A Review of '25 Myths that are Destroying the Environment'

By Andy May


The new book, 25 Myths that are Destroying the Environment, by Daniel B. Botkin, is a bit light on science and a breezy read. But, it makes some good points. All of us are for clean air and water, but as Peter Schwartz once wrote, the modern environmental movement is “anti-science, anti-technology, and anti-human.” The radical environmentalists of today latch onto mythical assertions that have no basis in fact; but support the idea that man is bad, man is “destroying” the planet and the natural “balance” of nature. Dr. Botkin, an ecologist and biologist of some note, addresses these assertions. He has held positions at Yale, the University of California at Santa Barbara, George Mason University and Woods Hole Marine Biology Laboratory. He is a prolific and well cited writer, this is his 16th book on ecology, the environment and science.

We agree with most of the points in the book, but it doesn’t help that in the forward to the book, by Alfred Runte, we see the following unsubstantiated and clearly false statement:

“Say everyone believed the Earth to be cooling instead of warming. Would we still not want to curtail the use of fossil fuels? Of course, we would, because they are pollutants.”

This assertion not only contradicts the whole point of the book, which is we need to be skeptical of environmentalist’s myths and look to the facts and science, but it is clearly wrong. Fossil fuels are largely responsible for our current high standard of living, our long life spans and arguably played a significant role in eliminating slavery. As Alex Epstein noted in his book The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels, in the modern world cheap energy from fossil fuels replaces slaves and servants.

“In the past, before modern energy technology, the main way to overcome the problem of human weakness was putting others into a state of servitude or slavery— which meant that only some could prosper, and at the great expense of others. But with machine energy and machine servants, no one has to suffer…”

Cheap energy and the technology it spawned improved the lives of the poor more than the wealthy. When gasoline powered cars were introduced in the late 19th century they were hailed as a clean alternative to transportation by horse and buggy and kerosene provided cheaper, cleaner and safer light at night. Some credit the introduction of cheap kerosene with helping to save whales from extinction. And the truth is the high demand and cost of whale oil (more than $2 per gallon in 1854!) for lamps had drastically reduced the number of whales in the oceans. They only began to recover when the rich switched to cheaper and better kerosene light. The poor of the time either had no light or used camphene or lard. Once kerosene could be distilled from liquid petroleum, thanks to Dr. Abraham Gesner, quality light became available to many more people. Kerosene was 7 cents per gallon in 1895 and whale oil had dropped to 40 cents.

Drought, flooding and plagues claim far fewer lives today due largely to cheap and abundant fossil fuel energy which is used to build irrigation systems, dikes, dams and to deliver clean water. So, with a current population of seven billion people, fed by a green revolution based on natural gas fertilizer, one must ask what would replace fossil fuels? The alternatives are not pretty or reliable, see here and here. It is a shame that a book dedicated to exposing environmentalist’s myths should spread one.

One might want to call fossil fuels pollutants, but it is clear that New York, London and every other large city in the world is cleaner today than in the early 1800’s and the reason is cheap energy from fossil fuels. The rare-earth metals used to make windmills and solar arrays, the chlorine that makes our water and fresh vegetables safe, the batteries in our phones can also be called pollutants. This doesn’t mean we curtail their use. Intelligent choices based on appropriate cost-benefit analysis are necessary. This was a federal judge’s instructions to the EPA recently when he ordered the organization to consider jobs lost when considering air pollution regulations. One shouldn’t say “curtail the use of” anything as important as energy regardless of the facts or consequences. Fortunately, most of the rest of the book is more sensible.

The 25 Myths

The first myth discussed in the book is that man is the only creature that changes the environment. In truth, all creatures change their environment and the environment of the world to some degree. That is how they survive and thrive. The largest changes are made by plants when they produce the oxygen we breath and the wood that we build with and so on.

The next myth is that life and the environment are fragile and man is precipitating the next great extinction event. The Earth has seen five major extinctions. These were all before man evolved and they were truly horrific. The worst extinction was the Permian mass extinction (250 million years ago) when an estimated 70% to 96% of all species went extinct. Myth #3 is that extinction is unnatural, but today there are an estimated 1.5 million species on the Earth and roughly one species goes extinct every year on average. Most species that have ever existed are currently extinct due to the 3.5 billion-year history of life on Earth. But, species persistence is very long, mammals persist for an average of 750,000 years. So, regardless of environmentalist’s persistent speculation; there is no evidence that man is causing an increase in extinctions over the geological norm. Further, extinction is quite natural.

Myths 4 through 11 deal with the “balance of nature” idea. That is nature is in a delicate balance and man somehow screws this up. The reality is nothing in the environment is constant; everything is always changing. Much of this is based on the idea that each population in the environment rises to some “carrying capacity” and can go no further. This is an idea based on laboratory experiments with bacteria in Petri dishes and it only works in laboratories and only with bacteria and other small organisms. In the real world, no population in a real habitat has ever been found to grow according to the “carrying capacity” logistic curve. But, this idea, first expressed in the 19th century, with no observational support, is still the basis of many environmentalist’s assertions.

Nature is not in balance and it has no need of balance. Man, especially land owners and the wealthy want nature to be in balance. They don’t want their property, buildings and houses threatened.

