We’ve had the ten worst climate research papers, the ten worst blog posts, and now Cohenite has decided on ten of the worst man-made disasters. I can’t say I agree with all his choices for the list, but we are all entitled to our own opinions. So, here goes from Cohenite, with a preamble about global warming and western society:
The anthropogenic global warming (AGW) paradigm is that interference with nature will inevitably produce disastrous results.
Danish Statistician Bjorn Lomborg is castigated for even suggesting there has been progress in humanity’s living conditions and the destruction of nature to achieve this, on balance has been worthwhile.
AGW does not contemplate any benefit from any compromise or destruction of nature. We are continually informed by AGW advocates that progress using carbon energy sources will lead to “tipping points”, “dangerous heating”, “dangerous climate change” and “irreversible damage to the Earth” through “runaway greenhouse”.
But AGW remains unverified. As climatologists Demitris Koutsoyiannis, David H. Douglass and John R. Christy have shown the general circulation models (GCM’s) have failed. As well, the atmospheric model of AGW has been refuted by climatologists Ferenc M. Miskolczi, Roy Spencer and William D. Braswell.
Given these failures, AGW maintains traction in three ways:
1. It includes within its brand real environmental problems which have nothing to do with AGW; as such AGW has become a catch-all phrase for every environmental concern, real or imagined.
2. It relies heavily on the precautionary principle, the “what-if” threat which appeals to base fears and guilt.
3. AGW sources its cause in western society, with its materialism, waste and use of unsustainable energy forms as the preferred agents. In this respect AGW is anchored by a critique of western society with that critique mired in green aesthetics and values (see James Lovelock, Clive Hamilton, Maurice Strong, Charles Birch and James Gustave “Gus” Speth).
AGW sceptics acknowledge that man’s progress can cause environmental damage. But most sceptics recognize there are two standards for measuring this damage. The first is that which is adopted by green values and AGW; this is damage to a pristine natural template (PN) and disruption of an environmental equilibrium. Extreme exponents of this criterion not only critique western lifestyle but the validity of human existence. The second method of measuring this damage is in terms of the welfare of humanity. The criterion for this is what benefits humanity rather than what preserves PN. From this perspective, with population increasing and despite tremendous technological advance (which has kept Thomas Malthus and Paul Ehrlich at bay) sustainability, or a steady state, non-interference with PN, cannot be achieved without an erosion of living standards.
Former Newcastle and now Murdoch University academic and pro-AGW supporter, Glenn Albrecht, said that the only human society remotely sustainable was ancient aboriginal custom. Mega fauna aside, the point is, human progress has been at the expense of PN, and sustainability and PN are 2 sides of the one coin.
There is an ideological lacuna between the two criteria, which this blog post is not concerned with. The purpose of this post is to present ten environmental disasters caused by man which have nothing to do with either AGW or western society. These disasters demonstrate that AGW is a distraction from a proper analysis of those incidents where man disrupts PN. It is only on the basis of an evaluation of real environmental issues such as these 10 that proper decisions and choices about future human intrusion into PN can be made.
1. Communism in the USSR – Chernobyl and Aral Sea etcetera
This was the cause of the greatest and most sustained anthropogenic disruption of PN. As professor Mnatsakanian explains, “Clean air, water, and a pristine environment were considered free goods without value. So polluting them was acceptable”. Certain kings of capitalism were prone to similar sentiments. Lang Hancock’s infamous statement that you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs comes to mind. But for collective, ideological indifference to PN, corruption of science (Lysenko), sheer human suffering and culmination in the iconic anthropogenic ecological catastrophe, Chernobyl, USSR communism takes the ‘cake’. A visit to the Aral Sea anyone?
Disruption of PN 7, Progress, 0
2. East Germany – Coal Furnaces etcetera
If USSR communism has been humanity’s worst disruption of PN, than East Germany was its pin-up boy. The brown lignite coal furnaces are still going (accounting for 11.6% of all energy in 2007, sustainables were 6.7% with biomass three quarters of that) and East Germany was responsible for the green apocalypse story of the 1960’s-1980’s, acid rain. This is indeed a heavy price for some gold medals.
