Battle for the Planet of the Apes

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Skeptical Environmentalist author Bjørn Lomborg and Sierra Club President Carl Pope face off in the pages of Foreign Policy.

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  1. Holy shit! That is the best encapsulation of the environmental debate I’ve seen.

  2. I am struck by just how immature or even childish Pope sounds in this dialog. Lomborg repeatedly ask the hard questions, “what are the tradeoffs, what should our priorities be?” Pope responds like a spoiled child in a candy store, “I want 10 of everything right now!”

    What this world really needs is an environmental movement for grownups.

  3. Instead of pursuing new solutions such as hybrid cars, the United States…bullies Venezuela

    WTF?

    As for water resources and China, I hope Mr. Pope is against ethanol. Using scarce resources to grow crops for cars instead of people seems callous.

  4. Green Guy: The world is coming to an end. Civilization is evil. We must remake all the world?s societies into a global utopia immediately.

    Skeptic: Whoa! Hold up there fella. I don?t think things are that bad, but even if they are, we?re not supermen you know. We can?t do everything at once. Let?s agree to devote our scarce recourses and hard won political will to the most urgent problems.

    GG: There are none so blind as those who will not see. Of course we must clean the air and water but we must also protect the red horned web footed newt!

    S: But what should we do first? We can provide clean water to millions of people for the cost of reducing kryptonite another percent. Shouldn?t we make that our priority

    GG: You are a shill for multinational corporations. The rich feast on the blood of the poor. We could do everything for less than they spend on their mansions and yachts.

    S: Your proposal is ludicrous. Are you so mad as to believe the rich and powerful will just sit back and let you pilfer their estates? It?s not even true that the rich are destroying the earth. In fact the opposite is more accurate, green environments are a luxury only the wealthy can afford. You are making things worse.

    GG: LA LA LA LA LA Two legs bad, four legs good. Business bad, trees good. Mmmm treeees. Stop the smokestacks, stop the frankenfood, stop all polution. Workers of the wold unite!

    S: [sigh] uhh yeah OK but can?t you agree that we should do one thing first? Something that we get the most benefit from. What do you want to do first?

    GG: HEY HEY HO HO WTO HAS GOT TO GO! HEY HEY HO HO?

    S: ???

  5. Warren,

    Exactly! I mean, friggin’ exactly! Like Shannon Love said, we need enviromentalism for grownups. Isn’t there a strand of enviromentalism that espouses using natural resources in an economic yet enviromentally firendly way (i.e. not celar cutting forests, but cutting down a certain percentage of trees per acre). If memory serves me right, it’s called Wise Use or something like that. Can anybody help out here? I am simply too tired/hungover to look it up.

  6. That you would hurl such charges at Carl Pope, based on what appeared in this article, just demonstrates the promiscuity with which anti-environmentalists throw any plausible sounding rejoinder at their opponents, regardless of its merit or applicability.

  7. Ya’ gotta understand that for Pope and his comrades this is a religous matter and people like Lomborg are seen as infidels. Rational engagement is not to be expected from those who are angry that everyone has not accepted the One True Faith. One may as well attempt a dialogue with a muullah who advocates Sharia.

  8. “Ya’ gotta understand that for Pope and his comrades this is a religous matter and people like Lomborg are seen as infidels.”

    Therefore, there’s no need to engage his ideas rationally. And the politics of projection goes on.

  9. Therefore, there’s no need to engage his ideas rationally.

    No. Therefore, it is impossible to engage him in rational discussion. (So why am I trying?)

  10. “That you would hurl such charges at Carl Pope, based on what appeared in this article, just demonstrates the promiscuity with which anti-environmentalists throw any plausible sounding rejoinder at their opponents, regardless of its merit or applicability.”

    Sorry Joe, but this is simply you recursively applying your own claim. I suspect that you’ve done this deliberately, which disappoints me, because you’ve trained me to expect better arguments from you.

    -Natebrau

  11. An actual argument-

    Bjorn Lomborg’s approach parallels game theory- where maximality may be calculated.

    The difficulty in applying this to environmental problems is that where more dedicated environmentalists place greater moral value on certain things (like, say, punishing heavy industry) , others may place greater moral value on providing clean drinking water to the Third World.

    By using dollars as the defining currency for “value,” this juxtaposition _must_ violate the moral values of at least one of the environmentalists.