A corollary to the “balance” idea is that we have a perfect set of species in the world today. Each plays a unique role and if any one of these are lost the whole ecosystem fails. Dr. Botkin explains that this is utter nonsense. There are roles to be played in any ecosystem and usually more than one species can fulfill a specific role. Redundancy is a good thing. Competition is a good thing. Some say man is not a part of nature, but is a contaminant. This is not true we are a part of nature, not separate from it. We did not arrive from outer space.

Some would say that people have only changed the environment since the industrial age. However, the archeological evidence says otherwise. As Dr. Botkin explains, there is abundant evidence of man changing the environment for at least the past 30,000 years.

Myth #12: Are people the most important factor determining the Earth’s climate? Dr. Botkin says no. The processes affecting the Earth’s climate are complex and man is only a midget among giants. His discussion of this topic is quite good and familiar to this audience. I direct the curious to the book, he covers the key points well.

Myth #13 is that climate change will lead to a huge number of extinctions. The truth is that even though we are in the Quaternary ice age and have been for the past 2.6 million years, there have been very few extinctions. The climate changes, both warming and cooling, observed in the Quaternary far exceed anything predicted by the climate alarmists for the future, yet only one tree went extinct in North America in that period. Myth #14 is that recent weather is proof of climate change. How this myth persists in mainstream news organizations, like the Economist, when every qualified scientist (alarmists and skeptics) says no weather event can be attributed to climate change is beyond understanding.

Myth #15, consensus is science. Dr. Botkin notes that science is a process of questioning ideas. Scientific statements can be tested and proven wrong, otherwise the statement is not scientific. If the statement survives the tests; it is acceptable and potentially valid. Consensus has nothing to do with scientific validity. One of the problems with the “consensus statement” that man is causing dangerous climate change is it cannot be tested. Thus, the statement is not scientific. Myth #16 is that climate models are accurate. It is bizarre that unvalidated computer climate model predictions are considered “true” by many climate alarmists, politicians and news organizations. They haven’t successfully predicted anything to date.

Myth #17, all populations will grow so rapidly they will exceed their natural limit and then go extinct. Dr. Botkin summarizes the problem with this statement in a humorous way. He quotes Professor of Ecology Larry Slobodkin as saying “being rare is different from going extinct, as the whooping crane said to the passenger pigeon.” Whooping cranes have always been rare, but passenger pigeons which used to number in the billions, are now extinct. Unlike bacteria, the numbers of more complex creatures are not determined only by the food and water supply. In this chapter, Dr. Botkin discusses how many people the Earth could support. This is interesting, but of course he assumes that technology is static, which it isn’t.

Myth #18, predators are necessary to control prey populations. This myth goes back to Herodotus, a Greek historian of the fifth century BC. Predators can reduce the populations of their prey, but they do not control them. Dr. Botkin describes many studies that show the assumed predator/prey relationship (the Lotka-Volterra equations) are not consistent with what is observed in nature.

Myths #19 and #20 are related. The first says if man manages everything correctly he can take the maximum sustainable yield of fish or wildlife every year. The second says that we can’t do much about environmental risk, for example floods and hurricanes. Each year is different and there are many factors affecting fish and wildlife besides hunting and fishing. These factors need to be considered when setting catch limits. Of course, we cannot predict floods, earthquakes, droughts and hurricanes; but we can avoid building in areas where they occur. Or, if we build in dangerous areas we can design the buildings appropriately for the environmental dangers. Being prepared for dangers and planning for them is important. Myth #21 is about forest fires. Forests are very beautiful and wonderful places to live. Unfortunately, it is natural for forests to burn frequently enough so that most of the fuel on the ground is consumed and does not become dangerous to the forest. The normal cycle of forest fires is completely natural and necessary. To live in them one must build very carefully and be prepared.

Myth #21 considers the storage of carbon in forests and using wood as a “renewable” and “carbon neutral” fuel. Dr. Botkin’s conclusion is that current methods overestimate the amount of carbon stored in forests. He estimates North American forests only store 41% of the carbon computed by the IPCC. He also points out that in 2013 the largest “renewable” energy source in Europe was biomass, mainly imported wood pellets from the United States. While the trees cut down and turned into wood pellets can be regrown and new trees will consume the carbon dioxide emitted by burning their parents, the process is not carbon neutral. Cultivating new trees, cutting them down, turning them into pellets and transporting the pellets to Europe emits a great deal of carbon dioxide and burns a lot of fossil fuels. So, obviously, calling this fuel carbon neutral is suspect and issuing carbon credits for burning wood is a fiction.

Myths #23 and #24 are the first of his myths that we disagree with. He claims that solar and wind energy do not require large amounts of land and could provide a “large” percentage of US electricity by 2050. He doesn’t say what “large” means, but we can assume 30% to 40% or more for the sake of argument. He says rooftop solar should be sufficient for most homes and that wind farms don’t need as much land as the critics claim. He doesn’t provide any evidence to back up his claims and they are suspect in our view. For another, more quantitative look at the practicality of solar and wind, I would refer the interested reader to the late Cambridge engineering professor Sir David MacKay’s excellent book Sustainable Energy – Without the Hot Air.