Disruption of PN 6, Progress 0
3. Communist China – Air pollution etcetera
The biggest Asian Tiger of them all. Some would say its ecological problems are due to its capitalist tendencies but they would be wrong. China’s accountability is as opaque as USSR communism. 750,000 Chinese die each year due to air pollution demonstrating the stark distinction between real air pollution and CO2 “pollution”.
Disruption of PN 5, Progress, 3
4. The Iraqi Marshes – Drained
After his defeat in Kuwait, Saddam evened a few scores by draining the 9,000 sq km’s of the Southern Marshes, reducing them to 760 sq km. The destruction of such a large body of water had devastating consequences for PN. Since Saddam’s overthrow the marshes have rejuvenated. There is little man can do to PN which is irreversible.
Disruption of PN 4, Progress 0
5. The Kuwaiti Oil Wells – Burned etcetera
Before draining the Southern Marshes Saddam set fire to over 700 Kuwaiti oil fields while simultaneously dumping 10 million barrels of oil into the Gulf. This exceeded the Exxon Valdez spill 20 fold. The consumption of oil by the flames was over one billion barrels for the first seven months. The fields were not extinguished for three years. Probably three billion barrels went up in smoke; about 10% of what the world uses in a year. According to AGW temperature is going up about 0.3C PD or 0.03C per year. Saddam by himself increased the temperature by 0.003C.
Disruption of PN 4, Progress 0
6. Indonesian land-clearing
The Australian Conservation Foundation says the emissions from Indonesian land-clearing are five times Australia’s total emissions. This clearing is occurring because of transmigration and/or for palm oil production destined for biodiesel, and/or timber mainly for Asia pulp and paper, and/or subsistence farming. The main problem is the method of clearing by burning, which makes Indonesia the world’s third highest carbon emitter.
Disruption of PN 4, Progress 2
7. Amazonian land-clearing
The Amazon is 5.7 million sq km, 75% of the Australian land area. Since 1970, 1/6 of the Amazon has been cleared, mainly for beef, and increasingly for ethanol. Clearing a rainforest to grow ethanol creates a carbon debt 17-420 times the carbon benefit of that ethanol replacing fossil fuels. Ethanol grown on already cleared land has little or no carbon debt. The green dilemma: to clear or not to clear.
Disruption of PN 4, Progress 2
DDT is an iconic example of the clash between the ‘PN and human progress by keeping nature at bay’ dichotomy. It also demonstrates the “Sword of Damocles” aspect of every application of human technology. There are still unresolved questions including: Was DDT losing its efficacy and creating resistant bugs when it was banned; or did banning/reducing DDT use cause more deaths?
Disruption of PN 4, Progress 3.
9. New Guinea
New Guinea is the quintessential PN, second only to the Amazon in extent and variation. A 2009 study will determine whether its glaciers are retreating. Many of its peoples live according to Albrecht’s maxim of sustainability. OkTedt showed how Progress through development of New Guinea’s vast mineral wealth should not be done. Will the Lihir Island resource be a reasonable compromise between PN disruption and Progress?
Disruption of PN 4, Progress 3
Bhopal caused over 4000 deaths and half a million casualties due to severe air pollution by MIC gas. India was keen to have western technology. Union Carbide compromised standards to an extent it couldn’t do at its equivalent plant in West Virginia. The Indian and regional Madhya Pradesh governments were complicit in this. There have been no more Bhopal’s. Can we learn by Bhopal and have progress without such disasters?
Disruption of PN 3, Progress 4
The question remains, regardless of whether AGW is a false threat, is any disruption of PN acceptable if the prevailing value is that PN should be preserved, and only a minimalist lifestyle be tolerated?
Cohenite lives in Newcastle, Australia.