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  • Gasping For Air and Energy

    Posted by Shannon Love on May 15th, 2009 (All posts by )

    Environmentalists claim they aren’t extremist. They claim they don’t want to make radical and dangerous changes to our technological life-support systems, they just want to make a few minor adjustments to protect not only the environment but the health and safety of humans as well. 

    They’re lying. When it comes down to it in the real world, environmentalists will kill people just to gain an utterly trivial environmental benefit. As a political movement, environmentalism has crossed over into a kind of religious fetishism. 

    Look at the example of the banning of CFC asthma inhalers. [h/t Instapundit] Here we have a clear-cut tradeoff between the deaths of thousands of asthmatics and prevention of a degree of damage to the ozone layer that is so small that we can’t even begin to consider measuring it. 

    It’s important to understand that when we use a particular technology to treat millions of patients even a minor increase in risk can kill large numbers of people. When you allow those deaths to accumulate over a span of decades the body count gets high in a hurry.

    About 20 million people in America suffer asthma, and about 2 million of those suffer asthma so severe it poses a threat to their lives if untreated. About 5,000 people or 0.25% of severe sufferers die every year. Over the span of 10 years, 2.5% or roughly 1 in 40 severe-asthma sufferers will die of the disease. 

    Let’s suppose that the difficulty in using the new environmentally friendly inhalers increases the asthma death rate by just 1%. That comes to 50 unnecessary deaths a year or 500 unnecessary deaths over a decade. Roughly 150 of those deaths will be children. 

    And what do we gain by adopting the new system? Nothing. The amount of CFCs in inhalers has an impact so small that we couldn’t even detect it. CFCs used to be used in a wide range of technologies. Every cooling system of any kind used CFCs as did virtually every spray can. Dozens of other less visible technologies also used and released millions of tons of CFCs a year into the atmosphere. It took this decades-long accumulation of great gobs of CFCs to produced an effect on the ozone layer. By contrast, the amount of CFCs vented from one small compressor would fill hundreds of inhalers. Even if everyone in the world used CFC inhalers we wouldn’t be talking about enough CFC release to have a measurable impact. One volcano erupting anywhere in the world would destroy more ozone than centuries of CFC inhaler use.

    Since we’ve eliminated CFCs from every other technology, the amount of CFCs put into the atmosphere by inhalers will have zero effect on the ozone layer. Any effect it might have hypothetically will be swamped by the noise of the natural variation in ozone levels. 

    So, we’ve traded zero environmental gain for the very real deaths of people. Why did this decision get made? Certainly, the economic self-interest of companies making the new inhalers played a role. As with the ban on CFCs in other technologies, this ban forced consumers to stop using old CFC technologies that existed in the public domain, and instead to use new, proprietary replacement technology owned by a few companies. Dupont alone made a killing. Likewise with inhalers, anyone could manufacture a public-domain inhaler but only a few companies own the patents to manufacture non-CFC inhalers. 

    For their part, many environmentalists clearly supported the inhaler ban merely out of quasi-religious fetishism. Their mystical reasoning divides the world into good substances and bad substances. A substance that is bad in one instance is bad in all instances. They have no concept of tradeoffs. CFCs are bad for the ozone, so they have to be rooted out everywhere regardless of the degree of harm or the cost in resources or lives. It’s the symbolism that matters, not the physical reality. 

    It’s like ultra-orthodox Jews building entirely separate kitchens for meat and cheese. It’s just an exercise in moral vanity. They express their commitment to the environmental cause by taking their changes to the extreme of killing people. They simply don’t care if the ban accomplishes any actual physical good. They merely care that others see them going to such an extreme. 

    For less radical environmentalists, the ban shows how the enshrinement of “the environment first” into government policy leads to perverse and dangerous outcomes. Had you told someone twenty years ago, in 1989, when the ozone banning Montreal Protocol was signed, that it would lead to the banning of medical technology for zero environmental gain, people would have laughed at you. Yet here we are.

    What does this suggest about future tradeoffs such as replacing coal with unreliable weather-dependent power sources? Environmentalists claim they won’t chose to starve us for power to save the environment and they mock anyone who suggests they would, yet the example of the asthma inhalers should give everyone pause. If they can rationalize the dramatic dangers of putting asthmatics at risk they can readily rationalize the much more subtle harms of starving the economy of power. 

    [Update (2009-5-16-11:14am): While answering a comment I thought of an analogy that demonstrates the scale of tradeoffs involved in banning CFC inhalers. Imaging that  you have a steep hillside at risk of erosion and dangerous runoff. Obviously, if you clear cut the side of the hill and remove most or all of the vegetation, especially the trees, it will create a dangerous situation as water tears up the hillside. So, an environmentalist would be justified in banning the clear cutting of the hillside. Now, imagine that a person living next to the hill is dangerously allergic to poison ivy so you decide to protect them by selectively removing just the few dozen poison ivy plants on the hillside without disturbing any of the other vegetation. If an environmentalist stopped you from removing the ecologically insignificant poison ivy by claiming they were just trying to prevent erosion and runoff you would immediately understand that they were more interested in symbolism than protecting people. (If someone else was making a killing selling poison ivy treatments the dynamic would be clearer.)]


