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Pundit’s Mailbag — Letter From Sweden About Nobel Prize ‘Sarcasm’

Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, January 29, 2008

Being that the Nobel Prize is awarded by the Nobel Foundation in Sweden each year, it seems somehow fitting that our piece, Decline Of Nobel Culture: From Theodore Roosevelt To Al Gore..To Tesco & Non-existent Drowning Polar Bears, should draw objection from a Pundit reader in Stockholm:

I have just been through part of your ‘climate story’ and have read your sarcasms about the decline of the Nobel Peace Prize and feel that on this subject there is a vast difference between the common views on this matter of people living in the US and we Europeans.

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of attending a seminar where one of the Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change (IPCC) members — Professor Erland Källén, Dynamic Meteorology — gave a PowerPoint presentation with only scientific/statistical data and forecasts. It showed basically the same picture as An Inconvenient Truth but without the dramatic effects of the movie, which are probably a must in order to break through the permanent media noise. (Propagandist) Those effects were probably necessary in order to reach a broader audience and get the impact which, I’m convinced, is scientifically motivated and politically necessary, particularly in the USA.

One of these days, the eco-thinking will spread outside of California and when it’s embraced by politicians, the world will quickly change just like in the case of cigarette smoking where the US proved to be more radical than others.

Ake Lewander
Group Networking Manager
LCL World Wide Group
Stockholm, Sweden

We deeply appreciate Ake taking the time to write and we also find it interesting to review cross-cultural differences. In fact, our interest is so great in the subject that, thanks to a generous grant from Stemilt Growers, we’ve been able to begin a study comparing and contrasting consumer attitudes on sustainability and corporate social responsibility in the United Kingdom and the United States — we gave a presentation providing some initial results at the PMA convention this past fall in Houston.

And, of course, our sense of the importance of this issue is such that we are now in the planning stages for the industry’s first conference on Sustainability and Social Responsibility. This project was triggered when Tim York of Markon (and also Chairman of the Board of the Center for Produce Safety) issued his call for an industry initiative on sustainability. In fact, we have received over 100 indications of interest and we still welcome any Pundit readers interested in getting involved to contact us here.

We certainly didn’t intend to make light of the climate-change issue, and if we came across that way in Stockholm, we apologize to our Swedish readers.

Yet the piece was pointing out two important points:

The first had to do with the Nobel Prize — especially the Peace prize — which has become so politicized as to be completely lacking in credibility. In fairness, this trend didn’t start with Al Gore. One just has to look at the awarding of the Nobel Peace prize 15 years ago to an outright liar like Rigoberta Menchu, a Guatemalan political activist who did little more than write a book in which she fabricated and distorted matters big and small to correspond with a particular political predisposition.

We contrasted Al Gore with Theodore Roosevelt both because they were, coincidentally, both former Vice Presidents when they won their prize but also because the difference in what they did to merit the prize so perfectly contrasted: Al Gore was a promoter and a propagandist; Theodore Roosevelt got two parties at war to stop shooting.

You can believe every word Al Gore has said about global warming and still scratch one’s head wondering what in the world that has to do with the Nobel Peace Prize.

Second, we wanted to point out the difficulty of knowing the impact of these very complicated issues. One can accept global warming as a fact and still be uncertain of its impact. Just the other day, there was a new study out, which the Associated Press entitled in its report on the study: Warming May Reduce Hurricane Landfalls, Study Says. This, of course, is directly opposite to what has been repeated a thousand times about global warming. Now we do not know who is correct in this assessment, but we found the quote we gave from another member of the IPCC panel to be revealing:

As John Christy wrote some time ago, to interpret weather changes in our own lifetimes this way is bizarre:

Mother Nature simply operates at a level of complexity that is, at this point, beyond the mastery of mere mortals (such as scientists) and the tools available to us. As my high-school physics teacher admonished us in those we-shall-conquer-the-world-with-a-slide-rule days, “Begin all of your scientific pronouncements with ‘At our present level of ignorance, we think we know…’”

I haven’t seen that type of climate humility lately. Rather I see jump-to-conclusions advocates and, unfortunately, some scientists who see in every weather anomaly the specter of a global-warming apocalypse. Explaining each successive phenomenon as a result of human action gives them comfort and an easy answer.

Others of us scratch our heads and try to understand the real causes behind what we see. We discount the possibility that everything is caused by human actions, because everything we’ve seen the climate do has happened before. Sea levels rise and fall continually. The Arctic ice cap has shrunk before. One millennium there are hippos swimming in the Thames, and a geological blink later there is an ice bridge linking Asia and North America…..

More broadly, we are interested in the work of Bjørn Lomborg, who we wrote about in a piece entitled, Reducing Carbon vs. Increasing Wealth. His work is intriguing because he gets us past a dispute about global warming or even a dispute over the cause of global warming — he accepts global warming but then looks at policy from the standpoint of achieving desired goals.

It is indeed possible, even likely, that eco-thinking will, as Ake wrote “spread out of California.” In fact, we find most growers very interested in sustainability issues and think many Americans care deeply about the environment and sustainability — but caring doesn’t substitute for the critical thinking necessary to solve the problem.

We can all care immensely and that still doesn’t tell us what to do — especially because we all work with limited resources and if we are spending money building CO2 scrubbers to reduce carbon emissions, we can’t spend that money curing malaria in Africa.

We do confess that we are not prepared to let Al Gore off as easy as Ake when it comes to “dramatic effects.” We love high-tech special effects as much as anyone, but in doing a documentary, one’s first responsibility is to accuracy.

If the truth is too ambivalent to interest people, that is just a sign that there are limits to the horrors we know are about to befall us — not permission to exaggerate in order to drive policy in one’s preferred direction.

We hope that people in Europe, North America and around the world will insist that their governments make policy after carefully studying the impact of various policy choices and not make policy so we can all “feel good” about what we are doing to reduce global warming.

We all know we can use sustainability and social responsibility as a marketing tool — the question is how to really do some good for the world.

We appreciate that Ake Lewander sent us this letter and thank him for helping us wrestle with this important issue.

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