Saturday, December 22, 2012

Facts Shill Matter

Although there are moments when Eli is skeptical thereof.

Keith Kloor has found a paying gig as a Lomborg imitator, you know, the guy who starts every attack on environmentalists with the affirmation that he used to be an expert reviewer for the IPCC, a member of Greenpeace, a former editor of some the Audobon Society magazine or a lifelong Democrat.  They then tell you why all people concerned with the damage we are doing to the earth should do more damage and not consort with the tree-huggers.  Hippie bashing has been around before there were hippies and the goal is to split the opposition, which of course, is a strong hint of the goals of the formers who really never were on whatever side they are trying to split but like to pretend they were.  It is an old tactic but it ropes the newbies and you have to spend some time deconstructing it.

This tactic, on display at Slate, got a response from Chris Clarke Pharyngulia and as part of that discussion  Ed Darrell wrote a long comment of his at  into a masterful summary of the war on Rachel Carson and the DDT ban that never was,

Interesting view of a bit of an inside-baseball (environmental protection politics) issue, but not particularly incisive. Other than its being published at Slate, should we worry about Kloor’s views much?
The piece completely ignores that the views of those he labels “modernists” and “pragmatists” come wholly out of the research demanded by those he ignores in the old movement, whom he unfairly ridicules as hippies.
For example: It’s politically correct (in some circles) today to say (1) Rachel Carson was too strident, and (2) probably wrong about DDT “since it’s (3) not carcinogenic, we now know.” Malaria fighters around the world (4) now have DDT in their arsenal again, this view holds, because (5) pragmatists in the environmental movement finally listened. “(6) Sorry about those ‘unnecessary’ malaria deaths,” some claim the pragmatists would say.
But that view is founded on, grown in, and spreads, historical, legal and scientific error. And the progress made was based on understanding the science, history and law accurately. It’s not that pragmatists finally succeeded where the tree-huggers failed. It’s that the tree-huggers hung in there for 50 years and the world has come around to recognizing good effects, even if it can’t or won’t acknowledge the true heroes who got the work done.
Go read the entire thing but Eli will steal the conclusions
Let’s review:
  1. Carson was not too strident; in fact the President’s Science Advisory Committee’s report, “Use of Pesticides,” in 1963 called for more immediate and more draconian action than Carson did.
  2. Carson was not wrong about DDT; it is still a deadly poison, and it still kills ecosystems; however, as Carson urged, careful use can provide benefits in a few cases.
  3. Human carcinogenicity was not an issue in DDT’s being banned in the U.S. in 1972, and it’s being only a weak carcinogen now does not rescue DDT from the scientifically-justified ban; we now know DDT is even more insidious, since it acts as an endocrine disruptor in nature, scrambling reproductive organs of fish, amphibians, reptiles and mammals, and probably birds, too.
  4. Malaria fighters always had DDT in their arsenal; no reason to use DDT where it won’t work, nor where it’s harms outweigh its benefits (as the National Academy of Sciences said, in 1970, in a call to get rid of the stuff).
  5. If there were any pragmatists in this story, they abandoned malaria-affected areas of the world years ago and have not returned; they did nothing to help save the birds; to claim they listened is to suggest they did something and can do more. Not sure that’s a case that can be made.
  6. There were not deaths to malaria “unnecessary” due to a ban on DDT which never occurred in Africa or Asia, while DDT was plentiful and cheap to anyone who wanted to use it (still pretty much the case today). We can’t claim great disease exacerbation when the disease actually was abated so greatly over the period of time in discussion — can’t make that claim and also claim to be honest.
It was the hard-core, wilderness-loving, science-following environmentalists who were responsible for every lick of progress on that issue.
Is DDT unique as an issue? I don’t think so. And I think a fair history of the environmental movement from 1975 to today would point out that it was hard-core, save-the-planet-because-it’s-the-only-home-humans-have types who pulled things out.
Of course, Ed is too polite to point out that Kloor's self appointed mission is to mention in every post how shrill the tree huggers and hippies are and how no self respecting person should associate with them.  In whose service does Keith do this, Eli asks. 
Ed raises another important point which he then glides over, why should anyone take Kloor seriously?  While he is industrious, and has been looking for a real job for years, Kloor and his pet attack dog, Tom Fuller, are, well, shallow, but the dust they kick up in a controlled environment has attracted notice, or at least enough that Discover Magazine, having lost Pil Plait, Sean Carroll, Chris Mooney, etc. decided to to try Plan B (and the bunnies know how that came out)


dhogaza said...

Tha Kloor piece is very, very bad. At least it makes it absolutely clear that those trained in the sciences or experienced in the conservation and/or environmental movements who've tried to educate him have, indeed, been wasting their time.

