Why is climate change not popular in Deseret?

The weather comes and goes, the climate stays. At least, that is what we were taught in our youth, but nowadays the stability of climate is in heavy weather, for the climate is changing. In windy and rainy Holland the weather is an obvious conversation starter; a Nepalese anthropologist who did his fieldwork in the Netherlands in the ‘80s was struck by our constant speaking about the obvious, the weather; he thought the reason was that everything else in this country was under control, man-made or well-regulated, so the weather was about the only variable item we could mention This discourse, by now, is supplemented by one on climate change, as today any mention of the weather is almost routinely accompanied by a referral to the threat-from-outside, the warming of the earth, the rise of the sea level, the more erratic weather.

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Not only Holland, but also the most beautiful city in the world is threatened by water: Venice
Not only Holland is threatened by rising water, also the most beautiful city in the world is, Venice

The Netherlands have incorporated the notion of climate change lock, stock and barrel, as have most European countries, also those much higher above sea level, such as Norway. Climate change has grown into a political as well as popular discourse in a decade, very rapidly. In the US things are different, and also in Deseret climate change never became popular. Why the difference? Why is climate change so ‘alien’ in Deseret, and comes it so ‘natural’ in most of Europe? I am speaking here not about scientific dissenters or skeptics, but about the popular acceptation of the new discourse on the climate change.

I think that it has to do with secularization and the definition of self. The first question has to be why people see climate change predominantly as a threat. People identify with the climate they live in. A Dutch expression runs: ‘We are not of sugar”, meaning we can stand the rain, the wind and the cold of our climate, we can take it. This holds for most cultures in the world, as anthropologists have noted the world over. Australian Aborigines love their dusty desert, just as the people of Deseret have a high affection for their high and quite dry valley. The Dutch crave for their wet, rainy country, just as the Papua’s of South East New Guinea feel displaced outside their mosquito ridden swamps. Much as we may like to complain about the weather, we identify with our climate.

This means that climate change – whatever its effects on the earth as such – effects our definition of self. Precisely how it informs our identity depends on the way a culture sees its relationship with the climate, and here several different discourses are possible. I work in Africa, and African cultures have a special approach to weather and climate. Rain is the fascination of Africa: rituals to procure rain – I did several myself in Cameroon – vary from a ritual hunt, a sacrifice, to a mask dance and a public prayer. In all these instances rain making has to do with power between humans. Only powerful people can ‘make rain’. Rain makers are either local kings, people of renown, or those with special relations with the ancestors, spirits or gods. When Nelson Mandela, easily the most charismatic of today’s political figures, took power, he first consulted the Lovedu Rain Queen, the major rain maker of Southern Africa, and at the end of his second term he did the same. Speaking about the climate in Africa, means speaking about people and their relations, here and now. Climate change then co-varies with disruptions in human power relations.
Amani dama 3
A Dogon priest in Mali performing a sacrifice to procure rain

Climate change can be built into a world view, as in the case of Meso-America. The Aztec language did not distinguish weather and climate, both called cahuitl, but their climate discourse was shot through with a violent and pessimistic streak. The focus was on rain, but then on storms, lightning and destruction, with whirlwinds as dangerous personages. Aztec sacred history knew five major era’s, each of which characterized by a new sun, and by their own climatic risk: drought, flooding, storms and volcanic winters. Only complicated rituals, aimed at placating these climatic dangers and rejuvenating the sun could postpone the inevitable catastrophe. In the local cultures of their present-day inheritors, like Mixtec, Guarani, Mbya and Warao this is still recognizable. The same holds for Maya culture, by the way, and we did manage to survive their end time prediction of 21-12-2012.
A Mixtec drawing of the feathered rain serpent flying over food crops

The third climate discourse is the one we inherited in the restored gospel, the one of classic Israel. Here the notion of covenant is central, and the stability of the climate – which is considered a blessing – depends on the faithfulness of Yahweh’s people to terms of the covenant with their Lord. We as LDS have fundamentally a covenant theology, in which our agency is both a blessing and an assignment, encapsulated in the notion of ‘stewardship’, and we fit well into this old Israeli pattern. We do not own the earth, we are its caretakers, but we are the rightful caretakers: while there is no spare earth, neither are there stand-in stewards. The Dutch have a maritime expression for this, stemming from the Calvinist tradition that has indirectly informed Mormonism: we are ‘Schippers naast God’: captains of the ship together with God.

