Partial Proof of My Thesis

Several years ago, I offered the following hypothesis to a reporter:

I would argue that the current obsession with small changes to trace levels of CO2 in the atmosphere has in fact gutted the environmental movement.  Nothing else is getting done. ... My prediction– 10-20 years from now, environmentalists are going to look back on the current global warming hysteria as the worst thing ever to happened to the environmental movement.

Here is an example of that effect.  A study comes out that says the following about the health of the Great Lakes:

The Commission is troubled by nearshore eutrophication, aquatic plant growth caused by excessive nutrients, which causes adverse effects on ecosystems, the economy, recreation, and human health.  The reemergence of algal blooms is likely due to multiple factors, including inadequate municipal wastewater and residential septic systems; runoff from increased impervious surface areas and agricultural row-crop areas; discharges from tile drainage which result in more dissolved reactive phosphorus loading; industrial livestock operations; ecosystem changes from invasive mussel species; and impacts from climate change which include warmer water and more frequent and intense precipitation and stormwater events.

Of these listed potential causes, only the last, climate change, is not addressed at all in the main study document, nor is addressing climate change on their list of recommendations, which in fact emphasize that solutions tend to be local.   In fact the tone of the study is that the causes are complex and poorly understood, but never again beyond this sentence is climate change mentioned or any evidence of increased precipitation or runoff presented.

One is left with the impression it was a toss-in on the list, included because climate change is "hot" and sexy and a magnet for funding and attention.  Certainly the report provides no other evidence or detail as to why it is included in the list.  Certainly any intelligent reader would understand that the climate change item was, at best, included to round out the possibilities of a complex and poorly understood problem, but that the study points to many of the other items on the list as more productive places to seek solutions.

So, given this, what do environmental reporters pick up?  Here is the headline environmental reporter Cameron Scott uses on his SFGate blog "the Thin Green Line":

Climate change threatens Great Lakes

Yep, he latched on to the last, least important item that is completely un-adressed by the main report.  By doing so, he is in effect helping to distract attention from the real causes that can be addressed and diverting attention to issues that are tangential at best.  The solution will likely involve better managing agricultural runoffs and dealing with municipal wastewater plants which are under-treating discharges.

This is why I say that the global warming hysteria will be looked back on as a dead time for the environmental movement, when obsession with trace amounts of CO2 either caused folks to lose attention on important issues, or even caused environmentalists to advocate for ecologically detrimental programs (e.g. biofuels).


  1. Foxfier:

    I think you're half right-- being hooked up with a humanity-hating power hungry government advancing mob will be seen as the worst thing...eventually.

    "Global Climate Disruption" is just the latest form.

  2. ADiff:

    At various hardware and home product supply stores one can purchase TSP, commonly used to clean walls in preparation for painting. Adding a bit of this to one's 'Phosphate Free' household cleaners can significantly improve their performance (don't over do it, as one can end up leaving phosphate residue if too much is added..."just a little dab'll do it").

    Removing phosphates from household waste water streams, while leaving it in industrial and agricultural waste water seems senseless when most household waste water is reprocessed and treated, at least to some extent, prior to any release (ditto for the industrial streams), and phosphates simply cannot be excluded from agricultural streams...if one wants productivity that is.

    So one need not allow the 'feel good' restriction of one's consumer choices to effect one entirely, at least in this (admittedly rather trivial) case. Now, on to incandescent light-bulbs. We're saving the World, from nothing, one incremental economy contracting cost after another.

  3. Sean2829:

    I think treating climate change hysteria as "dead time" is probably the best "true" environmentalists can hope for. If it turns even a bit colder over the next few years as some predict, environmentalists will not be given the benefit of the doubt for pushing for the right things, they will face scepticism and likely outright hostility as a natural reaction from most people.

  4. Dr. T:

    I just looked at some water temperature data from a buoy in the middle of Lake Michigan. I found some impossible readings. For example, last March 18, the water temperature went from 2.9 to 16.8 degrees centigrade in 9 hours. (Air temperature had peaked at 18.9 degrees centigrade during that period.) This phenomenon was repeated all through the data. Obviously, some of the buoy's temperature readings are being made when the thermometer is not immersed. Even with the biased data, most of the monthly mean temperatures are within two standard deviations of historic mean temperatures.

    Any weather scientist should know that Lake Michigan's surface water temperature cannot rise by almost 14 degrees centigrade in 9 hours. But, because of the push to prove anthropogenic global warming, bad data points are not being removed (as long as they show higher temperatures).

  5. Bearster:

    Au contraire Warren.

    The driver of AGW and the enviro movement is misanthropy. AGW is convenient because it is (decreasingly) believed by the masses, and all of the policy prescriptions demand human sacrifice as the only possible cure.

