The Pill as Pollutant

The Pill as Pollutant

Murray article at National Review Online
April 22, 2008

In 2002, thanks to soccer star David Beckham,
the world was introduced to the “metrosexual.” Two years later, and
with less mainstream-media attention, we got our first exposure to
“Intersex.”

Intersex is not some new perversion or a weird
combination of science fiction and pornography. It is an unfortunate
condition that is affecting freshwater fish all over the developed
world. It occurs when fish of one sex also exhibit sexual
characteristics of the other sex.

In 2004, for example,
researchers on the Potomac River, downstream from Washington, D.C.,
found large-mouth bass that in most respects were males, but who had
eggs in their sexual organs. Quite often when this happens to fish,
they find themselves unable to reproduce. When it happens primarily to
male fish, the fish population in general suffers.

The cause of
intersexuality among fish, scientists speculate, is pollution in the
water, particularly hormones. Why don’t we have more outcries about
hormones, and campaigns to save the fish populations? Why aren’t
environmentalists lobbying on Capitol Hill to keep these chemicals from
being dumped into our rivers?

Maybe because the source of these
chemicals is not some corporate polluter, but something a little more
dear to the Left: human birth-control pills, morning-after pills, and
abortion pills.

The environmentalists’ silence on this topic and
their willful distortions when they do talk about it show how, for many
of them, the environment is more a tool for advancing favored policies
than a real cause in itself.

As I demonstrate in The Really Inconvenient Truths,
by any standard typically used by environmentalists, the pill is a
pollutant. It does the same thing, just worse, as other chemicals they
call pollution.

But liberals have gone to extraordinary lengths
in order to stop consideration of contraceptive estrogen as a
pollutant. When Bill Clinton’s Environmental Protection Agency launched
its program to screen environmental estrogens (a program required under
the Food Quality Protection Act), the committee postponed considering
impacts from contraceptives. Instead, it has decided to screen and test
only “pesticide chemicals, commercial chemicals, and environmental
contaminants.” When and if it considers the impacts from oral
contraceptives, the Agency says that its consideration will be limited
because pharmaceutical regulation is a Food and Drug Administration
concern.

As a result, the EPA’s program will focus all energies
on the smallest-possible part of endocrine exposure in the environment
and the lowest-risk area. If regulators did screen for estrogen from
contraceptives or for estrogen from plants (phytoestrogens), these two
sources would dwarf the impact of pesticides and other chemicals.

These
findings would highlight the fact that low-level exposure to
commercially related endocrine disruptors is relatively insignificant,
a fact that would undermine the agency’s ability to regulate commercial
products on the allegation that they are a significant source of
endocrine disruption.

So government bureaucrats, the enforcement
wing of liberal environmentalism, officially refuse to do anything
about the contraceptive pollution issue in the United States. All this
is in marked contrast to the United Kingdom’s Environment Agency, which
at least has the decency to label the contraceptive pill a pollutant,
even though it appears powerless or unwilling to do anything about it.

What
about the activist wing? Well, this is where the story gets really
interesting. Environmental groups have a long record of promoting
contraceptive use. The current head of the Sierra Club, Carl Pope, was
once political director of the group Zero Population Growth. Back in
1970, the Sierra Club adopted a resolution, which said that, “The
protection of the quality of our environment is impossible in the face
of the present rate of population growth,” and that therefore, “Laws,
policies, and attitudes that foster population growth or big families,
or that restrict abortion and contraception…should be abandoned; [and]
comprehensive and realistic birth control programs should be available
to every member of our society.”

The Sierra Club isn’t some
outlier in the liberal environmental movement. They all believe this.
Take, for instance, the World Wildlife Fund’s senior campaigns officer,
Norman Myers, who said in an interview on the WWF U.K.’s website, “This
new wave [of claimed species extinctions] is being created partly by
pressure of . . . big deep breath . . . too many people, still
increasing at quite a rapid rate, an extra 72 million per year. That’s
one factor, and we know how to fix it, we know it will not cost the
Earth. We could supply contraceptives to all those 180 million people
in the developing world who don’t want any more children but they lack
the contraceptive hardware. We should supply them as a basic human
right even if there was no population problem.”

The list goes
on. Environmental Defense advocates “access to contraception” as a
vital element in the fight against global warming. The Earth Policy
Institute also calls contraception a “vital service.”

It’s not
just environmentalists campaigning for contraception, of course. Their
colleagues in the liberal movement use environmental arguments in favor
of contraceptive use all the time. Take, for example, the Guttmacher
Institute, which in 2006 issued a detailed policy report with the
ironic title, “Environmental Justice Campaigns Provide Fertile Ground
for Joint Efforts with Reproductive Rights Advocates.”

Marie
Stopes International says on the environment page on its website,
“There are many pressures on the environment and natural resources, but
the environmental challenges humanity faces will become harder to
address as the world’s population continues to increase. Worldwide,
there is still a vast unmet need for contraception. Around 200 million
women world wide who want to access contraception, can’t.”

Planned
Parenthood of America says, “For the past decade, prominent women in
the global environmental movement have been advancing an environmental
agenda based on feminism and human rights. They believe there are
strong links between the health of the environment, the ability of
women to engage and lead their communities, and their ability to
exercise their inherent reproductive rights. Women have a stake in a
clean environment because they are often the main providers of food and
water, and their reproductive health can be adversely affected by
environmental degradation.”

In other words, in the liberal
world, the environment and unrestricted access to contraception are
inextricably linked. We therefore have an answer to our question why
liberal environmentalists are silent on the synthetic estrogen from
contraceptives that is undoubtedly causing real environmental
disasters. Because they helped cause them!

Now I’m not an
anti-contraception activist by any means. Yet it seems clear to me that
there is a real problem here. The problem could probably be solved by a
few lawsuits under common law by owners of fishing rights against
water-treatment plants, who would then presumably be required to
develop means of stopping the estrogen reaching the fishing grounds.
However, in the world we live in, people have been stripped of property
rights in favor of collective ownership, and the politicians who are
supposed to represent our ownership are terrified of doing anything
that might be seen as infringing on contraception. That’s where
environmental groups could be doing a valuable job balancing out
interests. Yet because they’re in cahoots with the contraception lobby,
that isn’t going to happen. The environmental groups should be part of
the solution. But they’re part of the problem.