Category Archives: Environment

General stuff on the environment, especially Christians and the environment

Is Christian Aid’s push for Divestment undermining the poor?

Over the last 10 years the ultimate Green concern of many Christians is Climate Change, which for many means Divestment from fossil fuels and the adoption of “clean” renewable energy. This has become the official stance of groups like Christian Aid, Tear Fund and Cafod, along with Christian Green groups, like a Rocha, Green Christian, with John Ray  Initiative sitting uncomfortably on the (barbed wire) fence. Within the mainstream churches if you do not agree with this consensus, you are clearly not green!! This is despite the majority not buying into it.

Apart from the Bishop of Chester, Peter Forster, who has a Ph. D. in chemistry, few challenge this consensus and thus it has become the default position of the churches, with frequent calls for divestment and a Bigswitch to “clean” energy.

This article in the Church Times  10 August 2017 by Joe Ware of Christian Aid is both strident and inaccurate, and seems to think the main solutions to environmental issues are Divestment and taking part in the Big Switch to “renewable” energy. One gets the impression nothing else really matters.

Until about 1990 care for the environment was hardly mentioned in the churches of the UK.  This was not because of a desire only to save souls or following the daft ideas of Dispensationalism as Joe Ware claims. More socially minded Christians were concerned about Apartheid, the inner city and urban issues and racialism. In the 70s Bishop Hugh Montefiore was one of the few who waved a green flag, but to speak of a divide between the church and environmentalism due to Dispensationalism is simply wrong. Very few believed in Dispensationalism and the over-riding view on the environment was simply apathy, as I found in 1982 when I tried to get Liverpool Diocese Board of Social responsibility to consider environmental issues. I was ignored and my request was not even minuted. I rejoiced when in the 90s churches began to go green. My joy is now muted as the focus has been narrowed down to Divestment and “clean” energy, as if any energy is clean.

Before 1990 the environment simply did not figure. Now it is foremost and many green christians are pushing for divestment from fossil fuels and are strongly opposed to fracking, so that the only thing that matters is fighting Climate Change, and that from an extreme perspective. Ware wrote favorably of McKibben, who has pushed for Divestment and anti-fracking for many years, but his enthusiasm is not tempered with accuracy or realism. Renewable energy makes up less than 10 per cent of total energy usage today and thus fossil fuels and nuclear must be used to make up the deficit and both will continue to be used for at least half a century. At best Divestment is simply virtue signalling. Apart from ideological greens, all informed commentators on energy argue that fossil fuels, preferably gas (thus fracking) must be used in the greenest way possible. This includes gurus those like Ware look to.  Thus we should read  the late Sir David Mackay, Dieter Helm, Lord Deben/John Gummer, Mark Lynas, the late Stephen Tindale (formerly of Greenpeace) and others. All accept the pressing issue of Climate Change, but differ on how it needs to be tackled. However the silent majority in the churches seem to be letting this happen, though many do not buy into this strong green agenda.

The result of the single-minded focus on Climate Change means that other issues are almost ignored (unless they can be blamed on Climate Change. In fact to say it is caused by Climate Change is often seen as a full explanation!).

Other issues in the environment are manifold.

Apart from blaming flooding on Climate Change, very little is said on reducing flooding, whether tree planting, peat restoration, or minor modifications in towns e.g. criticising hard surfacing front gardens.

My own diocesan environment group seems to ignore these but have been very forward on fracking, producing three (inaccurate) papers on the subject.

It would not be unfair to say  that  Christian Aid et al adopt much of “left-wing Junk science” and are not only anti-fracking but also anti-GMO, though they are more more muted than they were. Consider this statement;

Doubt about GM’s ability to
increase yields is not the only worry
about its use. The IAASTD warned
that GMOs in the human foodsupply
chain in the form of animal p93
feed ‘might threaten human health’.
GM’s potential environmental
impact is also a cause for concern,
with the evidence again patchy. p93-4

http://www.christianaid.org.uk/images/hungry-for-justice.pdf

It is sad for an august organisation siding with negative critiques of GMO. Here is a critique of Christian Aid going back to 2003 http://www.agbioworld.org/biotech-info/articles/biotech-art/christian_aid.html

More recently it has taken to opposing fracking.   http://www.christianaid.org.uk/ActNow/blog/2013/scc-fracking-action-drilling-fossil-fuels.aspx

and

http://www.christianaid.org.uk/Images/The-Big-Shift-QandA-august-2015.pdf

Does Christian Aid support fracking?
Christian Aid opposes fracking because shale gas is a fossil fuel and will therefore
exacerbate global climate change. Research conducted by the International Energy Agency shows that, whilst gas is a lower carbon fossil fuel than coal, exploiting the world’s reserves of unconventional gas, such as shale gas, could lead to a global temperature rise of 3.5°C.
This is far higher than the 2° rise that the UK and other developed countries has said is necessary to avoid dangerous climate change.Investing in shale gas exploration could also reduce the finance available to invest in renewable energy.

 

This statement completely ignores the difference between fossil fuels; Coal is the worst with the highest CO2 emissions (and other nasties, mostly particulates) ; oil is better  and as we now know petrol is better than diesel. Gas is the cleanest with the least CO2 emissions. (Of course we are told “fracked gas is worse than coal”, but that  only considers the papers by Robert Howarth which are contradicted by the other 05% of papers on the subject.) I can’t comment on his reference to the IEA as he gives no detailed reference. I suggest the operative word is “could”.

By making Divestment and the Big Switch the shibboleths to be a Green Christian, Joe Ware and others have introduced a new fundamentalism where Penal substitution and biblical inerrancy are replaced with Divestment and anti-fracking, and if you do not agree you are not welcome in this green fundamentalism. Sadly other  important green issues are often left to one side due to the adherence to a narrow agenda.

It is sad that Christian Aid is adopting such a narrow agenda as they will prevent many
countries from developing their own (allegedly dirty) energy supplies. Thus the potential
oil and gas in the Western Rift of Uganda could well make Uganda energy sufficient thus
limiting deforestation by replacing would burning with gas. If not exactly clean, it would
be cleaner. To me, having worked in that area as an exploration geologist (for metals)
that would be a great improvement reducing deforestation and smoky huts.
To follow Joe Ware will mean that we will give with one hand and take away with the
other. If this policy is applied throughout the world, many people will be denied access to
energy.
I hope we can follow wisdom and realism and give with both hands.

 

Here is Joe Ware’s article in the Church Times, interspersed with my comments.

Church and tree-huggers, unite!

11 AUGUST 2017

 

The frost between the Church and environmentalists is thawing, says Joe Ware

ALAMY

Protesting: church leaders on 5 December 2009, including the Archbishop of Canterbury at that time, Dr Rowan Williams, wear blue gloves as part of a wave of support at Stop Climate Chaos’s The Wave event, in London

TEN years ago — long before the historic UN Paris agreement on climate change (News, 14 December 2015), and a full year before Barack Obama became President of the United States — the UK’s Environment Agency asked 25 leading environmentalists which five things needed to happen.

