Guest Opinion: Dr. Tim Ball
In Aesop’s story of the boy who cried wolf the consequences included him losing his sheep and his credibility, even if he later told the truth. Today, environmental and climate alarmists who cry wolf don’t lose anything. There is no accountability. In fact, they continue to have credibility, keep their jobs and receive funding as millions of others suffer in a multitude of ways. Failed climate predictions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) continue as the basis for regulations and policies, that profoundly affect thousands of people’s lives. What is happening confirms H.L. Mencken’s observation,
“The men the American people admire most extravagantly are the greatest liars: the men they detest most violently are those who try to tell them the truth.”
Environmentalists, now including the Pope, accuse humans of acting unnaturally by creating a trail of destruction everywhere. However, because they decide what humans do is unnatural, doesn’t make it so. Does the Pope believe that humans and their activities are unnatural? It is as Goethe said, “The unnatural, that too is natural.” Despite that, a major technique of environmental and climate alarmists take natural events and present them as unnatural. The Popes Encyclical includes many examples. Alarmism is amplified by implying, either this has never occurred before, or it is occurring at an unprecedented rate. This works because most people don’t know what is natural and there is an endless supply of natural events.
Some events are better for alarmism than others. Animals are an ideal target because people don’t know the size of animal populations or how much they vary naturally. They also elicit emotionalism that distorts objectivity. Imagine Gore’s arctic ice alarmism without the polar bear. Skeptics provide the other side, but, as with any rejoinder to a false media story, it doesn’t get coverage or is tucked away in an obscure corner of the newspaper. It certainly doesn’t get matching headlines.
A major reason for media distortion is science degrees are rare among journalists, so political bias becomes dominant. Science degrees are also rare among most government bureaucrats, particularly senior bureaucrats, who are invariably graduates of environmental studies programs. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy is a classic example with a 1976 Bachelor of Arts in Social Anthropology and a 1981 joint Master of Science in Environmental Health Engineering and Planning and Policy.
So hundreds of stories appear, but how many of them are true? Aaron Wildavsky wrote about the gap between the media story, public understanding and the reality in Yes, But Is It True?
Working with his students at a risk analysis center, Wildavsky examined all the evidence behind the charges and countercharges in several controversial cases involving environmental health and public safety. Here he lays out these cases in terms an average citizen can understand, weighs the merits of the claims of various parties, and offers reasoned judgments on the government’s response.
The graduate students chose topics and pursued their origin and validity. The issues chosen did not withstand examination, yet they triggered laws and public policy. Rarely, are the damages done by those laws or policies, assessed. Accountability for those involved, especially if they are bureaucrats, are rarer. There are two Canadian examples of alarmism that resulted in laws and policies that did extensive social and economic damage. It is time for accountability, but it won’t happen.
Over 30 years ago Roger Pocklington, Oceanographer at the Bedford Institute in Nova Scotia, asked me about weather conditions in eastern and arctic Canada. He studied water temperatures in a transect from Newfoundland to Bermuda and noted a steady decline. At the time, it fit the concern of global cooling, so Pocklington spoke at several conferences. Temperatures in eastern arctic Canada had declined for over thirty years and resulted in a cooler Labrador Current. Colder denser water was pushing further south.
We determined this would impact the cod fisheries of the Grand Banks, but nobody would listen. Then everything changed. Global temperatures began to rise, but Roger’s water temperatures continued to fall. Now he wasn’t even invited to conferences.
Cod numbers declined, and they blamed humans. Overfishing is a small part of the problem because quotas are set with little knowledge of the natural variation in stock numbers. The best study of variations in fish populations and climate by Klyashtorin and Lyubukshin is virtually unknown outside of Russia.
If you assume populations are relatively constant then a natural decline makes fishing harmful at a certain level.
The Canadian government effectively banned cod fishing in 1992. For comparison imagine the US government banning corn production in Iowa. It is 23 years since the ban and although some very limited fishing occurred Fisheries and Oceans report,
Cod populations remain depleted, and the reasons remain disputed.
They finally acknowledged what Roger and I knew from the start.