    9 Responses to “Gasping For Air and Energy”

    1. Sella Turcica Says:

      It’s important to make the distinction that while Orthodox Jews may waste a good part of their lives with their ritualistic nonsense, it’s rarely harmful to the rest of us…as opposed to so many other -isms such as Communism, Islam, and Radical Environmentalism.

    2. Shannon Love Says:

      Sella Turcica,

      I didn’t mean to single out orthodox jews, that was just the most extreme bit of moral vanity that popped into my head at the moment. Going overboard with kosher practices doesn’t hurt anybody but it is a sign that the person does so cares more for the regard of humans than they do spirit of the tenets of their faith.

      Of course, any religion, ideology or philosophy that creates rules of behavior risk setting off a competitive status seeking frenzy in which people compete to see who is willing to sacrifice the most to push the rules to their extremes.

      For example, of all the agnostics I know, I am the one who has the most rational understandings of the limits of knowledge. The rest of those pikers don’t even come close.

    3. Brett_McS Says:

      The “CFCs cause the ozone hole” hypothesis has been totally debunked. It was never a particularly good hypothesis (ie just an idea) in the first place, and certainly did not at any point rise to the level of a theory (an idea with some support in theory and experiment). So it makes perfect sense that politicians would still be using it to suck up to greenies. In fact if the aim of these politicians is to suck up green fascists, supporting a demonstrably untrue greenie idea probably gets more mileage.

    4. Shannon Love Says:


      Well, CFCs probably do degrade the upper layer of the ozone layer to some degree but you’re right they’re not the primary driver of the thinning of ozone layer over the antarctic. Personally, I think we will find that the higher than normal solar activity that ran form roughly 1964-2001 will eventually be show to have strongly influenced the drop in ozone.

      However, for purposes of my argument it doesn’t matter. Even if the worse case CFC-ozone scenarios were true, it still would not justify banning CFC inhalers because the inhalers contribution is to trivial to pay the least attention to. It is analogous to determining that clear cutting trees on a hill side down to the stumps causes dangerous runoff and erosion and then banning people from pulling up poison ivy because in theory that contributes to erosion. You could argue that in theory removing any plants from the hillside “contributes” to erosion but in reality it would be impossible to even measure the difference in runoff or erosion.

      If someone was willing to risk exposing someone with a violent allergy to poison ivy on the hillside, it would be clear that the person cared more for the symbolism of protecting the hillside than they were about the preventing real harm to the either the environment or people.

    5. Brett_McS Says:

      No, I understood your point, Shannon, I just didn’t want the greenie’s “CFCs caused the ozone hole” idea to stand there unchallenged. The Poison Ivy illustration makes it very clear. The green movement relies on keeping things abstract and unquantified in people’s minds in order that decisions are made on the basis of “all or nothing”.

    6. TMLutas Says:

      I suggest tossing the golden apple of discord. Ten seconds of the sound of severe asthma wheezing can be cringe inducing. After the initial attention getter, add 15 seconds of audio afterwards how public domain inexpensive inhalers are off the market because of trivial CFC release and now expensive inhalers are replacing them, disproportionately impacting the poor (who have higher rates of asthma, a heavier reliance on inhalers, and less ability to pay for the new ones). Finish up with 5 seconds of wheezing with the tag line “environmentalists didn’t care about people”. That takes it out of the speculative and into the concrete.

    7. Brett_McS Says:

      “Disproportionally impacting the poor” should be the motto of this administration. Perhaps they are looking long term to an arrangement such as in Finland where everyone’s income is public knowledge, available on-line, and even parking fines can be means tested to the individual by the police.

    8. Arthur Abramson Says:

      TMLutas- I like your radio ad- IF the first 10 seconds don’t cause listeners to switch stations.

      The fact is that we need to run radio ads in all major cities to let 40 million patients know that our campaign to get Congress to amend the Clean air Act in order to permanently legalize CFC MDIs exists.

      We invite all interested patients, families, friends and any one else who is angry about this unprecedented intrusion into medical decisions by government extremist enviro-freaks to join our campaign at:

    9. tomw Says:

      Can anyone spell Challenger? I understand the use of CFC-free foam insulation contributed to, or is the only cause of the damage to the leading edge of the wing. I also understand that the shuttle launches release a storm of ‘stuff’ that injures the O3 molecules. Strange contradiction…
      See Meghan Mcardle if you want to read about CFC-free inhalers.
      The Patients are the Problem