Of the top 50 suggestions, second on the list, behind improving energy efficiency, was that religious leaders should make the environment a priority for their followers. In a review of the list, The Guardian’s Alison Benjamin was baffled by the part that these green visionaries saw faith as playing: “I fail to understand how religious leaders’ making the planet their priority will make a sufficient difference to warrant its ranking at two,” she wrote.

No doubt, Church Times readers are more aware that we in the UK live in an oddly secular bubble: for most people in the world, from Brazilian Roman Catholics to Bangladeshi Muslims, faith plays a key part in their lives.

What these environmental champions had identified was the frosty relationship between the environment movement and religion or, more specifically, the Church. The perceived divide between a gang of godless tree-huggers, on the one side, and an institution that cares only about saving souls at the expense of ecological destruction, on the other,

I would love to know when this frosty situation was. In the 70s and 80s few in the churches were bothered. The concern of many was not for the environment but for Race relations and apartheid and the problems of inner cities. This social gospel was at the heart of many Christians’ understanding of the gospel in practice. It was not tree-huggers vs soul savers.

 

caused a damaging impasse in which both creation care and evangelism suffer.

The good news is that this cold war is beginning to thaw.

This misses so many thing. Few before the mid-80s emphasised the environment and they were lone voices and often got nowhere.

In fact, both groups share much common ground, which has huge potential for the Kingdom of God. Like the arrival of Aslan in Narnia’s perpetual winter — the invention of a Christian nature-lover, C. S. Lewis — spring is coming.

 

THE divide between the Church and the environmental movement is a recent one. It arose in the 1970s through the influence of dispensationalist theology, which often taught that at Jesus’s return the earth would be burnt up, and was therefore dispensable,

This is baseless. Christians in the 70s were little concerned about the environment. Yes, some Evangelicals followed Lindsell The Late Great Planet Earth, but it had little or no effect in the wider church. The environment was largely ignored as the focus was on apartheid, Inner city etc.

 

despite the biblical mandate to care for creation and its inhabitants.

Most read Gen 1 vs22 as dominion (good or bad) rather than creation care. This biblical mandate (however interpreted) only came to the fore in about 1990

The dualist second-century heresy of Gnosticism also played a part. Although rejected by the Church, this unbiblical belief that physical matter is evil and only the spiritual is important remains influential, and implies a disregard of the natural world.

This is very sweeping and  was never held by Christians

What is often forgotten is that the modern environmental movement owes its history to Christians.

There was a broad moving towards environmentalism in the 19th century and not only among Christians. One such was Darwin.

The Scottish Presbyterian John Muir, who had memorised the New Testament by the age of 11, established the world’s first National Park in Yosemite, California.

 

John Muir was a great pioneer but reading his biography scarcely shows that Christianity figured large for him as he was more in awe of nature than God.

It was Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley, with Octavia Hill, a devout churchgoer, and Sir Robert Hunter, a broad-church Anglican, who founded the Nation­al Trust in 1895 to con­serve the Lake Dis­trict. As the environ­mental theologian Pro­fes­sor Mi­­chael North­­cott commented, it wasn’t so­­cialists or tree-huggers who started that: it was Anglicans.

This is just picking out two people. There were more and part was the general rejection of killing for collection. An example was Charles Darwin and part may be a realsiation that some species were getting rarer. One forbear was the Rev F O Morris, an ardent anti-evolutionists who founded the Society for the Protection of Birds , which got its Royal Charter in 1904. Northcott’s assertion is dubious.

In fact, Christians and secular environmentalists have a similar world-view.

This is a very limited perspective and makes no mention of God or Jesus Christ.

They both believe that our pristine planetary home has been spoiled by human selfishness (and they are both criticised for being preachy and using guilt to shame people into action).

 

How many believe the earth was never pristine, whatever that means? Many today hold that humans are spoiling the earth, but that is often realism not some starry-eyed departure from a pristine condition.

 

Christians seeking to share the gospel will find that any­one angered by environmental destruction is al­­ready cognisant of human sinfulness and the need for restored rela­tionships throughout creation. A Christianity that empha­sises care for creation will get a ready hearing. As the late evangelist Rob Frost put it: “When Christians take the earth seriously, people take the gospel seriously.”

 

THE campaigners who spoke to the Environment Agency in 2007 effect­ively admitted that they needed help from the Church. The good news is that the Church is responding.

This assumes that these are these are the most important environmental responses. As it is, they focus only on divestment and the big Switch

 

In managing their funds, host of de­­nom­ina­­tions and Christian organ­isa­tions have disinvested from fossil fuels, a movement led by the Methodist campaigner Bill McKibben of 350.org (Interview, 25 October 2013).

It would be more accurate to say some. This is simply assuming that all Christians should follow the lead of McKibbin. Perhaps we should be aware that many of his claims are more emotive than factual.

Thousands of churches in the UK have also switched to 100 per cent renewable electricity through the Big Church Switch scheme, under which more than £1 million in electricity shifted away from fossil fuels (News, 2 September 2016Comment, 15 April 2016).

Is the Big Switch a good idea? It depends on the supposed distinction of clean and dirty erenrgy and makes no distinction between coal (dirty), oil (cleaner) and gas (cleanest fossil fuel) and the fact that “clean” energies aint clean. further it ignores the inaccurate sales talk of some firms eg Ecotricity who blythely claim that they can provide all the gas the UK needs from grass grown for biodigesters. Most experts reckon that biogas like this will top out at 10% – unless we put all National Parks down to grass :). £1million in electricity is minimal as it represents less than 2000 households. What must be asked is whether it is possible to move ALL customers over to renewables. The answer is simply NO, as Sir david Mackay argued in No Hot Air, and will remain NO until at least to the end of century. At best this is virtue signalling and little more than kidding oneself.

 

And, of course, Pope Francis released his encyclical Laudato Si’, which put care for our common home at the heart of RC teaching, and ignited a wave of interest in climate change before the signing of the Paris Agreement in 2015 (News, 26 June 2015). After President Trump’s decision to withdraw from this agreement, a stand by the Church has never been more needed.

The Church has a crucial part to play in helping to accelerate the world’s much-needed low-carbon transition. If it can pull it off, and unite all those that care for God’s creation, then both heaven and earth will be able to rejoice.

The implication is that those who do not accept his arguments, which are shaky to say the least, do not care for God’s creation. That is unjust in the extreme and rather cultic in the way it excludes those Christians who do not agree. It is simply a Green Fundamentalism. Rather than harnessing the whole church’s resources this is simply dividing Christians and will result in less being done.

Joe Ware is a journalist and writer at Christian Aid. He is on Twitter at @wareisjoe.

The Church Times Green Church Awards – Buildings

Assam Earthquake 15th August 1950

As we mark the 70th anniversary of India and Pakistan, we would also remember that the Assamese did not have a good day on the 15th August.

During the night a massive Mag 8.6 earthquake struck the area, with its epicentre just inside Tibet.That makes it far bigger than the Mag 7.8 in Nepal in 2015. However the damage or loss of life, though considerable, were far less as the area was less densely populated.

