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Earth snooze

01 May 2024 | OP ED Watch

Although CDN readers may not be its most enthusiastic celebrants, we should mention that we just had Earth Day back on April 22. It is the 54th such event and apparently the big threat is… no, not that. It’s plastic. The famously useful and therefore evil substance almost as vital to our civilization as, uh, the fossil fuel petrochemical feedstocks it’s made from. No, really. The theme was “Planet vs. Plastics”. Boo plastics. Killing the Earth climate already killed. Stop already. We’re out of planets. Though not out of hype. Or, to be fair, legitimate concerns. Indeed one of our worries about climate alarmism is that it sucks all the oxygen, or CO2, and all the money, out of discussions of other environmental problems some of which are, indeed, very real.

Those of us who grew up in the post “Earthrise” era, the greater awareness of Earth’s uniqueness and possible fragility following the stunning Apollo 8 photo of our planet from lunar orbit, can take for granted the benefits from the environmental movement that really are as massive as they are remarkable. The air and the water are far cleaner and healthier in the Western democracies than they were when we were kids, or when the “Highland Park Optimist Club” in Los Angeles had to wear gas masks indoors due to smog back around 1954.

The funny thing is, they were right to be optimistic. Especially about the capacity of open societies to address and fix problems.

It’s weird how they do it, with an ill-tempered clash of shrill and often ill-informed opinions, often on both sides, amid the kind of chaos that makes tyrants and many non-westerners fear liberty. If you went back and reread newspapers, manifestos and so forth on the environment from that period you might well shake your head, or your fist, at what was said on both sides. As you would if you reviewed, say, the history of the Cold War including the characteristic and borderline treasonous fatuities of many in the “peace” movement, treasonous to their own societies and to reason alike… yet in the end we did avoid nuclear war and beat Soviet Communism. Likewise on the environment great progress was made.

As Roger Pielke Jr. wrote:

“I was surprised to see the New York Times publish an essay with the title, Climate Doom Is Out. ‘Apocalyptic Optimism’ Is In. The framing of the article was about political expediency – is optimism a more effective political framing than pessimism when trying to motivate people to do this or that? My answer to that question is the answer will depend if the action is sheltering from a tornado bearing down or changing the global energy system. What the essay did not address is whether or not there is an empirical and scientific basis for an outlook on the environment that is more hopeful than the steady stream of apocalypse porn typically emphasized. As readers of THB well know, the answer is a resounding ‘Yes.’”

What about today? When people get steamed up about plastics they say incredibly silly stuff. Governments ban “single use” plastic bags that citizens carry groceries home in then repurpose as trash bags, and later find that the life cycle of paper bags is worse. They rail on about plastic in the oceans in some clean North American suburb when we now know, from real actual scientific research that periodically challenges and revises what we thought we knew (namely that 10 rivers were primarily responsible, whereas it now seems smaller rivers are also hugely implicated), that about 95% comes from rivers in Asia, Africa and South America, one-third from the Philippines alone. They say you can see the Pacific Garbage Patch from space but don’t ask for a photo. And so forth.

It’s a sorry spectacle and nearly every individual thing they say including about “forever chemicals” and your non-stick frying pan radiating evil death is wrong. Fracking did not cause tap water to burst into flames. Nuclear power is not just one Chernobyl after another.

Canada’s government recently got slapped down by a court for labeling plastic “toxic” as an end run around the rule of law, to help ban it, when they knew perfectly well it wasn’t. After all, if drinking straws were toxic there’d be a heap of corpses at the soda fountain, and if plastic bags were, your groceries would molder beside your dead body in the kitchen. And yet the result of this often muddled and mean-spirited clash is that we really do think about whether this particular modern miracle has a downside we need to concern ourselves with, from used fishing nets in the ocean to microplastics in the everything. And we discover what’s really wrong, and we do something about it.