    Progress, then, depends on justifying why an economic approach maximizes environmental health. Lomborg has started this, but a valid criticism of his ideas must address it as well.

    -Natebrau

  12. As a math prof, this exchange makes me cry:

    Bjorn:

    “One study from the American Enterprise Institute and the Brookings Institution estimates that eliminating mercury emissions from U.S. power plants would ?reduce the numbers of U.S. children experiencing subtle neurological deficiencies by on the order of 10,000 per year.?

    Pope:

    “You use 2001 figures, dating back to when the Bush administration was suppressing data. These suppressed data show that 630,000 U.S. infants annually, not 10,000, are born with dangerous levels of mercury.”

  13. To paraphrase Yoda, “always emotion the left ….”

  14. Not sure what ideas we are to engage rationally. He isn’t interested in absolute costs and he certainly can’t seem to wrap his head around opportunity costs. Any cost to make any portion of the environment even an iota better is worth it. Even ‘better’ in the model Pope described in the article has little to do with measurable outcomes. Once you measure, you can prioritize, and that is just not something he is interested in.

    Now, to be not so popular around here, he is very much like a libertarian who argues all points from rights and won’t engage consequences as valid. He is a guy who has an ethical priority we don’t happen to share. The way Lomborg engaged him is the only productive way to engage a non believer – address outcomes.

  15. Isn’t there a strand of enviromentalism that espouses using natural resources in an economic yet enviromentally firendly way (i.e. not celar cutting forests, but cutting down a certain percentage of trees per acre).

    Two problems: you can’t count on (just as an example) the Bush administration and large corporations to abide by anything like this. They’d always be trying to find a loophole. The other is that enviro groups need a constant state of crisis in order to get donations.

    As for Carl Pope, the LAT ran what for them was a surprising expose entitled “The Man Behind the Land”. It dealt with a large donor to the S.C. Foundation. Details start here. Libertarians might like Carl Pope after reading about that, but, thankfully, 99% of Americans won’t.

  16. Lonewacko: the majority of Americans are not in favor of unlimited immigration — but they’re not quite as obsessed with Getting the Dark Skinned People as you are, either.

  17. Therefore, there’s no need to engage his ideas rationally. And the politics of projection goes on.

    Which is why joe’s, thoughtful, logical arguments in favor of Pope’s remarks have just decimated the mindless, knee-jerk rhetoric of his critics here.

    Oh, wait…

  18. Joe, even realizing that Carl Pope has said and written better things than this exchange in Foreign Policy, let’s admit that he comes off as an idiot here. To give him as much credit as I can, I’d say he appears to be more concerned about giving his opponents an excuse to ignore any part of his agenda than he is about getting something done. I assume that he won’t say what ought to be done first because he thinks that conservatives will take that as permission to ignore the rest of the problems. But that kind of thoroughgoing distrust makes it impossible for environmentalists to accomplish anything. If you want people to do something, you have to engage them, which means trusting them just a little bit, or at least pretending that you trust them.

    My version of the question as a potential donor to the SC would be this: if I wrote you a check for $1,000, what would you do with it? If the answer is “everything,” it’s actually nothing, and I wouldn’t write the check.

  19. Therefore, there’s no need to engage his ideas rationally. And the politics of projection goes on.

    If the internet has taught me one thing, it’s this:
    You cannot engage an inherently irrational person with logic.

    Arguing with anonymous strangers on the Internet is a sucker’s game because they almost always turn out to be … or to be indistinguishable from … self righteous sixteen year-olds possessing infinite amounts of free time – Neal Stephenson

  20. mewsifer writes, “As a math prof, this exchange makes me cry:”

    Bjorn: “One study from the American Enterprise Institute and the Brookings Institution estimates that eliminating mercury emissions from U.S. power plants would ?reduce the numbers of U.S. children experiencing subtle neurological deficiencies by on the order of 10,000 per year.?

    Pope: “You use 2001 figures, dating back to when the Bush administration was suppressing data. These suppressed data show that 630,000 U.S. infants annually, not 10,000, are born with dangerous levels of mercury.”

    Yes, Pope’s response is awful. It’s as though more stringent controls on mercury from coal-fired power plants would somehow keep 630,000 children from “dangerous” levels of mercury. In fact, based on blood mercury data from the CDC, no one can definitively say that even ONE child is born with “dangerous” levels of mercury in the U.S.

