Read an Excerpt
ECO-FREAKSENVIRONMENTALISM IS HAZARDOUS TO YOUR HEALTH!
By JOHN BERLAU
NELSON CURRENTCopyright © 2007 John Berlau
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWhat I Learned about Environmentalism from Chuck D
Environmentalists have long admitted to using fear to arouse public action. Hollywood global-warming activist Laurie David, wife of Seinfeld co-creator and Curb Your Enthusiasm star Larry David, recently told the New York Times what an effective tool fear can be. A New York Times profile of David opened this way:
"'I am terrified,' Laurie David said between bites of her Cobb salad, avocados on the side. 'I'm terrified. I'm terrified. And fear is a great motivator.'"
Like David, I'm also terrified.
You should be too.
But I'm not terrified about global warming or any of the alleged problems with technologies of the last two hundred years, such as the automobile or nuclear power.
Rather, my fear is more basic. What I fear is nature-or rather untrammeled nature, with little intervention by humans. I grew up in Kansas and know how beautiful a prairie sunset, with its reflection on the grass, can be. I often talked to my late grandfather about his memories of rural Colorado. He arrived there as a child from czarist Russia and was put to work on a dairy farm in an area that is now part of suburban Denver. He had some fond memories, even though the work was strenuous and often backbreaking. But my grandfather, and most likely your grandparents and great-grandparents, as well, had no illusions about Mother Nature being a kind force. Neither did people the world over for thousands of years before them. Neither should we.
In fact, our view today of nature as benign "is something of an aberration in human history," writes James Trefil, a professor of physics at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, and former "Ask Mr. Science" columnist for USA Weekend magazine. In his book Human Nature, Trefil notes that for most of history, "[a]ny natural event-a flood, a drought, a sudden influx of disease-could (and did) decimate human populations." Back then, Trefil observes, "nature was not a pleasant warm place, but a constant danger, a constant dark force in their lives. Only when nature was tamed and brought under control-in a garden, for example-could it be enjoyed."
Most of those today longing to get back to "nature" have never really had to deal with it. More than nostalgia for old movies and music, the longing to go back to the "good old days" before technology is often felt by the young, rather than those who actually lived through that era. As Trefil writes, "So successful have we been at insulating ourselves from the harmful effects of the natural world that we have largely forgotten that they exist."
And most members of the generations who did have to face more of the "natural world" are not at all like the grumpy old man character on Saturday Night Live, saying they had to slog through nature and they "liked it." They are most often grateful for the technologies that made their lives easier. That's why they invented them.
This point is illustrated by an unusual conversation that Ronald Reagan participated in, sometime around 1975. The conversation was with a group of young adults that included some of Reagan's own children, and the topic of discussion was the past. But in defending the past and the present, there seemed to be a reversal of roles.
"Strangely enough it wasn't old Dad who was nostalgic about the good old days and sour about today's world," Reagan later related in a radio commentary. It was the younger generation that was both nostalgic and pessimistic. "They almost seemed resentful toward me because I'd known that other world of yesterday, when life was simple and good with joy on every hand," he said.
So Reagan tried to set them straight about life being "exciting and good today, in truth better in most respects." He told them about walking in the snow to the outhouse in back of his home. And of the swarms of flies that his and the other outhouses-"of which there was one for every home and store and public building"-would bring to town every summer. As for pollution, he educated the young folks about the old coal furnaces that existed before electricity from centralized power plants and gas from pipelines were widespread. "[E]very chimney in town belched black smoke and soot," he recalled. Reagan also could have mentioned that before coal, burning large amounts of wood wasn't exactly good for the air, and it also meant the logging of lots of trees.
Reagan said he hoped the discussion would make his children's generation "feel good about the world they've inherited." At the end of the radio commentary relating the episode, the future president would quote University of Texas chemical engineering professor John J. McKetta as saying, "Perhaps the simple life was not so simple."
If Reagan isn't your political cup of tea, here's what Franklin D. Roosevelt had to say forty years earlier about the "simple life" and unbridled nature. As he was dedicating the Hoover Dam in 1935 (it wasn't officially called Hoover yet, more on this in chapter 6), the father of the modern Democratic Party shed no tears over the loss of the natural Colorado River. On the contrary, FDR hailed the taming of a "turbulent, dangerous river" and bragged about "altering the geography of a whole region." The land along the river that existed before the dam was not, in FDR's view, a natural wonder. To him, it was "cactus-covered waste." And about the pre-dammed river, "Mr. Democrat" said bluntly that "the Colorado added little of value to the region this dam serves."