My own interest is that we were living in Jorhat on the tea plantations of Assam at the time and the quake became part of family history. We lived in a bungalow, which was built on stilts for protection against earthquakes and had about ten servants as was the norm.

So what happened?

The bungalow on stilts began to sway. Wardrobes fell over, but didn’t hit anyone.

The car, an american Studebaker, rolled out off the garage onto the lawn.

My parents took my brother and I to spend the night in the car.

In Jorhat there was much damage, but also poetic justice. There were acute food shortages and grain sellers kept their grain hoping to get higher prices. However the quake collapsed many of the warehouses and then the price dropped. Locals imply went in and took what they wanted.

The other personal detail concerns a friend of my parents, Frank Kingdom Ward, a botanist and plant-collector. He was known to be in the vicinity of the epicentre and was actually sleeping on top of it. nothing was heard of him for three months when he re-appeared. On 16th August he had intended to botanise in a Himalayan valley, but that was partly filled in with landslides. He slowly made his way out and returned to safety.

For further details read https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1950_Assam%E2%80%93Tibet_earthquake

Not surprisingly that is the biggest quake I’ve been in. When I was working at Kilembe mines as a geologist in the Ruwenzori Mountains of the Western Rift Valley smaller quakes were common. we often had Mag 3 to 5 quakes and as they did no damage we almost ignored. The most memorable one was during a church service at All Saints Church, Kilembe. Halfway through a hymn a quake struck and the whole church (wooden) shook violently. The organist missed a note and carried on. Nobody mentioned afterwards.

Two years earlier a Mag 6.5 hit the northern Ruwenzori and a dozen were killed, including the son of a vicar Rev Mikairi Nturanke, who I later knew well and went to a harvest service in his church. I preached my first sermon there!

Since then I’ve felt a few quakes in Britain but none more than 5.  the biggest caused a little damage but no injuries.

Living in Lancashire now, we often have unfelt Mag2s and occasionally a bit more but I have never felt any.

This biggest were those of Preece Hall fracking in 2011 being up to Mag 1.5 and Mag 2.3 . They were hardly felt and did no damage , despite dubious claims. The biggest damage was to the minds of certain people who read about them later and wrote creatively about them.

 

Many don’t grasp the Magnitude scale. I am rather simplifying and seismologists might like greater precision, but this gives the picture.

From this you will see that the fracking quakes of Lancashire were no more than lightning bolt, that the Mag 8.6 in Assam  was far greater than the explosion of Mt St Helens and about the same as Krakatoa.

Even the quakes, due to injection into wells,  of Oklahoma which are mostly about 3 to 4 are trivial compare to those of the 2004 tsunami, Nepal 2015 and Assam 1950

 

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How Organic Food is a contrick

A concept used by some for ideal food is LOAF i.e. Local,. Organic ,Animal friendly and Fair Trade.  Organic becomes contentious and this blog of David Zaruk explains why. (I did not write it but like it)

How Organic is a marketing concept

Rickmonger is Dr David Zaruk a prof at a Belgian Univ  https://risk-monger.com/about-2/

https://risk-monger.com/2017/08/04/how-organic-is-a-marketing-concept/

For almost two decades, the Risk-Monger and others have held the belief that scientific facts, data and evidence were sufficient for rational decision-making. In the case of the rise in public demand for organic food, he was foolishly wrong and quite tragically Stupid. Facts don’t matter in our decision-making process (although we all agree they should), emotions do. And when we come to emotions, we are in the domain of marketing, not scientific facts.

Using scientific data to address the emotional messages crafted by the marketing geniuses from the organic lobby is like bringing a knife to a gun-fight. The organic lobby has slaughtered science and common sense on agri-tech with their marketing machine, expensive campaigns and networks of special interests filling the well-funded troughs with their brands, referral fees and sponsorship deals.

Definition note. I use the term: “organic industry lobby” to include interest groups dictating and defining organic. Lobby groups like IFOAM and OCA (which funds USRTK and many anti-industry campaigners), NGOs like PAN, FoE or CFS, Internet generators like SumOfUs, label bodies like Non-GMO Project, Trojan Horse organisations like Moms Across America or GM Watch, funding foundations like Rodale or Cliff Family, internet gurus, activist scientists, retailers and organic brands (most usually led by outspoken “philanthropists”). Often I hear organic farmers and advocates correct me that these groups do not represent “organic”, but rarely do they stand up and speak out against their lobby’s unethical marketing practices.

This week I released a summer series of memes on twitter to illustrate how the organic industry is built on a number of basic marketing concepts. People on social media often talk about “organic” merely being a marketing label, but I have never read an analysis of which marketing tools they use. These six concepts are by no means the only tools used by organic industry marketing experts, but they are standard tools taught in schools. As you read through the sections, ask yourself if there is anything to organic food other than a series of slick marketing tricks. I asked myself that and have drawn a blank.

As you read through the sections, ask yourself if there is anything to organic food other than a series of slick marketing tricks.

1 fear1. Marketers use fear to sell

Hands up: Who wants to eat toxic chemicals?

Most people will spend more on organic food to avoid pesticides or chemicals. A UK survey stated that 95% of consumers choose organic to avoid exposure to (conventional) pesticides. This was the motive behind the Swedish retailer, the Coop, with their chemical-free “Organic Effect” campaign (since ruled by a Swedish court to be false advertising forbidding the Coop to continue to make such claims). Marketers merely have to mutter: “chemicals in your body” and frightened consumers run to their wallets.

Marketing organic is overly built on fears and doomsday scenarios. In the last month, like most of the months before, we have been told the following:

  • that biodiversity and the agricultural system is on the verge of collapse,
  • that humanity will go extinct from pesticide influence on the endocrine system,
  • that autism will soon affect half of our children.

There is no reasonable evidence provided for any of these claims; the mass repetition on social media is justification enough. Other daily doses of fears on the threat from conventional farming include: bees, water, biodiversity, cancer, obesity … and, of course, climate change. Need I also add corporate domination of the food chain, particularly by a company that begins with an M (which apparently I troll for!)?

Few people ask whether organic (non-GM) farming actually is better for health, biodiversity, bees, pesticide reduction… Why? Well the scientists with the evidence are not marketing alternative products; the companies with the data have ethical codes of conduct that restrict them from openly assaulting competitors’ products; and people want to believe organic is better (a fear is only effective if there is an antidote). Whenever the Risk-Monger tries to show these marketing experts are full of shit, he gets a load dumped on him!

cachet2. Marketers create a false perception of  luxury

Whether it is a designer label, a technology trinket, a gourmet burger or a sleek logo, the marketing sweet spot has always been associating your brand or product with a perception of quality or luxury.

Organic food carries a cachet of being better: better taste, better nutrients, better quality, better for you, for the environment and for biodiversity. None of these perceptions are true by the way (see links) but this perception of being better implies that the consumer who buys organic is better. The price for organic food is mostly not justified (any more than an iPhone or Burberry trench coat price is justified), but is often a luxury levy for the organic label. Chains like Whole Foods do well with the increased margins, but their price gouging does hurt the overall image of organic food.

