A New Kind Of “Green-washing?”
The Amazon rainforests are not disappearing at an alarming rate, global warming claims are based on propaganda and pseudo-science and environmental groups are receiving tens of millions of dollars from business-backed foundations. In America, they're saying the public are being “Amazon dot Conned.” So claims an ex-front man for Greenpeace. John Howard has filed this special report.
Politicians and environment groups in America are increasingly coming under attack for using scare-tactics and propaganda over environmental issues to get votes, donations and support from a gullible public.
As the front-man for Greenpeace, Patrick Moore became an instant celebrity in 1977 when a photograph showing him cradling a baby seal in defiance of arrest by Canadian authorities was broadcast around the world.
He helped turn public opinion on the high-profile emotional issues of whaling, seal hunting, nuclear power and chemical pollution.
Today, Moore is the leader of a group called Greenspirit, an organisation who is alerting the public to what he calls the "myth" that the Amazon rainforest is endangered by development.
"The Amazon is actually the least endangered forest in the world" says Moore in a new American Investigator's television documentary "Clear-Cutting the Myths" hosted by former CBS and CNN newsman, Reid Collins, who has spent over 12 months filming in the Amazon.
Moore explains that in the 20 years of warnings about deforestation only 10 percent of the forest has been converted to agriculture and settlement for the indigenous people. He says the belief that the Amazon rainforest is under threat from man-made fires and logging is a myth based on bad science and political agendas.
"This is where I really have a problem with modern-day environmentalism," says Moore.
"It confuses opinion with what we know to be true, and disguises what are really political agendas with environmental rhetoric. The fact of the matter is there is a larger percentage of the Amazon rainforest intact than there are most other forests in this world." he said.
Moore maintains that the, "rainforests of the Amazon, the Congo, Malaysia, Indonesia and a few other parts of the world are the least endangered forests because they are least suitable for human habitation."
Despite the Amazon still being 87.5 percent intact, many claims abound as to how fast the forest is being cleared.
Claims like, areas the size of France, 400,000 acres an hour, 20 football fields a minute, 8 football fields a minute and even two to three football fields a second - all for the same forest area.
Moore says that the only way such huge numbers are generated is by double accounting or misinformation. "You would have cleared 50 times the size of the Amazon already if they were accurate," he said.
Luis Almir, of the State of Amazonas in Brazil calculated using five football fields a minute and sarcastically concludes that if the numbers were correct, "we would already have a desert bigger than the Sahara."
Another familiar claim of environmentalists is that the Amazon constitutes the "lungs of the earth."
But according to Antonio Donato Nobre of the Institute for Research in Amazonia in Brazil, and other eco-scientists, the Amazon consumes as much oxygen as it produces and may actually be a net user of oxygen.
" In fact, because trees fall down and decay, rainforests actually take in slightly more oxygen than they give out. It's only fast growing young trees that actually take-up carbon dioxide." they say.
The tropical rainforests are also basically irrelevant when it comes to regulating or influencing global weather. The oceans have a much greater impact, the scientists say.
Moore left Greenpeace, the organisation he helped to found, in 1986 after finding himself at odds with other leaders of the group.
He has also spoken out against our Government ending the West Coast beech scheme and the sustainable indigenous rimu harvest in South Westland New Zealand.
Philip Stott of the University of London is the author of the book, Tropical Rainforests: Political and Hegemonic Myth-Making," and, like some NZ scientists, he is also speaking out.
"One of the simple, but very important facts, is that the rainforests have only been around for between 12,000 and 16,000 years. That sounds like a very long time, but in terms of history of the earth, it's hardly a pinprick. The simple point is that there are now still - despite what humans have done - more rainforests today than there were 12,000 years ago," Stott said.
The indigenous people living in the Amazon forest are also angry that people living tens of thousands of kilometers away from their forests, including some Hollywood and music celebrities, are using them and the livelihood for political and financial gain.
Some environmentalists also claim that tens of thouands of species are being driven to extinction every year because of destruction of tropical rainforests like the Amazon.
