It was the culmination of an intense burst of campaigning by left-wing pressure groups Avaaz, Change.org, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, BugLife and the Environmental Justice Foundation which erupted from nowhere last year.
One minute, no one had heard of “neonicotinoids”. The next, it suddenly seemed as though everyone knew for certain that this pesticide was responsible for the “colony collapse” devastating the world’s bee populations and that therefore it should be banned by the EU as a matter of urgency.
Among those who lent their weight to the campaign were the fashion designers Vivienne Westwood and Katharine Hamnett, the National Treasure Stephen Fry and dozens of activists charmingly and amusingly dressed in bee costumes. The impression given was that this issue was an absolute no brainer on which the jury of the wise, decent and informed had long since delivered their verdict: anyone who spoke up in favour of these evil chemicals was clearly nothing more than a science-denying bee-hating bastard in the pay of Big Pharma.
So why, almost instantly, did I smell a rat? Well apart from the obvious clue – any campaign involving Vivienne Westwood is, by definition, stupid, silly and wrong – there was also the matter of the unseemly haste with which these campaign groups were trying to force the legislation through. And the fact that the bully-mob tactics being used here were so redolent of the ones I’d seen elsewhere used by environmentalists to justify their scientifically dubious campaigns against everything from the forestry industry to the harmless trace gas carbon dioxide.
Green on the outside, red on the inside: that’s what these Watermelon campaigns are really about. So, with the help of investigative journalist Richard North, I began looking into the true story behind the ban.
What we found was appalling if not altogether surprising. The ban – heavily opposed by Britain’s then-Environment Secretary Owen Paterson – had rather less to do with proven necessity than it did with political horse-trading.
Indeed, the scientific evidence for justifying the ban seemed flimsy to the point of non-existence.
How then, could all these celebrities and campaign groups and environmental activists and EU apparatchiks and progressive media outlets (from the Guardian and the BBC to Huff Po) have been persuaded otherwise? On what kind of science were they basing their claims?
Well, now thanks to a happy internet leak we have our answer. It turns out that the “evidence” was cooked up at the suggestion of a cabal of activist scientists working for a supposedly neutral and independent environmental organisation called the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
The IUCN, founded by eugenicist Julian Huxley in 1948, is one of the world’s most respected environmental bodies, best known for its “Red List” of threatened species. While this wouldn’t be the first occasion on which its objectivity has been called into question – its decision to declare the world’s thriving polar bear populations “vulnerable”, for example, owes more to politics than science – it hasn’t, until now, been caught red-handed engaging in environmental activism quite so blatant as this.
The smoking gun is a “private note” – understandably marked “to be kept confidential” – recording a meeting in June 2010 between four activist scientists associated with the IUCN, including Dr Bijleveld van Lexmond (a founding member of WWF in the Netherlands), where they plot to effect an EU-wide ban on neonicotinoids.
They plan to achieve this by simultaneously bombarding the scientific media with a number of research papers in order to give the impression that a wide variety of different experts have come to the same conclusion: that neonicotinoids are a dangerous hazard.
We would try to pull together some major names inthe scientific world to be authors of this paper. If we are successful in gettingthese two papers published, there will be enormous impact, and a campaign ledby WWF etc could be launched right away. It will be much harder forpoliticians to ignore a research paperand a Policy Forum paper inScience.Themost urgent thing is to obtain the necessary policy change to have thesepesticides banned, not to start a campaign.
What’s absent from the discussion, though, is any debate about whether neonicotinoids really are the threat they’ve been cracked up to be. The scientists involved are so convinced of the rightness of their cause that they feel under no obligation to subject neonicotinoids to any further scientific scrutiny. As they say above, all they want is “to have these pesticides banned.”
And they can confidently count on the support of numerous supposedly independent allies within the Green Blob, among them two campaigners from the RSPB Mark Avery and David Gibbons.
Avery can be seen keeping his end of the bargain here, by reproducing this paper on his blog, purporting to offer solid scientific evidence that neonicotinoids are a menace. Here, meanwhile, is David Gibbons’s effort – published after the ban, but justifying it by suggesting that not just bees but birds too are threatened by neonicotinoids.
The cumulative effect of all this is to give anyone coming fresh to the debate the impression that the science on neonicotinoids has indeed been long since settled by a variety of independent expert sources. Anyone questioning the validity of the apparently unanimous conclusions of this disparate research would, of course, inevitably run the risk of looking like a conspiracy theorist. What possible motivation, after all, could so many different scientists have for saying something that just wasn’t true?
Well the motivation in this case, we now know, was “noble cause corruption.” That is, these scientists appear to have been so convinced by the rightness of their cause that they felt justified in throwing honest enquiry out of the window and engaging instead in pure political activism.
As Richard North notes on his blog, the effects of this entirely unjustified EU ban have been devastating to farmers, especially those growing oil seed rape, where neonicotinoids had proved a very effective pesticide.
Growers have reported oilseed rape (OSR) yields down by about 30 percent in some areas and many have struggled to control the booming flea beetle population which was brought on by the unusually warm autumn. And a report by the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board noted that 2.7 percent of the national winter OSR crop, equivalent to 18,000 hectares (44,480 acres), has been completely lost to the beetles.
When you count the similar damage across the other EU member states, the cost of the ban runs into billions. Worse still – from an environmental point of view – is that instead of using a targeted pesticide like neonicotinoids, farmers will now have to use a less effective, broad spectrum alternative which will not only kill a greater variety of insect life but will need to be applied more often.
So in the name of saving the environment, the Green Blob has once again succeeded in perverting the cause of science, damaging nature, harming the economy, ruining livelihoods and driving up prices. There is nothing new in any of this: it’s how the Green Blob rolls – the destruction of the global economy, in this case in its ideological war on the intensive agriculture which keeps us fed, being one of its primary objectives.
The only thing that’s different this time is this: for a change – as with Climategate – the lying, cheating bastards got caught red-handed.