Organic’s marketing message is clear: conventional food is cheap, unhealthy and toxic. You and your family are worth more; the planet is worth more. The message is clear: organic is smug. It doesn’t help that the organic lobby has embraced elites and celebrities to speak on their behalf.

3 star power3. Get your product star-struck

Of course any luxury brand gets its cachet from the star power it generates. Marketers have known this simple equation since the early James Bond films. Not since the glory days of tobacco advertising has the marketing world seen anything like the golden carpet the organic lobby has laid out for celebrities having grown tired of remembering their lines. The rush for pixie dust has allowed B-listers like Paltrow, Alba, Cox and Hurley to profit handsomely from putting their names on organic operations.  It is a win-win. Today a celebrity needs a “cause”, and standing up for the organic lobby is righteous enough without the need to get your hands dirty. All it takes is a few lines in front of a camera!

We all aspire to be like the famous, to be “Like Mike”, and we are willing to pay for it. Given the number of small, emerging organic food brands, a simple endorsement from a celebrity is enough to bring a hitherto unknown brand into the mainstream with shelf-space. It is not uncommon for these small brands to pay celebrities in part-ownership of the companies: more product placements, more shareholder profits.

If you are a typical celebrity, with all the personal quirks, then promoting organic brands is a lot safer than identifying yourself with other environmental causes. You can still fly on private jets, check into rehab (Hey! That even offers more marketing opportunities with a new ‘detox’ line!) – hell, you can even wear fur! And once the organic lobby sniffs that a star may drift towards the foodie side, they handle all the coms … and they never impose ethical expectations or codes of conduct!

The organic lobby has also created their own home-grown star power (Vani, Dr Merc, Zen, Ranger Mike and the Avocado can move millions and product referral fees pay handsomely. Mamavation even organises an event called Shiftcon which helps emerging bloggers to network and find organic industry reps who will support them (a mutual “wellness” exchange!).

4 simple4. It’s all about feeling good

Consumption is based on our need to feel good about ourselves, and those choosing organic (more natural, fewer inputs) are told to feel wonderful about themselves. The organic lobby has presented an image of benign consumption with clear simple messages: Buy local, from small farmers, chemical-free, all-natural, less waste, sustainable …

Activists who engage with me on social media want to let me know how they are solving all of the world’s problems with simple solutions: organic roof gardens, getting homeless people to work in urban gardens, saving seeds, organic food banks, school lunch contributions, fighting industry domination … These are little solutions, however, to big problems. They are promoted with a religious zeal by opportunists who understand that complex debates have no marketing value. Of course we can feed the world with organic, we just need to stop food waste and build more roof gardens! Stupid Risk-Monger!!!

Scientists addressing these problems with agri-tech solutions are attacked as being the source of the problem. GMOs don’t work! Get industry out and let the little farmers feed the world. Stop pumping poisons into the soil and these farms will flourish. Stupid Risk-Monger!!!

Science looks at all possible solutions and decides on the best approach to take. If organic or agroecology provided a better solution, it will be accepted. Agroecology does not consider all solutions … only the organic ones (sorry, but in my books, that is the definition of a religion, not a science). That makes the message simple and clear – exactly what organic lobby marketers want. And if a pro-organic scientist cannot find the facts or data to back up what he wants to say, no problem. Just say: “I guess we just have to trust our intuition at times. I’ve met many people who say they just feel better eating organic foods — or foods that are sprayed less often.”

Science looks at all possible solutions and decides on the best approach to take. If organic or agroecology provided a better solution, it will be accepted. Agroecology does not consider all solutions … only the organic ones (sorry, but in my books, that is the definition of a religion, not a science).

5 narrative5. Follow the Cultural Narrative

Our cultural and social narratives define how we perceive the world, order the stories we tell and structure our values. Narratives don’t have to be true or factual but simply trusted (and trust is emotion-based). A dominant cultural narrative in many affluent countries is that products coming from nature are good (and that which is man-made is suspect). Recently this has led to a growing negative public perception of conventionally grown produce, biotechnology, chemicals, pharmaceuticals and vaccines. The more Western societies are relying on technological advances, the less consumers understand or trust them.

Marketers are not in the business of educating consumers with science and data. Their goal is to sell more and satisfy consumer wants. If the narrative defines these wants as being nature-based then the marketing gurus will put some ‘natural’ or ‘organic’ label on the product.

pinkunicornBrands do not have a moral imperative to do what is right; they have a fiduciary imperative to their shareholders to do what is profitable. Marketers simply take whatever narrative is widely accepted, and fashion a campaign around it. So if your society’s narrative convinces you that invisible pink unicorns grow organic salt, brand marketing experts will put a picture of a cute unicorn on the package. More than that, they will develop a religious fervour around unicorns to ensure you keep buying their salt.

Intensive marketing of products around an illogical narrative will reinforce it and insulate consumers from rational discourse. It took several generations to get mothers to return to breastfeeding and today the stigma still resonates. The more companies, brands and retailers promote high-margin organic food brands as attainable luxuries, the more the stigma of conventional farming will spread. I fear this marketing episode will take more than a generation to return the narrative to a rational balance, and with a growing global population, I am not sure the food chain can survive such a prolonged stretch of Stupid. Lives will be lost (… but not those involved in the market research studies!).

While the narrative shift towards organic and natural has created enormous marketing opportunities, without any scientific guidance, it has also led to significant societal risk. Some examples: Pepsi has started promoting soft-drinks with traditional (natural or real) sugars; Chipotle has grown beyond the capacity of a safe, organic supply chain. I cannot fathom the depth of depravity of snake-oil supplements salesmen like Joseph Mercola or Wayne Parent who invest heavily in spreading the narrative mischief that underlines their bottom line. The most blatant marketing offender though has been Cargill, who recognise that the anti-GMO science is wrong, but, with zero integrity, spot the market opportunity of the growing cultural narrative and are working with the activists to take over the organic supply chain.  Pepsi is not responsible for the rise in obesity levels (or the environmental damage of increased sugar cane production), nor is Chipotle responsible for growing public distrust in the food chain, and it seems Cargill will not be accountable for serious stresses in global food security and potential famines.

6 You Suck6. You Suck!

The key marketing trick is to convince the consumer that he or she sucks. Shame, (fear of) humiliation and peer inadequacy are key tricks for motivating consumption. If you don’t buy my expensive fashion label, use my high-end mobile phone, eat in this expensive gourmet hamburger joint or drive the right type of car, well, You Suck!

Nobody wants to be a bad parent, bad boyfriend, bad person so the solution is to buy an overpriced product, shop at the Organic Emporium, wear trendy clothes from Goop, get designer nappies from Honest … please spend all of your money to finally be someone. Otherwise, … You Suck! (Ironically, I developed this idea from an early piece from the head of Greenpeace America, Annie Leonard.)

Organic retailers like Whole Foods Market create an aspirational brand – a smug: “You’ve made it and can afford what is good for you and your family!”. A Belgian Bio-Planet supermarket (equivalent to Whole Foods in its elitist foodie pretentiousness) is on my running route, and each time I pass, I can’t help but count the number of Beemers and Mercs in the car-park (strangely, no bicycles). What sort of person who could afford a luxury lifestyle would not then pop a couple thousand extra a year for luxury food? Only one who sucks!