Kloor's mind was made up long ago, and no amount of reality is going to change it, by God!

dhogaza said...

Kloor seems extremely blind to the fact that the reason why industry, farmers and ranchers are willing to cooperate with the USFWS on preserving endangered species habitat is *precisely* due to the fact that the ESA has been used, in court, to beat them into submission.

Yes, the northern spotted owl case was an extreme example of much of a regional industry being largely shut down and changed forever. Without that might ESA sword slaying the timber industry dragon, though, the power of that law would've never been understood by opponents.

What else has happened has been that repeated attempts to repeal the ESA or substantially weaken it has failed, even when Republicans have controlled the strings that manipulate government.

And it still enjoys >70% populatity.

So over time, reality has set in:

1. the ESA is not going away
2. it is not going to be weakened in any substantial way
3. if you don't play ball you will find yourself in court, with plenty of precedent stacked up against you (the elderbush administration didn't even bother to try to bring the northern spotted owl federal court case to the supreme court, they knew they had no prayer, even in the conservative-dominated supreme court of the day).
4. therefore, motivation to cooperate is immense.

I also think that overall, people are more aware and concerned about species conservation, and this includes many ranchers and farmers, as well. Many more than of the previous generation that was running farms in the 1960s and 1970s. A much higher percentage are college educated and get some biology background as part of their ag school training, etc etc.

David B. Benson said...

Since there are trolls lucking on various threads in the Rabett Runs, I bring the following solely for the sake of greater knowledge:


David B. Benson said...


Steve Bloom said...

IIRC I may have been the first to call Kloor out for his bullshit, probably because the other climate blog regulars lack an environmental movement background and it's in that regard that he (very nearly at the outset of his blog) went off the rails.

While Kloor's undertaking may have some secondary elements, the primary one is commercial. He perceives a journalistic niche for a sort of environment-oriented David Broder, so his blogging style is calculated to appeal to a certain sort of editor. Nothing was ever going to change it.

FWIW, it seems doubtful that the Discover gig pays much, else some of those others would have stayed. OTOH it likely will raise his profile somewhat.

Steve Bloom said...

dhogaza, Kloor lacks a background in environmental stuff, and a few years editing at Audubon magazine wasn't going to fill that gap. For one thing it's located in NYC, and for another it's well-known that at the time Audubon national staff was greatly hostile to their own local chapters.

Anonymous said...

And for his next trick Kloor will explain why homeopaths will replace neurologists in performing surgery to remove brain tumours, and he will enlighten us about why lay weathermen, political scientists, haberdashers and media hacks should should replace scientists in conducting climatology.

Oh, that's right...

Bernard J.

dhogaza said...

Steve Bloom:

I was on the board of Portland Audubon when we were co-lead plaintiff on the spotted owl suit back in the late 80s. National refused to get involved until after victory (in the form of the well-known injunction on old-growth logging) was won.

On other issues, particularly organizational and economic, we were in an almost constant battle with National. This culminated a few years ago with National opening a State Office (run by them) here in Portland. I was off the board of Portland Audubon by then, but am happy to report that the local chapter is still thriving, while National's State Office made no headway (even the Oregonian ran an editorial telling them to get lost).

"it's well-known that at the time Audubon national staff was greatly hostile to their own local chapters"

This is what's known as an understatement ... :)

Also, editing Audubon Magazine certainly is no indication of a background in environmental stuff. Editing popular non-fiction is ... editing. And Audubon Magazine's been pretty light on environmental affairs, it's was more a spotlight for good nature writing and photography with an emphasis on birds (can't speak to its current state).

Brian Dodge said...

Kloor, on his 5 & 8 year old kids - "And they’re both sweet, lovable kids. Being their father is the best. I’ve rearranged my working life to be able to spend more time with them in their formative years.

But they’re not listening to me."

If his own 5yo has figured out that he's so full of shit that he's not worth listening to, why does anyone else bother?

Anonymous said...

Kloor has had a poemeo (blogeo?) appearance in several of Horatio's ditty's:

Curry on Wayward One

– Horatio Algeranon's parroty of Kansas (Carry on Wayward Son)

Curry on my wayward one
Higher temps when you are done
Lay your weary “Pause” to rest
Don’t you lie no more

Once Dave Rose promoted noise and confusion
Hard to get an inch beyond his delusion
He was Klooring, a denier
With a trend to deny

Though his eyes could see he still was a blind man
Though his mind could think he wasn’t behind Mann
He hears the voices when he’s meming
He can hear them say

Curry on my wayward one
Higher temps when you are done
Lay your weary “Pause” to rest
Don’t you lie no more.

and in "You ain't seen nothin' yet"

