The October 1, 2014 Associated Press article linking the walrus gathering to melting sea ice, lacks historical perspective and contains serious spin that would lead readers to erroneous conclusions about walruses and the climate.
Zoologist Dr. Susan Crockford weighs in:
Mass haulouts of Pacific walrus and stampede deaths are not new, not due to low ice cover
‘The attempts by WWF and others to link this event to global warming is self-serving nonsense that has nothing to do with science…this is blatant nonsense and those who support or encourage this interpretation are misinforming the public.’
First off, walruses are not endangered. According to the New York Times, “the Pacific walrus remains abundant, numbering at least 200,000 by some accounts, double the number in the 1950s.”
The AP article titled, “35,000 walrus come ashore in northwest Alaska”, claims “the gathering of walrus on shore is a phenomenon that has accompanied the loss of summer sea ice as the climate has warmed.” The AP even includes the environmental group World Wildlife Fund, to ramp up climate hype. “It’s another remarkable sign of the dramatic environmental conditions changing as the result of sea ice loss,” said Margaret Williams, managing director of the group’s Arctic program, by phone from Washington, D.C.
But the AP is recycling its own climate stories on walruses. See: 2009: AP : Walruses Gather as Ice Melts in the Arctic Sea (Sept. 17, 2009) Also see fact check on “melting” Arctic sea ice. See: Paper: ‘Myth of arctic meltdown’ : Stunning satellite images show ice cap has grown by an area twice the size of Alaska in two years – Despite Al Gore’s prediction it would be ICE-FREE by now
The media and green groups are implying that walrus hanging out by the tens of thousands is a new phenomenon and due to melting Arctic ice. But dating back to at least the 1604, there have been reports of large walrus gatherings or haulouts.
“Walruses became only really known in Europe after the 1604 expedition to the Kola Peninsula of the ship “Speed” of Muscovy Company, commanded by Stephen Bennet. On the way back to England the Speed reached what some years before a Dutch expedition had named “Bear Island”. The crew of the Speed discovered a haulout numbering about a thousand walruses on the island’s northern coast.”
According to a National Geographic article in 2007, walrus populations were not endangered. See: “While scientists lack a firm population estimate for the species, researchers have encountered herds as large as 100,000 in recent years”
Even the green activist group, the WWF, admits walrus ‘hangouts’ of tens of thousands are not unprecedented.
A 2009 WWF blog report noted: “WWF Polar Bear coordinator Geoff York returned on 17 September from a trip along the Russian coast and saw a haul out there with an estimated 20,000 walruses near Ryrkaipiy (on the Chukchi Peninsula).”
AP’s own reporting debunks walrus claims
Are 35,000 walruses gathering in “haulouts” on the shoreline with many be stampeded to death really that unusual? The answer is No!
The AP reported on 40,000 walruses in a haulout just 7 years ago in a single location. See: AP 12/14/2007: “40,000 in one spot” – “As a result, walruses came ashore earlier and stayed longer, congregating in extremely high numbers, with herds as big as 40,000 at Point Shmidt, a spot that had not been used by walruses as a “haulout” place for a century, scientists said.”
As climate blogger Tom Nelson noted in a December 28 2007 analysis: “Are you saying that that spot *was* used as a haulout in earlier years?” Nelson wrote.
Nelson noted the media reported that “Walruses are vulnerable to stampedes when they gather in such large numbers. The appearance of a polar bear, a hunter or a low-flying airplane can send them rushing to the water.”
Nelson then asked: “Are stampedes ever caused by the appearance of researchers or low-flying research planes?”
Walrus stampede deaths drop dramatically from 3,000 to 50?
The October 1, 2014 AP article notes with obvious concern for the walrus species: “Observers last week saw about 50 carcasses on the beach from animals that may have been killed in a stampede…”
Fifty walrus carcasses? That number is a significant improvement from 2007 when there were a reported 3000 dead walruses discovered from the late summer and fall on the Russian side of the Arctic, according to the AP’s own earlier reporting. See: 2007: ‘3,000 walruses die in stampedes tied to Climate’
Are walrus stampede deaths declining in recent years? It is difficult to say based on reports, but a high of 3,000 deaths in 2007 (for a whole season) to a low of 50 deaths in 2014 for a single location, but it does not appear to be an alarming trend. Why does the AP fail to put any historical perspective on their climate scare stories, especially when the AP’s own reporting from 7 years ago calls into question their claims?
The next issue is whether or not sea ice extent is critical to walruses in late summer and fall. According to this report, ice extent is not critical. As Nelson noted in 2007:
“When I read this in the (2007) ‘walrus’ Wikipedia entry, I’m also not convinced that lack of summer ice is necessarily a big deal.”
2007 Wikipedia entry:
“In the non-reproductive season (late summer and fall) walruses tend to migrate away from the ice and form massive aggregations of tens of thousands of individuals on rocky beaches or outcrops.” [Note: This line has been omitted from the Wikipedia entry in 2014]
Walrus stampede deaths benefit polar bears
In addition, a 2007 WWF post inadvertently noted that the carcasses of stampeded walruses may actually be a great benefit to polar bears.
“Last fall some 20,000-30,000 animals were piled up there. No one has actually counted them all, but the Vankarem residents are certain the number is growing…In early winter, when the ice is re-forming and walruses leave the beach, up to 100 carcasses remain behind. These blubbery animals offer a perfect meal for wandering and hungry polar bears… In mid-November, a truck driver alerted the patrol to bear tracks on the beach. The wave had begun. For the next three weeks, bears making their way along the coast stopped to graze on the carcasses at this so-called “feeding point” instead of proceeding to the village. At one time alone, Sergey and his team counted 96 bears feeding on the walrus. In total they estimated that 185 bears had been circulating with a six mile radius around the village.”
The stampeded remains of 100 walruses fed up to 185 polar bears!
But despite the easily accessible historical data on walruses, the WWF and the AP and other media in 2014, continue to spin the haulouts as evidence of “climate change.”
Margaret Williams, WWF’s managing director of the Arctic program said in a September 18, 2014 article:
“The massive concentration of walruses onshore—when they should be scattered broadly in ice-covered waters—is just one example of the impacts of climate change on the distribution of marine species in the Arctic.”
Is the WWF correct? Should walruses be “scattered broadly in ice-covered waters”? Not exactly. As Tom Nelson noted on Twitter, (Tom Nelson@tan123) “If walrus haulouts are a new thing, why was this walrus haulout sanctuary established in 1960”
According to the Alaskan government, walrus haulouts are not unusual and have long been recognized and islands have been set aside for such gatherings.
“The Walrus Islands State Game Sanctuary (WISGS), protects a group of seven small craggy islands and their adjacent waters in northern Bristol Bay, approximately 65 miles southwest of Dillingham. The WISGS includes Round Island, Summit Island, Crooked Island, High Island, Black Rock and The Twins. The WISGS was established in 1960 to protect one of the largest terrestrial haulout sites in North America for Pacific walrus (Odobenus rosmarus divergens).”
The Alaskan government report noted that numbers of 14,000 walrus haulouts in a single day were not unusual.
“Each summer large numbers of male walruses haul out on exposed, rocky beaches. Round Island is one of four major terrestrial haulouts in Alaska; the others are Capes Peirce (Togiak NWR), Newenham (Togiak NWR), and Seniavin (near Port Moller). Male walrus return to these haulouts every spring as the ice pack recedes northward, remaining in Bristol Bay to feed they haul out at these beach sites for several days between each feeding foray. The number of walrus using the island fluctuates significantly from year to year. However, up to 14,000 walrus have been counted on Round Island in a single day.”