Mamavation and Moms Across America are the most unethical exploiters of this marketing trick, aiming at the marketer’s sweet spot: the guilt-prone mother. When Mamavation published its smug Top 10 Reasons to Feed Your Family Organic (let’s face it, only a bad mother would not!), I lost it and wrote my Top 20 reasons not to feed your family organic. I was not prepared for the positive reaction that blog received from people who were fed up with the condescending nature of these marketing experts.

What the organic lobby has done so brilliantly is turn the “You Suck!” nuclear option back on the brands and retailers themselves. Just Label It and USRTK tell brands that if they use GMOs or don’t put GMO-free on the label, then their consumer movement will reject the brand or company. Vani Hari, The Food-Babe, used “You Suck!” to cower chains like Subway and McDonald’s to fall in line to her organic simplicity. Recently, the Organic Consumer Association used their patsy in the New York Times to try to “greenmail” Ben & Jerry’s to go all organic. Until now, Unilever are resisting the “You Suck!” pressure tactics.

Even more interesting is how the organic lobby has made divisiveness core to their campaigns. Without any ethical codes of conduct, organic lobbyists are fighting dirty, attacking anyone who disagrees with them, labeling them Monsanto shills (the ultimate sucking!) and portraying conventional farmers as evil capitalists poisoning the planet. If you don’t farm organic, then You Suck! If you support science and agri-tech, then you’re a shill and … yes, … You Suck!

Apparently I suck so bad that quite regularly some pro-organic actor wishes me dead on twitter.  I suppose this blog isn’t going to make that go away.

I had mentioned at the start that there were other marketing tools that the organic lobby uses. For example, our yearning for the good ol’ days (nostalgia) is very effective. How often do you see superficial memes reminding us that all agriculture used to be organic? The organic farmer is often portrayed as an old, friendly man with a straw-hat (as opposed to the conventional farmer in a hazmat suit).
Every marketing textbook will tell you that sex sells and a goal in making your product attractive. Sex is used as a marketing tool by the organic lobby (but not as much as one would anticipate). Besides the obvious efforts of Vani Hari’s Food Babe character, Rodale and Cliff have been trying to show how an organic life leads to better sex.

The Risk-Monger has Hope

I know, I know, … “hope” is a pathetic straw clutched by losers still in the game … but I need something to fuel these lonely, late night writing sessions!

I cannot see any intrinsic value to promoting organic food (note this blog did not get into the negative consequences, of which there are many), which implies that the organic lobby has used superficial marketing tricks alone to grow their business. Ironically, this is good news long term (although history will judge the present period as pathetically stupid).

Building your house on the marketing concepts discussed above is not a sound business decision. While scientific facts, evidence and data are reliable for long-term planning, fear and emotion are not. People may wake up tomorrow and realise that the arguments and tricks these marketers built up are quite hollow, ethically-challenged or, simply put, scams. Consumers may see the elitist privilege behind the labels and look for other meaningful brand identification. Or the supply chain may struggle under the weight of such marketing success, leaving retailers and manufactures to race to find alternative marketing tools (remember “organic cotton”?).

The rise of Big Organic, its marketing muscle and its regulatory influence has been impressive. Social media in the Age of Stupid, combined with the affluence of western societies persuading people to fear commerce and industry, has allowed this new consumer sector to flourish. Such a tower built on sand can, however, collapse in a heart-beat … and then what?

In the autumn, I will publish a series of blogs providing an alternative to the mess these marketers have forced upon us. The solution will not be more science and facts however … but more clever marketing tricks.

Yes, indeed, The Risk-Monger sucks!

 

More on moneygrubbing by Friends of the Earth

Friends of the Earth are great at presenting emotional arguments for their various green concerns  – from Bees to Fracking.

Here Nick Grealy argues it is all a money-making ploy by FoE. (Yes, I nicked his blog, which though two years old is still relevant)

I cannot understand why any still support them

SHALE OPPONENTS: WE’RE ONLY IN IT FOR THE MONEY.

http://www.reimaginegas.com/?p=2470

mothers

I’ve always wondered why Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace are against shale gas, but I never thought them cynical. But recently, I’m starting to think that they, and many of the  householders they ally themselves with, aren’t interested in the big picture of climate change, but spare change. They could well be only in it for the money.

For example, Dr Paul Stevens of Chatham House, is often quoted approvingly by FoE, this being only one of several examples on the FoE website.

Exploitation of shale gas in the UK could have a major impact on the investment in renewable energy needed to decarbonize the energy sector. Energy expert Professor Paul Stevens of Chatham House has written that “There is a real fear among many analysts that shale gas may substitute not for coal but for renewables” and that “the anticipation of cheap natural gas could inhibit investment in renewables. But again, if the revolution fails to deliver a lot of cheap gas, by the time this is realized it could well be too late to revert to a solution to climate change based upon renewables”

Dr Stevens also appeared at the Canterbury Debate this year, mostly on the anti-side. He’s been quoted here over the years as the search button shows.  After all, he’s predicted doom and gloom about US shale for five years.  He hasn’t been right there obviously, but his way of thinking is very popular in the City of London for example. In a deferential society like the the UK,  only those with credentials can become experts.  Actually being right or wrong doesn’t come into it.

But on June 17 at the World National Oil Companies Congress,  I asked him while I was moderating the session on shale oil and gas worldwide, a little local question:  Why are FoE and Greenpeace so vocal in their opposition to UK shale?

No video exists, but Paul, with no prompting, and far less hesitation replied something like this:

 “After the financial crash, the FoE and Greenpeace lost, like everyone else, a lot of financial support and members. They use shale as a fundraising tool”

Me (somewhat incredulously):  “They’re only in this for the money?”

Stevens:  “Well, they’ve had a surge in membership since Balcombe in 2013”

The FoE don’t have any easily accessible membership numbers to see the trend but they do highlight this within their 2012/13 report.

18,000new supporters as a result of The Bee Cause campaign.

I recall a conversation I had with an FoE fundraiser (she admitted she was paid £6.80 an hour plus commission) in Covent Garden London earlier this year. She admitted that a lot of people complained about the fracking opposition, but during her training was told to divert those conversations to their bee campaign.

I’m happy to support the Bee campaign, but the FoE anti-fracking campaign is mentioned far more often by both them and the media.  Speaking of the media, Here’s an exchange between Roger Harrabin (Chief Environmental Correspondent of the BBC) and I earlier in June:

Roger

Considering the debate in the UK constantly talks about “unstudied”  “controversial” shale gas impact on water supplies, I’m at a loss to understand the editorial decisions as to why the end of a four year US EPA study of water in the US that found no big effect is not worthy of comment

Multiple other stories in US press, the FT has been the only one in Europe that’s covered the story.