Dr. Botkin refers only to “solar and wind capacity” in his chapter and ignores the need for fossil fuel backup at night and on windless days. We will ignore these rather obvious flaws in his argument because he is missing the larger and more important point of cost. The costs of solar and wind must include fossil fuel backup, electrical grid enhancement to handle intermittent and out of phase power sources, and installation and maintenance. Using batteries to store solar and wind power are out of the question, they are enormously expensive. Germany’s Energiewende goal was to increase their share of renewable energy to 40% by 2050. According to an MIT Technology Review they are very unlikely to make it. In the discussion of myth #24 he uses a German solar energy facility as an example of a northern “successful” facility in a cold climate. Yet, German electricity costs are among the highest in the world and high enough to force factories overseas, often to the US where electricity costs about one-third as much. Siemans moved their oil and gas global headquarters to Houston from Erlangen and their natural gas turbine manufacturing to Charlotte, North Carolina. This move cost Germany 4,500 jobs. Austrian electricity is not as expensive as in Germany, but still over twice as much as in the US. For this reason, Austrian steelmaker Voestalpine built a steel making plant next to Corpus Christi, Texas and shut down a similar plant in Austria due to the lower cost of natural gas in Texas. Germany subsidizes their alternative energy through electricity-bill surcharges, the alternative power financed in this way will cost 25B Euros this year, but will only buy 3.6B Euros of electricity on the open market according to the German economics ministry.

Dr. Botkin’s final myth is that climate change is our most important environmental issue. As he explains, there are numerous other environmental issues that are being ignored due to the current climate change hysteria. Our list does not include the same items as his, but none-the-less we agree that the money spent on climate change would be better spent cleaning our water and air. Further, improving the availability of potable water, electricity and proper sanitation in poorer areas of the world would go a long way toward eliminating serious communicable diseases. These are just a few examples.

Conclusions and opinion

Aside from the flawed forward by Alfred Runte and the unsupported assertions about wind and solar in myths #23 and #24, the book is generally a good read. It is filled with a lot of interesting anecdotes from Dr. Botkin’s long career as an ecologist. Personally, I would have preferred more data and scientific analysis in support of his conclusions and fewer anecdotes, but then he would probably lose a lot of his audience. Usually, qualified scientists, like Dr. Botkin, once they dig into climate science come to the same conclusion he did. That there is no scientific support for the ideas that man is the major cause of climate change and we are headed to a man-made climate change disaster. I applaud him for speaking out on the subject. His discussion on climate change is technically light, like the rest of the book, but I noticed no inaccuracies and it was a fair treatment of the subject.

The most interesting parts of the book were those that dealt with the ecological myths. These centered around the supposed “balance of nature,” species extinctions and persistence. He is a well-known expert in these areas and it shows. These chapters are very good. So, all in all, I do recommend the book. It is most appropriate for the non-technical reader. Those with a lot of scientific or engineering training may find it a little unsubstantial.


The book is available on Amazon here

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October 22, 2016 4:03 pm

That statement in the forward is clearly a Mythstake.

Reply to  ClimateOtter
October 23, 2016 4:14 am


Science or Fiction
October 22, 2016 4:13 pm

What we really need to understand is that environmentalists are environmentalists – not humanists!

Reply to  Science or Fiction
October 22, 2016 5:28 pm

IMHO a notable exception is Aldo Leopold. He saw a relationship with nature to be important for people.

… He also puts forth the idea that humans will never be free if they have no wild spaces in which to roam. wiki

The problem he doesn’t deal with is that the people have to want to roam those wild spaces.
One of my favourite conservation groups is Ducks Unlimited. It hearkens back to a time when more people were in touch with nature.
Over the twentieth century the population of the USofA has gone from mostly rural to mostly urban. link These days, most people have little direct experience with nature. For most so-called environmentalists, nature is an abstract concept. The result is that they will believe all kinds of crap. 🙁

Reply to  commieBob
October 23, 2016 10:05 pm

This is true. I live in rural Australia, as far from any town I possibly can. I’ve also lived “feral” and completely off-grid (and no house – for almost five years). But even with a regular house, just living in the country and out of town, it’s surprising how some old friends from the city ask, “Aren’t you frightened?”
For the vast majority of folk in the cities, “wilderness” means something seen on television.

Tom Halla
October 22, 2016 4:20 pm

Oh well, I have found no one who totally agrees with me, either. And as my opinions do change over time, I disagree with myself over time.

Michael Spurrier
Reply to  Tom Halla
October 23, 2016 3:32 am


Reply to  Tom Halla
October 23, 2016 10:06 pm

Tom! Caught me with a mouthful. You owe me a keyboard… 🙂

Reply to  Tom Halla
October 24, 2016 7:59 am

As Neil Boortz used to say, if two people agree on everything, one of them is redundant.

October 22, 2016 4:31 pm

“Say everyone believed the Earth to be cooling instead of warming. Would we still not want to curtail the use of fossil fuels? Of course, we would, because they are pollutants.”
That statement in the lead in should have never gotten by the editor in light what the book is all about. If I was Dr. Botkin I would do a re print and eliminate that statement. Are fossil fuels pollutants? That all depends on how you look at them and the effect they have. As most of you know the coal industry has cleaned itself up considerably as has the automobile industry. Does it need to get better, no doubt. But, to me, that blanket statement should not be there. It is like a teacher saying to a student before grading an essay: ” I don’t like what you are saying but I’ll let it go this time”. The Dr is setting himself up to be ridiculed.

Reply to  asybot
October 22, 2016 5:55 pm

At the very least it should be changed to something like, “Say everyone believed the Earth to be cooling instead of warming. Would we still not want to curtail the use of fossil fuels? No, we would focus on ways to eliminate the specific harms of specific pollutants rather than focus on a nebulous objective such as the elimination of fossil fuels. After all, there is just as much likelihood that the replacement would be worse for such ill-formed objectives.”

