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Environmental Overkill

If one believes what passes for science these days, the world is about to end. The globe is warming, ozone is disappearing, smog is expanding, forests are shrinking, species are dying, and carcinogens are spreading. What were once thought to be good--population growth and technological advance--are actually bad. Without radical change, it is said, the environment and mankind are doomed.

Sadly, this is what Vice President Gore, Environmental Protection Agency head Carol Browner, a host of congressmen and senators, and much of the media establishment believe. As a result, federal policy is becoming increasingly costly and draconian making Americans both poorer and less free. This course might arguably be worth it if the result would be to save us from otherwise certain destruction.

But, as Dixy Lee Ray, the former governor of Washington, and Lou Guzzo, newspaper columnist and editor, document, we face no crisis, and the problems that are present can be solved with far less expensive and intrusive approaches than those which come out of Washington today.

The premise of Environmental Overkill is simple common sense: “we believe that problems should be proved to be real before we lavish money on them. And we believe that it's important to demonstrate that a proposed solution is appropriate, practical, and affordable” write Ray and Guzzo.

The problems of 'environmental overkill' were well encapsulated by the 1992 Rio Summit, the well-publicized but ideologically biased U.N. environmental conference. Ray and Guzzo began their book by looking at what was really a global fraud, with U.N. control over the activities of the industrialized West and massive wealth transfers to poorer states, rather than global environmental protection, as the prime goals. Indeed, little concern was evinced about the actual facts regarding the extent and causes of global environmental degradation. Alas, write Ray and Guzzo, “by every measure the conference represented a single victory for the foes of scientific progress, knowledge, and economic development.”

With Rio as their backdrop, the authors move on to a variety of alleged “crises” that are supposedly threatening to overwhelm us. What they find is that the Rio mentality--yelling “the sky is falling” in order to advance a collectivist, redistributionist political agenda--permeates the environmental debate. Genuine evidence is all too often ignored as ideologues shape policy.

Global warming, a major issue at the Rio Summit, is one of the most important examples. The claim is that growing CO2 emissions are causing temperatures to rise on the earth, with the eventual result of melting ice caps, flooding coasts, expanding deserts, and so on. In fact, report Ray and Guzzo, the majority of atmospheric scientists doubt the theory and past climatic changes suggest that the scary models are grossly inaccurate: there has, for instance, been little warming over the last century, and virtually none since 1940, when CO2 emissions began to increase dramatically.

To the contrary, temperatures actually dropped from 1940 to the 1980s. Barely fifteen years ago some environmental popularists were predicting a new ice age. And in another fifteen years that may again become the professional environmentalists' cause.

We see much the same phenomena regarding other apocalyptic scare mongering. Ozone depletion is a much-distorted issue. The alleged danger of a shrinking ozone layer, supposedly caused by CFCs used in refrigeration and air conditioning, is increased exposure to UV radiation.

Yet during the 1980s, at a time when ozone was supposedly being destroyed, UV radiation levels actually fell. Report Ray and Guzzo: “According to scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the University of Colorado, and the National Center for Atmospheric Research, the amount of ultraviolet radiation reaching the earth has, in some urban areas, decreased by 5 to 18 percent.” This fact, however, has had no effect on the behavior of the U.S. government, which in 1992 accelerated the planned phase out of CFCs.

Much the same story occurs elsewhere--toxic wastes, asbestos, acid rain, and electro-magnetic fields, to name a few. These and other issues are driven by politics, not facts, with ideologues attempting to scare the public in order to achieve broader objectives of reordering society and mulcting taxpayers. Some of these issues have theological as well as practical objectives.

Consider the assault on population growth, now led by the Clinton Administration, which is again going to fund international population control groups that have supported abortion and coercive birth control policies. “Sometime in the future, when the accomplishments of the 20th century are recorded for posterity, it may finally be acknowledged that our greatest achievement by far has been the introduction of high-tech, high-yield agriculture,” contend Ray and Guzzo.

Yet to the followers of Paul Ehrlich--the Stanford biologist who erroneously predicted hundreds of millions of famine deaths during the 1970s but continues to make new, equally apocalyptic, forecasts--such unambiguous good news is actually bad news. For they want fewer people as a matter of principle; thus, technological advances that allow more people to prosper are by definition bad.

Ray and Guzzo have performed a public service by penning Environmental Overkill. The book is not original--indeed, the authors rely a bit too heavily on articles and reports by others--but it is accessible to the layman and an easy read for even those whose eyes usually glaze over at the mere mention of “public policy.” At a time with a certified environmental apocalyptic as vice president, Environmental Overkill deserves the widest audience possible.