation."

John Haine
Fridley, MI

I abandoned writing a point-by-point rebuttal of Matt Welch's critique/polemic/harangue masquerading as a book review. His assertions are too gelatinous to get ahold of to give them the thrashing they deserve. The article is a narrow and petty read that in no way reflects Nader's book.

Welch refers to Nader's "whoppers." I consider these to be broadly stated assertions that actually contain kernels of truth. Yet Welch's article is riddled with several slippery turns of phrase that obscure distinctions. Welch overgeneralizes and blurs meanings. Normally, I would overlook such ambiguities, but when he goes on to chide the Greens on "the politics of soft consensus, not a rigorous culture of truth telling," I lose all patience.

A rehash of "Nader made Gore lose" is a moribund topic unless you've got an ax to grind. Why target Nader? Why now? There aren't any pressing issues to focus on besides pointing out that Nader is parsing numbers and trying to angle his message in the most favorable light. What else do politicians do? If Welch had imagined Nader as being above it all, he needs to get over it. I doubt his intentions are as pure as the ideals he holds Nader to.

I don't want to vote for a candidate who has no chance of winning, but desperate times require desperate measures. To be forced to such extremes by the currently degraded political climate is enough of a vexation without Matt Welch trying to rub my nose in it.

John Kovach
Austin, TX

Matt Welch replies: Several polls were conducted to measure what Nader voters would have done had he not been a candidate. Of all those, Nader quoted the single one that came closest to supporting his thesis—i.e., that he didn't tip the election to Bush. Instead of reacting to the widely disseminated Voter News Service poll the morning after the election, he deferred to Tom Brokaw—who happened to utter the comment that came closest to supporting Nader's thesis. Neither Nader's quoted poll nor Brokaw's uttered speculation can be found anywhere in the vast literature of post-election number crunching, except in Nader's book (which, to reiterate, is subtitled "How to Tell the Truth and Still Run for President").

This is a selective and dishonest use of math, and it is typical of Nader's conduct on the campaign trail, as his own former campaign staffers freely admit. Why does it matter? Why target Nader? Because he and the loose movement he represents depict themselves as being among the few souls brave and pure enough to "speak truth to power." It is a conceit and a delusion, one worth the consideration of Naderites and non-Naderites alike before the 2004 election.