I felt the global warmin’, it swept my home away
Some said I had it comin’ to me, but I wanted it that way
I think that any warm is good warmin’
And so I took what I could get, mmm
Oooh, oooh, it flooded me with big drowned ice
And said

You ain’t seen nothin’ yet
B-B-B-Baby, you just ain’t seen nothin’ yet
Here’s somethane that you never gonna forget
B-B-B-Baby, you just ain’t seen nothin’ yet

"And now I’m feelin’ better, ’cause I found out from Kloor
I went to see the blogger and he told me of a cure
He said that any warm is good warm
So I took what I could get, yes, I took what I could get
Oooh, oooh, it flooded me with big drowned ice
And said

You ain’t seen nothin’ yet
B-B-B-Baby, you just ain’t seen nothin’ yet
Here’s somethane, here’s somethane that you’re never gonna forget
B-B-B-Baby, you just ain’t seen nothin’ yet
You need educated

Anonymous said...

This one also applies, but was actually written with someone else in mind

Mr. Edit
-- Horatio Algeranon's rendition of the "Mr. Ed" theme song
(with apologies to the horse, of course)

"Hello, I'm Mister Edit"

A hoax is a hoax, of coax, of coax
and no one can talk to a hoax of coax,
that is of coax, unless the hoax,
Is the famous Mister Edit!

Go right to jamokes and ask the hoax.
He'll give you the answer from Talltaleblokes.
He's always on a steady coax.
Talk to Mister Edit.

People yak-it-ti-yak a streak
and waste your time of day,
but Mister Edit will never speak,
unless he has something to say...

A hoax is a hoax, of coax of coax,
And this one will talk 'til he's coaxed the folks.
You never heard of a talking hoax?
Well, listen to this...

"I am Mister Edit"

Hank Roberts said...

Don't miss checking KK's cites.
For example, checking the source for his anecdote about Maris and Wilson, you will see Maris in the Comments as well.

Hank Roberts said...

Quite a few people piled onto attacking the Dot Earth interpretation of Maris's point of view, including this comment:

Maris replied (via email to Dot Earth):
---- quote -----
"... most conservationists are not hung up on purity.... I've written my book and make comments like this one in part to bring that can-do pragmatic attitude to "armchair environmentalists" who tend to be more invested in the idea of pristine wilderness. ....

... if we can only get rid of 80% of the pythons, we shouldn't hate the 20% that are left. They aren't the enemy in the battle for biodiversity conservation. We are.

And I would love links to the "anti-environmental pundits, politicians and corporations" that are quoting me, so I can go set them straight too!
---- end quote ----

"Armchair environmentalists" are real, and they're oxymorons at best, and often exploitable, useful idiots for the deny&delayers.

They're a pain in the butt to anyone who took Ecology 101 and has kept up since college.

Jason said...

Who said environmentalists should all be of the same mind?

It's like being bemused that music lovers don't all like heavy metal.

Hank Roberts said...

ps for our hosts:

Pil --> Phil

and to all a good night

Rattus Norvegicus said...

Looking at the Revkin post and Ms. Marris's rather pathetic interview, I would say that she is certainly slaying strawmen. I would notice that a few people who actually seemed to know what they were talking about showed up in comments (most notably Michael Soule, who has done extensive work on island biogeography it's application to designing networks to connect biological islands) and disemboweled her.

The link that Hank provided a couple of comments up thread was her basically saying, when taken to task for being a poor student, "no, I didn't really mean that..." when it was quite clear that she did.

I've seen this game played before in the creationism wars. It didn't work out to well for them. I hope it doesn't work out too well for the anti environmentalists.

Hank Roberts said...

> slaying strawmen

Zombie strawmen, they keep rising up and coming back.

I've seen "armchair environmentalists" block brush clearing and prescribed burning, setting up conditions for extreme wildfires -- and similar stuff.

I just came across this:

"... I make a clear distinction between sincere people who are honestly working to make the environment cleaner and more hospitable for all living creatures and "Environmentalists” that preach messages about the need to avoid using nuclear energy and the benefits of expensive energy in sending a conservation signal to people that like to drive large cars or operate power boats. The end result of that kind of Environmentalism is to benefit the establishment fossil fuel industry; my hypothesis is that the relationship is far from accidental."

I wonder if more than his guess. Has there been any documentation going back that far? In the 1960s I'd have found it incredible. But by now, having seem how the denial process works and how effective it is in enlisting "useful idiots" -- I could believe it happened.

But I wonder, has anyone looked into that?

Rattus Norvegicus said...

Unfortunately we have a situation here where a couple of groups which really are, well, dirty f'in hippies, are trying to block a thinning/controlled burn project in a couple of drainages which supply 80% of our towns water.