Or do we? National Geographic reprinted its 50th-anniversary Earth Day item full of “progress – and setbacks” and there’s much to admire, and much to quarrel with. Sometimes you can’t even tell which they think something is, like golden rice. But if we want another 50 years of happy tales, we have to stop putting almost all our energy into fighting imaginary man-made warming by demonizing plant food.

No, really. Think of the hundreds of billions of dollars in subsidies, and research grants. Think of the monomania of politicians. Think what could have been done if half that time, money and effort had gone into habitat preservation instead of solar and wind (onshore and off) trashing huge areas. One solicitation we got said:

“Today is Earth Day, and this year’s theme Planet vs. Plastics calls for us to phase out single-use plastics and fast fashion, given their harmful effects. Until April 28th, when you support the Fight Climate Change with Policy Fund, we’ll match your gift. Your donation will support several charities that are tackling climate change through a systemic approach at the provincial and federal levels.”

Climate change? What happened to plastics? We’re not even sold on the demonization of “single-use plastics”. They sure come in handy in advanced medicine, for instance, and North America has landfill space to spare, not to mention possible advances in incineration. (So cue the attacks on deniers and Big Plastic in this area as well.) For that matter, how many of the advanced sensors supposedly cataloguing “climate change” use plastic? Want to show us a satellite without any? Or even a digital thermometer? But in any case, are we working on plastics or not?

Someone else emailed us an offer for a “Save the grasslands, save the planet” T-shirt. Well, OK. Grasslands are good. Erosion is bad. (At least from our anthropocentric perspective; we like things green and pleasant.) We like holistic gardening, and farming. It really matters. It’s not the only thing. But neither is “climate change”.

Another Earth Day feature noted that:

“The theme of this year’s Earth Day is ‘Planet vs. Plastics’ – a theme chosen to raise awareness of the damage done by plastic to humans, animals and the planet and to promote policies aiming to reduce global plastic production by 60 percent by 2040.”

And we’re tempted to ask why austerity is always the theme. Why couldn’t we have more plastic, just a more Earth-friendly kind? Are we stylites? At the same time, that cold heartless “efficiency” also known as getting more for less is on the whole good, and if we can use less plastic without getting less quality of life it would be nice.

But not the way the Canadian government is going about it, trying to create a “registry” of all plastic made in Canada “from takeaway cups to fishing gear” when it can’t even track its own spending. They’re failing to create it at all, of course. But do they really think Ottawa can track all the “bale wraps” made in this country, or do anything with the information if they could?

They’re also trying to get an international treaty “to rein in soaring plastic pollution by the end of the year.” Legally binding, no less. As if China would agree to stop with the rivers of plastic flowing down its polluted waterways. Actually they’re engaged in key negotiations to set up other more key negotiations in the fall to produce a treaty that will probably be quite vague in its provisions and non-binding in its mechanisms, their standard “deliverology” that’s all talk and no action.

To make matters worse, Reuters said:

“The hoped-for treaty, due to be agreed at the end of this year, could be the most significant deal relating to climate-warming emissions and environmental protection since the 2015 Paris Agreement, which got 195 parties to agree to keep global temperatures from rising beyond 1.5C.”

Climate-warming emissions? What have they do to with plastic straws? Answer:

“While plastic waste has become a global menace polluting landscapes and waterways, producing plastics involves releasing greenhouse gas emissions.”

Yeah? What doesn’t? And isn’t saving turtles enough for one day, or one year? Such sententious overreach is characteristic, and worthy of scorn.

We also sneer at the report “High Seas Treaty: EU votes to ratify landmark international law to protect oceans/ The vote is an important signal to the rest of the world that the EU is serious about prioritising greater ocean protection.” We have little use for policies that consist of making a promise to signal that one is serious about making promises to be serious about promising. How about a treaty that actually does protect the oceans? For instance against Communist Chinese pirate trawlers devastating ecosystems? But again, it only underlines how much there is to do, and how little of the really important stuff has anything to do with shutting down our energy sectors to stop a natural and beneficial gentle warming we can’t control anyway.