Hunters have relied on large hangouts of walruses. This report details how walruses were “predictably present” and made for “clean and efficient butchering.”
“Qayassiq was especially important for walrus hunting because it was accessible in good weather; walruses were predictably present on the beach during the preferred fall hunt; and the beach is rocky, not sandy, promoting clean and efficient butchering. Hunting on haulouts was a highly organized activity.”
Zoologist Dr. Susan Crockford:
‘The attempts by WWF and others to link this event to global warming is self-serving nonsense that has nothing to do with science… this is blatant nonsense and those who support or encourage this interpretation are misinforming the public.’ – Large haulouts of walruses — such as the one making news at Point Lay, Alaska on the Chukchi Sea (and which happened before back in 2009) — are not a new phenomenon for this region over the last 45 years and thus cannot be due to low sea ice levels. Nor are deaths by stampede within these herds (composed primarily of females and their young) unusual, as a brief search of the literature reveals. At least two documented incidents like this have occurred in the recent past: one in 1978, on St. Lawrence Island and the associated Punuk Islands and the other in 1972, on Wrangell Island (Fay and Kelly 1980, excerpts below)… Here is how the WWF is spinning this recent gathering at Point Lay:
“We are witnessing a slow-motion catastrophe in the Arctic,” said Lou Leonard, WWF’s vice president for climate change.”
Crockford Summed it up: “this is blatant nonsense and those who support or encourage this interpretation are misinforming the public.”
Tom Nelson’s 2007 report: About those walrus stampedes – FRIDAY, DECEMBER 28, 2007
Google currently shows about 14,000 hits for “walruses stampedes”.
Excerpts from a typical scare story, along with my comments:
The giant, tusked mammals typically clamber onto the sea ice to rest, or haul themselves onto land for just a few weeks at a time.
Ok, so it’s not unusual for them to haul up on land. Google shows a lot of pictures of them on land.
As a result, walruses came ashore earlier and stayed longer, congregating in extremely high numbers, with herds as big as 40,000 at Point Shmidt, a spot that had not been used by walruses as a “haulout” for a century, scientists said.
Are you saying that that spot *was* used as a haulout in earlier years?
Walruses are vulnerable to stampedes when they gather in such large numbers. The appearance of a polar bear, a hunter or a low-flying airplane can send them rushing to the water.
Are stampedes ever caused by the appearance of researchers or low-flying research planes?
Sure enough, scientists received reports of hundreds and hundreds of walruses dead of internal injuries suffered in stampedes. Many of the youngest and weakest animals, mostly calves born in the spring, were crushed.
Biologist Anatoly Kochnev of Russia’s Pacific Institute of Fisheries and Oceanography estimated 3,000 to 4,000 walruses out of population of perhaps 200,000 died, or two or three times the usual number on shoreline haulouts.
Were anecdotal reports of “hundreds and hundreds” used to come up with the estimate of 3,000 to 4,000? How much actual counting was done? What’s the baseline number of annual stampede deaths? Is anyone checking that any animals found dead were killed in stampedes, rather than dying from some other cause?
No large-scale walrus die-offs were seen in Alaska during the same period, apparently because the animals congregated in smaller groups on the American side of the Bering Strait, with the biggest known herd at about 2,500.
So when a walrus herd of 2,500 is panicked, stampede deaths are not a big deal, but when the herd reaches tens of thousands, we can expect lots of stampede deaths?
It seems to me that more walruses worldwide may die from hunting than from stampedes. Note an excerpt from this Sea World link:
As the Pacific walrus population grew, annual subsistence catches by indigenous Arctic peoples ranged from about 3,000 to 16,000 walruses per year until about 1990, and then decreased to an average of 5,789 animals per year from 1996 to 2000.
A related paragraph is here:
Pacific walrus meat has been used for the past 40 years to feed foxes which are kept on government – subsidised fur farms in Chukotka. One estimate made by natives was of an annual kill of 10,000 – 12,000 walruses per year, but this may have been overstated. Recent investigations have found that much of the meat is left to waste and that there are no markets for the resultant fox furs. Fox farming operations in Chukotka are currently in decline due to economic recession. Local unemployment caused by the general economic situation and the closure of the farms has however led to a recent increase in illegal head-hunting.
Some more background information is in this 2007 WWF post:
Last fall some 20,000-30,000 animals were piled up there. No one has actually counted them all, but the Vankarem residents are certain the number is growing.
In early winter, when the ice is re-forming and walruses leave the beach, up to 100 carcasses remain behind. These blubbery animals offer a perfect meal for wandering and hungry polar bears.
As soon as the walruses departed, the polar bear patrol spent several days working to collect the remains of walruses killed in the stampedes. Using a tractor, they carted the carcasses six miles west of the village, anticipating that the bears would come from the west in the fall. In the end, they scattered some 80 walruses around selected sites — and then they waited.
In mid-November, a truck driver alerted the patrol to bear tracks on the beach. The wave had begun. For the next three weeks, bears making their way along the coast stopped to graze on the carcasses at this so-called “feeding point” instead of proceeding to the village. At one time alone, Sergey and his team counted 96 bears feeding on the walrus. In total they estimated that 185 bears had been circulating with a six mile radius around the village.
My comments: Eighty-100 dead walruses out of 20,000-30,000 hauled out on land seems quite low, if Kochnev’s estimate of 3,000-4,000 total stampede deaths is correct (remember, his estimate is based on a population of maybe 200,000, many of which are not hauled out in huge herds).
Also, if polar bear numbers are so threatened by global warming, what are 185 of them doing within six miles of the village?
When I read stuff like this, I’m also not completely convinced that walruses are threatened with extinction:
… researchers have encountered herds as large as 100,000 in recent years…
When I read this in the “walrus” Wikipedia entry, I’m also not convinced that lack of summer ice is necessarily a big deal:
“In the non-reproductive season (late summer and fall) walruses tend to migrate away from the ice and form massive aggregations of tens of thousands of individuals on rocky beaches or outcrops.”
In the same entry, when I read this, I’m not convinced that polar bears really need year-round sea ice in order to feed successfully.”
Polar bears hunt walruses by rushing at beached aggregations and consuming those individuals that are crushed or wounded in the sudden mass exodus, typically younger or infirm animals.
Some video of polar bears successfully hunting walruses is here and here. I don’t see any ice in that first hunting scene.
Are you depressed? Have you lost interest in things you used to enjoy? Are you eating or sleeping too much? Big Pharma hopes so! The push to convince people who are dealing with job, family, relationship and money problems that they actually have “depression” has resulted in almost one in four American women in their 40s and 50s taking antidepressants. Ka-ching.
Psychiatry is often accused of not being “real medicine” because the diseases it diagnoses cannot be proved on blood tests and brain scans. That’s why this month’s announcement of the “first blood test to diagnose major depression in adults” is good news for psychiatrists and Big Pharma. Developed by Northwestern Medicine® scientists, the test, announced this month, “provides the first objective, scientific diagnosis for depression,” says Northwestern.
“The blood test can also predict which therapies would be most successful for patients, and lays the groundwork for one day identifying people who are especially vulnerable to depression — even before they’ve gone through a depressive episode,” gushes a Huffington Post article. No kidding. Treating people “at risk” of heart disease, asthma, osteoporosis, GERD and other conditions is Pharma’s marketing plan. Patients never know if they would have gotten the disorders and will stay on the drugs for decades.