Power, end of the world and covenant with the Lord, the climate is a powerful symbol with many meanings, and these three are relevant for my argument. Our Western discourse on climate change for a large part is about power, the differences in power between the rich and the poor countries, between the large multinationals and local producers, between the North and the South. The major climate conferences, like Rio and Kyoto, were arena’s, not puzzle solving explorations. That is one reason for reticence of the powers-that-be, the discourse of climate change can be seen as a ‘weapon of the weak’.

Then the end of time. One major difference between the USA and Europe is in the field of religion. Europe, the first child of Christianity, in general has chosen to leave its religious roots. Secularization, as a two-pronged process of both loss of power for religious institutions and of people leaving their churches, has progressed unevenly in various European countries, but on the whole much further than in the USA. Christianity lost most of its power in Europe in the 20th century, sometimes even quicker. The Netherlands in the last 50 years moved from an intensely religious society to a very secular one. This changed the cultural view of the future, losing the traditional Christian vision of the future.

My thesis is that in the Netherlands, as one European country, the climate discourse exactly fitted into the cognitive slot left by the demise of Christian end time expectations. The discourse had an immediate appeal because it provided a gloomy long term future by fully secular mechanisms. Climate being a major cultural focus of identity in any country, change in climate threatens the self-definition of the nation, particularly in the Netherlands because this one zoomed in on the major threats from the Dutch past, rising waters against a sinking land. ‘Where the broad ocean leans against the land’ the poet Keats mused about Holland, the country that built itself from the very same waters. Also, that same ocean restricts the country to a very limited territory, densely populated, and evidently dependent upon the wider region, politically and economically. Poignant detail is that this threat is partly of our own making. The notion of guilt, ensconced in Calvinist theology, here found a new outlet: ‘We are ourselves to blame by our consumerist lifestyle and overgrown ecological footprint.’ This ecological ‘original sin’ however can be remedied in a similar fashion, by working hard at ‘ecological conversion’, reducing our impact on Gaia. As ‘Captains with God’ we can take matters into our own hands, collectively, and relying on the ‘forgiveness’ of nature, i.e. the resilience of our planetary system postpone or even avert the end. Thus, in the Netherlands climate discourse functions as a secular end time expectation.

In the USA the climate discourse never had such an immediate cultural appeal. Of course, the USA is in a position of political and economic strength, for which any change will be a threat, its huge territory suggesting an autonomy of existence; Deseret culture has this notion in optima forma. But the religious factor, in my view, is decisive. Ironically, whereas the USA as defined by the Constitution was founded as a secular state, it never formed a secular society; it started out as a refuge from state religion, and then developed into an open religious market, with denominations retaining a strong position in social life. USA culture is not secular, at least nowhere near as secular as Europe. In the USA the Christian end time discourse has not yet lost much of its strength; during US history several waves of revitalization have kept the apocalyptic vision very much alive. Mormonism has been part and parcel of this dynamic. The future is already known. One important consequence is that this projected future remains rather short, as the Parousia, Second Coming or Rapture can hit us any moment. Even if this expectation is continuously postponed, the time frame leaves little cognitive space for a dramatic scenario that is so far into the future as climate changes need. In such a non-secular environment the climate discourse easily can be read as a denial of the foundational principles of US culture and society, threatening to upstage Christian end time expectations. Thus, in the USA the cognitive slot for an end time prediction was not empty at all; climate change did not ‘fit’.

regenmaker Guria
An African rain maker, from Cameroon

Given this lack of cultural fit, I come back to the question what do the Twelve think of climate change, what conclusions could we draw? The answer that they had no opinion on the matter to some extent came as a surprise for me. First, the pleasant surprise was that they took the questions seriously enough to answer and even to respond rather quickly, and that is – I think – a step forward. Second, the absence of denial or skepticism is striking, for in Deseret the issue is clearly not popular, and surely not on everyone’s mind. Actually I had expected an answer with a mix of doubt and concern, doubt about the consensus on scientific findings and concern about the climate. But even that was absent. This statement on climate change, though not very daring, might be rather wise, one step ahead from denial or skepticism, leaving open eventual later expressions of concern for our proper stewardship of the earth, for which LDS theology in fact has the tools.