Any politician talking as negatively about nature today as FDR did then would be dismissed as a shill for big oil!
The Hoover Dam would rise again in a spirited political discussion in the year 2005, thirty years after Reagan's radio commentary and seventy years after FDR's speech. This time the speaker would be a public figure somewhat different from the two presidents: hip-hop mogul Chuck D. But like Reagan and FDR, he was talking about the need for humans to assert control over the ravages of nature.
It was mid-September, about two weeks after Hurricane Katrina had hit New Orleans. Chuck D and I, from different locations, were guests on Tucker Carlson's MSNBC show, The Situation. I was in the green room, listening to the show as I prepared for my own session. Chuck D came on first to talk about the conspiracy theories about levee failures that demagogues like Louis Farrakhan had been promoting. Chuck D was flirting with the theories, and Tucker was grilling him mercilessly. I was half-listening, agreeing 100 percent with Tucker, and thinking, "What nonsense."
Then Chuck D said something that made me do a double take. He told Tucker, "Look, if Hoover Dam could stop the raging Colorado River, I'm pretty sure that they could have come along with a strong enough levee system to stop Lake Pontchartrain." This comment hit me upside the head and rearranged my perspective.
I had done research on how environmentalists had filed lawsuits delaying levee construction, and had written an article about it for National Review Online. In fact, that's what I was booked to talk to Tucker about. I had received more e-mails about this issue, including lots of hate mail, than any subject I had written about in the decade I had spent in journalism and public policy.
But Chuck D's remark about the Hoover sent me on a journey. I had never before realized the extent and consequences of what environmentalists had achieved in this country. Their success in stopping technological advances often reduces opportunities for the poor, and their accomplishments also threaten the very health and safety that the green movement claims to be promoting.
Before I heard Chuck D, I had never realized that the Hoover Dam was built to prevent the "raging" Colorado from flooding the region. I thought the Hoover was there just to provide power and water for cities like Las Vegas, and I didn't even know that the Colorado posed that big a danger of flooding. But in my research, I found that Chuck D was indeed correct. The Hoover Dam was primarily built for flood control and navigation, with hydroelectric power as an afterthought. Roosevelt even referred to the Colorado's flood-and-drought cycle in his dedication speech for the dam, noting how every spring, farmers "awaited with dread the coming of a flood."
As you will see in chapter 6, there are prominent environmentalists who propose decommissioning all dams, including the Hoover, to let rivers go back to their natural flows. No way America would ever go for such an absurd idea, right? Don't be so sure. In the 1970s, environmentalists halted the building of the flood barrier that experts believed would have been best at stopping the surge of the Gulf of Mexico from entering Lake Pontchartrain. These giant floodgates were similar to flood protection devices being developed in the Netherlands, a large chunk of which is also below sea level and which is noted for its superior flood protection.
Even with all the incompetence and shenanigans of the levels of government involved, the project was ready to get off the ground and would have been completed were it not for a victorious lawsuit by the Environmental Defense Fund (now Environmental Defense) and the local group, Save Our Wetlands. And since everyone knew-since Hurricane Betsy devastated New Orleans in 1965-that the "big one" would come again, I could understand how it would almost seem like a conspiracy that adequate protection wasn't built there. This doesn't excuse Farrakhan and others who are trying to stir up hate, but it does offer a plausible reason why the conspiracy explanation seems to be so widely believed. And why the environmentalists' role must be pointed out in Katrina histories to show that racism and ill will were not the reasons for the flood-protection delays.
What happened to New Orleans, I began to realize, was the effect of the spread of "eco-imperialism" to the United States. The book Eco-Imperialism by Paul Driessen, a scholar at the free-market Atlas Economic Research Foundation, describes how the West's notions of "environmental correctness" cause death and devastation in third world countries that are prevented from developing their public-health systems.
For instance, the DDT bans and foreign-aid restrictions of the United States and Europe have resulted in millions dying in Africa from mosquito-borne malaria. The blocking of dams, which are protested by mostly Western activists, leaves millions without flood protection, electricity, and clean water. Driessen points out that when environmentalist pressure halted the Bujagali dam in Uganda, it left millions without "the 'luxury' of running water, or even safe drinking water."
America, of course, is still mighty prosperous, but environmentalism is putting us on the brink of danger as well. As technology after technology that our grandparents put in place is being banned, and new technologies never even come to market, we risk a public-health disaster. Environmentalists have promoted all sorts of doomsday scenarios about population explosions and massive cancer crises from pesticides that have been shown to be false. But now, because we have done away with so many useful products based on those scares, we are in danger of an old-fashion doomsday returning because we've lost what protected us from the wrath of nature. Indeed, as we will see throughout this book, public health hazards caused by environmental policies are already on the scene.
