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Eco-Freaks
By: Jamie Glazov
Thursday, May 03, 2007


Author John Berlau discusses how environmentalism is hazardous to your health.
Frontpage Interview’s guest today is John Berlau, a Warren T. Brookes Journalism Fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. He is the author of the new book Eco-Freaks: Environmentalism Is Hazardous to Your Health!

 

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FP: John Berlau, welcome to Frontpage Interview.

 

Berlau: Glad to be here, Jamie 

 

FP: What inspired you to write this book?

 

Berlau: Katrina, more than anything else. I love New Orleans and am a big jazz fan. I was so saddened by the destruction and suffering and frustrated by the incompetence at all levels of government.

 

But, while still frustrated, I realized that no disaster would ever be pretty, and the key is disaster prevention. It was then I was shocked to find that largely because of the environmental movement, the U.S. has been blocked from building basic flood control structures and is decades behind the sophisticated dams and floodgates in Europe. I had long been skeptical of the green movement, but I didn't realize how hard they will fight even against infrastructure projects vital to saving lives.

 

FP: Ok, so what exactly is an Eco-Freak? 

  

Berlau: There are two set of people I'm referring to. One are the environmental leaders who put animals and plants ahead of people, even for things vital for our health and well-being. This, unfortunately, would include to some nearly every mainstream environmental group as well as some prominent politicians. For the book, I dug up an old quote of now-Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy. Construction on a dam in Tennessee that was 95 percent completed had come to a halt because the courts had ruled it would violate the Endangered Species Act by harming the habitat of the snail darter. Congress voted in to make an exception to the law, but the Senate vote was actually very close. During the debate, Leahy actually got up and gave an impassioned defense of the snail darter. He said, "Homo sapiens are perceived to stand at the top of the pyramid of life but the pinnacle is a precarious station. ... We share the planetary gene poll with that snail darter in the Little Tennessee River."

 

I'm also referring to the American and the West's mindset on nature. In a way, we are a now a nation of Eco-Freaks.

 

Now, I'm a conservationist in the tradition of Theodore Roosevelt. I believe in wise stewardship in harvesting and conserving natural resources and in good management of the beauty of the landscape.

 

But too many people today operate on the premise that nature is always benign and any human intervention altering nature is a bad thing for public health. In truth, our view of nature today is, to quote George Mason University physicist James Trefil, "something of an aberration in human history."  Nature has for millions of years brought floods, diseases, and other forms of devastation. Global warming, for instance, was not responsible for the harsh sea storms Homer had in his mind when he wrote The Odyssey. As Trefil notes, "Only when nature was tamed and brought under control -- in a garden, for example -- could it be enjoyed."

 

But now every time nature acts up and does what it traditionally has done, we say it must have some human cause such as global warming. Worse, in the name of preventing doomsday from human inventions, we are dismantling some of the very protections our grandparents created to shelter us from nature's wrath. If we keep blindly following environmentalists, nature could give us its own doomsday.

 

FP: Tell us some of the ways in which environmentalism is dangerous for our health and also for our planet. 

 

Berlau: The most devastating public health effects of misguided environmental policies has stemmed from the demonization of the insecticide DDT. Here is a substance that the National Academy of Sciences credited with saving 500 million lives from the 1940s to 1970, because of its control of insects that spread malaria and other diseases. It eradicated mosquito-borne malaria in parts of the U.S. and around the world. But due to the unfounded hysteria from Rachel Carson's Silent Spring -- and other activist who ignored DDT's great benefits and greatly magnified its potential adverse effects, most of which have never materialized -- Richard Nixon's EPA administrator William Ruckelshaus banned it anyway in 1972. Other countries followed, and now there are severe worldwide restrictions enforced by the United Nations' Treaty on Persistent Organic Pollutants.

 

As a result, there are two million a year, many of them pregnant women and children under 5, dying of malaria every year in Africa. The good news is a broad coalition from the World Health Organization, to South African anti-apartheid activist Desmond Tutu, to even the New York Times editorial page has emerged to advocate limited resumption of DDT spraying to combat malaria in African countries.

 

We must realize, however, that it's not just Africa that could be in harm's way from misguided policies on pesticides. In Eco-Freaks, I describe insect-borne diseases on the rise since the bans of DDT and other pesticides. Lyme disease, which can result in serious conditions such as facial paralysis, blindness and pneumonia, is spread by deer ticks. DDT has been shown to be effective against ticks. Yet in the U.S., not only  is DDT banned, but also Dursban (brand name for chlorpyrifos), recognized for decades as the most effective pesticide to control ticks. Dursban is still used today in Europe -- on lawns and gardens and inside homes -- having passed even the European Union's rigorous safety tests d No less than the U.S. Department of Labor had recommended Dursban's use in grassy or wooded areas to protect workers from tick bites. Yet in the Clinton-Gore administration, Carol Browner, Al Gore's former Senate staffer who was heading the Environmental Protection Agency, fanned the flames of fear that led to the product being phased out.

 

Uncontrolled insects can be weapons of mass destruction. They played a key role in spreading the bubonic plague, and they could be used to spread a bioterror agent is not kept under control with pesticides. They also aren't to kind to other creature of the planet. Several types birds said to have been harmed by DDT -- eagles, condors, pelicans, and endangered peregrine falcons -- have been killed by the mosquito-borne West Nile virus. But enviros still scream and holler any time a city tries to spray pesticides in areas where mosquitoes congregate as a precaution. In this and other instances, It seems to  be perfectly all right with enviros when "nature" kills wildlife, even if human intervention can prevent these creatures from dying.

 

FP: What is your take on Al Gore and his stand on global warming? 

 

Berlau: There has been a warming trend, and man-made greenhouse gases appear to play a significant, but not the sole role.  Contrary to what Gore and others say, it is not settled science that human are the primary factor, as opposed to solar cycles. In the Medieval Warm Period, around 1000 AD, Greenland was green and there were vineyards in England. This was, of course, long before we had cars and other machinery spewing greenhouse gases. Nevertheless, ways to reduce or offset greenhouse gases should be considered. Lifting barriers to nuclear power, which doesn't emith pollutants or greenhouse gases, should But global warming "solutions" such as energy taxes or mandatory reductions in carbon emissions must be weighed against risks on the other side, such as a reduction in standard of living and public health that could come from more expensive electricity.

 

But the consensus on the fact that global warming is happening and that humans play some role does not equal, as Gore would have you believe, a consensus on all the supposed effects. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts an increase of one to four degrees Fahrenheit by 2100. But unlike pollution, which causes immediate harm to air quality, a temperature increase would have both good and bad effects. The British government report by Sir Nicholas Stern, while mostly alarmists, even concedes there might be net benefits in Northern latitudes, such as longer growing seasons and less cold-related deaths. This winter, for instance, we had quite a few deaths from hypothermia in the bitter cold of the Northeast and Midwest. This includes that of one man who was stranded for several hours in a wrecked car in an area in upstate New York, where his wife had unsuccessfully tried to call for help on a cell phone. It turned out the elderly couple were on a stretch of highway that did not have cell coverage, because the area's environmental groups had campaigned against cell towers that they said would ruin the view of the natural area.

 

But Gore does not in any shape or form present an informed discussion of global warming. "An Inconvenient Truth" simply takes every bad weather event in the present combined with the most wildly hypothetical events and blames it on the catchall "global climate change." For instance, Gore makes much of malaria coming to Nairobi, Kenya, which is at higher altitudes than the areas usually infested with the disease. Gore blames this on mosquitoes moving to higher altitudes because of warmer temperatures. What Gore neglects to tell his audience, though, is that malaria outbreaks also hit Nairobi in the 1920s, 30s, and 40s. What got rid of it: the DDT scorned by Gore and Rachel Carson. Now, DDT hasn't been sprayed in Nairobi in decades, and, as it is in other places, malaria is coming back. By the way, I have never seen Gore, as opposed to even the New York Times editorial pages, say anything supportive of even limited DDT spraying. He still calls Rachel Carson his idol, despite the millions who have died due to the DDT ban.

 

Gore also plays a trick on the consumers of his book and movie by linking images of the devastation from Hurricane Katrina to the supposed effects of global warming. Yet, as we learned a couple months into the aftermath of the storm, Katrina was barely a Category 3 hurricane when it hit New Orleans. The devastation it caused was solely due to the breach of the levees. In Eco-Freaks, I quote the science magazine Discover, which says bluntly, "If Bill Clinton had submitted the Kyoto treaty to the U.S. Senate, which had then ratified it, and if Ralph Nader had been elected president in 2000 and ... had forced the United States to meet its targets for emission reductions in a way that even the European Union is falling far short of doing today, it still would not have made the slightest difference to New Orleans on August 29, 2005."  

 

Once again, we have so thoroughly in our minds that nature is kind and sweet, that every times a natural disaster happens, we say it must have been something we have done. And ironically, with the Katrina tragedy, you can say that it is because of something we had done. We hadn't protected ourselves enough from the wrath of nature. 

 

FP: The Left loved blaming Bush for Katrina, but who was really to blame for it?

Berlau: In Eco-Freaks, I say forthrightly that Bush does bear a significant amount of blame. His administration could have done better in both reacting to and taking steps to prevent the Katrina tragedy. But the bulk of the blame must go to American environmental groups, who have ensured that since the 1970s, America has had a Third World level of flood protection.

As Michael Tremoglie pointed out in Frontpagemag.com and I pointed out in National Review.com about a week after Katrina hit, nearly every planned improvement to New Orleans flood protection was stopped or stalled due to lawsuits from green groups. Tremoglie pointed out that in 1977, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New Orleans levee board, and the then-overwhelmingly Democrat Louisiana Congressional delegation had all agreed on a plan to build giant "folding" floodgates around Lake Pontchartrain that could be activated to literally close off the lake from storm surge from the Gulf of Mexico. These were similar to the gates being built in the Netherlands that have since been completed and now protect from harsh North Sea storms.

But groundwork didn't even get started when the local group Save Our Wetlands, aided the national environmental powerhouse the Environmental Defense Fund (now Environmental Defense),  saying the gates would threaten some fish species. This despite the fact that the gates would only close during a storm, had had an environmental impact statement approved by the EPA, and were declared absolutely essential to save the live of thousands of New Orleanians. The U.S. attorney pleaded with the judge in the case that thousands could die if work was halted. Unfortunately, Judge Charles Schwartz sided with the enviros, ruling, in what Tremoglie's Frontpage piece called "one of the most ironic pronouncements of all time," that "all persons in this area will be irreparably harmed" if the gates were built. 

Corps official told me that it would have taken ten years to study the effect of the gate on fish populations, and they didn't know when the next "big one" would hit. So they went with raising the levees, even though they considered that the second best option. But enviros, it turned out, wouldn't really let them do this either. In the 1990s, the Sierra Club, state chapters of the National Wildlife Federation, and a group called American Rivers sued to block plans to upgrade 303 miles of levees in Mississippi, because they said these improvements would threaten "bottomland hardwood wetlands."

When these articles came both my and Tremoglie's piece were fiercely attacked. Enviros seized on one sentence in a report by the Government Accountability Office a few weeks later that said, without attribution, that some Corps officials didn't think the planned floodgates would have provided more protection from Katrina. Enviros still point to this report, even the statement is not in any way close to a definitive conclusion, and the GAO did not puport to study engineering failures. As an economic agency, the GAO probably doesn't even have the expertise for that, and certainly wasn't qualified to make such a determination one month after the tragedy while the failures were still be studied by other agencies. In the meantime, the greens have ignored numerous findings that the floodgates would indeed have probably saved New Orleans, especially given what we now know of Katrina's weakness when it hit. Ivor van Heerden, cofounder of the Louisiana State University Hurricane Center who often sides with enviros on preserving, nevertheless calls the gates "the ultimate protection for the city" and writes that "these floodgates must be built."

Van Heerden was one of the experts Spike Lee interviewed in his HBO documentary on Katrina. Yet Lee never mentioned the role environmental groups played in Katrina's devastation. Lee calls for criminal charges against the Corps, and the Corps could have done a lot of things better. Namely, they should have fought the enviros a lot hard than they did. But if the Corps had its way, and the gates had been built as planned, the devastation from Katrina would likely never have occurred. So  I ask Lee if he thinks the Corps should get criminal charges, what is approrpriate punishement for a group of people who blocked the efforts needed to save New Orleans residents from a hurricane who have never apologized for their role in fomenting this tragedy.

FP: Can you tell us a bit about Rachel Carson and the uses of DDT?

Berlau: Even DDT's defenders will sometimes excuse Carson, saying she did not know what the consequences of the DDT ban would be. DDT was new and there may have been unknown dangers. But Carson vilified DDT based on distortion of facts known even then. For instance, she implied DDT was developed as poison gas, when history shows it was developed to protect our troops in World War II from typhus and malaria. She hardly ever mentioned the benefits of DDT's ridding much of the world of malaria. And in the rare instances she did acknowledge its positive uses, she brought out the tortured argument of insect "resistance" to imply they are ineffective. The silly "resistance" argument is still used by her diehard defenders such as Australian computer scientist and blogger Tim Lambert. It's basically the same as arguing we shouldn't use antibiotics to treat illness, because germs can develop resistance to them. Until a better antibiotic is developed, you still use the best one available. And the World Health Organization has reaffirmed that DDT is still the best available pesticide to combat the mosquitoes spreading malaria.

FP: What are some myths about asbestos? 

Berlau: What has happened with the demonization of asbestos is very similar to DDT with one slight difference. Certain types of asbestos have been shown to cause cancer at very high levels in enclosed spaces. The shipyard workers in World War II, who were often not even told to wear masks, are the most prominent example.

But the New England Journal of Medicine and other prominent health authorities that asbestos poses increased risk of cancer at normal levels in homes and schools. We're probably exposed to more asbestos that are part of our natural outdoor landscape. Asbestos is even found in the state rock of environmentally conscious California, the serpentine.

It's also like DDT in the amazing number of lives it has saved. Rachel Maines, a professor of the history of technology at Cornell University, has said, "Hundreds of thousands of people are now alive at least in part because the buildings or other structures in which they lived, went to school, or worked were rendered fire resistive by asbestos." Fire testing organizations such as the National Fire Protection Association have consistently given asbestos materials a zero flame-spread rating, which means it has no ability to spread flame under any circumstances. Before asbestos was widely used, it was not uncommon for a fire in a school or theater to kill, dozens, and sometimes hundreds of people. After asbestos, these types of fires disappeared overnight. Fred Astaire sang the praises of asbestos in the classic 1930s song, “I won’t dance.” And my book documents how lack of asbestos added to the tragedies of the World Trade Center attacks in 2001 and the fire at The Station nightclub in Rhode Island in 2003. Of the latter, Cornell' Professor Maines told me that if the club had had an asbestos-coated ceiling like nightclubs had 30 years ago, even if someone had set off fireworks, "the sparks would have flown up an hit the asbestos and come back down again. Most likely we would never have heard of The Station nightclub."

FP: What exactly is “eco-terrorism” and is it true that the FBI considers it the number one domestic terrorist threat?

Berlau: The simple answer is that eco-terrorism is simply another form of terrorism. We have long since gone past Earth First's simple spiking of trees, which itself resulted in severe injuries and should not be trivialized. But now these groups are perpetrating acts of destruction with the some of the same characteristics -- such as the use of cells and timing-device explosives -- that we associate with terrorism aimed at foreign policy.  As the Christian Science Monitor has reported, "somewhere along the way, vandalizing log trucks and 'liberating' lab rats escalated into firebombs, plots to blow up electrical towers and dams, code names, and anonymous communiqués boasting of destroying millions of dollars in property."

The FBI has specifically called the umbrella groups the Earth Liberation Front and the Animal Liberation Front the nation's "number one domestic terrorism threat.". Currently, members of an ELF cell called The Family have pleaded guilty to a number of crimes. They allegedly used "vegan jello," a napalm-like substance made of soap and petroleum, in a time-delayed fire-setting device to blow up a ski resort in Vail, Colorado, in 1998. When it detonated, eight building were left in cinders. They also stand accused of destroying animal research facilities, biotech labs, forest ranger stations, a meatpacking plant, and three timber company headquarters.

So far, excepting the Unabomber (and this is a big exception), there have been no known deaths in the U.S. from ecoterrorist acts. But this may be simply because the national leaders don't take credit for deaths that do occur from ecoterrorism. Blowing up an animal-research lab is like signing a death warrant. Researchers work there 24/7. And recently, as I document in Eco-Freaks, both ALF's and ELF's communiques have justified taking human lives to save animals and the Earth.

Indirectly, of course, eco-terrorism is killing thousands of people and those that are the most vulnerable among us. People with diseases such as cancer and AIDS depend on breakthrough research conducted on animals or with techniques of biotechnology. Eco-terrorism and the threat of it has caused numerous project delay as well as the diversion of scare research dollars to heightened security and higher insurance premiums. And it has intimidated numerous scientists from conducting this life-saving research.

One would think the mainline environmental groups would be the first to want to throw the book at those committing violent acts in the name of saving the environment. After all, they have the potential to give the entire green movement a bad name. Yet curiously enough, the "mainstream" groups frequently oppose any stiffening of penalties for ecoterrorist act. In Pennsylvania, for instance, Democratic Governor Ed Rendell signed a bill last toughening punishment for the use or threat of force against facilities involved with animals, plants, or natural resources. He and the legislature wrote the bill very carefully to make sure that it didn't in fringe on the right to protest or even civil disobedience per se, such as trespassing. The bill had widespread support of everyone from farm groups to biotech entrepreneurs to the state's major universities. Yet the state chapter of the Sierra Club still opposed the bill. In their words, "The Sierra Club bars its own members from engaging in civil disobedience and blockading or trespassing on property, but there is concern about the bill's impact on other environmental groups." Concern over its impact on groups that resort to violence and destruction of property?

FP: What are the real motives of Eco-Freaks? They don’t really care about the environment or health do they? This is all about a war on capitalism and on their own society, no?

Berlau: Yes and No. It is certainly true that the Left is locked in a close alliance with environmentalism. This came about largely due to socialism's failure to achieve prosperity. It provided another justification, capitalism may be better at putting food on the table, but if we don't restrain it, it will destroy the planet.

But I am hopeful this alliance is more fragile than it seems, and I even devote a portion of my book appealing to open-minded liberals I disagree with liberals on most issues, but I do believe that many of them care deeply about people. So they should be alarmed when environmental leaders put the welfare of animals and plants ahead of people. If liberals really care about humanity as they say they do, there is nothing about believing in socialized medicine and against Social Security private account that should lead them to oppose DDT use to combat malaria.

 

Liberalism and environmentalism have only been strongly connected for about 40 years. Franklin D. Roosevelt had no particular fondness for pristine wilderness.  He boasted proudly of the dams he built and proclaimed proudly, at the dedication of the Hoover Dam (then called the Boulder Dam), that humans were “altering the geography of a whole region” that had previously been “cactus-covered waste.” In the 19th century, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels disagreed vehemently with the original population doomsayer Thomas Malthus. Sounding much like modern population control critic Julian Simon, Engels wrote that “it is ridiculous to speak of overpopulation,” because the progress of “science … is just as limitless and at least as rapid as that of population.”

 

What I would really like to see, particularly if Gore jumps into the race, is candidate in the Democratic primary attacking Gore's extremism as hurting the poor in the U.S. and abroad. I'm not holding my breath, but miracles can happen.

 

FP: John Berlau, thank you for joining Frontpage Interview.

 

Berlau: Jamie, thank you for having me. And may Frontpage continue to run groundbreaking articles like the one by Tremoglie after Katrina that show the tremendous damage that  misguided environmental policies can do to our health and safety.

 

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Jamie Glazov is Frontpage Magazine's editor. He holds a Ph.D. in History with a specialty in Russian, U.S. and Canadian foreign policy. He is the author of Canadian Policy Toward Khrushchev’s Soviet Union and is the co-editor (with David Horowitz) of The Hate America Left. He edited and wrote the introduction to David Horowitz’s Left Illusions. His new book is United in Hate: The Left's Romance with Tyranny and Terror. To see his previous symposiums, interviews and articles Click Here. Email him at jglazov@rogers.com.