Global Warming Follies

More junk science.

Posted in Follies by tjgavin on March 9, 2008

Imagine that a country imposed a hardship on its people based on junk science. Couldn’t happen right? In most scientific areas like medicine, food safety, drinking water, etc. you’d be right. But that’s definitely NOT true when it comes to environmental matters. In England Gordon Brown is pushing for the elimination of plastic bags based largely on the carnage they cause to marine life. One problem though…

Scientists and environmentalists have attacked a global campaign to ban plastic bags which they say is based on flawed science and exaggerated claims.

The widely stated accusation that the bags kill 100,000 animals and a million seabirds every year are false, experts have told The Times. They pose only a minimal threat to most marine species, including seals, whales, dolphins and seabirds.

Gordon Brown announced last month that he would force supermarkets to charge for the bags, saying that they were “one of the most visible symbols of environmental waste”. Retailers and some pressure groups, including the Campaign to Protect Rural England, threw their support behind him. But scientists, politicians and marine experts attacked the Government for joining a “bandwagon” based on poor science.

The problem came about as a result of a blunder by an Australian study misquoting an earlier Canadian study

The central claim of campaigners is that the bags kill more than 100,000 marine mammals and one million seabirds every year. However, this figure is based on a misinterpretation of a 1987 Canadian study in Newfoundland, which found that, between 1981 and 1984, more than 100,000 marine mammals, including birds, were killed by discarded nets. The Canadian study did not mention plastic bags.

Fifteen years later in 2002, when the Australian Government commissioned a report into the effects of plastic bags, its authors misquoted the Newfoundland study, mistakenly attributing the deaths to “plastic bags”.

The figure was latched on to by conservationists as proof that the bags were killers.

So why do you think the “conservationists” didn’t bother to check the quoted Canadian study to get the full story? And why did their campaign play so well among the public. I like Lord Tavere’s explanation.

Lord Taverne, the chairman of Sense about Science, said: “The Government is irresponsible to jump on a bandwagon that has no base in scientific evidence. This is one of many examples where you get bad science leading to bad decisions which are counter-productive. Attacking plastic bags makes people feel good but it doesn’t achieve anything.”

The “makes people feel good” explanation seems to apply to a lot of environmental policy making these days.



2 Responses to 'More junk science.'

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  1. Tina Russell said,

    I found your blog on google and read a few of your other posts. I just added you to my Google News Reader. Keep up the good work. Look forward to reading more from you in the future.

    Tina Russell

  2. Scumop said,

    Around here, the Big Push to ban plastic grocery bags is that they can reduce the plastic bags that are “blowing around all over the place” (because the landfill won’t put up a wind fence to catch them).

    Since just about everybody uses those plastic bags for garbage, a ban means that they will be buying and using the much heavier Kitchen Catchers instead. One result of the ban is if you buy stock in a plastics company that makes kitchen garbage bags, the stock will go up.

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