There is a theme of dishonesty and disingenuous claptrap which runs through much of the pseudo-science of Green activism. Recognition of this fact began to permeate the consciousness of the civilised world when in November 2009 an anonymous hacker of a server at the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia copied thousands of emails and computer files to various locations on the Internet showing that an august body of international climate scientists, the IPCC, had exaggerated its findings and lied about the implications of its false or incomplete research.. This was just before the international summit on climate change. This incident, known as “Climategate” was very embarrassing to the Green community and to the media circus which had attached itself to an untrammelled pursuit of Global Warming. The specious claims associated with the scientists’ findings were shown to be less than accurate and the opprobrium these same scientists had apportioned to their scientific opponents, who doubted the veracity of the IPCC findings and conclusions, was inordinate.
Despite a few busy days of stories in the world media about Climategate, there was soon a media consensus that in their unqualified scientific judgement, the leaked emails were a bum rap for the scientists and that the bulk of the evidence was compelling, despite being unsubstantiated and unable to withstand scientific scrutiny. This Green activist disaster porn apparently sold more papers than rational scientific analysis and insistence on rigorous proof and replicability. Melting glaciers and forlorn polar bears became emblematic of the problem.
No doubt there is evidence of global warming in some environments; that is not the point. The point is that in apportioning the blame and responsibility for creating global warming, these specious scientists attribute the phenomenon to human consumption of fossil fuels, etc. The argument, despite the disaster press and the activists, is not if there is global warming but whether this is a naturally occurring phenomenon (as is has been for several hundred millennia) or if it is attributable to malign human interference. This has been made prominent in the public consciousness by a media which concerns itself with a concentration on the manifestation of the evidence of global warming and not a rational analysis of how it was caused or if there is any linkage between the putative effects of human intervention without concentrating on its causes. Post hoc, ergo propter hoc is a fallacy whether it is worked forward or in reverse.
This attention to apparent effects rather than cause distorts rational thinking about the problems and skews the course of the solutions. The world has been asked to spend billions of dollars in the search for alternative energies; the creation of vast inefficient and unsightly wind farms; accepting nuclear energy plants despite the lessons of Fukushima and Three Mile Island; and acting as a brake on industrial development and renewal when urgently needed jobs and investments have already been impeded by the credit crisis. This is a media crisis not just a scientific one. The recent exposure of additional false science as the next climate summit approaches has not dimmed the media’s pursuit of the drama and attraction of newer disaster scenarios.
However, this manifestation of media hyperbole is not only important to an examination of climate change. In a Dutch court there is a similar problem being addressed right now. In 2006 the company Trafigura delivered a small quantity of some marine slops which had accumulated in its ballast tanks, composed of gasoline and caustic soda (the stuff used to clear the drains in your house), to a licensed disposal agent in Amsterdam who was to dispose of the slops as per the international rules on the disposal of marine wastes. This Dutch company started to discharge these slops and found that they smelled; which is not unusual for solutions with a high sulphur content. The Dutch company asked for a much higher rate for disposing of the cargo than had been agreed. The company decided that this was unreasonable and had the slops returned to the ballast tank (as it didn’t affect the cargo-carrying capacity of the vessel). For some reason the Dutch retained a barge with sixteen tons of slop on board a barge which has remained in Amsterdam without harming anyone.
The vessel left Amsterdam to pick up a gasoline cargo in Estonia and then delivered that cargo to Nigeria. Having discharged the cargo in Nigeria without incident it then was sailing back to Europe and decided to remove the ballast waste in Abidjan, one of the biggest and most advanced ports in Africa with its own oil refinery, gas plants and bitumen refinery. Its port agent in Abidjan arranged for a licensed company to dispose of the slops and the vessel emptied its slop tanks by pipe to the agent’s trucks and sailed off. The local agent didn’t dispose of the slops properly and dumped the wastes on existing foul and contaminated waste dumps in a few areas of Abidjan.