    When AGW is deader than a mosquito killed by DDT, the same misanthropic types will organize a "new" movement to flog the next issue. And so long as people accept the unearned guilt of the moral code of altruism they will accept pseudo-scientific theories and the consequent "need" for policy to suppress man's interests to allegedly solve the problem. And then problem need not be in the environment; it could be some newly "discovered" social problem...

  6. Pat Moffitt:

    "I would argue that the current obsession with small changes to trace levels of CO2 in the atmosphere has in fact gutted the environmental movement. Nothing else is getting done."

    I wish this were true. Most do not understand the new NGO national campaign being launched on a State by State basis using anti-fertilizer campaigns. These bills set the stage in the media and with the Public to establish a nutrient crisis. This allows EPA to step in and supercede State and local decision making by imposing restrictive nutrient limitations (TMDLs) using Section 303(d) of the Clean Water Act. Because of the way nitrogen is cycled in the environment- this nutrient allows regulatory control over every land use and energy decision we make because it is not limited to just that flowing out of pipes but all the non-point sources (lawns, farms streets etc). It is a far more powerful and comprehensive regulatory tool than CO2.

    In one of EPA's biggest power grabs it has decided it now has the authority to decide what each industry sector will be allowed of what it has decided will be a much more limited resource. (see new Chesapeake decision and Obama executive order)

    EPA has said its not going after coal plants in the Chesapeake although it has this authority--fossil fuel plants are one of the largest sources of reactive nitrogen entering the land and water from both wet and dry deposition processes (about 7-10 kg/ha/yr). But energy is clearly on the radar as well as big agriculture and development. TMDLs will coerce development to conform with the green dream of low impact development - a dense urban environment where we all walk to work- if not you won't be able to get a permit.

    Nutrients are being blamed for a host of problems-- but the "proof" is all in the sensitivity of the System--just like climate. Guess what-- they are claiming high sensitivity.

    Watch for the new NGO campaigns to control fertilizer (NJ, WA, PA,FL MI etc)-- they are a stalking horse to justify TMDLs. And those that are scientists-- think about the power that comes from deciding how much reactive nitrogen we were allowed and who is allowed to have what piece of a much smaller pie.

    As usual the few scientists that are standing up against this are being smeared by the NGOs-- Two soil scientists in FL were called tobacco scientists in the press as was a soil scientist in NJ for the temerity of calling BS. Like climate-- it doesn't require this to happen too often till other scientists get the message---and there are going to be a tons of grant money coming as a reward for hopping on board the new crisis.

  7. IgotBupkis, President, United Anarchist Society:

    >>> or even caused environmentalists to advocate for ecologically detrimental programs (e.g. biofuels).

    What, you mean advocating things that increase agricultural runoff?

    >>> And then problem need not be in the environment; it could be some newly “discovered” social problem…

    The long term effects of not teaching critical thinking skills, coming home to roost.

    "There is no week, nor day, nor hour, when tyranny may not enter upon this
    country, if the people lose their supreme confidence in themselves - and
    lose their roughness and spirit of defiance."

    - Walt Whitman -

  8. Dr. T:

    @Pat Moffit: You are equating actions by the EPA with the environmental movement. They aren't the same. The EPA is taking more action because, under Obama, the executive branch of the federal government is grabbing as much power as it can. The EPA's actions would occur even if the private sector environmental movement were totally dead.

    I was quite pleased when technophobic and/or nihilistic environmental groups jumped on the AGW bandwagon. By adopting that pseudoscience, they spent less time on toxicology-related and carcinogenesis-related pseudosciences. Anti-AGW efforts are destined to fail because people and nations are not willing to cut themselves off from reasonably priced energy. Anti-chemical and anti-electromagnetic energy emission efforts have been succeeding all too well because of scare tactics. (For example, I was astonished to discover that chlorinated tap water is now considered by many to be a toxic substance, even for showering or bathing. We have the safest drinking water in the world, and enviroweenies have convinced people that it is poison.)

  9. Russ Finley:

    Headlines are picked to get reader's attention. They often have little, if anything to do with the body of the article. See it everyday. Saw it three times yesterday.

  10. Pat Moffitt:

    Dr. T:
    I strongly disagree with your view that the NGOs and EPA are not joined at the hip on this. Sierra Club is leading a national charge on this. There is a revolving door between EPA and the NGOs.
    It always appears the NGOs aren't doing anything when the Democrats are in power--in reality they are the government during these times. (Look at Obamas appointees and the link to the EJ movement- Browner, Jackson, Luchenco etc)

    I'm not sure what State you are from but you will most likely soon see Sierra Club or one of the others pushing new fertilizer control bills. The call for EPA to step in and impose TMDLs follows shortly thereafter.