Another Pharma plan to sell antidepressants is “pimping suicide.” Groups like the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention present our national suicide rate as an “antidepressant deficiency” and cite a “stigma” that keeps people away from depression medication–like the 25 percent of older women who are on them right now.
Yet, despite a huge chunk of the population being on antidepressants, suicide is up not down. And in the military, where antidepressant use is rife, suicide is way up, including among those who never deployed. Left out of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s marketing materials is mention of the “black box” warnings on antidepressants that say “Antidepressants increased the risk compared to placebo of suicidal thinking and behavior (suicidality) in children, adolescents, and young adults…Patients of all ages who are started on antidepressant therapy should be monitored appropriately and observed closely for clinical worsening, suicidality, or unusual changes in behavior.”
Antidepressants have other risks besides suicide. They can cause weight gain, sexual dysfunction, passivity and general complacency about life. When antidepressants quit working or don’t work to begin with the “depression” is called “treatment resistant” and more drugs are added. Their side effects–and symptoms if a patient tries to discontinue–are often taken as “proof” of the initial depression. The result is people who were never depressed being on the drugs for years.
The truth is antidepressants can increase or diminish the risk of suicide, though both suicide and meds are way up. Another truth is the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention received $100,000 from Eli Lilly in 2011 and $50,000 in 2010 and was led for a time by psychiatrist Charles Nemeroff who was found by Congress to have failed to disclose at least $1.2 million in Pharma income to Emory University.
So, yes, the pills do treat depression–depression of Big Pharma profits.
In a press conference last week, UN Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon stated: “Action on climate change is urgent. The more we delay, the more we will pay in lives and in money.” The recently appointed UN Messenger of Peace Leonardo DiCaprio stated “The debate is over. Climate change is happening now.”
These statements reflect a misunderstanding of the state of climate science and the extent to which we can blame adverse consequences such as extreme weather events on human caused climate change. The climate has always changed and will continue to change. Humans are adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, and carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases have a warming effect on the climate. However, there is enduring uncertainty beyond these basic issues, and the most consequential aspects of climate science are the subject of vigorous scientific debate: whether the warming since 1950 has been dominated by human causes, and how the climate will evolve in the 21st century due to both natural and human causes. Societal uncertainties further cloud the issues as to whether warming is ‘dangerous’ and whether we can afford to radically reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
At the heart of the recent scientific debate on climate change is the ‘pause’ or ‘hiatus’ in global warming – the period since 1998 during which global average surface temperatures have not increased. This observed warming hiatus contrasts with the expectation from the 2007 IPCC Fourth Assessment Report that warming would proceed at a rate of 0.2oC/per decade in the early decades of the 21st century. The warming hiatus raises serious questions as to whether the climate model projections of 21st century have much utility for decision making, given uncertainties in climate sensitivity to carbon dioxide, future volcanic eruptions and solar activity, and the multidecadal and century scale oscillations in ocean circulation patterns.
A key argument in favor of emission reductions is concern over the accelerating cost of weather disasters. The accelerating cost is associated with increasing population and wealth in vulnerable regions, and not with any increase in extreme weather events, let alone any increase that can be attributed to human caused climate change. The IPCC Special Report on Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation found little evidence that supports an increase in extreme weather events that can be attributed to humans. There seems to be a collective ‘weather amnesia’, where the more extreme weather of the 1930’s and 1950’s seems to have been forgotten.
Climate science is no more ‘settled’ than anthropogenic global warming is a ‘hoax’. I am concerned that the climate change problem and its solution have been vastly oversimplified. Deep uncertainty beyond the basics is endemic to the climate change problem, which is arguably characterized as a ‘wicked mess.’ A ‘wicked’ problem is complex with dimensions that are difficult to define and changing with time. A ‘mess’ is characterized by the complexity of interrelated issues, with suboptimal solutions that create additional problems.
Nevertheless, the premise of dangerous anthropogenic climate change is the foundation for a far-reaching plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Elements of this plan may be argued as important for associated energy policy reasons, economics, and/or public health and safety. However, claiming an overwhelming scientific justification for the plan based upon anthropogenic global warming does a disservice both to climate science and to the policy process. Science doesn’t dictate to society what choices to make, but science can assess which policies won’t work and can provide information about uncertainty that is critical for the decision making process.
Can we make good decisions under conditions of deep uncertainty about climate change? Uncertainty in itself is not a reason for inaction. Research to develop low-emission energy technologies and energy efficiency measures are examples of ‘robust’ policies that have little downside, while at the same time have ancillary benefits beyond reducing greenhouse gas emissions. However, attempts to modify the climate through reducing CO2 emissions may turn out to be futile. The hiatus in warming observed over the past 16 years demonstrates that CO2 is not a control knob on climate variability on decadal time scales. Even if CO2 mitigation strategies are successful and climate model projections are correct, an impact on the climate would not be expected until the latter part of the 21st century. Solar variability, volcanic eruptions and long-term ocean oscillations will continue to be sources of unpredictable climate surprises.
Whether or not anthropogenic climate change is exacerbating extreme weather events, vulnerability to extreme weather events will continue owing to increasing population and wealth in vulnerable regions. Climate change (regardless of whether the primary cause is natural or anthropogenic) may be less important in driving vulnerability in most regions than increasing population, land use practices, and ecosystem degradation. Regions that find solutions to current problems of climate variability and extreme weather events and address challenges associated with an increasing population are likely to be well prepared to cope with any additional stresses from climate change.
Oversimplification, claiming ‘settled science’ and ignoring uncertainties not only undercuts the political process and dialogue necessary for real solutions in a highly complex world, but acts to retard scientific progress. It’s time to recognize the complexity and wicked nature of the climate problem, so that we can have a more meaningful dialogue on how to address the complex challenges of climate variability and change.
In the midst of preparing my essay, Steve Koonin’s WSJ op-ed was published Climate Science is Not Settled. Most of Koonin’s points are very similar to what I have been saying, I would say the main difference is related to decision making under deep uncertainty. Koonin states “We are very far from the knowledge needed to make good climate policy.” I argue that there are strategies for decision making under deep uncertainty that can be useful for the climate change problem, particularly if you are not trying to solve the problem of extreme weather events by reducing carbon dioxide emissions. But overall I am thrilled by Koonin’s op-ed — since he operates higher in the scientific and policy food chain than I do, his voice adds much gravitas to the message that I think needs to get out regarding climate science and policy. I would also like to add that Koonin chairs the APS Subcommittee that is reviewing the APS climate change policy statement (see my previous post on the APS Workshop, where I met Koonin).
In the midst of the ‘mad crowd’ in New York City attending the People’s Climate March, sober people are trying to figure out ways to broaden the policy debate on climate change and do a better job of characterizing the uncertainty of climate change (both the science itself and the media portrayal of the science). There is concern that the institutions of science are so mired in advocacy on the topic of dangerous anthropogenic climate change that the checks and balances in science, particularly with regard to minority perspectives, are broken.
Richard Lindzen’s CATO essay Reflections on Rapid Response to Unjustified Climate Alarm discusses the kickoff of CATO’s new center on rapid response to climate alarmism. Anthony Watts has announced the formation of a new professional society The Open Atmospheric Society for meteorologists and climatologists, with a new open access journal. Both of these efforts emphasize public communication. I’m not sure what kind of impact either of these efforts will have, but I wish them well.
My thinking is that we need more voices from influential scientists like Steve Koonin, along with a more mature framing of the climate science problem and decision making framework that allows for dissent and examines a broader spectrum of solutions and approaches.
Myth #1. The earth is warming!
On what time scale? 16 years? 2000 years? 10000 years? 420000 years? 65 million years? (Answer: None of the above)
Myth #2. This year was the hottest year ever!
Was that before or after NASA and the NOAA altered the temperature record to make recent years warmer?
Myth #3. 97% of scientists agree on global warming!
You mean 97% of 77 scientists in an unscientific online poll?
Myth #4. Sea levels are rising!
Yes…at a rate of 7 inches per century.
Myth #5. Hurricanes are increasing!
US landfalling hurricanes are at their lowest intensity in a century. (Bonus fact: Accumulated Cyclone Energy is at a 30 year low!)
Myth #6. But…polar bears!
The polar bear population has quintupled in six decades and the USGS admits their numbers are near “historic highs.”
Myth #7. Climategate was hype and it’s been debunked.
The UK Information Commissioner found the climategate scientists guilty of breaking the law by hiding data from the public.
Myth #8. Models project a temperature increase of over 2 degrees in this century.
And these same models overestimated warming over the past 15 years by 400%.
Myth #9. Weather is not climate.
Actually, yes. And this is true when it’s hot outside, too.
Myth #10. Climate denial is a well-funded conspiracy.
Actually, the reverse. The global warming industry has generated over $140 billion in government grants, a $315 billion carbon market and is expected to generate 10s of trillions more in government-sponsored investment in the coming decades.
Eric Worrall writes: The imminent climate summit in New York is rapidly turning into an utter embarrassment for President Obama and UN Secretary General Bank Ki-Moon, in addition to becoming a bit of a punishment round for national deputy leaders.
Aussie PM Tony Abbott today defended his decision not to hop on an earlier flight to America, so he could attend the UN climate conference in New York, because he has more important matters to attend to, such as running the country.
Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi have also indicated they likely won’t attend the summit.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has indicated he will not be attending.
Even Angela Merkel, President of über green Germany, will not be attending the UN climate summit.
“Our faiths are inextricably linked on any number of things that we must confront and deal with in policy concepts today. Our faiths are inextricably linked on the environment. For many of us, respect for God’s creation also translates into a duty to protect and sustain his first creation, Earth, the planet,”
“Confronting climate change is, in the long run, one of the greatest challenges that we face, and you can see this duty or responsibility laid out in Scriptures clearly, beginning in Genesis. And Muslim-majority countries are among the most vulnerable. Our response to this challenge ought to be rooted in a sense of stewardship of Earth, and for me and for many of us here today, that responsibility comes from God.”
Pathetic handwaving double down from the UN
Eric Worrall writes: A number of MSM outlets are carrying news of a “leaked” UN document, which claims that global warming may be causing irreversible damage.
According to the Bloomberg version of the leak story;
“Global warming already is affecting “all continents and across the oceans,” and further pollution from heat-trapping gases will raise the likelihood of “severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems,”
The problem with this vapid handwaving nonsense is that it is so vague. I mean, in the good old days, alarmists made interesting predictions;
Snowfalls are now just a thing of the past
Al Gore’s ice free arctic (in 5 years!)
Rain will never fill Australian reservoirs again
The great thing about bold predictions is they are easily falsified – all you have to do is wait a few years, then point and laugh.
The survivors of that golden age of bold stupidity are far too timid – they issue vague predictions of calamity which won’t occur until long after we are all safely dead, and promises that if we wait a few decades we might see something worrying.
I mean, seriously folks, is this the best you can do? Can even the most rabid alarmists get enthused by such a pathetic effort?
“We are made miserable . . . not just by the strength of our beliefs, but by the weight of hard and all-too real situations, as they bear downward, robbing us of control . . . unhappiness treated by clinicians has much more to do with the sufferer’s situation than with anything about themselves, and for those with few privileges, this unhappiness is pretty well beyond the reach of therapeutic or any other conversation.” – Paul Moloney “The Therapy Industry”
Robin Williams’s body was scarcely cold when liberal commentators began using the tragedy of his death as publicity for suicide hotlines and professional mental health intervention in general. He had long-standing depression, we were told, and his “mental illness” was manifest in his decision to take his own life. Depression sufferers were urged to “be honest” and avail themselves of the services of professional therapists and counselors.
Days later Williams’s widow informed the world that her husband had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, a degenerative disorder that even people with no prior history of depression can find impossible to face. Parkinson’s is chronic, and its symptoms worsen over time, leading to body tremors, muscle stiffness, and the loss of coordinated movement. No one knows why the disease develops, and it is incurable.
We do not know what went through Williams’s mind, of course, but it is not difficult to entertain the idea that the lifelong actor made an understandable decision to take an early exit from life’s stage rather than suffer the appalling loss of body control that the disease entails for its sufferers. Surely there is something more than “mental illness” involved in the desire to avoid such a fate.
Even if Williams’s well-known depression, which long-predated his Parkinson’s diagnosis, was involved in his decision to end his life, the liberal notion that we can and ought to rely on mental health professionals to guide us to health and sanity is more than a little suspect. There is no evidence that this group suffers lower rates of depression than the rest of the population, nor any that any kind of therapy has a cure for it. In fact, the evidence suggests that the mental health profession plays a crucial role in perpetuating a status quo within which depression is said to be growing by leaps and bounds.
Psychoanalyst Joel Kovel demonstrated in the early 1980s that psychotherapy and counseling had become indispensable parts of the capitalist economy, especially in the United States, where turning socially induced misery into false questions of self-improvement long ago reached the status of a quasi-religious movement. Subsequent to Kovel’s published insights came the “diseasing” and drugging of hyper-active American schoolchildren due to what eventually came to be known as “ADHD.” In more recent years, we have seen how “happiness psychology,” particularly the work of conservative academic and writer Martin Seligman, a former chairman of the American Psychological Association and adviser to the U.S. military, informed the Bush Administration’s torture program at Guantanamo Bay. All of this should make us quite skeptical about claims that therapy and counseling have the answer to our mental woes.
Having said that, the challenge of effectively treating mental disorders is surely formidable. According to surveys and clinical data, rates of depression in the U.S. have increased ten-fold since the 1950s, although it must be admitted that individuals of quite divergent symptoms are routinely classified under this broad umbrella, calling into question the validity of the category itself. However, even if some of the increase is due to an increased tendency to define common dissatisfaction as illness, it seems likely that at least some of the increase is genuine, given soaring inequality and an attendant increase in chronic illness, social isolation and reported loneliness, and suicide, especially during the periods of economic crisis that have become a nearly constant feature of U.S. capitalism in recent years.
Contrary to therapeutic claims that a “positive” attitude is the key to mental health, a growing body of evidence supports the claim that the principal influence on people’s mental health is their circumstances, both past and present. We can now say with some assurance that the larger and more obvious the gaps between rich and poor in developed societies – and the more exploitive the relations required to maintain and expand them – the greater the likelihood of violent conflict, mutual distrust, and degraded health, both mental and physical. Features of a particular location in the social hierarchy such as prestige, conditions of work, material circumstances, and wealth largely determine one’s likelihood of enjoying mental and physical health or illness. And to the extent that one belongs to a stigmatized, exploited group, and especially if one is poor, the more likely one is to experience life’s hardest blows – more often, more painfully, and with fewer joyful experiences to compensate for them.