The smell hadn’t improved so it was initially recognisable. Greenpeace and some other environmental activists decided that this discharge was toxic to humans and a hazard to the population. They led a campaign of media hysteria which grew more fanciful by the day. Soon they were saying that thousands of people were affected; that fifteen or even more people were killed. It was, of course untrue but that didn’t impinge on their consciousness or that of the media with their teeth into a good story. Disbelief was suspended and an international media frenzy continued.
The international media was joined in the uproar by the other green activists. They refused to look at the scientific analysis carried out by the Dutch authorities who showed, as was later proven in court in the UK, that the substances were not toxic at all and would have caused flu-like symptoms at worst. Several journalists won international prizes for pursuing the lies and misrepresentations about the case without any reference to the truth or the science. The problem, once again, was that an apparent environmental effect had happened and that the activists and the media decided that the blame for this should lie with the company, despite all the scientific evidence that showed this was not true.
The company was fined by the Dutch authorities on the basis of contrived evidence and misrepresentation and is now appealing the fine. Greenpeace, the author of this false evidence has form in lying to the Dutch Government. A prominent Member of Parliament, Richard De Mos, a leader of the PVV (Freedom Party) in Holland introduced a motion in the Dutch Parliament on 23 November 2011 which called for the regulatory body which supervises NGOs in the country, de Vereniging Fondsenwervende Instellingen (VFI), to examine the various bodies it evaluates for the transparency, reliability and quality of the information distributed by these groups. In particular he cites Greenpeace for having a track record of lying to the Dutch Parliament over the Brent Spar case and the Trafigura case. Recently Greenpeace has been shown to have gone beyond mendacity to felony by digging a hole under the railroad tracks which were to be used to transport nuclear waste materials.
Both the VVD (Liberals) and the PPV have asked the State Secretary of the Environment to examine Greenpeace (which is headquartered in Amsterdam) to see whether it should be allowed to operate in the country any more. Greenpeace has benefitted from a great deal of tolerance by the Dutch authorities, In 1995 Greenpeace lied to the Dutch Parliament and the world that the floating platform Brent Spar was going to be scrapped by sinking it in the North Sea while containing 5.500 barrels of oil which would cause an ecological disaster. They persisted in this lie and were supported by a frenzy of publicity in the international press. Even the normally reflective “New Scientist” carried the story and provided credibility. Unfortunately for Greenpeace the Norwegians commissioned a survey of the platform and found that there was no oil at all. Greenpeace grudgingly retracted its claims, although most of the media were less forthcoming with their retractions. A contemporary journal (International Harpoon) pointed out that the “Brent Spar was indeed a «defining moment for the environmental movement» because it opened the eyes of the world to Greenpeace’s fallibility. This was supposed to have two important knock-on effects for environmentalism as a whole. The first is that pressure groups must be held accountable if they do not tell the truth. Rather than trying to delete its mistakes from the history books, Greenpeace should offer an unqualified apology, and consider itself on probation with the media. The second is that the media must become more vigilant and sceptical when it comes to choosing sources. For every piece of misinformation that is exposed, how many others go undetected? “
In 2009 Greenpeace published 50,000 fake copies of the International Herald Tribune pretending that there was agreement on the climate change proposals by the world leaders. It was false and misleading. Greenpeace justified this with the famous line “We can’t change the science. We need to change the politics.” The Trafigura case was part and parcel of Greenpeace’s lack of restraint in promoting itself by exaggeration, untruths and misleading publicity. This is why the Dutch Government is now considering banning them from Holland.
However, they could not achieve this on their own. There are many groups in the public eye who lie and mislead by their statements. The problem is that the uneducated and intellectually challenged media take up these fantasies and give them wings. The editors don’t care. It sells papers or has people turn to their stations. Worst comes to worst, like the BBC, they have to give a mild recanting of their folly. The lie lives on and taints the science, the companies, the NGOs and the governments.
Surely it is time that some of the NGOs and the media accept some responsibility for the provision of truth to those who follow their output. It isn’t likely but it is completely unjust and unfair. The Dutch have the right idea. If they lie and mislead they have no place in a civilised country.