Growing environmental concerns worry big industry groups

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One of the benefits about being Canadian is that we aren’t subject to all the oddities of American culture. But one of the drawbacks about being Canadian is that we may miss out on some of that same culture’s most bizarre and unique features.


Vol. 7 No. 37
May 31, 2006
Science Matters
by David Suzuki
I’d put America’s big “free-market” think tanks in that category. These organizations, funded largely by big industries, come up with all sorts of unusual claims and statements to justify the status quo and make sure that
big, profitable, polluting industries continue to be big, profitable polluting industries. The latest comes from the Competitive Enterprise Institute – two 30-second television ads appearing in cities across the U.S. that are so over-the-top, they almost parody themselves.
In one ad, over beautiful scenes of children playing in a park, a woman’s soothing voice intones: “There’s something in these pictures you can’t see. It’s essential to life. … The fuels that produce CO2 have freed us from a world of backbreaking labour. Now, some politicians want to label carbon dioxide a pollutant. Imagine if they succeed. What would our lives be like then?”
Another ad attacks the media and environmental groups for being “alarmist.”
“You’ve seen those headlines about global warming. The glaciers are melting. We’re doomed. That’s what several studies supposedly found. But other scientific studies found exactly the opposite. Greenland’s glaciers are growing, not melting. The Antarctic ice sheet is getting thicker, not thinner. Did you see any big headlines about that? Why are they trying to scare us? Global warming alarmists claim the glaciers are melting because of the carbon dioxide from the fuels we use.”
Unbelievable. “Several studies.” “Supposedly found.” My favourite line is read over a shot of some poor soul riding a bike in a blizzard: “Let’s force people to cut back, they say.” Each of these ads ends with the clever tagline: “Carbon dioxide. They call it pollution. We call it life.” Have a look at them for yourself at http://streams.cei.org/
The second ad shows glimpses of scientific papers about ice sheets, which speed past quickly enough that most people would just assume they must bolster the commercial’s argument. But if you track the papers down – they actually don’t. The first paper points out: “There is nonetheless considerable evidence of melting and thinning in the coastal marginal areas in recent years.” The latter notes that: “…these observations are consistent with the latest IPCC prediction for Antarctica’s likely response to a warming global climate.” Not exactly smoking guns against the global warming case.
Environmentalist groups have long been castigated for being alarmist about global warming, so seeing such alarmist rhetoric from the opposite camp is quite ironic. But what’s driving industry groups to make these ads now? A review of Al Gore’s global warming film “An Inconvenient Truth” in the science journal Nature calls the ads “arguably hilarious” and notes that they are plainly a response to the publicity Mr. Gore has been getting for his film.
That may be true, as Mr. Gore’s film has received wide acclaim. But more generally, the ads are probably a response to the growing concern about global warming and other environmental problems that are not being adequately addressed in either the United States or Canada. President Bush barely acknowledges that there is a problem at all and Prime Minister Harper has risked Canada’s international reputation by refusing to live up to our Kyoto pledge.
So public anger has spurred industry groups to launch their “everything is fine, nothing to see here” messaging. The question is, how long will an informed public put up with inaction from industry and political leaders?
Take the Nature Challenge and learn more at http://www.davidsuzuki.org.
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