Green: The New Color of Catastrophe

Is there an advert on TV that doesn’t claim the product or company
involved is “doing its best for the planet” or something like that? I
feel like I’m drowning in a sea of green every time a program goes to a
commercial break. Yet the recent stories of food riots all over the
world and wildfires in California should remind us that there’s a
downside to environmentalism — a pretty big downside. It’s a downside I
explore in my new book, The Really Inconvenient Truths: Seven Environmental Catastrophes Liberals Don’t Want You to Know About — Because They Helped Cause Them.

The problem is the way liberal environmentalists work to achieve
their policy aims. It’s based on a model that goes back to 1962, when
Rachel Carson wrote Silent Spring. What she did was take a
genuine environmental concern — the thinning of the eggs of large
predatory birds caused by inappropriate use of the chemical DDT — and
turn it into a moral fervor. Environmental groups like the
Environmental Defense Fund were founded to press for laws banning even
appropriate uses of the substance. By exaggerating the effects of DDT,
in particular by alleging a non-existent cancer risk from mere contact
with it, she fomented a zealotry that cast any who opposed such
measures as uniquely evil.

That fervor is self-perpetuating. That is why DDT use is still for
all intents and purposes banned despite its withdrawal causing
devastation among the population of American elms, and the far more
tragic result of stripping African nations of the most effective weapon
they had against malaria. The real silent spring is heard every year in
playgrounds across countries like Uganda, where children fall victim to
the disease in heart-rending numbers. That’s the human price of the
moral fervor over DDT.

The wildfires we see in the West are another example of the
downside. Environmentalists exploit people’s concern at the idea that
people cut down national forests for profit, and have used the
Endangered Species Act and other legislative vehicles to reduce
commercial logging by 80 percent in national forests over the past
decade. Yet the reason why wildfires spread so fast is that we have
allowed massive amounts of brush and undergrowth to grow up in our
forests and parks. In particular, small trees cause devastation because
large trees have thick enough bark to brush off fires; small trees act
as a ladder, lifting the fire up to the crown of mature trees, where it
can take hold. An average stand of ponderosa pines now holds 10 to 15
times as many trees per acre as it did a century ago.

Logging helped clear that growth, but that process has now been
abandoned in favor of the suicidal and risky process of “managed
fires.” As the loggers paid the Forest Service for the privilege, the
service’s budget has also been squeezed, while it needs more and more
money to fight fires. In 1991, 13 percent of the service’s budget went
to fighting fires. By 2006, that had ballooned up to 45 percent, so the
loss of logging is doubly disastrous for the Forest Service. The moral
fervor that says that logging is wrong sets the West on fire every year.

And then there’s ethanol. The poor of the world spend most of their
money on two things: energy and food. Energy prices are going up all
over the world, as Americans well know. Now, we’re seeing a massive
rise in the price of food. Energy prices obviously factor into that, as
do other things like developing world countries getting richer and
their people eating more. Yet even as these things were happening, our
Congress decided to restrict the corn supply by requiring that massive
amounts of corn be converted to fuel in the form of ethanol. In this
they were spurred on, of course, by big agribusiness, but also by
liberal environmentalists like the Natural Resources Defense Council
(which as recently as 2005 was aggressively pushing corn ethanol
because “existing biofuels technologies save oil, reduce greenhouse
gases, build infrastructure, and develop markets.”)

The effect has again been a humanitarian disaster. We’re seeing food
riots all over the world and massive increases in hunger. Haitians have
been reduced to eating dirt. The World Bank and the United Nations both
pin much of the blame for this on biofuel mandates. The UN High
Commissioner for Refugees has even gone so far as to call them a “crime
against humanity.” Once again, the moral fervor whipped up by
environmentalists that oil is bad and ethanol good has resulted in
increased human suffering.

Yet somehow, green is still good. There is a zeitgeist about green
environmentalism that has gripped us like some form of mass hysteria so
that we cannot see the very real harm it is causing. Last week, the Wall Street Journal
reported that firms were ceasing to see any benefit from their green
advertising and were now counting it as a cost of doing business. The
green emperor not only has no clothes, he is oppressing the poor and
burning the forests. It’s time for an anti-green revolution.