Content-type: text/html ~ Stephen's Web ~ Lies and Distortions

Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

May 12, 2000

The big picture, of course, is the battle over environmental issues: whether the Earth is getting warmer, whether we are degrading the environment, whether, as AdBusters puts it, "economic progress is killing the planet."

The medium sized picture is a ream of small scale battles in limited arenas. There is the battle to influence Washington policy-makers, a battle waged by the likes of ecientist S. Fred Singer. There is the battle over the environmental agenda in schools, waged by writers such as Michael Sanera.

And then there is the hand-to-hand combat in the trenches, the push and pull battle for credibility and reasonableness. The environmentalists have the upper hand here, pointing as they do to obvious problems such as smog and resource depletion, and having no clear self-interest other than the defense of the planet.

But the full weight of industry propaganda is falling on the other side in a concentrated campaign to discredit the environmentalists. It's propaganda which looks convincing at first blush. But it's cheap and shallow and one only hopes that the future of the planet does not, in fact, depend on the shallow thinkers who write such tripe.

Let's zero in, then to one such battle: "The Dirty Secret of the Environmentalist Movement," published a couple of days ago by IntellectualCapital.Com

This article argues that

But a few cases from recent months show that environmental interests are as "special" as any other political group. And their lies and distortions are affecting the 2000 presidential campaign, as well as tarnishing the reputations of innocent people with little basis in fact."
The article then lists a set of "lies and distortions":
  1. The National Audubon Society - their president wrote in an editorial that
    [Michael] Sanera and his followers start by scaring people into believing that environmentalists are conspiring to brainwash children. Like a modern-day Flat Earth Society, they argue that basic scientific theories such as evolution, global warming and the effects of pollution are so unproven that government should not require their teaching, or should require them to be taught in tandem with religious or political concepts like creationism.

    To refute this claim, the article points to Sanera's membership in the CEI and argues that neither Sanera nor anyone else associated with the CEI is a creationst.

    Well and good. But Facts, Not Fear was produced, by Sanera's own admission by a coalition of groups, one of which is the Alabama Family Alliance, which is demonstrably pro creationist.

    Moreover, Sanera himself is also an Adjunct Scholar with the Heritage Foundation, which in turn is also demonstrably a part of the pro-creationist religious right.

    At worst, the president of the Audubon Society is guity of sloppy footnoting; clearly, there is nothing false or misleading about his statement, the 'Dirty Secrets' article notwithstanding.

  2. Next, the article targets a report issued by the U.S. Public Interest Research Groups (USPIRG) and the Clean Air Network which asserts that six of the 10 places in the country with the worst smog problems were in Texas, home of G.W. Bush.

    "Isn't that convenient?" suggests the article, which then goes on to point new measures had been added to this year's report, measures which appeared to single out Texas.

    Of course, a skeptical soul might ask why with all those extra resources and staff time, the two environmental groups managed to add exactly one new measure of the ozone problem to their report -- the one pointing at Bush.

    The question may be asked, but it takes a bit more than a question to support allegations of "lies and distortion". The article in no way shows that the new studies are false or distorted, or that the new measure is an invalid measure. 'Nudge nudge wink wink' seems to be the extent of their argument here.

  3. The article next targets the magazine Ozone Action for its article attacking S. Fred Singer, a leading opponent of global warming theory.

    Ozone Action, asserts the article, asserts that Singer has connections with the Moonies, a religious organization. "That is the most laughable charge," asserts the article, which while admitting that Singer once worked in an office owned by the Moonies, disavows any other connection with the group.

    But the connection is fairly clearly documented. Singer is the president of SEPP, the The Science and Environmental Policy Project. SEPP was founded in 1990 as an affiliate of the Washington Institute for Values in Public Policy, a Moon-funded think tank that provided SEPP with free office space. See the Unification Church's account of the Washington Institute here. The connection is also document in the Washington Post.

    So perhaps the connection ascribed isn't so "laughable". It is certainly a far cry from "lies and distortions".

The article concludes with a reference to the Audobon's misleading bird counts of 39 years ago and concludes by asking,
More importantly, how can anyone greet the pronouncements of environmental groups without the same skepticism they give the words of every other ethically challenged special-interest group in Washington?

I have to say - if this is the worst an article on environmentalist "lies and distortions" can find - some half-baked and demonstrably false accusations which are, quite frankly, mostly off-topic to begin with, then it begins to look like the environmentalists are pretty credible.

David Mastio and his publisher, IntellectualCapital.Com, by contrast, look pretty shallow, even tansparent, indeed.

Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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