Fuel has been building up in these drainage systems for decades and the situation is critical right now. Last year we very nearly had a disaster in one when a fire got going in an adjacent drainage. Luckily that was stopped by the fire fighters at the top of the ridge which separated the two drainages. There has been a plan under development between the city and the USFS for over a decade now which has faced and cleared repeated challenges from these same groups and that is preventing anything from being done.

So like it or not, there are nutcases out there, but no one who is doing constructive work fits the model of the strawman. In fact, like you, I sometimes wonder if these groups are actually funded by people seeking to make environmentalism and environmental concerns seem "radical".

Hank Roberts said...

> no one who is doing constructive
> work fits ... strawman

I agree. I hadn't see the columns when they appeared, nor the Marris book -- and I haven't read the book.
So my opinion's hardly worthwhile.

Finding work people can agree on while disagreeing on other issues works -- but it's rarely done.

Reminds me of playing ball in grade school. There were always one or two older kids who dominated by grabbing the ball and arguing about something while everyone else stood around.

I subverted that, my contribution to recess -- by sneaking up behind the guy holding the ball and punting it out of from under his arm.

The rest of us could go on playing, and let the arguers argue. Funny how they quit arguing when they couldn't shut down the cooperative game to get an audience.

Of course, we knew how to play.
If only we knew how to do conservation and restoration.

Time will tell.

dhogaza said...

"Unfortunately we have a situation here where a couple of groups which really are, well, dirty f'in hippies, are trying to block a thinning/controlled burn project in a couple of drainages which supply 80% of our towns water."

This may just be a symptom of the fact that conservationists learned not to trust USFS in the 1970s and 1980s. That mistrust is still strong here in the Oregon conservation community.

The USFS fought long and hard to lose that trust, and while efforts were made starting in the 1990s to regain that trust (Jack Ward Thomas's first memo to District Rangers after being chosen as the first biologist to lead the Service by Clinton included four bullet items of which two read something like "We will obey the law" and "We will tell the truth").

Oh, that loss of trust included the Service's own biologists.

Along with the large-scale issues I'm sure you're aware of (ignoring the sustained yield requirements of the NFMA, the species' conservation requirements of the NFMA, NEPA planning documents that at times were so cynical they were thrown out by federal courts, etc) were minor illegal actions.

Such as illegally logging old growth in Portland's watershed, which was formed by an act of Congress in the late 1800s, said legislation flatly prohibiting logging within the watershed.

Yet in the late 1960s and 1970s we had a series of winters in which portland's water became turbid, in some cases leading to "boil water" mandates because chlorination is ineffective in turbid water.

The turbidity came about because the USFS was illegally logging right down to the edge of the mountain reservoir which forms the heart of our watershed, and the 100 inches a year rain (mostly falling in winter) washed large amounts of the resulting bare earth right into the water supply.

Illegal and done in secret, at first not even the Portland Water Bureau was aware.

So I'm sympathetic with those who don't trust the USFS even when they're trying to do the right thing.

Here, thinning projects mostly have the cautious approval of conservationists, but in Oregon the community has learned that each and every thinning sale must be carefully audited, because the USFS *still* tries to sneak in thinning projects that are thinly disguised efforts to get at older timber which is offlimits within current guidelines.

And the conservation community here in Oregon very much is in favor of controlled burns, not only because of their effectiveness, but because the USFS can't easily manipulate them into hidden timber cutting forays into older forest.

Even dirty old hippies like me ...

dhogaza said...

"while efforts were made starting in the 1990s to regain that trust " was meant to be followed by "it has only partially been regained."

Rattus Norvegicus said...

Yeah, I remember those bad old days.

This is part of a source water protection plan which is part of a state process run by DEQ, FWP, our city municipal water district and the USFS, since all the land is in the adjacent NF. And when they are even against the prescribed burn elements, I don't understand where they are coming from. As far as the thinning parts go, I hear you. A decade ago there were several thinning projects which were actually "sales" so that they could sell timber which would have been off limits. Hopefully the thing will get done so we don't suffer from exactly the sort of turbidity problems you guys had in Portland.

BTW, I went and looked at the page for one of the groups and sure enough, not one scientist on the board or officers of the group, although they did have some listed as "advisors".

Hank Roberts said...

Another example of the "feed the periphery, starve the center" approach to delay:

"Fire-safety groups courted by Big Tobacco became allies in the industry’s fight against laws on fire-safe cigarettes. So successful was the strategy that a Philip Morris executive cites it as an example of how to neutralize enemies."
Do students of public policy have a name for this technique of funding all extremes on any policy issue, to prevent a consensus on doing anything from developing? It can't be news to those who watch how this is done.

Anonymous said...

Excellent piece Eli.

But don't worry about Keith Kloor and Tom Fuller to much. I'm pretty sure only about 20 people have ever heard of them.

Eric Steig