Herb Lindberg: Effective citizens need to understand the uses of technology

You can’t read a newspaper or watch a news broadcast these days without being bombarded with campaigns against all the technology that is going to destroy us.

They say that if we don’t reduce the use of fossil fuels by 32%, our planet is doomed by climate change; fracking threatens our water supply; pesticides will kill us, and genetically modified foods are the work of the devil and therefore must be labeled (first step to being banned).

This exaggeration has been going on for decades. There was no cancer epidemic as claimed in 1962 Rachel Carson in “Silent Spring”; the hole in the ozone layer did not make rabbits and salmon blind (Al Gore, 1990); after decades of burning fossil fuels, the Earth did not burn as predicted by vocal ecologist Bill McKibben in 1989. None of the many GMO warnings turned out to be true either.



Carson’s fear about cancer and Gore’s about rabbits and salmon have done manageable damage, but climate change and GMOs are different. Calls for a 32% reduction in CO2 (compared to 2005 levels) by 2035 would cost trillions of dollars in lost GDP. Global caps on the use of fossil fuels are much more expensive and harmful to the environment, as shown here.

In the case of GMOs, after three decades and many trillions of meals around the world, there is still no evidence that they harm human health. In fact, there is ample evidence of their environmental and humanitarian benefits. GMO vitamin-enriched ‘golden rice’ has been poised to save lives for years, but Greenpeace opposes it at every step.



Vitamin A deficiency is prevalent among the poor in the Third World, whose diet is mainly based on rice or other carbohydrate-rich, micronutrient-poor calorie sources. Unmodified rice does not contain β-carotene, which the body converts to vitamin A. Dependence on rice as the predominant food source therefore leads to vitamin A deficiency, affecting young children and pregnant women more severely.

In 2012, the World Health Organization reported that approximately 250 million preschool children were affected by vitamin A deficiency, and that providing these children with vitamin A-enriched GMO golden rice could prevent approximately a third of all deaths of children under the age of 5, which amounts to up to 2.7 million. children who could be saved from dying needlessly.

Environmentalists have opposed neonicotinoid pesticides on the grounds that they could harm bee populations, even though the number of honey bees has increased in the European Union in the three decades since their introduction. The effect in Europe has been to cause farmers to revert to far more harmful pyrethroid insecticides, which are sprayed on crops instead of used as seed coatings, hitting innocent bystander insects. Moreover, if Europeans had been allowed to grow GMOs, fewer pesticides would have been needed. Again, the green precaution increased the risks.

Likewise, widespread opposition to fracking for shale gas is based almost entirely on myths and lies, as Reason magazine science correspondent Ronald Bailey has reported. This opposition has significantly retarded the growth of onshore gas production in Europe and parts of the United States. This means greater reliance on offshore gas, Russian gas and coal, all of which present greater safety concerns and environmental risks. Opposition to hydraulic fracturing has harmed the environment.

In short, the environmental movement has repeatedly denied people access to safer technologies and forced them to rely on dirtier, riskier, or more harmful technologies. He is adept at exploiting people’s technological naivety and distrust of anything new.

None of the early exaggerated claims about the dangers of climate change turned out to be true. Meanwhile, the financial, humanitarian and environmental cost of forcibly reducing the use of fossil fuels is proving much higher than expected.

Despite falling solar panel costs, the cost of the solar power system – including land, transmission, maintenance and nighttime backup – remains high. The environmental impact of wind power – deforestation, destruction of birds of prey, mining of rare earth metals – is worse than expected. We haven’t started to pay the environmental cost of disposing of huge wind turbines approaching their 25-year lifespan, and we continue to build them.

Indoor air pollution, caused primarily by indoor wood-fired cooking, is the world’s leading cause of environmental death – an estimated four million deaths each year (according to the science news website nonprofit, SciDev.Net).

Providing them with electricity and gas from fossil fuels is the cheapest and fastest way to save their lives. Yet it’s not being done because we worry about the diminishing risk of dangerous climate change decades from now. Providing only wind and solar power to these countries is shamefully selfish.

Herb Lindberg lives in Grass Valley.