Conventional counseling and therapy isn’t even focused on this problem, much less is it offering a solution to it. Because of its conviction that attitude is everything, conventional approaches put the onus of responsibility on the poor for their poverty. Thus they are given parenting training and other judgmental interventions when what they really need is decent housing, food, recreation, medical care, and above all, money. The assumption is that the poor deserve to be poor owing to their allegedly deficient character, made manifest in poor impulse control, hypersexuality, and a general lack of integrity. If it weren’t for these defects, the theory goes, the poor would be contented members of the middle class. This is one of the most damaging features of therapy, because it teaches exploited people that they are deficient or substandard instead of abused. Unfortunately, the crude stereotypes blaming the poor for their plight are promoted by a wide spectrum of members of the so-called “helping” profession: community leaders, social work educators, and quite a few academic researchers. If this is “help,” what might hindrance be?
Therapists and counselors with a genuine interest in finding a cure for mental illness would do well to investigate the income inequalities hypothesis of population health. Based on the common sense assumption that high levels of inequality are unhealthy (directly for the poor, indirectly for the rich), the thesis is that for modern industrialized countries, the average health, well-being, and longevity of the population depends not on the level of absolute poverty that exists, but on the spread of wealth, and especially on the gap between rich and poor.
As income differentials widen, the theory goes, people start to feel more competitive, and begin to look on others with increasing suspicion and distrust. Wariness, envy, shame, fear, and anger become more pronounced and take on a self-perpetuating thrust, undermining the basis for affectionate and caring relationships. A life of perpetual insecurity (which former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan declared in Congressional testimony was the principal reason for the 1990s boom years) and perceived threat triggers the release of cortisol and other “stress” hormones into the bloodstream, lowering our capacity to fight infection and ward off heart disease and other degenerative conditions. It should be emphasized that the theory maintains that this harms even the rich, who, amidst increasingly unjust conditions, have less and less opportunity to enjoy their wealth in ease. The public health implications are substantial: an increase of 7% in the share of income going to the bottom half of the population allegedly yields two additional years of life expectancy. [Note: The U.S. has the most unequal distribution of wealth in the developed world. According to the most recent survey by the Federal Reserve, the top decile own 71% of the country's wealth, while the bottom half claims just one percent.]
One of the more intriguing mental health research findings undermines the “positive attitude” theorists. It shows that moderately depressed people have a more accurate perception of their abilities and their capacity to control events than do “healthy” people. A 2002 study found that mildly depressed women were more likely to live longer than non-depressed or severely depressed women. A longitudinal study of more than 1000 California schoolchildren concluded that optimism was more likely to lead to premature death – possibly because the optimists took more risks. Another study among pre-teenagers found that kids who were more realistic about their standing among their peers were less likely to get depressed than those who had illusions about their popularity. And a 2001 study co-authored by the guru of happiness psychology himself – Martin Seligman – found that among older people pessimists were less likely to fall into depression following a negative life event such as the death of a family member than were optimists.
These findings should provoke a complete reorientation of, not just the helping professions, but the entire society. After all, psychologists have long convinced us that we are all “CEOs” of self, rationally testing our ideas against reality, and that we become disturbed to the extent that we cannot accept the verdict that reality delivers. In short, to the extent that our ideas are unrealistic we are mentally ill, which should mean that President Obama, the Supreme Court, top executives on Wall Street, and virtually the entire Congress are certifiable lunatics.
But of course it doesn’t mean that. WE who cannot make our peace with a social order dedicated to plunder and destruction are mentally suspect, because responsible adulthood entails setting aside the childish notion that the world can be transformed into something within which a decent person would want to live, in order to concentrate on the supremely important matter of reproducing an increasingly imperiled social order dedicated to getting and spending. This is the reigning definition of sanity in our times. God help anyone who insists that social and political reality, not personal attitudes and reactions, is what needs to be adjusted.
Barbara Ehrenreich, “Bright-Sided – How The Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America,” (Metropolitan Books, 2009)
Paul Moloney, “The Therapy Industry – The Irresistible Rise of the Talking Cure, and Why It Doesn’t Work,” (Pluto Press, 2013)
Thomas Piketty, “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” (Harvard University Press, 2014)
My, the Cook et al. 97% consensus paper is a gift to the climate blogosphere that keeps on giving. Some insightful new posts provide fodder for additional discussion on this.
Ben Pile has a new post Tom Curtis doesn’t understand the 97% paper. Here are a few excerpts that raise some interesting points:
We see now why many environmentalists are so hostile to debate. Permitting debate — even giving the possibility of debate a moment’s thought — shatters the binary opposing categories that have been established in lieu of an actual debate of substance on climate change and what to do about it. The division of the debate into scientists versus deniers is a strategy, but one which has worn thin, as Davey’s performance on The Sunday Politics show revealed, and which Hulme alludes to.
It has been somewhat gratifying that almost all of the criticism of my post I have seen so far is from angry trolls, mostly on twitter, but one or two popped up to comment on the post. From what I can tell their argument is circular: it is irresponsible to give air/blog time to sceptics because there’s a strong scientific consensus that says they’re wrong.
Tom Curtis (who is, as far as I can tell, a partner in the Skeptical Science blog enterprise) obliges, with archetypal green invective.
There is a large measure of idiocy in Ben Pile’s post, and in Mike Hulme’s endorsement of it.
The architects of the new consensus — Cook et al and their pals — really ought to understand the dynamics of a consensus. If you begin your defence of a consensus by calling those who might belong to it ‘idiots’, the only possible outcome is that the consensus will diminish.
I certainly do know for a fact that some people’s estimates of climate sensitivity are so low as to at least imply, contrary to the IPCC statement, natural variability might account for more than 50% of the warming in the second half of the C20th. My argument, however, was that the Consensus Project is too clumsy to capture such a position.
It’s all about endorsing with these guys, isn’t it… Endorsement and rejection. Hulme should have rejected Pile and endorsed Cook et al, because Pile rejects the consensus, whereas Cook et al endorse it, as do most climate scientists. They want agreements and disagreements to be black and white, yes and no, true and false, science and denier.
But as I explain in the post, in the case of Davey, the science is being ignored by a politician, it having been displaced from the debate by the 97% figure.
JC comment: This is an important point. In my No consensus paper, I argue “the consensus building process employed by the IPCC does not lend intellectual substance to their conclusions. “
Moreover, as we have seen in Davey, his predecessors, and his superiors, you can say anything you like about climate change, as long as it doesn’t contradict this view of sides. You could say, for instance, that there will be 10 metres of sea level rise by 2100 and that therefore climate policies are necessary. This claim would exist far away from ‘The Science’. But it would seem to be correct according to the tests applied to it by the Consensus Project. This is disappointing, because Curtis is nearly on to something…
Further, he appears to have picked up that strange censorial attitude noteworthy also in von Storch which presumes that because they do not believe that AGW will lead to catastrophe (which is a respectable position inside the consensus), that therefore scientists who do believe that it will (also a respectable position inside the consensus) must not state that belief in public.
Surely this is a frank admission that there is no consensus on catastrophic climate change? If so, then Curtis is now in a real bind, because this deprives the ‘warmist’ crowd of their moral imperatives. Moreover, most complaints from sceptics are that the catastrophism we are all too familiar with is undue — not that there is no such thing as climate change.
Dan Kahan has chimed in with a post The distracting counterproductive 97% consensus debate drags on. Some points that caught my eye:
But it is demonstrably the case (I’m talking real-world evidence here) that the regular issuance of these studies, and the steady drum beat of “climate skeptics are ignoring scientific consensus!” that accompany them, have had no—zero, zilch—net effect on professions of public “belief” in human-caused climate change in the U.S.
