Posted: Aug 27, 2001 12:00 AM
The eco-agitators are forever uncomfortable with man's dominion over the earth. For them, man is a virus, endlessly programmed to consume and waste. They grow alarmed as man sucks the marrow from his host environment, plucking all of her fruit and casually belching poisons into the air. They warn that our factory toxins are burning holes in the sky. They reel off any number of doomsday scenarios: tidal shifts that will send small Third World villages careening into the sea; famine; disease; changes in global climate so pervasive that fat men start walking around with their shirts off - frightening indeed. The eco-agitators are on a mission to save the earth. They bind their bodies to trees here. They spout rhetoric into Radio Shack megaphones there. Sensible people point out that the earth is not so easily subdued. And indeed, it is true that much of the eco-doomsday scenarios are based upon loose conjecture and anachronistic statistics that fail to take into account current - or even comprehensive long-term - trends. Never mind that even the most fundamental procedure of measuring air quality involves a host of variables (environmental wild cards if you will) that leave a lot of gray area. From this murky scientific gruel, the eco-agitators pluck what they need in order to stoke public anxiety and shock people into paying attention. As author and environmentalist, Dr. Bjorn Lomborg recently noted in the New York Times: "The worse they [environmentalists] can portray the environment, the easier it is for them to convince us that we need to spend more money on the environment rather than on hospitals, child day care, etc." Since doomsday scenarios make for engaging headlines, the eco-agitators tend to dominate the printed space. Far less attention is paid to the fact that the world population has actually been ebbing over the past four decades, thus discrediting all of those straight line projections that had the global population exceeding its own food supply and exacerbating the greenhouse effect. Much of the hubbub about a holocaust on our trees was similarly exaggerated. In fact, global forest cover has actually increased over the last half century None of which is to say that pollution is of little concern. Plainly, the wonton destruction of our environment represents a crime against our quality of life. However, if we are to divert funding from childcare, hospitals, etc., to the environment, we ought to have a clear, present and absolutely unambiguous understanding of how our national interests will be served. We ought not rush to judgment based upon exaggeration. After all, two decades ago scientists were warning that a new ice age was upon us. Now they claim that the oceans will rise and temperatures around the globe will increase significantly, severely altering life, as we know it. Apocalyptic hooey? Maybe. The dilemma is over whether we wait and carefully gather and calmly analyze as much data as we can and then make a levelheaded prognosis, or do we blindly rush in? The answer is self-evident: Contrary to the example set by the eco-agitators, we should avoid letting passion and rhetoric take over the reins of science.