But both Moore and Stott disagree. They say that most of these estimates are rooted in the research of Harvard University's Edward O. Wilson, who has argued passionately to stem the tide of extinctions "now 100 to 1,000 times as great as it was before the coming of humanity" - while neglecting to mention that his estimates of 50,000 extinctions per year are based purely on his own computer models.
"There is no scientific basis for saying that 50,000 species are going extinct. I want a list of Latin species," says Moore.
He maintains that no-one can name these species that are said to be going extinct.
"The only place you can find them is in Edward Wilson's computer at Harvard University. They're actually electrons on a hard drive," Moore states.
Moore is also flabbergasted with statements from environmentalists like, "we can't name the species because we don't know what those species are."
"You're telling me that I'm supposed to prove those species didn't go extinct when they're not there anymore and we never knew they were there in the first place?" Moore asks rhetorically.
"That's impossible. I don't know how Wilson can trot out that number of species and keep a straight face," Moore says.
Stott says that the focus on species loss is misguided because the earth has gone through many periods of major extinctions before, some much bigger.
Another environmental claim now under attack relates to the affects, or not, of global warming.
A couple of weeks ago Energy Minister, Pete Hodgson, issued a press release saying that gross carbon dioxide emissions from the energy and industrial process sectors have increased by an annual average growth of 2% in New Zealand between 1990 and 1999.
But the figures are gross figures and do not appear to account for mitigation, or off-set, against CO2 emissions because of the large volume of NZ vegetation such as grasses, shrubs, plants and trees which absorb New Zealand's carbon dioxide and give out oxygen.
In Parliament last week the Environment Minister said that Government would look to cut fossil fuel emissions in order to implement the Kyoto Protocol on global warming rather than relying on so-called carbon sinks such as forests to off-set CO2 emissions.
The Green Party says that is a positive signal of the Government's intention but, in reality, it goes directly against scientific fact that grass, shrubs and trees absorb carbon dioxide. The Green Party calls that science and physics a loophole.
Globally, some scientists are saying the earth was warmer 1,000 years ago than it is now. They say the computer models are so imprecise and show insufficient scientific agreement that it is impossible to accurately support the theory of greenhouse gas forecasts.
Science and Environmental Policy Project director, Dr Fred Singer, says the recent warnings in the US of a global warming apocalypse are "an over-hyped attempt to translate a flawed, unscientific report into a national scare."
Two weeks ago America's newsrooms were abuzz with dire warnings of a global warming catastrophe following release of a report by the Global Climate Research Program (GCRP).
But Dr Singer, and others like atmospheric scientist John Christy, and scientist, journalist and policy analyst David Wojick, are calling the report a "kind of joke."
Wojick worries that the regulatory, policy and the journalistic processes are being compromised.
"The White House and Global Climate Research Program poured buckets of global warming chum into the water last week, and the media sharks came swarming in," he says.
But there's about as much substance to their warming catastophe claims, as there is to the chum used to haul in hungry, unsuspecting sharks of the great white variety," Wojick says.
"Now that the media frenzy has subsided we need to assess why the report and overview are being so roundly criticised by many scientists," he said.
Ten years ago, the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicted the planet would warm over 5 degrees F by 2100. Five years ago, it reduced its projection to 3.5 degrees F. In 1998, it dropped its forecast further to less than 2 degrees F.
Meanwhile, satellites and weather balloons have found virtually no global warming except in Alaska and Siberia, and only in mid-winter.
"Then along comes the GCRP saying US temperatures will soar by 5 or 10 degrees by 2100. To ensure maximum public alarm, the White House launched a well-orchestrated media campaign. But clever PR canot make the deficiencies and misrepresentations go away," Wojick said.
The report uses words like "probably" and "may disappear" and "might happen."
National Centre for Atmospheric Research scientist, Kevin Trenberth said, it was a "classic example of misuse and abuse of climate models."
Even the Government's own Environmental Protection Agency scientists complained of numerous "extreme or alarmist" statements.