On the contrary, there’s good reason to believe that the self-righteous and contemptuous tone with which the “scientific consensus” point is typically advanced (“assault on reason,” “the debate is over” etc.) deepens polarization. That’s because “scientific consensus,” when used as a rhetorical bludgeon, predictably excites reciprocally contemptuous and recriminatory responses by those who are being beaten about the head and neck with it.
Such a mode of discourse doesn’t help the public to figure out what scientists believe. But it makes it as clear as day to them that climate change is an “us-vs.-them” cultural conflict, in which those who stray from the position that dominates in their group will be stigmatized as traitors within their communities.
Nevertheless, the authors of the most recent study announced (in a press release issued by the lead author’s university) that “when people understand that scientists agree on global warming, they’re more likely support politics that take action on it,” a conclusion from which the authors inferred that “making the results of our paper widely-known is an important step toward closing the consensus gap and increasing public support for meaningful climate change.”
Unsurprisingly, the study has in the months since its publication supplied a focal target for climate skeptics, who have challenged the methods the authors employ.
The debate over the latest “97%” paper multiplies the stock of cues that climate change is an issue that defines people as members of opposing cultural groups. It thus deepens the wellsprings of motivation that they have to engage evidence in a way that reinforces what they already believe. The recklessness that the authors displayed in fanning the flames of unreason that fuels this dynamic is what motivated me to express dismay over the new study.
Members of the public are not experts on scientific matters. Rather they are experts in figuring out who the experts are, and in discerning what the practical importance of expert opinion is for the decisions they have to make as individuals and citizens.
JC comment: In my post Climategate essay On the credibility of climate research Part II rebuilding trust, I wrote: Credibility is a combination of expertise and trust. While scientists persist in thinking that they should be trusted because of their expertise, climategate has made it clear that expertise itself is not a sufficient basis for public trust. Recent disclosures about the IPCC have brought up a host of concerns about the IPCC that had been festering in the background: involvement of IPCC scientists in explicit climate policy advocacy; tribalism that excluded skeptics; hubris of scientists with regards to a noble (Nobel) cause; alarmism; and inadequate attention to the statistics of uncertainty and the complexity of alternative interpretations. The experts do their science and ’cause’ a disservice by engaging in these behaviors.
Ordinary citizens are amazingly good at this. Their use of this ability, moreover, is not a substitute for rational thought; it is an exercise rational thought of the most impressive sort. But in a science communication environment polluted with toxic partisan meanings, the faculties they use to discern what most scientists believe are impaired.
JC comment: In my paper No consensus on consensus, I wrote: While the public may not understand the complexity of the science or be predisposed culturally to accept the consensus, they can certainly understand the vociferous debates over the science portrayed by the media. Further, they can judge the social facts surrounding the consensus building process, including those revealed by the so-called “Climategate” episode, and decide whether to trust the experts whose opinion comprises the consensus. Beck argues that “in a public debate, the social practices of knowledge-making matter as much as the substance of the knowledge itself.”
The problem with the suggestion of the authors’ of the latest “97%” study that the key is to “mak[e] the results of [their] paper widely-known” is that it diverts serious, well-intentioned people from efforts to clear the air of the toxic meanings that impede the processes that usually result in public convergence on the best available (and of course always revisable!) scientific conclusions about people can protect themselves from serious risks.
Indeed, as I indicated, the particular manner in which the “scientific consensus” trope is used by partisan advocates tends only to deepen the toxic fog of cultural conflict that makes it impossible for ordinary citizens to figure out what the best scientific evidence is.
JC comment: with the advent of the ‘pause’ in dominating the public debate on climate change, deepening of the fog may be the objective of the shriller perveyors of consensus.
But from what I see, it is becoming clearer and clearer that those who have dedicated themselves to promoting public engagement with the best available scientific evidence on climate change are not dealing with the admittedly sensitive and challenging task of explaining why it is normal, in this sort of process, to encounter discrepancies between forecasting models and subsequent observations and to adjust the models based on them. And why such adjustment in the context of climate change is cause for concluding neither that “the science was flawed” nor that “there is in fact nothing for anyone to be concerned about.”
JC comment: Too many defenders of the consensus have become either ‘pause’ deniers or ‘pause’ dismissers. A while back, I recommended that they ‘own’ the pause, and work on explaining it. Belatedly, we see a little bit of this happening, but of course it does not lead them to challenge the main IPCC conclusion on 20th century attribution.
JC summary: It is really good to see this discussion about the role of consensus in the public debate on climate change and the problems this has caused for the science, the policy, and increasingly for the proponents of consensus. It is however dismaying to see that continued influence that the existence of a ‘consensus’ has on the politics (especially President Obama’s citing of the Cook et al. study).
There is broad disagreement over the amounts and effects of radiation exposure due to the triple reactor meltdowns after the 2011 Great East-Japan Earthquake and tsunami. The International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) joined the controversy June 4, with a 27-page “Critical Analysis of the UNSCEAR Report ‘Levels and effects of radiation exposures due to the nuclear accident after the 2011 Great East-Japan Earthquake and tsunami.’”
IPPNW is the Nobel Peace Prize winning global federation of doctors working for “a healthier, safer and more peaceful world.” The group has adopted a highly critical view of nuclear power because as it says, “A world without nuclear weapons will only be possible if we also phase out nuclear energy.”
UNSCEAR, the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation, published its deeply flawed report April 2. Its accompanying press release summed up its findings this way: “No discernible changes in future cancer rates and hereditary diseases are expected due to exposure to radiation as a result of the Fukushima nuclear accident.” The word “discernable” is a crucial disclaimer here.
Cancer, and the inexorable increase in cancer cases in Japan and around the world, is mostly caused by toxic pollution, including radiation exposure according to the National Cancer Institute. But distinguishing a particular cancer case as having been caused by Fukushima rather than by other toxins, or combination of them, may be impossible leading to UNSCEAR’s deceptive summation. As the IPPNW report says, “A cancer does not carry a label of origin…”
UNSCEAR’s use of the phrase “are expected” is also heavily nuanced. The increase in childhood leukemia cases near Germany’s operating nuclear reactors, compared to elsewhere, was not “expected,” but was proved in 1997. The findings, along with Chernobyl’s lingering consequences, led to the country’s federally mandated reactor phase-out. The plummeting of official childhood mortality rates around five US nuclear reactors after they were shut down was also “unexpected,” but shown by Joe Mangano and the Project on Radiation and Human Health.
The International Physicians’ analysis is severely critical of UNSCEAR’s current report which echoes its 2013 Fukushima review and press release that said, “It is unlikely to be able to attribute any health effects in the future among the general public and the vast majority of workers.”
“No justification for optimistic presumptions”
The IPPNW’s report says flatly, “Publications and current research give no justification for such apparently optimistic presumptions.” UNSCEAR, the physicians complain, “draws mainly on data from the nuclear industry’s publications rather than from independent sources and omits or misinterprets crucial aspects of radiation exposure”, and “does not reveal the true extent of the consequences” of the disaster. As a result, the doctors say the UN report is “over-optimistic and misleading.” The UN’s “systematic underestimations and questionable interpretations,” the physicians warn, “will be used by the nuclear industry to downplay the expected health effects of the catastrophe” and will likely but mistakenly be considered by public authorities as reliable and scientifically sound. Dozens of independent experts report that radiation attributable health effects are highly likely.