Reply to  asybot
October 23, 2016 10:28 pm

Asybot – I agree very much. Were I Dr Botkin, I would not have let this stand. +!00

Reply to  A.D. Everard
October 23, 2016 10:28 pm

Whoops! That’s +100

October 22, 2016 4:46 pm

Andy May, have grabbed and read. I think it is less good in several respects than just the intro. Subtle, but always important when fighting the Borg and Obama’s ‘Flat Earther’ derogation. Would not so much recommend.
Think for yourselves. google research. Judge quality thereof. I gave many examples in many essays in ebook Blowing Smoke, and many ‘fast mental tricks’ for rapid sorting in ebook The Arts of Truth. Regards.

Reply to  ristvan
October 23, 2016 4:08 am

Thanks for the tip ristvan! I found your book and I’ll read it.

George Hebbard PE
October 22, 2016 5:24 pm

As a Chemical Engineer, one of the environmental/climate myths of interest to me is that Phosphorus is the main cause of eutrophication. Note that eutrophication is a carbon sink triggered by TKN nitrogen sources. But attacking farmers for nitrogen use is much more risky than attacking phosphate-using homeowners.
All this is small peanuts next to ignoring the nutrient value of CO2 and classifying it as a “pollutant.”

Reply to  George Hebbard PE
October 22, 2016 5:42 pm

… one of the environmental/climate myths of interest to me is that Phosphorus is the main cause of eutrophication.

My memory is that the fish in Lake Erie died out. Then we had a treaty to control phosphorus and, some time later, the fish came back. link Am I remembering wrong?

Reply to  commieBob
October 22, 2016 6:19 pm

I’ve lived on Lake Erie all my life, and to the best of my knowledge, the fish never died out but Lake Erie was so polluted for a while that you would not want to eat anything you caught (its still a good idea to throw the Catfish back).

Reply to  commieBob
October 23, 2016 5:49 am

Ricdre October 22, 2016 at 6:19 pm

Your version is correct. Commercial fishing never died out on Lake Erie.

A report in Time magazine in 1969 described the lake as a “gigantic cesspool” since only three of 62 beaches were rated “completely safe for swimming”.
By 1975 the popular commercial fish blue pike had been declared extinct, although the declaration may have been premature. By the 1980s, there were about 130 fishing vessels with about 3,000 workers, but commercial fishing was declining rapidly, particularly from the American side. wiki

The other thing is that the fish problem in Lake Erie was way more complicated than just phosphates.

Reply to  George Hebbard PE
October 22, 2016 7:02 pm

Is this true? From what I understand, phosphates are more important for eutrophication of fresh water species whereas nitrates are more important for salt water species.
I think we should develop strategies for farmers to deal with fertilizer runoff, but I don’t think they should be “attacked”.

Neil Jordan
Reply to  lorcanbonda
October 22, 2016 9:12 pm

Yes. N is the limiting nutrient in marine systems and P in terrestrial aquatic systems. However, it it a bit more complicated. For example:
“. . .Even though N is probably the major cause of eutrophication in most coastal systems in the temperate zone, optimal management of coastal eutrophication suggests controlling both N and P, in part because P can limit primary production in some systems. In addition, excess P in estuaries can interact with the availability of N and silica (Si) to adversely affect ecological structure. Reduction of P to upstream freshwater ecosystems can also benefit coastal marine ecosystems through mechanisms such as increased Si fluxes.”

Alan Robertson
Reply to  lorcanbonda
October 22, 2016 10:53 pm

Good farmers try everything they can to prevent loss of soils (and applied fertilizer) by erosion. There’s a limit to what can be achieved. A very successful farmer friend said, “Every time I bust the crust, I’m losing soil to the Gulf of Mexico”.
Tiny particles of soil are picked up and driven by wind along the surface and crash into and wear away other particles downwind. Raindrop impacts look like tiny explosions, sending soil fragments flying every which way. Any hoof, or implement which disturbs the soil, accelerates soil erosion via wind and rain.
The natural and eventual end of soils is at the bottom of the sea, with or without man’s presence. Even the mountains crumble into the sea, eventually.

October 22, 2016 5:25 pm

Going to read this book after after I finish Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything. Thank you for the review!

John Harmsworth
Reply to  frombraintoink
October 23, 2016 7:35 am

First the poison, then the antidote? Suit yourself.

Reply to  John Harmsworth
October 23, 2016 10:31 pm

Maybe it’s like first the greens and then the pudding. Sounds good to me. 🙂

Reply to  John Harmsworth
October 23, 2016 10:33 pm

Not that I would read anything by Naomi Klein… Forget it. You’re right. No poison. It’s not worth it.

October 22, 2016 5:27 pm

The modern environmental movement is a political and corporate lobby.

October 22, 2016 5:51 pm

I think that claims we are in the midst of a sixth great extinction may be overblown, but we have increased the extinction rate over the past century. Where I disagree is the cause. It seems it is in vogue to decide that climate change is the primary cause and then develop the ‘evidence’ to support that claim.
The primary causes are the same as what they were since the end of the passenger pigeon — over hunting/overfishing. After that, habitat destruction (such as large scale removal of rain forests) and invasive species has been increasing over the last fifty years. When it comes to ‘sensitive’ coastal populations, such as coral reefs, pollution is a problem along with destructive fishing practices.
What isn’t a problem (in any of these cases) is climate change. It is such an inconsequential contribution to threatened species that it scares me how much press it receives. Basic conservation efforts will be much more effective than a reduction in carbon dioxide. I can’t stand this trend of sacrificing the main objective (conservation) to serve a political objective.