In the end, this blog treats the cultural variables of acceptance of the climate discourse. It leaves intact the concern for our planet that I expressed in the first blog. Climate change is real, and its consequences potentially very harmful. Maybe our climate could be improved – especially in the Netherlands! – but how can we be sure that we will just warm a few grades, have just a bit more rain, or seek shelter for just some more tornadoes, and nothing more? We are tinkering with a system that we are just beginning to understand, the very one that forms the very basis of our existence. But knowing what dynamics impinge on acceptance of that message is important, I think.

Walter van Beek

For those who want a few biblical references to weather and climate:
Ex 9:22-28, 19:12, Josh 10:11, I Sam 7:10, 2 Sam 22:14, Jes 29:6, 30:30, 55:10, 64:6, Jer 10:3, Eze 5: 2, 13:13, 22:24, 34:26, 38:22, Dan 2:35, Hos 8:7, 12:1, Jer 5:13, Eccl, 1:6, 1:14, 2:11, 5:16, 6:9, 25:14, Ps 18:12-3, 29:3, 68:9, 72:677:17, 78:47, 81:7, 104:7, 105:32, 135:7, 148:8, Job 26:14, 38:28, Mt 24:27, Luk 12:54, Heb 6:7, Jac 5:7, Rev. 8:7, 11:19, 16:21.

33 comments for “Why is climate change not popular in Deseret?

  1. I wonder if you’ve considered the media landscape in the various countries as a driver of public opinion. In the US, the trend has been for “objective” reporting to be equated with “he said, she said” type stories, meaning that reporters felt an obligation to tell both sides of the story, which means that they felt obligated to give science deniers equal time, regardless of how little evidence was on their side or how few scientists agreed with them.

  2. The discourse had an immediate appeal because it provided a gloomy long term future by fully secular mechanisms.

    Hah! Though I suspect the gloomy part isn’t a good fit for unquenchable American optimism.

  3. Fascinating take, Walter, from this anthropological perspective. You make some interesting points in relation to religious or secular backgrounds. It moves the discussion beyond the yes or no controversy to deeper layers of our social consciousness. What you say about the Dutch certainly also plays a role in other European countries. Thanks for the effort to share these insights.

  4. Thanks for the insights Walter, very profound. I might add another couple of reasons that the topic of climate change is not so popular in Deseret.

    1) Many of the people in the 1960s and 1970s who took up the cause of global warming were environmentalist activists, many of whom were close to hippie movements in the US. Since social conservatives tended to despise the lifestyles of hippies, they also tended to reject anything that mildly resembled their rhetoric; hence, talk of environmental issues often tends to evoke a strong reaction from social conservatives.

    2) Since the 1960s there has been an odd political alliance of social conservatives with financial elites/industrialists; very odd bedfellows if you ask me. The latter group has come under frequent attack of environmentalists who have lobbied the government to subject them to burdensome regulations in order to reduce pollution and other forms of environmental damage that their industries have caused. These powerful financial elites have invested large sums of money in defense lawyers, scientists, and most importantly media outlets, which try to shift public opinion to, or maintain it on, their side. What has emerged is the so-called ‘conservative’ media industry (Fox News, etc.) which has towed a largely pro-financial elite line under a thin veneer of social conservativism. This ‘conservative’ media industry has convinced throngs of social conservatives that they are under attack and that the government is not on their side (i.e. the courts are too secular and are taking away religious freedoms, there is a war on Christmas, etc.). It has also convinced them that environmentalists are not on their side and are threats to their freedoms. What social conservatives have ended up swallowing is a poorly evidenced industrialist/financial elite-promoted ideology that actually has nothing to do with social conservatism or religion. But since this ideology is couched in social conservative rhetoric on the financial elite-funded media outlets, (which social conservatives incidentally cling to as a safe space that supposedly stands up for ‘family values’) many social conservatives believe that causes that are anathema to the industrialists are also somehow anathema to social conservativism. Since US Mormons in the Mormon belt have by and large assimilated themselves with the social conservative crowd in the US, they have become susceptible to pro-financial elite rhetoric.

