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New Environmentalists

Feb 1, 2019

Nancy Pelosi was sworn in as the new Speaker of the House. She laid out her legislative agenda stating, “We must face the existential threat of our time: Climate Change.” She pledged to establish a House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis to focus on energy independence and global warming. The House Energy and Commerce Committee announced that climate change will be the first issue it addresses this term.

New environmentalists who are more liberal are not satisfied with those initiatives, calling for much more ambitious policies including an aggressive reduction in the use of fossil fuels or a national carbon tax to avert the catastrophic effects of climate change.

Possibly the best known and most effective environmentalist in history is Rachael Carson. She died of cancer in 1964. In 1962, her book, Silent Spring, was published, documenting the adverse environmental effects of the use of synthetic pesticides, especially DDT.

Ms. Carson concluded that the use of DDT was devastating to bird populations. The title referred to the absence of birdsong if DDT continued to be used. Her message was simple and understandable: DDT killed birds and should be discontinued. As a result of Silent Spring, DDT was banned in 1972, except for emergency purposes. Eagle and falcon populations have recovered remarkably, although the ban on DDT continues to be controversial because of increasing levels of malaria in third world countries.

If you are over 40, you will remember another well-known environmental figure – Iron Eyes Cody, the crying Indian. The crying Indian advertisement ran throughout the 1970s. It opens with an American Indian serenely paddling a birch bark canoe down a stream lined with trees. Beginning with troubling music, trash starts floating past the Indian in his canoe. The picture pans out to show a beach covered with bottles, wrappers and plastic containers.

A background voice overlay begins, “Some people have a deep, abiding respect for the natural beauty that was once this country …and now some people don’t.” At that moment a car speeds by, and a man throws a sack of fast food trash at the Indian’s feet. Landing, the bag explodes and covers the Indian’s moccasins with French fries. The camera moves to the Indian’s face. A single tear rolls slowly down his cheek. The voice overlay continues, “People start pollution …people can stop it.”

It was an emotional ad, but one everyone could easily understand. We inherited the most beautiful landscape in the world, and, because some people are selfish, roads and rivers are polluted and full of trash. You could understand the problem and the solution. Pick up your trash. Don’t litter. Clean up your country.

Rachael Carson’s message was also simple: birds over pesticides. It was effective. The EPA was formed in 1970 under the Nixon Administration because of Carson’s work. Yet the new environmentalists exhibit no memory of Carson or her movement. As many as a million birds a year are killed in the U.S. by wind turbines. More than 100 golden eagles are killed each year at the Altamont Pass Wind Farm in California. Reportedly, as many as 18 million birds are killed each year by wind turbines in Spain. Wind farms are exempted from wildlife protection laws so wind energy can be produced to replace fossil fuel generated energy.

New environmentalists argue that more birds are killed by buildings, and many more birds are killed by climate change. All issues and movements must yield to the new environmentalists’ pursuit of the elimination of fossil fuels, even Ms. Carson’s passion.
After the crying Indian ads ran, studies indicated that litter pollution improved. Many of us were focused on picking up after ourselves. But new environmentalists have no time or energy for issues as simple as litter. They are too focused on the existential threat of climate change and the reduction in carbon emissions.

A NBC survey in 2018 found raw garbage was strewn all over 153 blocks in downtown San Francisco. Raw human feces were found on more than 100 of the blocks and discarded hypodermic needles on more than 40 blocks. An infectious disease specialist from UC Berkley said the contamination was much greater than that in Brazil, Kenya or India. The New York Daily News, describing a neighborhood in the South Bronx, said, “Needles are scattered on the ground like twigs and needles clumped under trees like piles of leaves. Needles are staked into a mud wall and floating in the pools of standing water.”

The new environmentalists are so focused on carbon emission reductions that they have no interest in addressing the more serious environmental issues right in front of them. Ms. Pelosi and the new environmentalists could learn a lot from Rachael Carson or Iron Eyes Cody. Perhaps those earlier environmentalists were touched by the better angels of their nature, to borrow a phrase from Abraham Lincoln.

May we all be influenced by the best within us, in 2019 and beyond. I hope you have a good month.

This article draws on issues raised in Tucker Carlson’s book, Ship of Fools, which contains an interesting section on changes in the environmental movement over time.

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