Points of agreement: Fukushima is worse than reported and worsening still
Before detailing the multiple inaccuracies in the UNSCEAR report, the doctors list four major points of agreement. First, UNSCEAR improved on the World Health Organization’s health assessment of the disaster’s on-going radioactive contamination. UNSCEAR also professionally “rejects the use of a threshold for radiation effects of 100 mSv [millisieverts], used by the International Atomic Energy Agency in the past.” Like most health physicists, both groups agree that there is no radiation dose so small that it can’t cause negative health effects. There are exposures allowed by governments, but none of them are safe.
Second, the UN and the physicians agree that areas of Japan that were not evacuated were seriously contaminated with iodine-132, iodine-131 and tellurium-132, the worst reported instance being Iwaki City which had 52 times the annual absorbed dose to infants’ thyroid than from natural background radiation. UNSCEAR also admitted that “people all over Japan” were affected by radioactive fallout (not just in Fukushima Prefecture) through contact with airborne or ingested radioactive materials. And while the UNSCEAR acknowledged that “contaminated rice, beef, seafood, milk, milk powder, green tea, vegetables, fruits and tap water were found all over mainland Japan”, it neglected “estimating doses for Tokyo … which also received a significant fallout both on March 15 and 21, 2011.”
Third, UNSCEAR agrees that the nuclear industry’s and the government’s estimates of the total radioactive contamination of the Pacific Ocean are “far too low.” Still, the IPPNW reports shows, UNSCEAR’s use of totally unreliable assumptions results in a grossly understated final estimate. For example, the UN report ignores all radioactive discharges to the ocean after April 30, 2011, even though roughly 300 tons of highly contaminated water has been pouring into the Pacific every day for 3-and-1/2 years, about 346,500 tons in the first 38 months.
Fourth, the Fukushima catastrophe is understood by both groups as an ongoing disaster, not the singular event portrayed by industry and commercial media. UNSCEAR even warns that ongoing radioactive pollution of the Pacific “may warrant further follow-up of exposures in the coming years,” and “further releases could not be excluded in the future,” from forests and fields during rainy and typhoon seasons when winds spread long-lived radioactive particles and from waste management plans that now include incineration.
As the global doctors say, in their unhappy agreement with UNSCAR, “In the long run, this may lead to an increase in internal exposure in the general population through radioactive isotopes from ground water supplies and the food chain.”
Physicians find ten grave failures in UN report
The majority of the IPPNW’s report details 10 major errors, flaws or discrepancies in the UNSCEAR paper and explains study’s omissions, underestimates, inept comparisons, misinterpretations and unwarranted conclusions.
1. The total amount of radioactivity released by the disaster was underestimated by UNSCEAR and its estimate was based on disreputable sources of information. UNSCEAR ignored 3.5 years of nonstop emissions of radioactive materials “that continue unabated,” and only dealt with releases during the first weeks of the disaster. UNSCEAR relied on a study by the Japanese Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA) which, the IPPNW points out, “was severely criticized by the Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission … for its collusion with the nuclear industry.” The independent Norwegian Institute for Air Research’s estimate of cesium-137 released (available to UNSCEAR) was four times higher than the JAEA/UNSCEAR figure (37 PBq instead of 9 PBq). Even Tokyo Electric Power Co. itself estimated that iodine-131 releases were over four times higher than what JAEA/UNSCEAR) reported (500 PBq vs. 120 BPq). The UNSCEAR inexplicably chose to ignore large releases of strontium isotopes and 24 other radionuclides when estimating radiation doses to the public. (A PBq or petabecquerel is a quadrillion or 1015 Becquerels. Put another way, a PBq equals 27,000 curies, and one curie makes 37 billion atomic disintegrations per second.)
2. Internal radiation taken up with food and drink “significantly influences the total radiation dose an individual is exposed to,” the doctors note, and their critique warns pointedly, “UNSCEAR uses as its one and only source, the still unpublished database of the International Atomic Energy Association and the Food and Agriculture Organization. The IAEA was founded … to ‘accelerate and enlarge the contribution of atomic energy to peace, health and prosperity throughout the world.’ It therefore has a profound conflict of interest.” Food sample data from the IAEA should not be relied on, “as it discredits the assessment of internal radiation doses and makes the findings vulnerable to claims of manipulation.” As with its radiation release estimates, IAEA/UNSCEAR ignored the presence of strontium in food and water. Internal radiation dose estimates made by the Japanese Ministry for Science and Technology were 20, 40 and even 60 times higher than the highest numbers used in the IAEA/UNSCEAR reports.
3. To gauge radiation doses endured by over 24,000 workers on site at Fukushima, UNSCEAR relied solely on figures from Tokyo Electric Power Co., the severely compromised owners of the destroyed reactors. The IPPNW report dismisses all the conclusions drawn from Tepco, saying, “There is no meaningful control or oversight of the nuclear industry in Japan and data from Tepco has in the past frequently been found to be tampered with and falsified.”
4. The UNSCEAR report disregards current scientific fieldwork on actual radiation effects on plant and animal populations. Peer reviewed ecological and genetic studies from Chernobyl and Fukushima find evidence that low dose radiation exposures cause, the doctors point out, “genetic damage such as increased mutation rates, as well as developmental abnormalities, cataracts, tumors, smaller brain sizes in birds and mammals and further injuries to populations, biological communities and ecosystems.” Ignoring these studies, IPPNW says “gives [UNSCEAR] the appearance of bias or lack of rigor.”
5. The special vulnerability of the embryo and fetus to radiation was completely discounted by the UNSCEAR, the physicians note. UNSCEAR shockingly said that doses to the fetus or breast-fed infants “would have been similar to those of other age groups,” a claim that, the IPPNW says, “goes against basic principles of neonatal physiology and radiobiology.” By dismissing the differences between an unborn and an infant, the UNSCEAR “underestimates the health risks of this particularly vulnerable population.” The doctors quote a 2010 report from American Family Physician that, “in utero exposure can be teratogenic, carcinogenic or mutagenic.”
6. Non-cancerous diseases associated with radiation doses — such as cardiovascular diseases, endocrinological and gastrointestinal disorders, infertility, genetic mutations in offspring and miscarriages — have been documented in medical journals, but are totally dismissed by the UNSCEAR. The physicians remind us that large epidemiological studies have shown undeniable associations of low dose ionizing radiation to non-cancer health effects and “have not been scientifically challenged.”
7. The UNSCEAR report downplays the health impact of low-doses of radiation by misleadingly comparing radioactive fallout to “annual background exposure.” The IPPNW scolds the UNSCEAR saying it is, “not scientific to argue that natural background radiation is safe or that excess radiation from nuclear fallout that stays within the dose range of natural background radiation is harmless.” In particular, ingested or inhaled radioactive materials, “deliver their radioactive dose directly and continuously to the surrounding tissue” — in the thyroid, bone or muscles, etc. — “and therefore pose a much larger danger to internal organs than external background radiation.”
8. Although UNSCEAR’s April 2 Press Release and Executive Summary give the direct and mistaken impression that there will be no radiation health effects from Fukushima, the report itself states that the Committee “does not rule out the possibility of future excess cases or disregard the suffering associated…” Indeed, UNSCEAR admits to “incomplete knowledge about the release rates of radionuclides over time and the weather conditions during the releases.” UNSCEAR concedes that “there were insufficient measurements of gamma dose rate…” and that, “relatively few measurements of foodstuff were made in the first months.” IPPNW warns that these glaring uncertainties completely negate the level of certainty implied in UNSCEAR’s Exec. Summary.