  5. It is interesting that you describe climate change as a weapon of the weak, Walter. Certainly some of those expected to be hurt the most by climate change are people in poorer countries, and rich countries will have more resources for making any needed adjustments. However, in many cases it is developing countries that are most resistant to the kinds of economic changes and regulations that climate change partisans call for. Carbon taxes and such are expensive, coal is cheap, and it is hard for poor countries to get excited about slowing down their economies.

    If we look at climate change politics as such, it looks to me more like a weapon of elites, or those who would like to be regarded as elites, to control the masses. For those who think more government planning is the solution to most of our problems, this provides one more reason to expand the power and reach of the state, even to a world government.

    In this context the unique political climate of America is perhaps decisive in explaining the different attitudes of Americans and Europeans. Americans are just much more skeptical of the ability of benevolent sages to engineer our lives for the better. Our political system was built precisely to prevent concentration of power. Historically, a large swathe of those who did not feel well-served by the powers that be in Europe emigrated to America. America itself was formed by the rejection of a European ruler. As a result America is much more skeptical of power figures and self-appointed philosopher-kings than Europe.

    I do think your point about secularization is very relevant, though, and within the U.S., as well, it tends to be the secular folks who buy more heavily into the climate change mythos. For my part, I think human beings have a deep need and hunger to think of something as terribly important. So, when religious values lose their traction, people need something else to be agitated about. They also need somewhere to place their trust that this very important thing will be worked out properly, and when God is no longer available, government and “science” are the next major candidates.

  6. It’s all Al Gore’s fault.

    Seriously, though, I think it’s primarily due to politics. Having a former vice president and presidential candidate (not to mention the people’s choice for president) become the main spokesman for promoting the dangers of global warming alienated the vast majority of the people who voted for the other guy. It certainly doesn’t help that much of the U.S. is a bit anti-environmentalist anyway.

    That doesn’t make it Al Gore’s fault. It does make it the fault of those who can’t look past a man’s politics to see the more important points. It’s a byproduct of a two-party political system where you’re always playing against your main rival.

  7. “Americans are just much more skeptical of the ability of benevolent sages to engineer our lives for the better. Our political system was built precisely to prevent concentration of power. Historically, a large swathe of those who did not feel well-served by the powers that be in Europe emigrated to America. America itself was formed by the rejection of a European ruler. As a result America is much more skeptical of power figures and self-appointed philosopher-kings than Europe.”

    An interesting viewpoint given the fact that Europe consists of about 46 sovereign nation-states, a little over half of which have only agreed on a loose economic union but not a political union, and the US has been a large economically and politically unified federation ever since the 1789 Constitution.

    Also, secularism has prevailed more in Europe than the US largely because historically religion was closely allied with state power in Europe and foisted on the public at large. Hence, secularism can in part be understood not just as a rejection of a state religion, but state power itself.

    “It tends to be the secular folks who buy more heavily into the climate change mythos.”


    “So, when religious values lose their traction, people need something else to be agitated about. They also need somewhere to place their trust that this very important thing will be worked out properly, and when God is no longer available, government and “science” are the next major candidates.”

    Government as the replacement for religion? You’re forgetting that religion has essentially been government through centuries, if not millennia, of human history. If Joseph Smith’s Nauvoo and Brigham Young’s state of Deseret had succeeded, there is no reason to believe that the system of government employed there would not have been a theocracy.

