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Does Nature Really Know Best?
by Dr. William Hazeltine Ph. D.

Since the Earth Days of the 1970s, the common term used to refer to the environment has been "Mother Earth." These words evoke a feeling of kinship and even veneration, but they also ex-pose the emotional factor that has been used as a subtle way to mislead people. Such mislea-ding has apparently been the purposeful intention of the environmental activists.

Another often-used term is "Nature Knows Best," but this phrase is also misleading. Nature has no safe or kind meaning. Nature is not benign; it operates under a harsh set of realities, such as eat or be eaten, the weak are the first to die, and high rates of reproduction are necessary for survival in areas of high death rates.

Ecology is the attempt to understand the ways in which various components ofthe environment interact, and there is no place for any emotional loading.Those who are serious about under- standing the environment must include human beings in their considerations. To leave out hu-man needs and actions is like watching a game on television, instead of being a player in the real-life experience. Reality requires that people be part of any meaningful, practical considera-tion of environmental issues.

Science vs. Perception

In science, the conclusions we want are not given much weight. What the facts or data say determines what we can properly conclude about cause and effect. Science demands that all the data must fit the hypothesis, or else the hypothesis is not correct. If there is conflict, then a new hypothesis must be formed that is consistent with all the data and this new hypothesis must then be tested. In science, the experiment must be designed to test the hypothesis, not to prove it.

Perceptions are the way of the modern news media, as well as of politics, and are the method used by what appears to be a majority in our society. And when society gets its facts from TV news or editorial programs, daily newspapers, and radio talk shows, our society is in trouble.

When the media try to get 30-second "news bites" or print quotes from people with differing viewpoints, especially scientists, and then play on the disagreements, we get into adversary science. Generally, reporters cover viewpoints, not "truths," and the reader or listener is left to decide which side is right. Even the legal system works in this kind of an arena, when expert witnesses are sworn "to tell the whole truth," and then the opposing lawyers try their best to prevent the whole truth from being told. Thus, jury trials depend far more on perceptions, than on facts. Trying to keep some- thing from being considered as evidence, or telling a jury to forget some fact is the way the game is played by the legal system.

Perceptions are the foundation of political success. Many political aides come from media back-grounds, where news releases and speech writing are the dominant art form. Public opinion polls are the feedback system of political perception manipulators, where winning is far more impor-tant than understanding why the win occurred. Think how different our political system would be if all public office holders had to swear to not only uphold the Constitution, but also to tell the whole truth at all times!

Activists and Perception

Environmental activists have discovered the perception field and by their actions have given up any claim to being scientists. In the early days of the environmental movement, the "scientist-activists" would often give a speech with a few bits of data and then follow that with a prono-uncement that "based on these facts, we can conclude X, Y, and Z." The listeners, unless they were skeptics or trained in the field under discussion, would see themselves as now informed and ready to accept the conclusion as fact. Ironically, audiences where this technique worked the best were at colleges or universities.

One example of this science-by-perception problem was the experiment of one environmental "activist-scientist" that was apparently designed to prove that a certain pesticide had very serious effects on birds. However, the really exciting part of the published report was not the authors' conclusion, but rather that their data appeared to show the creation of matter – a finding that, if true, would shake the very foundations of basic science. They had gotten more yield out of their experiment than was possible from what they had put into the reaction.

Another activist repeated the experiment and got similar results. Yet none of the so-called scientists, nor the reviewers of their manuscripts, saw fit to question the methods used to get this impossible data, and the environmental community continues to rely on these published, apparently faulty studies to support their conclusions that a specific pesticide would harm bird reproduction. Ironically, a study published earlier with the same pesticide and test bird species, showed that the pesticide did not inhibit reproduction.

Winning at Any Cost

Saul Alinsky, the radical community organizer in Chicago, captured the essence of the percep-tion issue very well, when he said, "If the ends do not justify the means, what the hell does?" Winning at any cost is the theme of the perception game players.

The fund-raising literature of the environmental activists puts this into practice. For example, the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) in its early days, when it was almost insolvent, ran an advertisement in The New York Times alleging that there was DDT in human mothers' milk that was over tolerance for residues allowed in cow's milk, and that this would hurt nursing children. The ad seemed clearly aimed at creating a perception of a danger that needed correction. It was successful in bringing in large donations to solve the money crunch of the organization – and in shaping the 1972 politically motivated ban on DDT.

Perceptions are usually not questioned by our manipulated social minds, but when they are exposed as unproven and in error, it can cause great discontent, particularly among those who have been misled. The perception manipulators apparently know this, and have taken steps to reduce their risks by moving environmental thinking to a level of belief that is close to, if not the same as, a declaration of faith.