9. UNSCEAR often praises the protective measures taken by Japanese authorities, but the IPPNW finds it “odd that a scientific body like UNSCEAR would turn a blind eye to the many grave mistakes of the Japanese disaster management…” The central government was slow to inform local governments and “failed to convey the severity of the accident,” according to the Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission. “Crisis management ‘did not function correctly,’ the Commission said, and its failure to distribute stable iodine, “caused thousands of children to become irradiated with iodine-131,” IPPNW reports.
10. The UNSCEAR report lists “collective” radiation doses “but does not explain the expected cancer cases that would result from these doses.” This long chapter of IPPNW’s report can’t be summarized easily. The doctors offer conservative estimates, “keeping in mind that these most probably represent underestimations for the reasons listed above.” The IPPNW estimates that 4,300 to 16,800 excess cases of cancer due to the Fukushima catastrophe in Japan in the coming decades. Cancer deaths will range between 2,400 and 9,100. UNSCEAR may call these numbers insignificant, the doctors archly point out, but individual cancers are debilitating and terrifying and they “represent preventable and man-made diseases” and fatalities.
IPPNW concludes that Fukushima’s radiation disaster is “far from over”: the destroyed reactors are still unstable; radioactive liquids and gases continuously leak from the complex wreckage; melted fuel and used fuel in quake-damaged cooling pools hold enormous quantities of radioactivity “and are highly vulnerable to further earthquakes, tsunamis, typhoons and human error.” Catastrophic releases of radioactivity “could occur at any time and eliminating this risk will take many decades.”
IPPNW finally recommends urgent actions that governments should take, because the UNSCEAR report, “does not adhere to scientific standards of neutrality,” “represents a systematic underestimation,” “conjures up an illusion of scientific certainty that obscures the true impact of the nuclear catastrophe on health and the environment,” and its conclusion is phrased “in such a way that would most likely be misunderstood by most people…”
John LaForge works for Nukewatch, a nuclear watchdog and anti-war group in Wisconsin, and edits its Quarterly.
 Nancy Wilson, National Cancer Institute, “The Majority of Cancers Are Linked to the Environment, NCI Benchmarks, Vol. 4, Issue 3, June 17, 2004
From Rasmussen Reports:
Voters strongly believe the debate about global warming is not over yet and reject the decision by some news organizations to ban comments from those who deny that global warming is a problem.
Only 20% of Likely U.S. Voters believe the scientific debate about global warming is over, according to the latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey. Sixty-three percent (63%) disagree and say the debate about global warming is not over. Seventeen percent (17%) are not sure. (To see survey question wording, click here.)
Forty-eight percent (48%) of voters think there is still significant disagreement within the scientific community over global warming, while 35% believe scientists generally agree on the subject.
The BBC has announced a new policy banning comments from those who deny global warming, a policy already practiced by the Los Angeles Times and several other media organizations. But 60% of voters oppose the decision by some news organizations to ban global warming skeptics. Only 19% favor such a ban, while slightly more (21%) are undecided.
But then 42% believe the media already makes global warming appear to be worse than it really is. Twenty percent (20%) say the media makes global warming appear better than it really is, while 22% say they present an accurate picture. Sixteen percent (16%) are not sure.
Still, this is an improvement from February 2009 when 54% thought the media makes global warming appear worse than it is. Unchanged, however, are the 21% who say the media presents an accurate picture.
I’ve written a few times on the question of one of my favorite hangouts on the planet, underwater tropical coral reefs. Don’t know if you’ve ever been down to one, but they are a fairyland of delights, full of hosts of strange and mysterious creatures. I’ve seen them far from the usual haunts of humanoids, where they are generally full of vigor and bursting with life.
I’ve also seen them in various stages of ill-health, including the bleaching caused by occasional high temperatures (which a healthy reef recovers from in a few years). In all of my writings on this subject, I’ve said that the health of the reef depends in large part on parrotfish. I’ve proposed that atoll nations declare the parrotfish as their national bird, just to bring attention to the fish that are responsible for the very existence of the atolls themselves.
This is for two reasons. First, parrotfish are herbivores. They graze on the algae that is constantly trying to take over the reef. This keeps the reef clear of algae so that the coral polyps can get the sunlight that they need to survive.
Second, the parrotfish graze by biting off chunks of coral. They crunch these up between specialized bony plates in their throats, digest all of the greenery, and they subsequently excrete nothing but the finest, whitest, softest coral sand … the very sand that makes the romantic tropical beaches. It’s quite funny to see what happens if you disturb a whole school of them—they drop their entire load and disappear in a flash, leaving nothing but a white cloud of sand slowly dropping to the ocean floor, eventually to be swept by the waves up onto the beach.
Unfortunately, although parrotfish are wary during the day, they sleep at night out in the open. As a result, the advent of the waterproof flashlight has led to their local extinction on many reefs.
To bring this story up to the present, over at his excellent NoTricksZone website, Pierre Gosselin points out a press release from the International Union of Concerned Scientists (IUCN) entitled From despair to repair: Dramatic decline of Caribbean corals can be reversed. It discusses a recent report called “Status and Trends of Caribbean Coral Reefs, 1970-2012″, linked to below.
In the press release, they point out that although climate change has been blamed for the decline in Caribbean coral reefs, the major reason for the decline is … drum roll … the loss of the parrotfish and other reef grazers. The press release says:
Climate change has long been thought to be the main culprit in coral degradation. While it does pose a serious threat by making oceans more acidic and causing coral bleaching, the report shows that the loss of parrotfish and sea urchin – the area’s two main grazers – has, in fact, been the key driver of coral decline in the region.
Despite the obligatory nod to climate change, they have finally come to their senses.
Now, the IUCN has been heavily invested in the “climate change” meme, so I find this to be a most welcome sign that perhaps some sanity is returning to the field. Back a decade ago I wrote about role of parrotfish in reef loss, but at that time everyone from the Sierra Club to the IUCN were blaming climate change.
And this is one of the huge problems with blaming everything and its cousin on climate change—when you blame wrongly climate change, you ignore the real problem. For example, the claimed (but illusory) “sinking” of coral atolls was long blamed on sea level rise from climate change.
But all that did is obscure the real danger to coral atolls, which is the decline of the reefs on which they depend for their continued wellbeing. Regarding the Caribbean reefs, the report itself says:
Outbreaks of Acropora and Diadema diseases in the 1970s and early 1980s, overpopulation in the form of too many tourists, and overfishing are the three best predictors of the decline in Caribbean coral cover over the past 30 or more years based on the data available. Coastal pollution is undoubtedly increasingly significant but there are still too little data to tell. Increasingly warming seas pose an ominous threat but so far extreme heating events have had only localized effects and could not have been responsible for the greatest losses of Caribbean corals that had occurred throughout most of the wider Caribbean region by the early to mid 1990s.
So … will the reefs abide? Fortunately, we now know that waving our hands at CO2 is not the solution to the problems of the reefs—as with far too much of such CO2 hysteria, the underlying problems indeed have human causes, but they have nothing to do with CO2.
And that’s great news, because although we have no hope of changing atmospheric CO2, we can indeed do something about overfishing of parrotfish, and about coastal pollution. Fix those, and we’ll fix the reefs, and they will abide.
Best regards to everyone, and thanks for all the parrotfish, I’m off for Las Vegas.
My previous posts on the subject:
The Irony, It Burns
The Reef Abides