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Environmentalists Need an Education If They Want to Save the Environment

environmental researchI recently wrote a blog in which I criticized environmentalists, environmental scientists, and especially the media who cover environmental issues for exaggeration and simplification.  My point was that you cannot exaggerate or overstate evidence without ultimately being made to look like a fool.  I used as an example the case of an "ozone hole."  There is no "hole" in the ozone layer.  What we do see is a gradual decreasing concentration in atmospheric ozone.  Ozone hole sounds neat and certainly gets a person's attention, but it is technically inaccurate.  Ultimately somebody with an interest in making the environmental movement look foolish comes along and uses the exaggeration to make the data itself look incorrect.  In this way most of us feel science swings on a pendulum.  One day something is good, the next it is bad.  Scientific data doesn't frequently change much, politics and poor media coverage lead our beliefs about scientific data to change.

Today I'd like to suggest that environmentalists must not only avoid overstating claims but also avoid being ignorant of the natural systems they are advocating for.  I have been reading a book with my wife by a well known "environmentalist."  Throughout the book he beautifully persuades the reader in support of his claims, but frequently does so my employing "facts" that are terribly inaccurate.  Take for example, a claim he made when trying to convince the reader that there is a mysterious energy in all things.  He notes that the mass of an oak tree is a prime example.  The author points out that the mass of an oak tree cannot be attributed to soil or water.  He then reports this to be evidence that the tree has taken on a living and growing energy.  Newsflash!  The mass of that tree did not materialize.  It was transferred largely from atmospheric carbon dioxide into carbon chains.  Pretty amazing and even magical I'd agree, but plainly stated in ignorance of the system being described.

I encountered this same sort of problem a couple of years ago at a very large conference on community food systems.  I attended a lecture by the leader of an anti-GMO group.  He spoke boldly about the risks of genetically modified organisms.  I actually walked out of the room, not because I disagreed with him, but because he was supporting his cause with medical claims that extended well beyond what science has actually been able to demonstrate at present (largely because it is near impossible to fund this research).

An environmental movement based on ignorance and imagined "facts", no matter how well they support the cause, will ultimately undermine the movement.  I do not fault a heavy bias toward action nor do I fault a reliance on intuition, but to exercise either without doing your homework seems to me to be a really bad idea.

Vincent M. Smith - PhD

  • http://www.facebook.com/jaime.weis Jaime Weis

    I first encountered this in regards to global warming. I took an astronomy class in college, and the professor discussed the field of archaeoastronomy (the study of astronomical records from the past) and that hundreds of years ago, England had a period of consistent sub-tropical weather. Weather and astronomical records from the time led modern researchers to conclude that this was due to the way the sun pulses. The current warming trend, he told us, *might* have nothing to do with carbon at all, but just be another warming phase of the sun! Further back, we know the earth went through an ice age. Weather patterns change over time! I am 100% committed to being gentle and "green," but I hate the thought that people are being fed pseudo-facts that scare them, rather than just doing the right thing because it's right.

  • http://www.growingslower.com Shannon @ GrowingSlower

    Not sure activists should keep silent abut the potential health risks of GMOs just because there is no funding for research. Should we all just go ahead and trust the FDA then and assume they're perfectly safe?

  • http://www.happy-mothering.com Chrystal @ Happy Mothering

    I had no idea there actually was no "hole" in the ozone. We lived in Uruguay for just over a year and were told there was one there and that's why we got sunburned so easily! Very interesting.

  • http://www.facebook.com/laura.lane.16 Laura Lane

    It all makes me wonder what's true and what's not.
    I will put my trust in God and His word and do the best I can with what I have where I am.

  • http://www.silentsprings.com Vincent Smith

    Laura, Thanks so much for your comment! I think putting your trust in God is wonderfully important. The trouble is, God entrusted us to act as well. If as Genesis says, we have been given dominion or stewardship over this world in which we live, then we are left to try to do our best to do just that. Tough to do I agree.

    The wonderful thing about both science and faith is that we don't need to just take the word of another blindly. We can find out what is right for ourselves through thoughtful inquiry, careful research, and perhaps on our knees in prayer.

    Too many of us fail to do any of the above. We simply choose to believe whatever requires the least of us or permits us to move forward in our own favorite sins without a sense of guilt. I am certainly at fault here, but I'm doing my best to do my part to be better. It sounds like you are doing the same. Thank you!

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