Extremely misconstrued

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

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years. We’ve survived thanks to the support of our readers, we will need you to help us get through this.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.


‘Tenderpreneurs’ block the delivery of protective equipment to schools

Protests by local suppliers have delayed PPE delivery, which according to the DBE, is one of the reasons the reopening of schools has been pushed back until June 8

‘Soon he’ll be seen as threatening, not cute’: What it’s...

There is no separating George Floyd’s killing from the struggles black people have faced ever since the first slave ships landed on these shores

How schools could work during Covid

Ahead of their opening, the basic education department has given schools three models to consider to ensure physical distancing

Press Releases

Mining company uses rich seam of technology to gear up for Covid-19

Itec Direct technology provides instant temperature screening of staff returniing to the workplace with no human contact

Covid-19 and Back to School Webinar

If our educators can take care of themselves, they can take care of the children they teach

5G technology is the future

Besides a healthcare problem Covid-19 is also a data issue and 5G technology, with its lightning speed, can help to curb its spread

JTI off to court for tobacco ban: Government not listening to industry or consumers

The tobacco ban places 109 000 jobs and 179 000 wholesalers and retailers at risk — including the livelihood of emerging farmers

Holistic Financial Planning for Professionals Webinar

Our lives are constantly in flux, so it makes sense that your financial planning must be reviewed frequently — preferably on an annual basis

Undeterred by Covid-19 pandemic, China and Africa hold hands, building a community of a shared future for mankind

It is clear that building a community with a shared future for all mankind has become a more pressing task than ever before

Wills, Estate Administration and Succession Planning Webinar

Capital Legacy has had no slowdown in lockdown regarding turnaround with clients, in storing or retrieving wills and in answering their questions

Call for Expression of Interest: Training supply and needs assessment to support the energy transition in South Africa

GIZ invites eligible and professional companies with local presence in South Africa to participate in this tender to support the energy transition

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday