|The Week That Was
December 28, 1998-January 3, 1999
With Washington, D.C., enjoying temperatures 10 degrees below those in Moscow, President Clinton is rumored to be heading for Nicaragua where he'll no doubt tout global warming, feel the pain of the victims of Hurricane Mitch and, one assumes, dodge any questions about the Senate impeachment trial, set to begin this week. Vice President Albert Gore has just returned from the Fiesta Bowl football game in Tempe, Arizona, where, according to news reports, many fans came in a few days early to work on their tans poolside and laugh at Chicagoans digging out from under a 22-inch snowfall.
Much to look forward to in the coming year, and especially the coming century. In fact, it occurred to us, as we leafed through the TW2 clipping file last week, that the failure of 1960s-style Green activism is that its brand of political correctness is no longer in sync with an increasingly obvious reality, i.e. that we live in an age of technological wonders and medical miracles.
Americans, and most people in developed countries, now benefit from the widespread availability of many things we could not imagine being without: antibiotics, automobiles, airlines, washing machines, televisions, cellular telephones, fax machines, central heating and air-conditioning. Lasers now correct near-sightedness, titanium or stainless-steel replaces arthritic hip joints, vaccines prevent most serious communicable diseases, failing hearts are replaced with used but still usable ones.
In the 19th century, a blister from wearing a new pair of shoes could lead to blood poisoning and death. Women had one chance in four of dying in childbirth. Surgery, for any reason, risked rampant infection. There was no electricity. City living meant streets filled with garbage, horse manure and flies.
In the 20th century, the pace of medical discovery and technological advancement moves faster and faster. Yet Green activists encourage us to live our lives cowering in irrational fear. Cancer rates are up, they tell us, because of chemicals, pesticides, electromagnetic fields, a thinning ozone layer, secondhand smoke, auto exhaust, radiation from nuclear power plants, or our failure to eat vegetables five times a day.
The reality is that people in western societies are living longer, healthier, more productive lives than at any time in the history of mankind. If we are more likely to die of cancer, it is because we have eliminated most of the diseases and hazards that used to kill us before we were forty. Cancer is largely a disease of old age.
It is well to remember that in 1900, the life expectancy in the United States was 47 years; you got the kids off on their own and then you died.
But activists long for those days. Examples are legion. Here's just one. They, and their cohorts in the Clinton Administration, have recently been touting "organic" farming as a way to eliminate chemical fertilizers derived from fossil fuels, thereby saving the world from global warming.
Interestingly, data compiled by the federal Centers for Disease Control, and reported by Dennis Avery in the Wall Street Journal, reveal that those who eat "organic" and "natural" foods are 8 times more likely to be attacked by a deadly new strain of E.coli bacteria, which can cause liver and kidney damage, even death. Organic foods also put consumers at greater risk for salmonella poisoning.
The reason is that organic farmers use animal manure, then compound the problem with their reluctance to use antimicrobial preservatives, chemical washes, pasteurization, or even chlorinated water to get rid of bacteria. Two cases of E.coli reported last year from eating fast-food hamburgers turned out to have come from the lettuce, not from the beef. The lettuce had been fertilized with chicken manure.
Physician James Le Fanu, writing in the British Medical Journal, concludes that "political correctness is an idealist philosophy that seeks to make the world a better place by wishing it to be so. Medicine...is a practical business that must deal in the warts and all of reality." He then called for the medical research community to dump political correctness in the toilet. Many researchers at the CDC would agree with him.
The TW2 news file held a number of December clippings with headlines like "Global Warming Melts Frigid Canada." Temperatures in Toronto and Montreal have been hovering in the teens for the past couple of weeks with snow reported almost every second day, so we assume the crisis has passed.
Fallout from the British TV production "Against Nature," which criticized international Green groups for sustaining picturesque poverty by suppressing development in Third World countries: The British branch of the World Wide Fund for Nature (known locally as the World Wildlife Fund) has announced that it is set to campaign overtly for the world's poor by calling for the promotion of basic human and political rights. "A new approach is needed to ensure that poverty reduction and environmental protection is tackled as a single, indivisible issue," says the WWF statement.
We were pleasantly surprised until we got to bottom of the press release. The WWF statement was the same tedious yadda-yadda about sustainable development and the transfer of wealth. Western countries are using "more than twice their fair per-capita share of basic resources, including grain, wood, fish, water, and fossil fuels...solutions will require equity between countries, and political change within them." Some might suggest that better solutions require economic development, high-yield agriculture, clean water, and electric power projects on a vast scale. The world is not a finite economic pie. There's plenty of room to grow it.
Finally, in an editorial penned for Global Change magazine, the Vice President complains that industry groups, in their campaign to attack the findings of the world's climate experts, have taken political advantage of the fact that "too many Americans lack sufficient science literacy to tell the difference between sound science and sound bites." Mr. Gore calls for renewed efforts to improve scientific literacy, both to equip workers with skills needed in the new global economy and to create a better informed citizenry.
If we may borrow a line from cable TV's "The Daily Show," THAT sounds like "A Moment of Zen."
Next week, more news.
TW2 is compiled by SEPP Research Associate Candace Crandall