Avaaz is a global grass-roots lobbying organisation. They are the biggest of the new wave of groups taking full advantage of the internet to help individuals like you and me connect with others with similar views so as to more effectively leverage our combined numbers.
I have signed up to many of their campaigns, but they do tend to be a bit reactionary on environmental matters. Their anti-GM petition got me quite riled when they clearly demonstrated no attempt to understand the science or the potential benefits, and instead just accused everyone who disagreed with them of being corrupt. I wrote them a letter, but they ignored it (probably chalking me up as in the pay of “big agro” or some such) and the petition went on to become one of their most successful to date.
Consequently, when I received their latest petition, blaming the very worrying colony collapse disorder (CCD) in honey bees on a new type of insecticide and calling for its immediate ban, I did not immediately add my name.
I have spent a bit of time searching the literature and it seems CCD is a complex problem that is likely to be caused by a number of factors. Avaaz claim this is not so and blame the confusion as to the causes of CCD on powerful lobbyists for the chemical companies; but I found papers from all over the world, and not one of them pointed to a strong link between these new neonicotinoid pesticides and CCD.
If there’s one thing I know, it’s that however tempting it might be to accuse us of it, most scientists are not in thrall to powerful industries. I find it highly unlikely that evidence of a strong link would not have appeared somewhere in the literature by now if it existed. Scientists studying bees care about them a great deal; they study them precisely because they find them engaging and fascinating animals. Bee researchers wouldn’t keep something as damaging as this under wraps if they knew about it.
Avaaz do give several sources for their conclusions, but they are almost all news articles with no primary references. The main exception being a bee briefing from the soil association, but that doesn’t have any references at all. Much is made of a leaked memo from the US Environmental Protection Agency supposedly showing they “knew about the pesticide’s dangers, but ignored them”, but the only part of the memo I could find is this quote:
information from standard tests and field studies, as well as incident reports involving other neonicotinoids insecticides … suggest the potential for long term toxic risk to honey bees and other beneficial insects.
Given the “…” in the middle, the lack of context and news agencies’ previous record for quote mining, this is hardly a smoking gun.
I’m spreading the word about this campaign, but I am a bit ambivalent about signing. There is evidence of a link and, given the fact that the over reliance on insecticides in general together with synergistic reactions as they accumulate in bee populations are also implicated, perhaps it is better to be safe than sorry and ban this class of chemicals for now; we can always repeal the ban should it later be shown they are not harmful.
I want to sign this petition: I think that, on balance, it would be better to ban these chemicals sooner rather than later; but I have lost my faith in Avaaz. Instead of giving people the whole truth and allowing them to make up their own minds about this complex issue, they have opted to spread simplistic propaganda.
These are tactics I have seen before. It is easier to believe the comforting lie than the difficult truth, and that is a fact that those in the anti-global warming, pro-tobacco and, I am sure, many other lobbies use with ruthless efficiency to further their disreputable causes.
I have learned that, when battling those who do not care about the truth, it is imperative that you stick to absolute honesty. Their dishonesty may make gains at first, but the truth will always win out eventually. If people cannot trust you, however, no amount of pointing to the truth will work, they see only two sides that are equally dishonest and they are liable to pick the one that they find most appealing – invariably this is the wrong choice.
So, I have a quandary. I think that, having gathered a full and balanced view of the situation, it is probably best to ban neonicotinoid insecticides. Had Avaaz have presented me with the whole truth, I would most likely have signed up willingly. But they didn’t, and I cannot condone this form of campaigning because I believe it negatively impacts upon our ability to fight for other challenging causes.
So which principal do I sacrifice? If I sign the petition, I am knowingly supporting a cause that has used misinformation to get its way, and if I don’t I am failing to lobby for the banning of an insecticide that I do believe we should stop using.
I will have to ponder this a bit further before I make a decision, but at least you now have all the information and you too can make an informed decision about whether or not to join Avaaz’s cause.