When water temperatures in many Atlantic areas cooled in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s that was part of a wider change in the ecosystem. Cod live within a narrow range of temperatures. If their habitual waters get too warm or cold, they can migrate till they find a comfortable zone. But will they find, for example, the right levels of oxygen? And, if broad environmental changes are taking place, what’s happening to their food?
Animals migrate when the food supply changes. Fish have greater options because they move in three dimensions. The cod moved away from the waters around Newfoundland, but where did the cod go? They migrated into warmer international waters, where Europeans continued to fish them. The question was why weren’t Canadian fishermen allowed to fish in international waters? I understand a secret [pact] with Europe kept them from Canadian waters and Canadians from international waters. They also migrated to shallower warmer inshore waters where they were already off limits to Canadian fishermen because of government regulation. In 1996, I stood on the dock at Fortune Harbour in northern Newfoundland with an 84-year-old fisherman. He told me cod were more plentiful and larger than he could recall in the bay, but he was banned from catching even two to feed his family because of regulations from Ottawa. As a result of the ban, many of the historic fishing ports surrounding Newfoundland and Labrador were abandoned. I urge you to watch this documentary of how the people see what happened to them. The great irony of the story is that oil drilling at Hibernia on the Grand Banks saved the Newfoundland economy, but as the songs relate, this only masked the real damage.
On the west coast of Canada, the story was the same but different for the salmon fisheries. Again salmon numbers declined because of changing water temperatures and the government dramatically curtailed fishing. It is difficult to determine the numbers because the government bureaucrats used their estimates of anticipated numbers to determine fishing quotas. They were consistently wrong and grossly under-estimated the numbers, which allowed them to cut quotas dramatically. No investigation or accountability of grossly inaccurate science and policy occurred. People damaged by the policies complained, but were treated like criminals because they worked in the industry or business. They weren’t collateral damage, they were the problem. As a result, bureaucrats began to give meaningless estimates such as this one in 2010,
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) predicts a summer run of between 4.5 to 30 million sockeye salmon to the Fraser. However, the Pre-season run size forecasts for Fraser River sockeye salmon in 2010 predicts, and the run will most likely be around 11.4 million sockeyes, a forecast that is eerily similar to the 2009 forecast.
The range of 4.5 to 30 million is indicative of no understanding and wide enough to justify anything, especially if you are unaccountable. In some years the Canadian fisheries estimates were wrong by up to 70 percent. The estimate was always low to justify draconian actions. There is no question the number of salmon declined as the natural cycle developed. However, government bureaucrats overstated the severity of the decline to justify severe, unnecessary, restrictions.
Research of the oral tradition of Haida people about weather and climate patterns produced stories about changing patterns that presaged drought. This was followed by a decline in salmon populations and created periods they called the time of “full stomach”. This referred to the distended stomach of starvation, not the fullness of adequate food. The tradition also reported the changing weather pattern that marked the end of the drought conditions and return of the salmon. Apparently cyclical drought patterns correlate with changing ocean water temperatures, low river flow, and poor spawning conditions. The oral tradition indicates the natural pattern of salmon populations.
Declining salmon populations led to the designation of most salmon species as endangered species in Canada and the US. Drastic, restrictive fishing legislation seriously affected communities and lives. Now the natural pattern reasserts itself and record numbers of salmon are reported. One report in 2014 suggested the run might be too big for the Fraser river to accommodate.
These are just two examples of restrictive policies based on a failure to understand natural patterns and populations. They are fuelled by the hysteria of environmentalism, inadequate data, inaccurate knowledge of natural processes, bureaucracies stocked with environmental graduates of the 1980s and 90s, and if all else fails, application of the precautionary principle. Any specific example is problematic but not enough to generate anger and response to what is going on. It is as if every shepherd boy is crying wolf across the country, which creates the illusion the problem is real. Add that to the idea that they believe that humans behave in unnatural ways and you have a recipe for government devastation of people, their economies and their ways of life. All this while the bureuacrats and politicians continue to get paid. The boy is no longer tending the sheep, but he is on government allowance and disability for the stress he experienced when the wolf attacked.