However, when perceptions on environmental issues get over into the area of faith or belief, there is a potential for conflict about mankind's place in the environment. Are humans to have dominion over the Earth and all lower organisms, or are humans just another one of the orga-nisms in the natural environment?

The activists seem to want it both ways! One way is that "Mother Earth" must be protected and preserved, and if a few million people starve or die from disease, this is just nature at work. On the other hand, a successful economic system and affluence are vital to pre- serving those large cash donations or grants to keep the public relations wheels of discontent and salvation turning.

I submit that the wholesale defeat of an environmental issue on the California ballot a few years ago (called "Big Green")-was strongly influenced by the threat of a national recession and eco-nomic hard times, and that the perceived costs to save the environment from people was un-acceptably large. Marston Sates, the ecologist who observed primitive societies, had what he called his "food and sex lecture." In it, he proposed that as times get tough, the topic of discu-ssion turns from "who slept with whom," to "who ate whom." Translating Bates into 1990s California, the issue is not saving the environment from people, but rather saving people and their economic and physical well-being from the environmentalists.

Biodiversity

The environmental activists' latest proposal is called "preserving biodiversity." This term comes from the "deep ecologists," and will be funded by a $3.9 billion gift from the U.S. government to the "Global Environmental Facility."

This gift and lock on the people of the United States was the result of the Clinton-Gore adminis-tration's signing the "Earth Summit Treaty," which the prior administration had refused to sign at Rio de Janeiro. The Global Environmental Facility appears to be the frame- work for a Global Environmental Protection Agency (World EPA), modelled on the EPA we all know.

Biodiversity, as conceived by the deep ecologists, means to protect all of the natural environ-ment – except for the environment needed by the present population of humans. The key word is protect, which translates as trying to remake the conditions that existed before mankind invaded the wilderness. It goes beyond the Endangered Species Act, and provides the same measures of protection afforded to rare organisms under that act, but the protection extends to all organisms, whether rare or not, and excludes the needs of humans.

Depopulating by Disease, Starvation

Population control must be understood as a major part of the environmental agenda. "To feed a starving child is to exacerbate the population problem," is the way the founder of one popular environmental organization quotes a famous ecologist. Although this may not be mainstream environmental dogma, it is admitted as one solution to the problem by many of the leaders of the environmental movement.

Prince Philip (the husband of Queen Elizabeth II of Britain) is a world environmental leader who is a little more open about his views on population control. He is quoted as saying that if he were reincarnated, he would want to return as a virulent virus, because he could then kill off lots of excess people!

Diseases and starvation are a natural part of population ecology, and death rates are part of population dynamics. The measure of when there are too many of any one species, particularly animals, is part of the idea of the "carrying capacity" of the environment. Without intervention, the numbers of predators and prey, or grazers and carnivores, should be in some kind of equili-brium.

Human intervention in producing more plants at the base of the food chain is what we call agriculture. By manipulating productivity, the so-called carrying capacity of the land can be drastically increased. Actions that diminish agricultural or natural productivity, particularly food crop production, will diminish the food supply available to sustain the grazing and predatory animals, such as humans. Human vegetarians like to see themselves as bypassing the predator step, and thus making food available for more people. But humans are primarily predators, not strictly a grazing species, and we need animal proteins as part of our diet.

Promoting Diseases That Kill

The environmentalists have been quietly going about a program to reduce agricultural produc-tivity, under the banner of improving the environment and protecting people from contamination. They have also attacked the ability of society to control diseases, particularly those diseases associated with insects and other vectors.

A disastrous part of the anti-DDT campaign of the late 1960s was to stop effective control of the mosquitoes that transmit the parasites that cause malaria. Worldwide today, malaria is estimated to cause 400 million or more cases a year; at a 1 percent death rate, this means 4 million deaths a year.

From a purely ecological standpoint, the areas where malaria is prevalent are areas where a high birth rate is necessary to compensate for the high and early death rate. From a social and ethi-cal perspective, encouraging a high death rate, when it is preventable, signals a moral bank-ruptcy.

Other diseases, some of which are associated with mosquitoes and wetland birds, are on the rise, not in remote areas of the Third World, but in our own backyards. Disney World in Florida was part of the 1990 focus on encephalitis, a disease that can be prevented, but not control-led. California in 1993 was on the edge of an epidemic in the Sacramento Valley of a similar kind of encephalitis.

Mosquito control is the way to prevent these diseases. Yet the environmental activists have been doing everything possible to stop control and to encourage creation of wetland breeding areas for mosquitoes and to attract wild bird endemic hosts.

Control or elimination of standing water has been restricted or is no longer possible without threat of federal government fines and jail terms. Federal permits usually require creating another wetland of larger size as a mitigation, if any ditching or draining is allowed at all. This means a problem may be moved someplace else, but not eliminated, under the federal "no net loss" criteria.