John F. Hultquist
Reply to  lorcanbonda
October 22, 2016 8:37 pm

The primary causes are the same as what they were since the end of the passenger pigeon — over hunting/overfishing.
Background information that may be of interest {from 1937 in the USA}:

Reply to  lorcanbonda
October 24, 2016 8:03 am

While there is a claim that the rate of extinction has gone up. Actual data to support such a claim is rare to non-existent.
Mostly it’s just models declaring that x number of species should have died.

October 22, 2016 6:06 pm

Should the paragraph starting “Myth #21 considers the storage of carbon…” actually be “Myth #22 considers the storage of carbon…” as Myth 21 is discussed in the previous paragraph?

Reply to  Ricdre
October 23, 2016 4:18 am

Oops! Yes you are correct.

Jonathan Sturm
October 22, 2016 6:50 pm

Generally you will find a forward on the soccer pitch, not in a book. E.g. Marcus Rashford is a Man United forward. I prefer books that have a foreword.

Alan Ranger
October 22, 2016 7:00 pm

“Say everyone believed the Earth to be cooling instead of warming. Would we still not want to curtail the use of fossil fuels? Of course, we would, because they are pollutants.”
Isn’t this borne out by the great “coming ice age” scare of the 70s? Wasn’t pollution (from fossil fuels) the supposed culprit behind the “settled science” of the time, being propagated by the same suspects?

Hunt Yarra
October 22, 2016 7:32 pm

Um, foreword..??
Just wonderin’, is all.

John F. Hultquist
October 22, 2016 8:30 pm

Yet, German electricity costs are among the highest in the world and high enough to force factories overseas, …
Hypothesis and proof, as they say:
SGL/BMW carbon fiber plant in Grant County Washington, USA

October 22, 2016 10:46 pm

As for climate models not getting anything right about climate change: There is one thing they got right – that the Arctic would warm more than the rest of the world.
The main flaw I see in the climate models is that they were tuned to hindcast the rapid warming from the 1970s to around 2005 without consideration of the upswing of a natural multidecadal cycle contributing about .2-.22 degree C to the warming. If the models get retuned to have less positivity of feedbacks so as to have predicted .2-.22 degree C less warming from the early-mid 1970s to 2004-2005 than actually occurred during that time, then they would catch up with actual global temperature by the end of this decade, and then mildly overpredict warming during the 2020s in the likely event that the pause/slowdown continues to around 2030 or into the 2030s. After that, the multidecadal natural cycle will be on an upswing again.

October 22, 2016 10:48 pm

I’m also ATM working through this book. In my case, I’m having to look up concepts as I go as a few of them I haven’t come across before. If this book is aimed at undergrad/dilettante readers, i.e., those with some education ( or in my case, a grumpy old man with time to kill) and an interest in the subject, it does well. The author does his best to remain objective, despite having a catastrophic bent in his personal opinion, and provides a more balanced view than many I have seen previously – sceptic or warmist. His view of the so-called deep environmentalists, (Deep Greens) chimes with the philosophical writings of the French Left-wing philosopher Pascal Bruckner, though I think Prof. Botkin’s dismissal of their influence owes more to wishful thinking than reality.
For me at any rate, Prof. Bodkin has produced a very useful book as a general introduction to the ramifications of politicised environmental science. I agree with Mr May’s recommendation, with the addition of, “caveat lector”.

Cletus Rothschild
October 23, 2016 3:10 am

Your objection to his comment in the foreword doesn’t make sense. His comment:
“Say everyone believed the Earth to be cooling instead of warming. Would we still not want to curtail the use of fossil fuels? Of course, we would, because they are pollutants.”
His reasoning is that [so-called] fossil fuels are pollutants, so we should endeavor to curtail their use. Your objection:
“This assertion not only contradicts the whole point of the book, which is we need to be skeptical of environmentalist’s myths and look to the facts and science, but it is clearly wrong. Fossil fuels are largely responsible for our current high standard of living, our long life spans and arguably played a significant role in eliminating slavery.”
His comment didn’t say that fossil fuels served no good purpose in the past, or that they don’t serve a good purpose now. It simply said that since they are pollutants, we should try to rely on them less. If people found a way to use them while removing the pollutants, then his objection to their use would be negated.
His comment also doesn’t imply that we should curtail their use without regard for economic consequences.

Berényi Péter
October 23, 2016 3:29 am

Say everyone believed the Earth to be cooling instead of warming. Would we still not want to curtail the use of fossil fuels? Of course, we would, because they are pollutants.

There is some pollution related to energy generation, but release of actual pollutants to the environment can be prevented relatively cheaply. The only thing we can’t contain when burning carbon based fuels chemically is carbon dioxide (CCS is a pipe dream). It may be legally defined as a pollutant in the US of A, but in reality it has no any effect on human health or welfare in environmental concentrations. Slightly increased levels do increase plant growth and drought tolerance, but that’s not particularly harmful, is it?

