“Commonsense Environmentalist” argues for science-based conservation

Written by Jonathan Eisenthal

Greenpeace founder Patrick Moore is considered a heretic by some in the environmental movement for his strong support of a science-based approach to conserving natural resources. He calls himself a “commonsense environmentalist” in order to contrast his views about the benefits of science and technology, which are not shared by the extremists in the environmental movement.

Moore appeared as keynote speaker at the University of Minnesota’s first ever “Ag Awareness Day” on Tuesday, April 20—an event sponsored by the University of Minnesota Agriculture Education Club, Minnesota Corn Growers Association and Minnesota Agricultural Water Resources Coalition among others.

Moore did not mince words about activists – he said engage in “environmental extremism,” and noted that environmental politics should be centrist because the earth is important to everyone. Instead, the extremists’ program is “anti-human, anti-science and-technology, anti-trade and globalization, anti-business, anti-capitalist and just-plain anti-civilization.”

They are against these things and yet have offered no plausible alternative to supply the needs of earth’s population.

The result of all these biases, according to Moore, is that environmental extremists pursue initiatives that do not serve humanity and in some cases produce the opposite results of their stated goals, and actually cause environmental harm.

For instance, the environmental movement espouses a blanket opposition to aquaculture—fish farming—as something that is somehow insidious and belongs to a whole realm of “invisible poisons.” By writing off a very productive sector of agriculture, the environmentalists add to the pressure on the world’s oceans, which are being chronically overfished. Further, the extremists trade a suspicion of something “unnatural” as a possible (and totally unproven) cause of human disease, while discouraging people from making use of the known cardiovascular benefits they could enjoy by adding fish to their diet. Moore noted that unproved science has postulated 1 cancer death in 100,000 from farmed fish, whereas voluminous scientific studies find that adoption of a diet including fish oils and proteins could reduce deaths by heart disease, cancer and other causes by as much as 400 deaths in 100,000.

Likewise the environmental extremist movement’s total opposition to genetically engineered agriculture has a quantifiable and devastating effect—whether it is the refusal of starving East African countries of food aid that includes GM grains and oilseeds, or blocking the cultivation of “golden rice.” Moore called the campaign against “golden rice” the environmental movement’s ‘greatest crime against humanity.’

“Golden Rice” is a rice grain spliced with a gene that produces beta-carotene. Widespread use among countries where rice is the staple food could prevent between 250,000 to 500,000 cases of blindness among babies born in Asia each year, Moore told the audience.

Still GM crops are winning the war. Despite the campaign of environmental extremists who cast GM crops as “frankenfoods” that destroy biodiversity and traditional agriculture, GM crops continue to make inroads in the developing world because the overwhelming majority of small farmers—whether it is cotton producers in India or crop producers in the Philippines—demand access to bio-engineered seedstock.

Though India had outlawed GM cotton, a producer got a hold of GM seed and planted a vast area with it. It was so green and contrasted so visibly with the surrounding non-GM cotton growing around it that it could actually be seen from space, Moore said. Subsequently, cotton growers across the country demanded to be able to use it, and the law was changed.

Norman Borlaug, whose development of more productive wheat hybrids has saved millions of lives over the past half century, has been vilified by environmental extremists for stating that “the green revolution must become the ‘gene’ revolution.” Borlaug and other highly regarded food scientists have postulated that the preservation of biodiversity can only be accomplished by enhancing soil fertility and crop productivity while limiting the amount of land under cultivation—and this can only be accomplished through the scientific advances in crop productivity that bioengineering can provide.  A widespread adoption of “traditional” agricultural methods and the subsequent loss of productivity would mean that much of the world’s forest and grassland would have to be plowed under and planted in order to feed the world.

The gene revolution is already well underway in America, where, for example, corn growers grow more than five times more corn than they did a century ago, but they do it on 20 percent fewer acres. That kind of gain in productivity can be replicated in the developing world, and doing so would preserve rainforest and savannah ecosystems and their diversity of species.

Moore did not save all his criticism for environmentalists, stating that the people of the world can do more to conserve our resources and the wildlife habitat that is critical for the overall health of the world. He spoke about Rachel Carson, whose 1960s book Silent Spring was part of the groundswell that led to Earth Day and modern environmentalism. She is now widely criticized among conservatives for her anti-DDT stance, because subsequent government bans on DDT later resulted in millions of malaria deaths.  Moore noted that a careful reading of Silent Spring shows that Carson did not call for elimination of pesticides, only the elimination of their indiscriminate overuse. As a pesticide that kills all insect life, DDT was not appropriate for agriculture, but it should have remained in use for mosquito control, Moore said.

Whether it is turning off lights and appliances we are not using, or shifting from natural gas to geothermal heat exchangers to achieve home heating and cooling—there are many ways society can become better conservators of the earth, he said.

One of Moore’s key assertions is that science is never a settled matter. He noted that there are some 19,000 scientists who are signatories to a document that questions the findings of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) regarding climate change—that the atmosphere is warming due to changes in atmospheric chemistry caused by human activity.

He suggested that the process of scientific enquiry and debate would eventually end the suppression of data that show that the long term trend currently is global cooling. By contrast, during vast periods of the earth’s history, including the time that gave rise to the human race, the globe was an average of 8 degrees centigrade warmer than it is today and there was no ice cover at the poles. A somewhat warmer climate would benefit the lion’s share of the earth’s species, Moore asserted. Glaciers may look picturesque, but when they advance they actually limit fresh water and destroy forest ecosystems that support life.

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