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/05/us/epa-hydraulic-fracking-water-supply-contamination.html?_r=0

 

On 7 Jun 2015, at 15:51, Roger Harrabin – Internet wrote:

I have said virtually the same for the past six years Nick – so it’s not news to me

For others… it has been impossible to get stories on air recently cos of other major news

From: Nick Grealy

Date: Sunday, 7 June 2015 17:44

To: Roger Harrabin

Subject: Re: Fracking Has Not Had Big Effect on Water Supply, E.P.A. Says While Noting Risks – NYTimes.com

Well I’m hoping that this is a sign of the normalisation of “unconventional” shale,  it has rather slipped reassuringly off the radar of the national press.

But at the point of trying to get planning permission it is very hard to undo the damage of years of assertions about how shale is killing the water, when the biggest study ever done gets ignored. Shale opponents can cite a wall of assertions to their local councils and MPS. It would be nice if the refutation was included. Not including peer reviewed multi year studies, while anecdote and innuendo made every front page two years ago, and more importantly, lives on the internet forever. This makes enabling natural gas, and cutting carbon, that much more difficult.

Hope to hear nothing more about shale ever again from mainstream UK press, but doubt that I have…

Thanks anyway for the response Roger, much appreciated

All best

Nick

Finally:

Nick

It’s about house prices

It always is

At least shale unlike wind has not been flattened by the syndrome

There we have it. It’s down to money from the FoE and house prices according to the chief environmental correspondent of the BBC. And all this time I have been rather innocently trying  to point out that natural gas is a solution to the climate question. When it appears that isn’t the real issue after all.

Worth mentioning again, Norton Rose‘s report of last year, which saw a link between proximity and how likely people will sue:

While merely speculation, the rise in such litigation evidenced by the cases discussed may be attributed, at least in part, to increased drilling in proximity to populated areas and heightened media scrutiny of the process.

A discussion about Scottish land rights in the FT recently had a quote which transfers perfectly to Balcombe or Lancashire:

“In small communities, if you kick one person, 20 people start to limp,”

The difference between legitimate protestors and shake down artists, as we see from those in Lancashire who tried to get payouts from Cuadrilla for earthquake damages without ever providing even photos, may not be so far after all.

 

GMOS and science, money, and fake news

 

Some Greens have several shibboleths; usually  pro-organic, anti certain pesticides and glyphosphate and most certainly anti-GMO. (I forgot renewables and fracking)

To focus on GMOs many Green GMOs , like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth oppose them. As do the Green Party.

As a Christian I am concerned that they also are a shibboleth for Christian Greens and groups like Christian Aid. Eco-congregation encourage you to oppose, and as I don’t like people starving to death I don’t do Eco-congregation

GMO EU action

Typical Greenpeace fake news

GMOdeaths

Black humour on the lack of danger of GMOs

NonGMO salt

This sums it all up. But I take non-GMO salt with a pinch of salt.

 

Well, here is a good article on the subject, based on the film Food Evolution

Source: Food Evolution documentary looks at science, money, and fake news around GMOs | PLOS Synthetic Biology Community

Food Evolution aims to take a look at the science underlying the heated rhetoric of the GMO debate. Filmmaker Scott Hamilton Kennedy, narrator Neil deGrasse Tyson and on-camera experts walk through the major claims and key players. While the documentary tries to communicate the science, it also realizes that the GMO debate isn’t just about the science. It’s about financial interests, fear, and fake news.

Follow the money

The financial interests in GMOs, and GM foods in particular, are enormous. We’re talking about the food supply of billions of people and some of the biggest brand names in the world. On the GMO side sits one of the most hated brands in the world, Monsanto. Food Evolution talks about their history producing harmful pesticides like DDT and the infamous herbicide Agent Orange. Crowds of people rally against the company and at one point even singing “Monsanto is the devil” in a church choir style.

When the documentary looks beyond the United States, we see countries dealing with the fear of GMOs against the real threat of crop shortages. In Uganda, farmers watch as fields of banana trees are lost to the “Ebola of the banana” called banana wilt. We meet the scientist who has to explain how the new GM banana gets its banana wilt resistance from sweet pepper genes and how the government has to act to let the technology move forward. Then one of the farmers has to explain to her that others “think your work is against humanity”. This is the result of anti-GMO messaging being pushed across the globe.

There’s big money to be made from both sides of the GMO debate. Obviously companies like Monsanto have been derided for their profits while selling GM crops. but Food Evolution also gets into the financial incentives of the anti-GMO side. Companies like Whole Foods and Chipotle can build their brand as a healthy and all natural by demonizing the GMO products. Millions are spent on ad campaigns to make things sound healthier, even if there are no studies to back it up. Making GMO foods sound scary gives an advantage to the products with the no GMO sticker on them and more profits to places like Whole Foods.

Fear still wins a lot of arguments

The biggest tool that anti-GMO activists use is fear. Genetically modifying sounds like something from a poorly written supervillain. Inserting more uncertainty into the discussion helps bolster the argument for sticking with traditional agriculture. While scientists want to see multiple studies supporting a claim, activists interviewed in the film were more than willing to stake claims based on one study even if it’s later refuted. The argument goes that any chance that the study is right puts a risk on us. One speaker even instill the fear in parents of giving their children diseases by having fed them GMO or non-organic foods. No parent wants to feel that there’s any chance they may have given their child cancer.

Environmental activist Mark Lynas knows from experience that fear is a more effective tool than facts. He used to be an anti-GMO activist and is still active in raising awareness about threats from climate change. Upon researching the science he found the anti-GMO position on shaky ground and the climate change position with the scientific consensus. However, his tools for convincing people and motivating change remained largely the same.

“It’s much easier to scare people that it is to reassure them” ~Mark Lynas in Food Evolution

Arguments based on fear can sound convincing regardless of how sound the underlying facts are. Food Evolution pokes holes in many anti-GMO arguments but does find partial truths in some of their arguments. The trick is to take partial truths and uncertainty and dress them up as science. On the consumer end, it’s difficult to discern the validity of sources and scientific claims.

GMO science has its own fake news problem

Fake news knows more than most that fear is one of our most motivating factors. Fear sells because it drives ratings on TV and clicks online. Like fake news in other areas, the stories are driven by viral content regardless of its accuracy.

In the GMO debate there’s a narrative that genetically engineering crops brings threats that are totally non-existent in traditional breeding and farming. As anti-GMO activist Zen Honyecutt puts it, “Organic food is the way God made it”. These scenes with Honeycutt and other activists aren’t flattering when juxtaposed with the scientific evidence that humans have been changing crops since the dawn of agriculture. That doesn’t mean they’re not effective in clickbait headlines.

Some information can avoid being completely false while still being misleading. A major chunk of the film is devoted to the back and forth over the use of the herbicide glyphosate, commonly called Roundup. Plants engineered to be resistant to glyphosate–Roundup Ready crops–have lead to the increased use of  glyphosate since it now only kills weeds without harming the crop. This has lead to the increase in glyphosate in our food supply and environment. However, it’s significantly less toxic than the pesticide DDT or other herbicides. In fact, by some standards it’s rated less toxic than caffeine. The argument over GMOs and glyphosate usage hinges on what our alternative is. Are we willing or able to drastically reduce yields without an herbicide? Or do we go back to the more toxic versions? We rarely get to these questions as it’s much harder to settle a common understanding of the facts.

