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The Forest for the Trees
Natural Resources Canada or the NRDC: Whom should you trust?
A recent anti-forestry campaign by the New York City based Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) was based on a report raising doubts on the role of managed Canadian forests as carbon sinks. They directly contradicted data from a government agency, Natural Resources Canada (NRCan). The activist group claims that managed forests do not remove carbon from the atmosphere but to the contrary, emit CO2 at a higher rate. Natural Resources Canada stand by their research methods and their scientific data.
So whom should we believe? The Canadian government, that uses science-based techniques developed over decades of research in the field and rich sources of recorded data … or some group of environmental lawyers in a mid-town Manhattan office tower driven by a dogmatic belief that any human management of natural resources must be stopped?
Well, if you are a journalist like Barry Saxifrage at the foundation-funded environmentalist newsgroup, Canada’s National Observer, or David Wallace-Wells at the New York Times, you side with your activist friends with the shocking alarmism and the dramatic graphs. How else can you be allowed to make claims like CO2 emissions literally “pouring out of forests”?
Their shambolic reporting has already been covered in The Firebreak in a recent breakdown by Yaël Ossowski. But something else needs to be considered here. For the activist groups, it is as if the regulators, their research methods and the decades of quality field data did not exist.
How can activist groups continue to be allowed to undermine public trust in government research, scientists and risk management with emotional claims that are scientifically unfounded? Saxifrage did not interview or quote any spokespeople from the Canadian government and chose to stick to the NRDC song sheet rather than use any official government data.
Over the last two decades, groups like the NRDC have succeeded in destroying trust in industry research, largely excluding industry actors and their data from the policy process. Now they seem to be going after the policymakers and excluding them from the very same policy process.
The NRDC data, published to justify their campaign objectives (to stop forest management), does not stand up to government data. So their strategy is simply to ignore it, writing decades of regulatory data off as corrupted research. The scientific method applied by government research agencies, they believe, does not matter because everyone knows that nobody can trust the government.
Five years ago, the strategy was to argue how we cannot trust regulators because they have all been paid off by industry. Monsanto, they claimed, paid off every single government official in the EPA in order to authorize glyphosate. In the Netflix fictional drama, Painkiller, the hesitating FDA official was bought by Purdue Pharma (as was every government official who dared speak out about the risks from opioids). So the argument, pre-pandemic, was that by working with corrupt industries, governments, by association, were corrupt.
Today there is no longer any need to implant industry as the source of the rot threatening human health and the environment. Now the rot is emanating directly from government scientists who must now be excluded. I recently attended a Pesticide Action Network #StopGlyphosate event in the European Parliament. In previous editions, it was the ghost of Monsanto lurking behind any decision that went against the activist agenda. This time, industry was not mentioned once.
The activists organizing the anti-glyphosate event gathered together five of their men in white coats to declare that the regulating risk assessment agencies (the European Food Safety Authority and the European Chemicals Agency) were not competent. The thousands of reports and published papers the authorities had reviewed counted for nothing since some B-Grade researcher in Bologna claims he found a tumor in a mouse. Winning the argument against the vast body of evidence was not an issue for these anti-chemical crusaders; the goal, rather, was to raise doubt that the regulators could ever be trusted.
If you can’t trust industry data and you can’t trust the government agencies charged with protecting the public and the environment, whom can you trust? Obviously, you can only trust NGOs like the NRDC and the Pesticide Action Network (so please donate…).
Activist groups have perhaps prematurely started implementing their long-term strategy of mass delegitimization. Once we no longer trust industry, the academe and government, the story goes, we will embrace the activists’ alternatives: citizen scientists supporting decisions made mostly via citizen panels and townhall citizen assemblies (ie, run by activist groups).
But in order to achieve such revolutionary goals, we would first have to trust their media organizations. And the quality of their reporting, that merely parrots activist campaign material, is still a long way from being professional, respectable and trustworthy.