August 25, 2009
I just came across the interview with Mr. Zaruk, and must say that I was appalled and scared when reading his views. But on the other side, he only expresses himself as what he is, a former lobbyist of the chemical industry more interested probably in pushing through private interests than the global commons.
Philosophy didn’t help him out on being wise and projecting balanced arguments. His is the kind of blind and non-constructive argumentation which is disgraceful of somebody who apparently wants to contribute to a better future…so be ready for attacks against the EU as an institution and its policymakers, EU citizens, the ‘environmentalists’, the NGOs…
Even though some of his arguments and remarks are somewhat valid and justified (like the one on the WHO scaring everybody on H1N1 while there are other, more serious threats), he seems largely the hostage himself of ‘sciencetech-religious fundamentalism’ which will lead us nowhere neither…it is a pity that such crucial questions are answered in such a bad way.
In his analysis of Europeans and Americans, it is easy to understand that in his narrow-minded opinion, Europeans are definitively on the bad side, full of their ancient fears and frozen in a ‘looser attitude’, which begs the question ‘Why are Europeans not embracing innovation?’.
I must say that a lot of the given arguments are simply ridiculous, such as ‘it is science and its technological advances that caused all the carbon increases and global warming?’
Anyone who is a bit clever knows that it is neither science nor technology which caused/causes global warming but humans and their behaviour, and the use humans make of what science and technology comes up with.
It is like this with GMOs too: science and technology made them possible, but it is up to our society/communities to make the decision whether to use this discovery or not.
In Mr. Zaruk’s point of view, science & technology come first. They are like a religion which should be followed without any questioning. He writes that ‘rather than God we have Gaia’, which he dislikes because he would prefer ‘rather than God we have science’.
What about humans, people and societies? Science and technology is an outcome of people’s activities, work and reflections. It is available to humans and not the other way round: our societies are not there to blindly serve ‘science & technology’ and the people leading and driving ‘science & technology’, and they are not there to follow their recommendations blindly.
Science serves society, not society science! Mr. Zaruk seems to have forgotten that we leave in a time of democracy, where each society decides upon its common future as a community in transparent and open processes, and not under the leadership of a self-declared class of scientists/experts deciding on their own for the good of everyone.
Whether you like it or not Mr Zaruk, ‘science & technology’ have gone a little bit more under a kind of ‘social control’, which is an excellent evolution of democratic societies. Unfortunately, or happily for Mr. Zaruk, this is still not always the case and several fundamental decisions for our future on this planet are made primarly by closed circles and in non-transparent processes involving scientists/experts and politicians without much or any input or consultation of the civil society. Scientists cannot be blamed for that, but politicians and lobbyists who push for non-tranparency, yes!
The precautionary principle and the reversal of the burden of proof is exactly this evolution of social control of ‘science & technology’ and is also the consequence of decades of environmental scandals and health catastrophes due to bad use of ‘science & technology’, usually because ‘industry & business & lobbyists’ have pushed hard for a non-precautionary approach. There are plenty of examples of this, be it the asbestos scandal in France, nuclear incidents or accidents in the past, Seveso, BSE, the on-going dangerous use of some pesticides, etc.
Of course people get scared and are wary of any scientific and technological development with a certain level of risk. Wouldn’t industry, with the help of some scientists and the majority of politicians, have lied for decades (with the following catastrophes)? We wouldn’t be at this point where probably some positive developments are sometimes stopped or delayed because of more risk-aversion.
It’s life, when you lie, trust gets lost…and trust is not a “commodity” as stated in the last paragraph, it is in the human heart and mind.
The point that Mr. Zaruk obviously does not mention about ‘risk’ is that it is almost always the weakest and poorest of society who eventually bear the dark side of the risk, so the case where the negative development becomes reality, not those who make the decisions and sit in the comfortable leading positions.
A kind of privatisation of the profits and socialisation of the costs: ‘Let’s take the risk. If it works well it’s good for everyone and perfect for those who will make big money with it, and if it turns out bad, it’s only bad for normal citizens: profits and glory were made and are safe for those who are made the decisions’.
This is the kind of philosophy which is developed by Zaruk, and that’s why his arguments are really those of a real coward and show that he has learnt nothing or little from past environmental and health-related catastrophes.
To write that “precaution is a policy tool for cowards” is an absolute shame and an insult to all those who work for sustainable development and science & technology.
It is easy now to attack those who care more for the general interest than to ask experts/politicians/industry for transparency and responsible behaviour.
And then he also comes up with “creationism” and tends to mix environmentalists and creationists or Catholics, writing: “And a lot of environmentalists look at science as a threat, as did the Catholic Church”.
This is a real shame. Since he believes so much in science, my question is “where are the scientific studies and sociological analyses to make such a miserable statement?” Mr. Zaruk probably knows very little about ‘environmentalists’, but doesn’t hesitate to judge quickly. If he had a bit more humility, he would first recognise that ‘environmentalists’ do not exist as such. But it is easier for his attacks to group the ‘non-believers’ into a category which is easily recognisable.
Among environmentalists, the variety of people and opinion is as diverse and large as in any other grouping, such as the ‘liberals’ or ‘conservatives’. Maybe some are negative on science, others not. Hence he completely forgets that probably the majority of people who want to protect the environment are very favourable to science and see it as a solution, or at least a partial solution, to environmental issues.
A lot of the current scientific and technological discoveries and solutions (think about renewable energies for instance) were actually made possible by the relentless work on research and development carried out for decades by people one could easily describe as ‘crazy’, because you must really have been crazy to work and believe in what science and technology is delivering today to protect the environment at a time when nobody cared about it 10, 20 or 30 years ago.
It is a real pity to see ‘science and technology’ defended by such a weak advocate, because indeed science and technology is crucial for finding solutions towards sustainable development (including chemicals). But when one pours everything, without tasting, into the same glass, one risks having to throw it all into the toilet, the very tasty part too. A good cocktail is one with measured drinks.