In the wake of the Indian Ocean tsunami, some were horrified to read that environmentalists had tried to capitalize on the tragedy to score points on the global warming issue. Problem was, the reports were based on mischaracterization â€“ and in some cases outright misrepresentation â€“ of what environmentalists had actually said.
In the wake of the Indian Ocean tsunami, some were horrified to read that environmentalists had tried to capitalize on the tragedy to score points on the global warming issue. Problem was, the reports were based on mischaracterization ”“ and in some cases outright misrepresentation ”“ of what environmentalists had actually said. In one such hit piece Steven Milloy quoted Friends of the Earth UK's Tony Juniper as saying "Here again are yet more events in the real world that are consistent with climate change predictions." But Juniper was actually talking about weather-related events in a statement written before the tsunami occurred. No environmentalist blamed the tsunami on climate change.
This is not the only example of anti-environmentalists willfully misrepresenting facts about environmental organizations. Take these examples involving Earth Island Institute. During the 2004 election campaign, stories appeared on right-wing websites criticizing Teresa Heinz Kerry for her alleged support of "radical groups," claiming that she was a long-term Earth Island supporter. (Radical Earth Island may be, but we've never received a cent from Heinz Kerry.) In a recent story just this month that won wide distribution, author Paul Driessen claims "The Earth Island Institute longs for the day when Africa’s poor made clothing for their neighbors 'on foot-pedal-powered sewing machines,' and says 'once they get electricity, they spend too much time watching television and listening to the radio.'” (Earth Island longs for no such thing, and Driessen is misrepresenting a former Earth Island staff member who spoke supporting sustainable development in Africa.)
Such stories are silly. More serious is the kind of misrepresentation to be found in Michael Crichton's recent writing, especially the allegedly factual article "Let's Stop Scaring Ourselves," released to accompany the publication of his admittedly non-factual novel, "State of Fear." In the article, Crichton conflated some admitted bad science (the alleged danger from electromagnetic fields, long since debunked) with utter untruths (alleging that Y2K was never a real problem, despite the fact that Y2K went smoothly only because thousands of programmers did heroic and unsung work) and the usual mischaracterizations of climate-change science.
Common to these examples is the notion that environmentalists exaggerate threats to the planet and human health in order to boost their prestige and fundraising. This is ironic, given that the most rabid anti-environmentalists stand to rake in short-term profit if environmental protection laws are gutted. A successful political campaigner often attributes his weaknesses to his opponent. The next time you hear environmentalists slammed for misrepresenting facts, think carefully about who's doing the talking.
Environmental writer Chris Clarke is Publications Director at Earth Island Institute. He has written extensively on politics and the natural world. His most recent writings are available at his website (http://www.faultline.org/place/pinolecreek). He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Source: An ENN Commentary