  8. I think that rather than focus on the global climate and how it might be changing, the folks in Deseret would do well to fix the much more pressing local issues concerning weather… like that fact that they’ve altered their beautiful mountain valleys into to places with toxic air. How they can possibly attempt to (even jokingly) refer to it as “Zion” is astounding to me… I don’t think Zion would have air that could kill you. Is it just me??

  9. Yeah, the Wasatch Front does have some serious air pollution problems, especially in the winter. If the Saints there are unwilling to appropriately deal with that health threat, I hardly think they as a group will be willing to combat climate change.

  10. Yes, it’s just you :-). I really don’t think the air is that bad in Utah. Of course I don’t live there, I just drive through a few times a year. I do wish they’d get on the ball and build another freeway through the Wasatch Front, but thus it is.

  11. I grew up there and moved away just 3 years ago.. it IS that bad. Almost every day all winter long they are in the top 5 worst air in the nation. They have a air quality meter that each news station used (Green, yellow, red) and on red days they advocated you not do outdoor exercising (running, etc) because it wasn’t safe to breath heavily outside. And I can’t tell you how many articles I’ve read in the last few decades where they say that each day of life on the Wasatch front is as bad on your lungs as smoking a pack of cigarettes a day, or some other similar comparison.

    The air quality was a HUGE reason for my move away. I just couldn’t see saying “I love my kids” while raising them in a place where they were potentially injured by breathing.

  12. Ben H:

    I think you need to look at the internal politics, economy, and who controls both in each of the “poor” countries before you say that climate change proponents are used as a weapon of elites. If you performed this exercise, you might find that it’s those elites and their multinational corporations that control and use the “poor” countries as their own plantations for exploitation.

    U.S. Multinationals, who are in the developing world, would be hurt by climate change regulation and so they oppose it and they get the governments of these so called “poor” countries to oppose it as well. In the end, financial interest will determine the debate as it usually does.

  13. Jax (8), a focus on global climate (reducing CO2 emissions, using cleaner energy, etc.) would help reduce regional pollution.

  14. Perhaps the desert dwellers in Africa are naively correct to NOT worry about global warming. I recall hearing that we could put so much CO2 in the air, our climate could be set back tens of thousands of years. In those years the Sahara Desert in Africa was more like a jungle. Global warming theory suggest warmer air holds more water and more CO2 for plant growth. National Geographic reports satellite evidence of deserts slowly giving way. http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2009/07/090731-green-sahara.html

  15. Perhaps it is the fact that America, for all its ignorance, foolishness, and gluttony, still has a shred of widsom left. Cue John Stossel and such gems as ‘what is the ideal temperature of the earth?’

  16. Thanks, Walter, for another very thoughtful and eye-opening piece. As an environmental scientist, environmentalist, and a Mormon, I find the resistance of ours and other US religious communities to accept the scientific consensus on climate puzzling. Your essay has helped elucidate this for me.

    I wonder if some of the difference between the US and European response could also be attributed to somewhat different political and economic systems. Our US capitalism emphasizes self-interest, but perhaps a touch of socialism means people are more likely to see a need for engagement with community problems than transcends their own self interest. This isn’t my area of expertise, but just something I’ve wondered about.

    I also found this line to be very beautiful:

    “We do not own the earth, we are its caretakers, but we are the rightful caretakers: while there is no spare earth, neither are there stand-in stewards.”

  17. “Many of the people in the 1960s and 1970s who took up the cause of global warming were environmentalist activists,”

    Nobody in the 1960s and 1970s took up the cause of global warming, because there was no such cause back then. If anything, climate scientists during that period were more concerned about the cooling of the earth, and the effects that would have on agricultural production around the world.

    Having seen those predictions fail, I think that people are a bit like the townsfolk in the fable–the boy has called wolf more than once, but there was no wolf. Who’s to say that it’s there this time?

  18. Mark B.

    I think you are correct. The two reasons I do not buy the climate alarmist line is that I have seen too many examples of unfounded hysteria, and I believe the UN is the most corrupt, least trustworthy organization on the planet. I am not alone among my LDS peers in taht regard. I wonder how widespread this feeling is in Europe.