So, with a current population of seven billion people, fed by a green revolution based on natural gas fertilizer, one must ask what would replace fossil fuels?

That’s clear, molten salt reactors. The technology was proven fifty years ago, so there’s nothing new about it.
It’s an inherently safe design with a strong negative temperature coefficient of reactivity, operated at atmospheric pressure, with no need for power once shut down. What is more, there’s no water anywhere in the system, so no explosive hydrogen is generated, not even in accidents. It does not need tons of fissile material in its core, only kilograms at a time. Moreover, it can be operated in a way no long half life radioisotope should remain in waste products, so its radioactivity decreases to environmental levels in several centuries, meaning no long term buildup of waste. It has a hundred times less waste anyway, than old fashioned Plutonium factories we currently have.
Due to its high operating temperature (up to 800 °C), it can drive a chemical plant directly, so it is not only useful for electricity generation, but for other purposes as well.
Its fuel supply is practically inexhaustible. Fissile material in ordinary granite, the default stuff continents are made of, would last until the solar system expires. We do have much better ores than that for millennia, but even a ton of granite contains as much retrievable energy as fifty tons of coal. Therefore environmental footprint of this energy source is negligible compared to alternatives.
As soon as a shortage of carbon based chemical fuels occur, it can replace them, so it would make sense to restart experiments now.

Reply to  Berényi Péter
October 23, 2016 11:54 am

You know Berényi, we’ve been talking about molten salt and liquid metal reactors (collectively “Gen IV” I think ) for so long now I don’t believe there are many people unaware of their obvious benefits, but still there’s no political will to deploy them.
Toshiba have a commercially viable (meaning “ready to deploy) system they attempted to pilot in Alaska over 10 years ago. The local people were for it but for some reason it ever happened. Something about licensing. It’s not clear whether federal level environmentalists squashed the program or the problem came from a different quarter in the energy sector, either fossil fuel producers or domestic nuclear power system suppliers, but either way, it was shelved.
It seems clear to me this isn’t a technical problem. Just as explaining the true nature of the senseless persecution of carbon dioxide to committed alarmists is futile, so is describing the advantages of contemporary nuclear reactor designs; fingers are lodged in ears and we’re treated once again to the “La! La! La!” song.
I suppose every so often the story bears repeating for the next generation.

Berényi Péter
Reply to  Bartleby
October 23, 2016 12:20 pm

Liquid metal reactors are suspicious, because the stuff burns like hell (chemically!) if air or water enters the core in an accident. Not so with molten salt, which is completely inert.
But it is not needed anyway, until we run out of carbon based fuels. The point is, the solution is ready even in that case, so we do not have to fall back to medieval practices ever.
It is symptomatic, however, that the aGW crowd fails to support it like crazy, although it is a realistic proposal to a zero carbon dioxide emission economy. Therefore their true enemy is not CO2, but the human mold on the face of Mother Gaia and their ultimate befoulment is baby pollution.

October 23, 2016 3:58 am

I notice sustainability is not listed as a myth but seems to me the foundation myth of green thinking. In fact, I bet the book’s author agrees that sustainability is a goal. If so, who’s sustainability and what sustainability? Perhaps he gets close when talking about the balance obsession. Sustainability can be a code for keep it all in balance.
Modern enviros campaign on specific issues: global warming, pollution, for: organic farming and renewable energy, against: nuclear power and GMOs. Yet these are really proxy issues, every one. Their real concern is a sense that our civilization is unsustainable.
* “You can’t have infinite growth on a finite planet”
* “We are using up resources at a rate of 2 earths”
Hence their religion of sustainability. It’s as much a prophylactic against their fears as a remedy for an unbalanced earth. Sustainability for greens works a bit like political correctness for lefties. A badge of identity. A way to to both recognize a fellow traveler, and have ones’ identity vindicated as a moral being.
One example of how sustainability went wrong is biofuels. Greens never batted an eyelid when these measures were enacted. They lobbied for biofuels. Despite massive biofuel farming being totally unsustainable. A 3-line mantra, each line implying the next, went: Biofuel is renewable. Renewable is sustainable. Sustainable is Good. So they hoodwinked themselves.
So concerned are they with over-growth and reducing resource use to sustainable proportions, I might think they’d want to put a cap on population. No way, most are lefties too. Any discussion of population a thought crime. Outlawed as eugenic and/or racist. So they place themselves in the absurd position of making a Malthusian argument without daring to mention population. No wonder they are fundamentally confused, dizzy, people.

Paul of Alexand
Reply to  mark4asp
October 23, 2016 9:13 am

We are using up resources at a rate of 2 earths”

Two Earth’s per what? “earths” is not a rate.

tony mcleod
Reply to  mark4asp
October 23, 2016 9:42 pm

Pretty well put mark. The only thing I would add though is that ‘non-greenies’ have adopted the term quite readily too – for different ends perhaps.
Infinite growth on a finite planet? Not sure if anyone can solve that riddle.

Reply to  tony mcleod
October 24, 2016 3:14 am

Sorry my quote is wrong. It should be:

“exponential growth on a finite planet.”

The other quote is right

“We are using up resources at a rate of 2 earths”

It was made by Dr. Chris Smith – a presenters of BBC radio weekly science show “Naked Scientists”. He didn’t qualify it so I won’t.
I don’t think there’s anything wrong in aiming for sustainability, if it’s possible for us to agree upon the meaning. Greens take it too far. Sustainability has become a green metaphysic. Anything greens define as non-sustainable is ruled out.