Synthetic pesticides are so severely restricted in wetlands, in the name of preserving the environment, that they are largely unavailable or priced out of reach for most control programs. Even oil on the water, which was encouraged during the early Earth Days for mosquito control, is no longer permitted. Oil is now called a pollutant.

The environmentalists are trying to convince people that biological control is the best way to control pests and save the environment. Yet biological control depends on tolerating some level of pests to provide food for predators or parasites. People with experience in making a program work know that depending on biological control alone is a plan for disaster.

Another area that fits their depopulation agenda but has not seen much environmentalist com-ment is the increasing infection and death rate from HIV viruses (AIDS). From a theoretical standpoint, there is little difference between virus diseases that are sexually transmitted and virus diseases transmitted by an insect bite. Yet, there is an outpouring of sympathy for inno-cent children being inadvertently infected with AIDS, but almost no concern and little funding for prevention of malaria in Third World children. Population control is population control; we are either for it or against it.

Social Risk Taking

As a society, we are sometimes willing to take risks, in order to have the benefits those risks make possible. Good sense requires understanding the risks, understanding the benefits, and then deciding if the benefits are worth the risks. We do this every day when we eat or drink, drive automobiles, use electrical gadgets and even participate in social or sexual activities.

Stress and fear can be just as debilitating as physiological or biochemical reactions, and if we operate on a perception of fear, our bodies can do odd things. Clear thinking is the only way to understand and balance risks and benefits.

The federal government has imposed its guidance on risk-benefit balancing, in the form of EPA regulations, which are the public's health is at increasing risk. Requirements that are not cost-effective or are unnecessary are having a disastrous impact on society. For example, smog control on automobiles reduces fuel economy, so in order to save the air quality in populated areas we waste petroleum in less-populated estimated to cost each household an average of at least $10,000 per year. Many of these regulations seem far in excess of need, and an infringement on individuals' ability to think for themselves.

The environmentalists have fought risk-benefit balancing, along with their theory that even one molecule of some substances can cause cancer (the one- hit theory). The illogic of the one-hit theory of cancer causation has been dispelled by experts who point out that most foods contain natural chemicals that can cause cancer in high enough doses, yet we are living longer and not dying of cancer because we eat food.

The federal EPA has been the willing victim of the "risk-only" approach urged by the activists. This was predictable, because risk analysis can be quantified and regulated by someone with no particular expertise. The federal EPA uses the "when in doubt, regulate" attitude and once a numerical limit has been set, it takes no genius to enforce with those numbers. Benefits, on the other hand, take far more expertise to understand and to balance with risks, and this kind of talent seems to be lacking at EPA.

As a result of neglecting benefits, we end up with more tilts than balances, and we all pay the price for this ineptness. Congress clearly imposed a requirement for risk-benefit balancing in the Federal Pesticide Law. Yet the federal EPA continues to ignore its statutory mandate, and the Congress does not seem interested in calling the agency to account. As a result, the pesticides necessary for the control of disease vectors are consistently being lost, and the public´s health is at incresing risk.

Requirements that are not cost-effective or are unnecessary are having a disastrous impact on society. For example, smog control on automobiles reduces fuel economy, so in order to save the air quality in populated areas we waste petroleum in less-populated areas – and oil is a non renewable resource. Trees are a renewable resource being subjected to increasingly more costly harvest restrictions, with lumber costs going out of sight.

Other conveniences have value, as do labour-saving devices, which allow us to have some lei-sure time to enjoy life and that part of our environment which is open for our use. If the econo-mic system is ruined by taking away the reasonable tools of production, our entire society will suffer. We are all interdependent on a viable economy, having enough food to eat and shelter for survival, and having reasonably good health protection. We must have a willingness to accept reasonable risks in order to have these benefits, which we all want.

Good Science

As a society, we should demand good facts and good science in order to accurately decide on the costs or risks and the benefits associated with any government or individual plan of action. Those who purposely mislead us should be recognized and dismissed.

We need to recognize the bases for our views on environmental issues. We also need to recog-nize that there are some in our world who would use love of natural things as a basis to ultima-tely deprive us of our ability to feed, clothe, and protect ourselves.

Natural systems will continue to operate. We need to decide whether we will let emotions or reason determine how we chart our course into the future and how we balance protecting the environment from people, with the need to protect people from the environment.


Dr. William Hazeltine is an entomologist who until his recent retirement headed he Hutte County, California Mosquito Abatement Program. He is a frequent commentator on environ-mental affairs.

This article was published in 21 st Century Science & Technology magazine,
Summer 1994, Vol. 7 No. 2, pp. 6-9.




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