    It is not just those predictions either. For example –

    “The Population Bomb” – Ehrlich predicted that millions of Americans would die of famine in the 1980’s unless we curbed our population. One would think that he would have no credibility, but he still has an audience.

    AIDS – we were told that this would become a mainstream disease tens of millions would die.

    DDT (unfortunately this was not allowed to fail) – even though the science indicated this posed no threat to man or animal, this was banned here and pressured out of existence in Africa. A hundred million deaths directly related to the ban and you would think some environmentalist would apologize, but I have not heard anything.

    I suspect that the fundamental difference relates to the view of the role of government versus the individual. I do not claim any expertise on Europeans, but did host in my home an economics professor from Sweeden (his son was an exchange student with us for a year). I asked him about the role of charity in Sweden. He said there was essentially no such thing as charity there. I did not press him as to why, but presume that they view this as a government versus an individual responsibility. I think there are some parallels here regarding the climate issue.

  19. Tim, that is a fascinating article reviewing the history of climate science during the 20th Century. Essentially, it says that there are three major factors that affect global temperatures: (1) the normal cycles of the earth’s orbital distance from the sun, and the tilt of the earth’s axis, which increase and then decrease the amount of energy that falls on the earth’s surface on a regular cycle, predominated by long periods of cold weather with relatively short periods of thawing; (2) aerosols and particulates from man-made and natural processes (e.g. volcanic eruptions, forest fires) that tend to shade the earth and decrease temperatures; and (3) the warming caused by greenhouse gases, including Carbon Dioxide. The article explains that the global cooling trend that took place from about 1940 to 1975 is presumed to be due to the dominance of the cooling influence of the aerosols, but the warming that began then was a result of growing influence of CO2. The paper cites verious studies that assert that greenhouse gas warming will continue to be the dominant of these three factors. Certainly, the increasing regulation of particulate emissions in the US and Europe during the 1970s and after has resulted in a marked decrease in such emissions, and arguably supported the increasing relative influence of CO2 in the temperature contest.

    Yet what are we supposed to think about the last 15 years of no material warming? Have the three factors reached a balance? Have the particulates emitted by Chinese coal-fired power plants come to dominate the global temperature system, counteracting the CO2 warming?

    Considering that the astronomical cycles that drive the ice ages would, without human intervention, have plunged us into another mile thick ice sheet over much of North America, it is good that the earth is warmer than its “natural” temperature. The fact that natural aerosols from transitory events like major volcanic eruptions can counteract decades of CO2 driven wartming for a year, suggests that if global temperatures rise to levels that are clearly intolerable, the simplest way to counteract it is not the difficult choice of rolling back civilization and energy use, but to simply establish a controlled method of placing aerosols into the upper atmosphere. Because they fall out within a year or less, they are a much more reliable means for mankind to adjust global temperatures to our chosen ideal, instead of trying to adjust the CO2 levels that persist for many years in the atmosphere and which are the natural side effects of respiration and energy generation, of production of food and materials and transportation. If the cools too much, we can shut off aerosols much more easily than we can shut off CO2 if it warms too much.

    To those who object to intentionally intervening to control global temperatures, I merely point out that shutting down fossil fuel power plants and other interventions to decrease greenhouse gas emissions are just as much interventions to control global temperature, but they are far less effective and efficient interventions.

    I think the article makes clear that, but for the activities of mankind that help warm the earth, we should be in an Ice Age right now. It would save the Netherlands from flooding, restoring added dry land where the North Sea now lies, and leave Venice high and dry. A lot of current beachfront property would be miles inland. And Canada would be another name for the world’s largest glacier. It is much more rational to make interventions to protect the Netherlands and Venice directly, rather than think we can control the level of the oceans globally through a process that we cannot fine tune, especially when we remember that major storms, earthquakes and tsunamis can destroy our best laid plans. If we concentrate on making our civilization rich in energy and other resources, we can apply resources to mitigate negative effects of warming (when they actually occur) while enjoying the positive effects, such as increased crop yields.

    We are at about the same temperature as about 1,000 years ago, without industrial civilization. It could be a lot worse.