The GRCP claims atmospheric CO2 levels are rising at 1% per year. But even the ICPP now recognises that the actual increase is just 0.4% per year. Most of the CO2 is absorbed by plants, making them actually grow faster and bigger.
And in early June one of the largest solar flares of the past decade erupted with such strength that it shiften the northern lights southward. The Space Environment Centre noted that a solar flare of this magnitude is "like all the energy we've ever used on earth being released in just a few minutes."
Claims are also being made that the GCRP is stacking the deck with scientists, activists and bureaucrats sympathetic to its and the White House views, while excluding a more balanced view in churning out vast reams of tax-payer funded propaganda thinly disguised as "education."
Of course, it is a US election year for President and money, support and votes are sorely needed - no matter what it takes.
Meanwhile, it is also being revealed that while environmental groups project themselves in the media as uniformly altruistic, idealistic and independent, seeing themselves as David facing Goliath against the monolithic, all-powerful, lawless, profiteering global corporation, in reality, it is often difficult to distinguish the environmental groups from the large corporations they vilify.
Many have affinity groups, credit cards, mutual funds, travel services and investments in some of the largest corporations in the world.
Some have tens of thousands of dollars worth of shares in oil companies. Other environmental groups have shares in companies which make bulldozers, while others have shares in companies which make the diesel engines which go into the bulldozers, trucks and excavators. Yet others own large tracts of land sometimes given to them by development companies in mitigation of projects - which they then sell off.
Activist environmental groups are also a part of the Washington establishment with some having several thousand employees, including leaders who make up to US$150,000 or more each year. They also have a small army of scientists, lobbyists, lawyers and public affairs specialists.
Internationally, environmental organisations are conducting a number of advocacy initiatives for more wilderness areas, curtailing timber production and mining, breaching dams and wanting more control over ecosystem planning.
The success of those programs depends on political contacts. Promises of membership support and votes to a political party gets that political support.
These campaigns run on money - while membership fees account for less than 25% of total revenue and is declining.
Investigators in America have revealed that the millions of dollars needed to conduct environmental policy advocacy mostly comes from tax-free grants from a core of wealthy foundations with their own agendas.
A recent article in Philanthropy magazine says, "foundations set much of the public agenda and nowhere more so than in the area of environmentalism, where foundations collectively spend upwards of $500 million per year."
The largest environmental grant-maker, the $4.9 billion Pew Charitable Trusts, gives more than $35 million annually to environmental groups. Other large wealthy foundations including the Turner, W.Alton Jones, and the Lucille and Packard Foundations are not far behind Pew in making tax-free and not for tax grants to environmental groups.
These Foundations seemingly are not accountable to anyone, have no voters, no customers and no investors. The grantees who receive the money are only accountable to the Foundations that fund them - not even to their own members.
The people who run the Foundations are part of an elite and insulated group. They are typicaly located hundreds or even thousands of kilometers from the communities affected by policies they advocate. They recieve no feedback from those most affected by their decisions, nor are they accountable to anyone for promoting policies which adversely affect the well-being of people and local economies.
Those skeptical of foundation supported policies and psuedo-science are often smeared by foundation funded media campaigns while genuine and concerned opponents, including eminent scientists, are often classified as pro-logging, pro-mining or anti-environment.
That revelation will surely have reasonance with some NZ scientists, West Coasters and SOE Timberlands Ltd and its PR firm who were attacked last year by certain environmentalists and groups.
Can those attackers and the groups behind them now withstand the same scrutiny?
The important issue that the Ameircan investigators have revealed is whether foundation and financial support strategies used to fund the environmental groups are buying undue influence over public policy.
The issue seems to be about power and influence for political ends rather than environmental concerns with whole communities being trampled in the process and left with ruined economies and lack of income.
But the US investigators say, "What do the environmentalist groups care? They will have already collected their six-figure tax-free grants, got their own way, their favoured politician was elected and they have gone off elsewhere leaving trageted communities and their families to deal with a shredded economy.
Maybe it's time we also took a good
hard look behind our green curtain to see if we are being
Amazon dot Conned.