Ironically, when technologies improved public health and made nature less harsh, these technologies became the new locus of our fears. Political scientist Aaron Wildavsky and anthropologist Mary Douglas write in their book, Risk and Culture, that "the rise of alarm over risk to life" occurred "at the same time as health is better than ever before." And many of the technologies that made us safer were turned into "the source of risk."
Former vice president Al Gore, who has ramped up his charges of doomsday from global warming and other alleged environmental dangers, made an interesting comment to Rolling Stone. The reason it's interesting is because it's almost exactly the opposite of what's true. When the interviewer asked why people weren't "hearing the message" of global warming's dangers, Gore replied that we may not yet have reached that stage in evolution where we respond quickly to complex scares.
"Our brains are much better at perceiving danger in fangs and claws and spiders and fire," Gore said. "It's more difficult to trigger the alarm parts of the brain-those connected to survival-with grave dangers that can only be perceived through abstract models and complex data."
Today that's almost exactly wrong. Because technology has shielded us from the natural world, we don't perceive simple dangers from nature as easily as our grandparents did. And because of this, we are more prone to believe in complex, speculative scares like global warming than in immediate hazards that are still very dangerous.
There's no better example of this than our modern perceptions of weather. Egged on by Gore and other environmentalists, we increasingly associate any harsh weather event with global warming. In a single Boston Globe op-ed published last year just after Hurricane Katrina, author Ross Gelbspan blamed global warming for snow, heat waves, floods, and droughts. As for Katrina, he proclaimed that "its real name is global warming."
I delve into what we should know about the global warming "crisis" in chapters 4 and 6, and I will also refer you to other good sources where you can get the important facts. Let me just state here one of the most important facts. Katrina, by the time it hit landfall, turned out to be an average hurricane rather than a superstorm. It was solely the breech of the levees-again, in large part due to environmentalists nixing stronger protection-that made the storm so destructive. And long before we had cars, electricity, or any of the products that allegedly contribute to global warming, humans knew Mother Nature could be harsh. Any cursory glance of history will give you accounts of dozens of fierce storms, going back thousands of years. Harsh sea storms were part of Homer's ancient Greek tome The Odyssey. Here in America, before cars and electricity were used at nearly the volume they are today, storms still caused great amounts of death and destruction. In 1938, an Atlantic hurricane hit New England by surprise with walls of water fifty feet high and winds clocked at 186 miles per hour. The hurricane killed 682 people and seriously injured 1,754.
Similarly, global warming cannot be blamed for the hurricane in 1900 that ravaged Galveston, Texas, and killed as many as ten thousand people. This remains the deadliest natural disaster in American history. Since Galveston residents didn't have global warming to blame back then, they did what they had to do to protect themselves from the next hurricane, whose "real name," to paraphrase Gelbspan, was nature. The town built a seawall, standing seventeen feet high and twenty-seven feet wide. In a hundred years, the wall has never been breached. According to journalist Erik Larson in his definitive book Isaac's Storm, it has protected the city from hurricanes nine times, the latest being in 1983.
But today environmentalists have prevented us from using the latest technologies to build strong dams, walls, and gates. Instead, they and their admirers in the media pitch natural solutions like wetlands. Wetlands can be a good thing for other reasons, such as hosting wildlife, but they have never been proven successful as the primary means of flood control. Indeed, as I reveal in chapter 6, the Netherlands took away thousands of acres of wetlands when it built its sophisticated dams that keep the country so well protected from North Atlantic storms.
But lack of flood protection is just one example of where environmentalists, and the policy makers who have followed their prescriptions, have made our country more prone to disasters. Others include the following:
The banning of DDT and other insecticides has left us more vulnerable to insect and tick-borne diseases. West Nile virus and Lyme disease, both of which can have harmful or lethal effects, are on the rise. We need pesticides to control the mosquitoes and ticks that spread them. The pesticide bans may also leave us vulnerable to a host of plagues from bird flu to a bioterrorism-created virus, both of which could be made deadlier by insects spreading the infectious agent.
The ban of asbestos, still ranked by many scientists as the most effective fire retardant, has made American buildings and military ships more prone to deadly fires caused by accidents or terrorist attacks. Lack of asbestos meant a greater number of casualties in both the attacks on the World Trade Center and the fire at The Station nightclub in Rhode Island, as I will detail in the coming pages.
Excerpted from ECO-FREAKS by JOHN BERLAU Copyright © 2007 by John Berlau. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.