So what do we do now?

The film acknowledges that science and facts aren’t enough to change people’s minds. There are no clear answers here on how to convince the skeptical public. The scene at an Intelligence Squareddebate in which the GMO side wins shows that it may be possible to convince an audience of people with open minds, but it certainly doesn’t show you how to change the mind of those who have already dug in with a position. It might however give you some science-based answers to your GMO questions.

Food Evolution’s distribution is now being handled by Abramorama with a planned New York release of June 23 and select cities after that. See the trailer and more movie info at www.foodevolutionmovie.com.

Aaron Dy is PhD student in Biological Engineering at MIT.

Fracking doesn’t damage your health: an impartial study

Anyone who has heard of fracking will have heard of horror stories of ill-health caused by fracking, summed up by Dame Vivienne Westwood’s shocking doll, supposedly showing the effects of fracking on new-borns.

(NB This is NOT Westwood 🙂 )

frackedbaby

Or the scaremongering of Friends of the Earth, who could not prove their claims. Poor Bosworth got tied in knots on BBC TV.fracking-sand

 

and the grossly misleading signs outside Maple Farm at Cuadrilla’s site in Lancashire

dscf6015

Dishonest memes resulting from usual Guardian reporting

1655914_750161931739394_3445642341288021594_n

This nonsense

CaJVbzFWEAgmsif

or these two Nanas afraid of getting cancer

Frackingsmoking

This type of scaremongering is the staple of anti-frackers in Britain and America.

It comes out in the newsletter of the Chartered Inst of Environmental Health in this article by the recently arrested Gina Dowding

Green view: the 10 ways fracking ‘may harm your health’

Gina Dowding

 

http://www.ehn-online.com/news/article.aspx?id=13110

2

She includes this picture of close oil wells not realising that gas uses christmas trees not donkeys and wells are not closely packed. Tut tut.

10. Inadequate regulation

 

Her stuff on regulations seems to be nicked from Mike Hill

Perhaps most significantly Lancashire’s Health Impact Assessment report acknowledges that the current regulations in place in the UK which are there to protect the public’s health are inadequate to properly regulate the fracking industry. The report notes that the lack of public trust and confidence, is causing stress and anxiety from uncertainty, that could lead to poor mental wellbeing. At the very least the government should heed calls from public health bodies, campaigners and the public alike that industry specific regulation must be introduced before fracking takes hold in the UK.

and so this report from the USA helps to counteract these silly myths.

It points out how weak the actual claims are, and that the increased health risks are either non-existent or minimal.

Quite a few of these pee(r) reviewed papers by academics have had to be withdrawn.

This does science no good at all.

If you want a longer report here is one; http://eidhealth.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/Positive-Health-Compendium.pdf

So here we go.

 

 

Environmental Research Group Report Exposes Flaws Of Fracking Health Studies

BY SETH WHITEHEAD JULY 3, 2017

http://eidhealth.org/environmental-research-group-report-exposes-flaws-of-fracking-health-studies/

Ever notice how fracking opponents tend to focus on quantity rather than quality when touting studies claiming shale development harms public health? The following 2015 comments by Food & Water Watch’s Emily Wurth are just one example,

“In 2014 alone there were 154 peer-reviewed studies that came out on the impacts of shale gas development, many of which found serious concerns. So that’s about three studies a week. I mean, those of us who work on this issue thought to ourselves, wow, it seems like there’s a new study on the problems of fracking every other day.”

A comprehensive report released earlier this month by environmental research group Resources for the Future (RFF) — certainly no shill for oil and gas — reveals why anti-fracking activists are focusing on quantity rather than quality. RFF reviewed 32 of the more prominent shale-focused studies on birth outcomes, cancers, asthma, and other health effects, including migraines and hospitalization.

Cumulatively, none of those major categories of studies were deemed “high quality,” while studies on birth defects, hospitalizations and multiple symptoms were cumulatively deemed to be of “low quality,” as the following matrix from the report shows.

 

 

Report authors Alan J. Krupnick and Isabel Echarte of RFF were rather blunt in their critiques of the shale-focused health studies they evaluated. As EID has pointed out many times before, a vast majority of studies released linking fracking to adverse health outcomes fail to prove causation, and the RFF report also notes this prevalent, glaring flaw,

“Overall, we find that the literature does not provide strong evidence regarding specific health impacts and is largely unable to establish mechanisms for any potential health effects.”

“Due to the nature of the data and research methodologies, the studies are unable to assess the mechanisms of any health impacts (i.e., whether a certain impact is caused by air pollution, stress, water pollution, or another burden). Even where good evidence is offered for a link between unconventional oil and gas development and health, the causal factor(s) driving this association are unclear.”

Krupnick and Echarte took particular issue with epidemiological studies, which represented a vast majority of the literature reviewed, including several studies EID has debunked (more on those in a bit). Epidemiological studies are inherently limited in that they can only determine associations rather than proof of causation. Notably, such studies have been employed prominently since a 2012 activist memo was released detailing a strategy to use scientific research to drive opposition to fracking and expand regulations. And although such studies have proven to be an ideal vehicle to generate alarmist headlines despite the continued trend of failing to prove causation, RFF notes that the epidemiological fracking health studies “all had shortcomings that were most often significant,” adding:

“These studies furthermore reported contradictory results for each impact. Some studies, for example, found increases in preterm birth, while others found decreases or no association. As is illustrated by the Community Risk-Benefit Matrix, all impacts had inconsistent findings across the literature for that outcome. Where the results of these studies did not contradict each other, the impact was only analyzed by a single study.”

Though the report does not directly identify exactly which studies it categorized as being “lower quality” — which is defines as having “multiple, serious flaws” that invalidate its conclusions entirely — it is not difficult to glean which studies are considered “lower quality” by RFF, based on the following comments made about the following epidemiological studies EID has debunked.

• Casey et al. (2016). Authored by researchers affiliated with the Post Carbon Institute, this study, attempted to link fracking to premature births in Pennsylvania. EID pointed out soon after the study was released that its data not only failed to establish such a link, the researchers failed to use available baseline data, take measurements and didn’t factor in genetics and socioeconomic factors. The study also drew sharp criticism from Dr. Tony Cox, a clinical professor of biostatistics and informatics at the University of Colorado-Boulder. RFF notes many of the flaws flagged by Cox and EID in its report:

RFF: “The authors found no correlation of unconventional natural gas activity with Apgar score, SGA or term birth weight. Cox (2016) critiques the study, primarily on the issue of using proxies to estimate exposure (an issue present in most studies). The problem with the methodology of the study is that Casey et al. (2016) have addressed only for mothers in 2010 and 2013 yet analyze 2009 through 2013. Between those two years, almost 80 percent had the same address, with 6 percent moving within 1,500 meters (m) and another 10 percent moving 1,500 m to 16 km from their original addresses. This discrepancy has the potential to introduce some error into the estimates — particularly those from 2009.”