  20. “We are at about the same temperature as about 1,000 years ago, without industrial civilization. It could be a lot worse.”

    There is not enough evidence about the earth’s climate 1,000 years ago to know what it was like. We have some geological fragments and Viking accounts, and that’s about it.

  21. “DDT…even though the science indicated this posed no threat to man or animal…”

    Science is incredibly clear on the fact that DDT was having a horrific impact on the populations of certain species of bird (for those who don’t know much about science, including my 5th grade teacher and a certain unnamed GA, birds are indeed animals), among them the Bald Eagle and the Peregrine Falcon. Following the ban of DDT in the U.S., those species have made wonderful comebacks.

    There’s also evidence that DDT is no longer nearly as effective as it used to be. Instead of using it everywhere, we should have used it just where it was absolutely needed. We sprayed it everywhere, though, and (surprise!) evolution happened. Insects started developing resistance. Like all pesticides, it can only be used so much before it becomes ineffective.

    I’m certainly not saying DDT shouldn’t be used carefully in certain situations. But there’s a peregrine falcon specialist at BYU who would caution the use where it’s not absolutely needed.

    BYU page on him: http://lifesciences.byu.edu/~cmw4

    Article about some of his work: http://magazine.byu.edu/?act=view&a=1684

  22. Tim;

    I realize it was widely represented that DDT caused thinning of birds shells. The reality is that studies that showed shell thinning were not replicated. I looked at the link you provided and was surprised to find that point contended. The EPA held seven months of hearings and concluded that DDT should not be banned (see below). An interesting note – at the hearings people would literally consume relatively large amounts of DDT to prove that it was totally safe to humans. Unfortunately for millions of future malaria victims, the Nixon administration head of the EPA was a former Environmental Defense Fund member and ruled against DDT in spite of the findings. It was widely reported that he never attended any hearings or read the report.

    I understand that all pesticides have limited useful lives, so perhaps the excess deaths would have only been 70 million or even just 50 million. I would bet that if the people dying had been Americans the ban would not have occurred. Journalist Sonia Shah in her book on malaria speculated that DDT was banned BECAUSE it was saving millions of lives. It is troubling to think that she might be correct.

    Following is a reference to what the EPA concluded:

    The EPA hearing examiner, Judge Edmund Sweeney, concluded that “DDT is not a carcinogenic hazard to man… DDT is not a mutagenic or teratogenic hazard to man… The use of DDT under the regulations involved here do not have a deleterious effect on freshwater fish, estuarine organisms, wild birds or other wildlife.” [Sweeney, EM. 1972. EPA Hearing Examiner’s recommendations and findings concerning DDT hearings, April 25, 1972 (40 CFR 164.32)

  23. One of the problems with public acceptance of global climate change in the U.S., as well as public acceptance of other areas of science (vaccines, evolution, etc.), is that the public often seems just as likely–or more likely–to trust what they read on the internet or hear on talk radio as they are to trust actual experts.

    You can believe your sources. I’ll trust Dr. White of BYU and the other biologists who’ve invested a great deal of time in actually doing the science.

    For an actual list of some scientific studies related to the harmful effects of DDT on the reproduction of certain birds (including a couple from Dr. White):