Janice Moore
Reply to  tony mcleod
October 24, 2016 2:52 pm

Further, the whole idea of “using up” elements like copper and iron and compounds like water is RIDICULOUS. Where do they think all those elements go?? Just ** POOF ** teleconnected (this term to a non-scientist brings a chuckle; yes, I realize there is a generally accepted technically useful definition — just sound so “Star Trek” ….. so silly!) to another galaxy?
George Carlin (I asked him! 😉 ): They’re still — here. Still right here, on planet earth — You know — that planet you are looking at from your front porch. Waaaay out there.”
(See Peter Huber’s Hard Green: Saving the Environment from the Environmentalistscomment image
for excellent details about the topic of pseudo-scarcity (and much more).)

Bob Compono
Reply to  mark4asp
October 24, 2016 9:56 pm

Especially ironic as it was the lefty progressives that pushed eugenics and invented the idea of, “the races of man”.

David Byrd
October 23, 2016 6:04 am

I would like to complemet you on the excellent and logical presentation of data and current thought on the subject. Regarding the current number of species(reference myth #3), the number cited appears to be order of magnitude to low as the current estimate of fungi alone is 1.5 million species.Of cource, this all goes to show how little is really known about our ecosystem and knowledge in general.

Mickey Reno
October 23, 2016 6:50 am

I think the biological realm contains a few more myths that have been used to promote and advance climate alarmism. Dr. Jim Steele’s take-down of Camille Parmisan’s butterfly research in California and Britain count as myth busting, and his explanations of the bogus conclusions of pica migration research fit this category is the same. Dr. Susan Crockford’s explanations of Polar Bear and Walrus populations are the same. The work on penguin behavior in Antarctica may also apply. Another common pattern that’s a myth is that a negative correlation with some heat stresser of a biological population paired with the automatic increases of temperature predicted by climate models somehow equals credible evidence of climate change or climate disaster. I believe many of the IPCC papers that support the notion of risks falls firmly into this category, and in my opinion, ALL of these papers should just be thrown out as unscientific garbage.

Dr. S. Jeevananda Reddy
October 23, 2016 7:02 am

I disagree with the writer on environment and environmentalism. His argument is not balanced. Technology based life is unhealthy long life. This other words we created technology created another type of slavery. Slavery was used to amass wealth by few. The modern slavery also helping few at the cost of others. In the past [before technological revolution] infant mortality was high but the lived ones were hale and health with long life. The food we are eating is unhealthy food, the water we are drinking is unhealthy, the environment in which we are living is unhealthy. This is what environmentalists are talking. Fossil fuels may form small part in this.
Chemical input technology benefitting the manufacturer, GM technology is benefitting the seed company, unhealthy condition helping doctors and hospitals and drug manufacturing companies.
Dr. S. Jeevanmanda Reddy

John Harmsworth
Reply to  Dr. S. Jeevananda Reddy
October 23, 2016 7:52 am

There are certainly issues with food additives and nutrient quality being bred out of fruits and vegetables but overall I would have to say that quality and productivity are steadily improving. I still see troubling issues with GMO’s but the cat is out of the bag so maybe we need to focus on strict rules and limitations. We have a lot of mouths to feed!

Brett Keane
Reply to  Dr. S. Jeevananda Reddy
October 23, 2016 2:53 pm

@Dr. S. Jeevananda Reddy
October 23, 2016 at 7:02 am: Sorry, Doctor, but proof is needed, and is lacking.

Reply to  Dr. S. Jeevananda Reddy
October 24, 2016 8:07 am

It really is amazing how this myth that prior to industrialization, everyone was so healthy ever got started.

Ron Richey
October 23, 2016 7:48 am

For the average Joe like me, this is the single most informative post I have ever read on WUWT.
I have a question for you thinkers and “figure outers” out there:
I’m in the demolition business. The 3 main recyclable waste streams in demolition are concrete, metal, and wood. How do you figure out what the carbon “impact” is for recycling these waste streams versus land filling these waste streams? Example: I sort the job site waste and divert 400 tons of wood on a demolition project from the land fill and send to: 1.) a bio-mass co-gen facility to make steam to make electricity. Or, 2.) to a landscape company to make colored wood chips for sale. Or, 3.) To the landfill. Is there a best carbon “recovery” or “neutrality”(I don’t know what the right word is) factor here that can be calculated? Assume all the work and transportation costs are the same. I am interested in answers to same question for concrete (re-crushed to gravel), and metal (re-smelting), which are both 100% recycled for reuse replacing the mining of virgin materials for production. Thanks for any assistance.
Ron Richey

October 23, 2016 10:42 am

Cleaning up chemical waste discharges is one thing, but I’ll confess to a sneaky concern that cleaning up sewage discharges to make the sea safe for surfers (or whoever) may have had an adverse effect on the local sealife populations: wouldn’t fewer nutrients in the water mean fewer creatures at each link in the food chain?

H. D. Hoese
Reply to  Questing Vole
October 23, 2016 1:29 pm

Eutrophy is high production, the alleged problems are hypertrophy, like in a septic system. N is often positively correlated with fisheries production. The oceans are still mostly Nitrogen, and sometimes by other nutrients and minor constituents, limited.
Nixon, S. W. And B. A. Buckley. 2002. “A strikingly rich zone”–Nutrient enrichment and secondary production in coastal marine ecosystems. Estuaries. 25(4b):782-796

October 23, 2016 12:00 pm

You’re wrong on Myth 18 not being true. Read up on the Kaibab Plateau.

October 23, 2016 12:24 pm

I for one don’t want to surf in untreated sewage, though in western world this is much less common than in the past. Some have caught infections from pathogens attributed to contact with raw sewage. Problem is often localized within a few km’s of raw sewage outfalls.
If properly treated, its rarely if ever a problem, with the captured nutrients from anaerobically treated waste being recycled as soil injection back to farmland and the remaining water discharged to river or ocean with modest to low nutrient content, often similar to that of the water into which it is discharged (storm water flows excepted, when so called pollutants can temporarily rise rapidly)

October 23, 2016 1:42 pm

For another, more quantitative look at the practicality of solar and wind, I would refer the interested reader to the late Cambridge engineering professor Sir David MacKay’s excellent book Sustainable Energy – Without the Hot Air.

While the recommended book may have some practical calculations freer than the usual from eco-hyperbole, there is an abundance of eco-loaded emotive language and UK governmental pecksniffery. The author David MacKay was after all Chief Scientific Adviser to the UK Government, 2000–08 and a member of the Royal Society, that questionable crowd tied up around the eco-absurdity of Paul Nurse
[Burning] fossil fuels is having a measurable and very-probably dangerous effect on the climate. Avoiding dangerous climate change motivates an immediate change from our current use of fossil fuels. Third, even if we don’t care about climate change, a drastic reduction in Britain’s fossil fuel consumption would seem a wise move if we care about security of supply.
How can we get off our fossil fuel addiction?

Reply to  Manfred
October 23, 2016 1:46 pm

Quotations properly installed.

[Burning] fossil fuels is having a measurable and very-probably dangerous effect on the climate. Avoiding dangerous climate change motivates an immediate change from our current use of fossil fuels. Third, even if we don’t care about climate change, a drastic reduction in Britain’s fossil fuel consumption would seem a wise move if we care about security of supply.

How can we get off our fossil fuel addiction?

Reply to  Manfred
October 23, 2016 10:33 pm

i’m so glad you asked, Manfred.
the simple answer is to stop living. there are rumors you get half a gross of virgins upon completion.
that will also cure you of your air addiction and water addiction and food addiction.
you’ll be free!
you might embark on your heroic crusade against addiction by breaking the habit of waving your ‘we we’ around.

Reply to  Manfred
October 24, 2016 4:21 am

Manfred: Indeed Mackay says many things like that that I disagree with. But, his book looks at energy options quantitatively and makes us think! This is very unlike the unquantified statements in Botkin’s book.
I do not agree with MacKay that fossil fuels are bad. I do agree that any energy plan adopted by the UK or the world must add up, as he says in his chapter 27: Five energy plans for Britain. He presents 5 low fossil fuel plans that add up for a simplified “cartoon” country. All of them have serious problems. What he brings to the table are engineering realities so often missing in discussions about energy. Chapter 27 starts on page 216, worth reading. At the end he has a section “All these plans are absurd!”

Johann Wundersamer
October 23, 2016 8:59 pm

‘The first myth discussed in the book is that man is the only creature that changes the environment. In truth, all creatures change their environment and the environment of the world to some degree. That is how they survive and thrive. The largest changes are made by plants when they produce the oxygen we breath and the wood that we build with and so on.’
Last seen a ‘science documentation’ about lives evolution on earth.
With first ancestors of plants producing oxigen there of course came a mass extinction of living abefore, to them oxygen was poisonous.
In the documentary that event was labeled ‘climate change’ – happening 4 bill ys BP.
As long as such ‘documentaries’ live as long the story goes on.

Johann Wundersamer
Reply to  Johann Wundersamer
October 24, 2016 3:16 am

LarryFine – yep.

October 24, 2016 2:05 am

>>”Say everyone believed the Earth to be cooling instead of warming. Would we still not want to curtail the use of fossil fuels? Of course, we would, because they are pollutants.”
Isn’t this an admission that, even if the wild claims about manmade climate catastrophes are proven to be politically driven hoaxes, Greens will continue to demand a continuous diminishing of human progress?
The Green movement isn’t about what they say it’s about. The Green movement is about killing people. Period.

Robert Kral
October 24, 2016 9:40 am

Carrying capacity is a myth? That’s a pretty silly thing to say. There is a reason why prey animals are more abundant than predators. Once the prey is reduced beyond a certain level, there is no more food for the predators. Just a fundamental fact of nature.

Janice Moore
Reply to  Robert Kral
October 24, 2016 3:06 pm

Carrying capacity of the planet earth, is, I believe, what was referred to above, Mr. Kral.
Re: predators running out of food…. they then become:
1. Fertilizer
2. Fuel
3. Food (for other predators)
And life goes on.
Why do you think it will ever stop?
And how?

Janice Moore
October 24, 2016 3:00 pm

Thank you, Andy May, for your thoughtful, thorough, review. Your insightful and well-informed comments and cites to other reading make this (as others have already said) an excellent reference work.
Your review should become the book’s new Foreword! You correct some serious errors. Also, like Milton Friedman’s excellent foreword to Friedrich Hayek’s Road to Serfdom, your review adds much helpful explanatory information.

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