Letters

Extremely misconstrued

Ivo Vegter

Authot Ivo Vegter responds to Sipho Kings' review of his book, Extreme Environment.

Ivo Vegter mentions the Deepwater Horizon oil spill ­to show that even its effects may have been exaggerated.  (Reuters)

Sipho Kings is entitled to disagree with the ­opinions expressed in my book Extreme ­Environment ("Finding facts to suit arguments", Summer Books, November 16 to 22), but I would like to draw your attention to several errors and misrepresentations that might change the conclusions a reader would draw from Kings's review.

If I "cherry-picked" my facts, I did so – as explained in the book – not to find instances of environmental exaggeration that are easy to challenge, but to choose the most difficult cases, where it seems exaggeration would hardly be possible. This explains my covering the nuclear testing at Bikini Atoll and the Gulf War oil spills, for example.

Far from concluding that "any lesser levels of damage are fine", which Kings asserts I claim about the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, I clearly describe that accident as a "large-scale disaster". I wrote: "All this is not to say that the Deepwater Horizon accident was not serious, or that BP, its contractors and the safety inspectors that lay down the rules did not fail on several levels. Oil companies and government regulators will learn from this event and those affected have every right to demand clean-ups and claim reparations from those responsible."

My point was that the levels of damage were less than environmentalists predicted, not that they are "fine". It is not okay for environmentalists to drive fishermen to suicide by declaring that they will never fish again when, a year or two later, the surviving fishermen are back at work. The proper response to an environmental accident should be less extreme than demanding a total and permanent ban on the industry that caused it, as many ­environmental groups demand.

Nowhere do I absolve the companies responsible from blame or suggest that they ought to be protected from liability.

As for global warming, I do not, in fact, spend 39 pages "dismiss[ing] the entirety of the science". I said any attempt to do so would require far more than a single chapter. Instead, I offer reasons why one might suspect environmentalists and green-minded scientists of exaggeration. My argument is that there is enough uncertainty in the chain of reasoning that leads from claims about humanity's likely impact on its past climate to the prediction that we are facing an apocalypse that can only be averted by urgent, costly government intervention.

Kings makes a common error in confusing a pro-market position with being pro-business and he mistakes my opposition to environmental exaggeration for a dismissal of all environmental concerns or a toleration of any amount of harm to people or the environment for the sake of special business interests. On the contrary, I treat both business and the environmental lobby as special interests and a pro-market view opposes special government treatment and welfare for all such interests, business included. More strongly, a pro-market view emphasises the justice of holding companies responsible for their actions and, if necessary, letting them fail. Advocating bankruptcy as a desirable fate for irresponsible businesses is hardly "pro-business".

As I write when I sign my books: "Distrust environmentalists as much as you'd distrust oil companies." If this makes me guilty of an extreme, exaggerated view, mea culpa. –  Ivo Vegter

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