  24. Dear commentors – Steve, Tim, Raymonf, Julie, Ben and others
    The discussion is very enlightening. The internal political issues inside the USA are indeed very complex as well as very interesting; indeed the positions of the conservatives and the more progressives have shifted during the last decades. That happened in Europe as well, as the conservatives here (called liberals as a pro free market) and the more confessional parties (who form the political center) plus the social-democratic parties (called here socialist, but Americans have a hard time distinguishing socialist from communists – which are very different species) have manoeuvred to find a position on the matter. Green parties have sprung up, but as environmental issues were gradually written into the various political programs, these have floundered. Environmental issues now are written into all of the party programs, but in different fashions and with varying priorities. The religious factor was absent in all of them, and that is where I zoomed in on in my blog.
    Media are important, very important in fact, also here. Climate change has been a media darling from the start, without too much nuance or debate. That love affair has to be analyzed still. The role of NatGeo has been huge, I think.
    Indeed, the discussion between the climate scientists themselves has evolved, and the different scenarios have predicted very different results. But they are not always as antithetical as they seem. For instance, global warming will bring about the melting of the sea ice at the Northern Arctic. That is an established fact now, highly visible here in the Netherlands when recently a Chinese freight ship rounded the North and entered the port of Rotterdam. It was prominently reported, the first ship ever to do so. It has managed to sail through the ice seas North of Siberia. The Dutch explored that sea route North of Russia in the 17th century with dramatic results, a barren wintercamp on Nova Zembla that has become part of our national history. So the Chinese ship was a revelation, and an incontrovertible proof of global warming. But, to come to my point, this very warming of the arctic, may bring about a slowing of the Gulf Stream, as part of the total scenario. That would mean that Western Europe might have a rather quick climate change: our weather will become colder, especially in winter, when the moderating effect of the warm Gulf stream stops. So if we here in Western Europe will suffer from freezing, it may be because of global warming.
    By the way, we do know a lot about old climates, due to ice-core and sediment research.

  25. If the question is why Mormons are not more receptive to the concerns about climate change, I think the simple answer is that we are not people of faith, we are people of certainty. And when you think you know everything, there is not much room to thoughtfully consider new, different or challenging information.

  26. My thesis is that in the Netherlands, as one European country, the climate discourse exactly fitted into the cognitive slot left by the demise of Christian end time expectations.

    In other words: global warming is a fundamental aspect of the religion of modern secularism. I think this is very astute and absolutely correct. Independent of the scientific or policy questions, the issue of global warming functions as a surrogate religion in secular societies including Europe and parts of the United States as well.

  27. Couldn’t similar questions be asked about other political positions of the European Saints vs the US Saints?

    Why is a death penalty moratorium not popular in Deseret?
    Why is socialized medicine not popular in Deseret?
    Why are high taxes not popular in Deseret?
    Why is legalized abortion not popular in Deseret?
    Why is legalized marijuana not popular in Deseret?
    Why is free contraception not popular in Deseret?
    Why is a drug abuser needle exchange program not popular in Deseret?

  28. Tim;

    I understand we have different sources, but to conclude that your sources “actually did the science” and mine did not is incorrect. I cited the EPA hearing examiner’s conclusion based upon an extensive review of all the scientific literature and testimony. That was the scientific consensus reached, and I can cite numerous studies that show DDT does not have a negative effect on bird reproduction.

  29. jeff-

    The EPA hearing examiner was not a scientist. He performed no research. He did no science. He was a judge. Other judges disagreed with his findings, and ordered the EPA to ban DDT–but they’re just judges too.

    Sorry, but I trust a judge telling me about science about as much as I trust a scientist telling me about criminal law.


    I would be interested in reading any scientific studies (the type published in scientific journals) that claim that DDT doesn’t harm bald eagle or peregrine falcon populations. Let me know how to find them.

  30. The climate has been changing for billions of years. What is new is using it to justify liberal economic ideologies.

  31. The summer sea ice in the Arctic has dramatically increased in 2013 by about 60% over 2012. Even though global temperatures did not drop, but stayed basically level.

    According to Al Gore when he produced his film of his lecture right after Hurricane Katrina, and used a picture that inserted the Katrina storm cloud coming out of a smokestack, the US was supposed to see more frequent and stronger hurricanes at an increasing tempo. It is now eight years later, and his prediction has fallen flat.

    There are lots of predictions about greenhouse warming and its effects which have not matched reality. I would be a lot more impressed by climate scientists if they would admit their theories are incomplete and not yet reliable, and offer a new theory that actually can at least account quantitatively for the actual history of global temperature changes over the last 100 years, and the actual history of weather events. But nobody has come up with a superior theory. The notion that we should make drastic negative changes to our economy and our energy production systems based on theories that have no demonstrated connection with reality offends reason. Rather than bemoaning the lack of faith among the masses, give us something that we can believe in.

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