• Jamielita et al. (2015). This University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University study asserts correlation between natural gas development and an increase in hospitalizations based on zip codes in three Pennsylvania counties: Bradford, Susquehanna, and Wayne. But among a myriad of flaws highlighted by EID — including the fact that the county with the highest number of wells (Bradford) actually had the lowest overall inpatient occurrences, are two reoccurring themes repeatedly flagged by RFF in its report: failure to prove causation and failure to determine other contributing factors.

RFF“This issue with this analysis — simply comparing zip codes with and without wells — is that a number of unobservable differences may bias the results, meaning zip codes that have drilling might be different than zip codes that do not have drilling in a way that affects the prevalence of inpatient cardiology or neurology rates. Additionally, this level of analysis likely is not able to address within-zip code variation in exposure.”

• Hill (2013a, 2013b) Despite the fact that these papers by then-Cornell doctoral candidate Elaine Hill purporting that there is a “causal” relationship between natural gas development and low birth rates, hadn’t (and apparently still haven’t) been subject to peer review, they were used to justify New York’s fracking ban. Outside experts interviewed by the New York Times said the paper was “devoid of meaningful data” and a “badly suspect piece of work,” and the RFF report also noted that criticism:

RFF: “[T]hese working papers have received critical reviews and are not yet published in peer-reviewed journals… The most important is that they relied on the assumption that mothers who live near a permitted well and mothers who live near a drilled or producing well have similar characteristics — that their socioeconomic characteristics, which may also influence birth outcomes, do not change between the time a well is permitted and when that well begins producing… This is an important issue, as mothers who are more well-off may move away from oil and gas development, or mothers who are less well-off may take advantage of decreased home prices.

• McKenzie et al. (2014) This study, which suggests a link between fracking and birth defects, was authored by a team of researchers from the Colorado School of Public Health (CSPH) led by Lisa McKenzie. The researchers were actually disavowedby the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), which provided the state birth records used for the paper. It was so poorly researched, and its findings were so alarmist, that the CDPHE demanded the inclusion of a disclaimer in the paper itself: “CDPHE specifically disclaims responsibility for any analyses, interpretations, or conclusions.” Considering it is the only birth defects study mentioned in the RFF report, it is clear this study alone led to RFF’s “lower quality” label for such studies, and the report notes further criticism of the 2014 paper:

RFF: “Fedak et al. (2014), in a published critique of the study, also took issue with the study’s hypothesis that benzene is the mechanism through which the defects occur, as the study provides little evidence to support this claim.”

• McKenzie et al. (2017) This study, claiming to find an association between oil and gas development and childhood cancer, was immediately disavowed by the Colorado Department of Public Health (CDPHE) for a myriad of reasons, including its small sample size, failure to measure individual exposure and failure to address additional or alternate risk factors. The RFF report kept its criticism of this universally panned study short, but to the point:

RFF: “There are many issues that might bias the results of the study.”

• Rasmussen et al. (2016) This well known study, the second of a series of three Johns Hopkins University study spearheaded by researchers affiliated with the Post Carbon Institute, claimed to establish a link between proximity to natural gas development and asthma flare-ups. EID exposed several of this study’s flaws, most notably the all-too-common theme of lack of proof of causation and other factors among the population that could contribute to asthma exacerbations. RFF notes the latter flaw in its report:

RFF: “[T]he study, however, did not report the characteristics of populations within each exposure quartile, and it is therefore difficult to assess whether the results are credible.”

• Stacy et al. (2015). This study, which was funded by the anti-fracking Heinz-Endowment and published in a journal that does not require peer-review, claimed to find a link between fracking and low birth weights. The study (as usual) failed to prove causation and included contradictory data. None of the average birthweights found were actually considered “low” by the medical definition of the term, and all regions studied had average birthweights above the national average. Furthermore, the study’s data actually showed that the average birth weight in study area farthest away from shale gas wells was 3,343.9 grams, much lower than those in the second region (3,370.4) and third region (3,345.4), which were closer to shale gas wells. RFF noted the latter in its report:

RFF: “The study did not find any significant effects of well density on premature births, except for a higher average birth weight and a lower share of premature infants born to mothers living in the second exposure quartile — an odd result. The study also uses a 10-mile radius, larger than many other studies for analysis, which makes it difficult to control for variation within that area of interest. This large radius means the results could reflect differences in health outcomes due to socioeconomic status, for example, rather than proximity to natural gas development.”

• Tustin et al. (2017). The third in a series of Johns Hopkins University studies led by a researcher who is a fellow at the Post Carbon Institute, this study trumpeted a link between migraine headaches, chronic nasal and sinus symptoms and severe fatigue. But as the RFF report notes, one of its numerous flaws was failing to take into account the myriad of factors that can contribute to these ailments and — once again — failure to even remotely prove causation.

RFF: “Each of these symptoms can be caused by multiple factors, such as stress, sleep deprivation, noise, odors, hormonal issues, toxins, allergens, and more. Though too much weight should not be placed on the results, because of the aforementioned issues with bias in self-reporting symptoms and with exposure proxies, it is suggestive of a relationship between natural gas activity and health effects. Like many of the studies discussed in this section, however, the mechanism for such effects is not able to be ascertained.”

Conclusion

This RFF report confirms the prevailing flaws of fracking health studies EID has been highlighting for years: lack of proof of causation, contradictory findings, faulty methodology and classic “more studies needed” mantra.

And the fact remains that fracking opponents’ preferred scientific study of choice — epidemiological studies — aren’t designed to prove causation in the first place, which means we can expect more of the same going forward, so long as the media continues to give the movement the alarmist headlines it truly desires.

 

 

Backlash to flawed ‘landmark’ European neonicotinoid study: Inconclusive data suggest both health benefits and harm

Over recent years we have heard much on the decline of bees and that the main cause is neonicotinoid pesticides.  Green groups like Friends of the Earth have turn it into A money-making campaign,  sorry, I mean a matter of serious concern. As I don’t trust Fiends of the Earth on other matters I suspected that this claim was wrong. My observations in my garden indicate that bees of all sorts are thriving.

(However, we need to increase all insect loving plants as a matter of course, and I’ve done my bit in my garden.)

I follow Genetic Literacy and find their arguments convincing – but I am not a biologist. When this came out I was concerned as it was by biologists form good British universities, so I checked out and found that it is a weak paper.

What worries me is that some environmentally concerned scientists are not critical enough in their studies and produce weak papers with unsupported conclusions. This happens frequently over aspects of fracking e.g. health, methane emissions, pollution etc. Several papers have been retracted.

So here is a worrying read, but please go and plant a hebe or buddleia after you have read it

I hope Genetic Literacy don’t mind me re-blogging it, but their stuff is worth following

 

Upside down news: A backlash by independent scientists has begun to emerge, challenging sensational accounts of a ‘landmark’ European field study of bees and neonics that the study authors claim ‘proves’ neonics are a key driver of bee health problems.

Source: Backlash to flawed ‘landmark’ European neonicotinoid study: Inconclusive data suggest both health benefits and harm