    Here are some details:

    http://www.acsh.org/healthissues/newsID.1014/healthissue_detail.asp

    “One source for confusion over the safety of mercury is the concept of the Reference Dose (RfD) for mercury in blood, which is a level established by the EPA. Based on studies of toxicity of methylmercury for fetuses, the EPA determined a benchmark dose (BMD), the level of in utero exposure that is associated with an increase in prevalence of children?s abnormal scores on cognitive function tests. The lower 95% confidence limit of the BMD, known as the benchmark dose lower limit (BMDL), was 58 parts of mercury per billion of blood (ppb). The EPA then built in a safety factor of 10 in order to determine the reference dose (set at 5.8 ppb), a regulatory target level for mercury in blood. The EPA?s estimate that 630,000 babies were born annually in the United States with blood levels greater than the reference dose did not indicate, as some media reports claimed, that those babies were at risk for damage.”

    “The recommended mercury exposure levels set by other scientific bodies (including the Joint Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and World Health Organization Expert Committee on Food Additives) are multiple times higher than that set by the EPA.(88) Even with a very strict EPA reference dose, a recent large nationally representative study found that only 5.66% of women of childbearing age had blood levels of mercury higher than the reference dose.(89)”

    http://www.cdc.gov/exposurereport/3rd/pdf/thirdreport.pdf

    “Clinically observable signs of ataxia and paresthesias occur with low frequency when blood mercury levels rise to about 100 ?g/L following recent methyl mercury poisoning. However, the developing fetus may be the most susceptible to the effects of ongoing methyl mercury exposure (National Research Council, 2000). A cord blood mercury level of 85 ?g/L (lower 95% confidence bound = 58 ?g/L) is associated with a 5% increase in the prevalence of an abnormal Boston Naming Test (NRC, 2000). Report data for the period
    1999-2002 show that all women of childbearing age
    had levels below 58 ?g/L, a concentration associated with neurologic effects in the fetus. These data show that 5.7% of women of childbearing age had levels between 5.8 and 58 ?g/L; that is, levels within a factor of 10 of those associated with neurological effects. Better defining safe levels of mercury in maternal blood is a priority area for additional research. EPA has set an oral reference dose (RfD, a daily dose considered to be safe) for methyl mercury of 0.1?g/kg/day, derived in part from this and other associated blood levels in outcome studies. A specific value for the blood mercury concentration that corresponds to the RfD has not been established (Rice, 2004).”

    Mark Bahner (environmental engineer)

  21. Also from that CDC report (page 48):

    “Blood mercury levels in both the 1999-2000 and 2001-2002 subsamples are below levels considered
    associated with known health effects.”

    http://www.cdc.gov/exposurereport/3rd/pdf/thirdreport.pdf

    Once again, the CDC blood results did not indicate a single woman with a mercury blood level above 58 micrgrams per liter (the lowest level known to cause health effects in children). Instead, 5.7 percent of the women had levels between 5.8 and 58 micrograms per liter.

  22. Oh, brother. I’m going to have to stop reading this…it’s just too depressing. Carl Pope states, “I cited the oceanic mercury problem as a symbol of our failure of leadership.”

    How can the oceanic mercury problem ***possibly*** be due to our “failure of leadership,” given the fact that U.S. mercury emissions peaked 20-30 years ago, and have declined dramatically since then?

  23. I love the “Planet of the Apes” reference in the title of this thread.

    Back when Scientific American was doing their hatchet job on Bjorn Lomborg, I started referring to their editor, John Rennie, as “Chief Scientist, and Defender of the Faith.”

    I have no idea if Lomborg is right or not. But Scientific American‘s article, “Science defends itself against The Skeptical Environmentalist” was such an obvious hack job that it reminded me of Dr. Zaius.

    Science is a process, not a collection of pronouncements handed down to us from high priests like John Rennie and Dr. Zaius. As The Economist pointed out, “Science needs no defending from Mr Lomborg. It may very well need defending from champions like Mr Schneider.”

    And if anyone from Scientific American is reading this; I’ll renew my subscription when your Kyoto Treaty-worshipping editor is replaced. Until then, I’m spending my moneyh on Science News.

  24. Nobody Important,

    Your moniker could not be more accurate, if you’re willing to ally yourself with Lomborg over SA. No scientist worth the title would do the same.

  25. M1EK, I agree with Nobody important. The SA is a hack job and has been for nearly 15 years.

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