On that note, belated Happy Earth Day.

10 comments on “Earth snooze”

  1. So if I drink something through a disintegrating plastic straw, fishing crews in Asia won’t discard torn gear in the ocean, right?

  2. Well Jon, they do need some omni-present, invisible threat to scare the unwashed peasants with and carbon dioxide is becoming a big fat yawner! Can you imagine the impact on research funding alone?!?! Eeeeeeeek!

  3. To highlight a point of view, that there are no solutions only trade-offs, I observe that your statement that erosion is bad overlooks that fact that without erosion most of Louisiana would not exist.

  4. If I can put forward a deeply heretical idea, the best way to deal with waste plastic, from drinking straws to industrial waste, is to incinerate it. I don't mean burn it in a rusty oil drum with a bit of diesel tossed on top, but in a properly engineered high temperature incinerator with scrubbers so that all that comes out is CO2 and water vapour. Even if you think CO2 is the planet's climate control knob, which it almost certainly isn't, the amount of CO2 produced in this way would be insignificant compared to other sources of CO2, yet it would get rid of the vast bulk of the plastic pollution problem.

  5. The average wind turbine sheds 62 kilograms of plastic micro-particles per year. Wind turbine blades' coverings are made of fiberglass, bonded using epoxy. Epoxy is used instead of polyester resin because solar UV destroys polyester. 40% of epoxy is Bisphenol-A, which has been banned in food packaging in many countries because it's carcinogenic. But 41 kilograms per of carcinogenic Bisphenol-A spewed per year per wind turbine into the environment is OK because we're all going to die of heat or something.

  6. "Think of the hundreds of billions of dollars in subsidies, and research grants. Think of the monomania of politicians."
    Yes, I think of those things all the time, CDN. It leads me to believe that climate alarmism would be a thing even if there were no true believers in it. There are some true believers, to be sure. But nobody should know better than an historian that power and money corrupt.

  7. And let's not leave out the fact that without erosion the soils where grasslands grow wouldn't exist. Erosion creates dirt (clay, silt and sand) which can collect in the cracks in rocks where plants can grow and biochemically further erosion. Erosion followed by deposition is a good thing.
    Yes, erosion can be bad, as can a wildfire in dry grasslands. Context counts.
    As someone who was born and reared on deltaic sediments not far from the Louisiana coast, I hold a certain amount of affection for both erosion and sedimentation.

  8. Excellent comments by all of the above.Far as Earth Day is concerned,I agree with much of what the goals are,reducing air,water,land pollution.
    Reducing Nox and Sox(nitrious oxide,sulpher oxide) as much as possible.Reducing waste where ever possible and viable.Where I part company with
    many of these Earth Dayers or anyone else is when they call CO2 a pollutant,when it is the opposite.CO2 is needed for plant life to survive,and by
    consequence human and animal life too.And yeah,good luck with a plastic treaty with China et al,or getting them to stop dumping their garbage,plastic
    and all into their waterways.They don't care a rat's butt about their own people,why would they care about their environment?

  9. Roger Graves wrote, "the best way to deal with waste plastic, from drinking straws to industrial waste, is to incinerate it."
    Actually there is a better way to deal with plastic waste - convert it to motor fuel! There are multiple technologies available to convert plastics into gasses and oils suitable to propel both land and air vehicles. The process takes plastic, applies heat and produces a usable synthetic fuel. Instead of just burning the stuff, why not apply a little heat and THEN burn it in our vehicles? I tried to get my city council member to look into it but the nice, purple-haired, LGBTQRSTUVWXYZ+++ fellow wasn't interested. I suggested using methane produced by the digesters at the local (mammoth) sewage treatment plant to provide the heat to convert plastic waste into motor fuel to power the city's multitude of vehicles. {crickets}

  10. Bill, you may well be right. Do you know of any pilot plants that have been set up to do this, i.e. to convert plastic waste into motor fuel?

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