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On Earth Day, Don’t Forget
the Victims of Environmentalism


“Repent!” That’s the message of Earth Day, according to many in the environmental movement. They see it as a quasi-religious occasion when we should all confess and convert because of our sins against Mother Nature.

But the real need for repentance is from the environmentalists themselves: or at least from the zealots who push alarmism and regulatory overkill. Too many environmentalist campaigns have ended up harming humans without appreciably helping the environment.

Consider one of the first and most famous “victories:” The banning of DDT. The anti-DDT movement was launched after the publication of Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” in the 1960s. Forty years later, we know that Carson’s indictment of the insecticide was based on junk science. It was overhunting, and not DDT, that caused the declines that she recorded in bald eagle and falcon populations. As the American Council on Science and Health has reported, massive evidence has accumulated over the past half century that DDT is safe and its benefits are substantial.

Roger Bates knows. He directs the malaria-battling group, Africa Fighting Malaria. He says deaths of African children skyrocketed starting in 1996, when African countries halted used of the pesticide to placate environmentalists. In one province alone, malaria cases increased from 8,000 in 1996 to 42,000 by 2000.

In areas in South Africa where DDT has been reintroduced, according to Bates, “within 18 months after resuming DDT treatments and introducing the drug Coartem, malaria cases and deaths were reduced by 85 percent.” Yet much of the continent still refuses to use the pesticide DDT. Bates blames the influence of “eco-imperialism” pushed by the World Health Organization and other global “assistance” organizations.

To see the destructive effects of misguided environmentalism here at home, look at the 30-year-old Endangered Species Act. The ESA gives federal regulators license to destroy with little or no accountability - even with little hard evidence that a particular species is in danger.

For instance, in the Klamath River Basin along the Oregon-California border, the feds came close to wiping out century-old farming communities two years ago, when they cut off irrigation in order to supply more water for sucker fish and salmon. As a federal district court recently recognized, the government has been systematically underestimating fish populations by refusing to count those born in hatcheries. When hatchery fish are added, the claim that salmon are “endangered” goes away.

Last summer, residents in Riverside County, California paid their own high price for boneheaded ESA restrictions. A horrendous series of wildfires consumed tens of thousands of acres and caused millions of dollars in damage to properties and homes. The fire fed on kindling that was supplied, in a sense, by federal regulators: Prior to the fires, they had forbidden residents from clearing brush, out of concern for protecting the habitat of the Stephen’s kangaroo rat. Now, that habitat—along with many homes—has gone up in smoke.

A new study released by the Property and Environment Research Center documents other cases of the ESA undercutting the quality of life:

  • The Choctaw Nation and the Oklahoma Department of Transportation were prevented from building an improved access road to a hospital because the only possible routes crossed habitat for an “endangered” beetle.
  • The high school district in Vista Murrieta, California, had to postpone construction of a new school for one year to make accommodations for the Quino checkerspot butterfly. The delay resulted in a staggering $1.25 million increase in building costs.
  • San Bernardino County, California, had to spend $4.5 million to alter construction plans and move a hospital a few hundred feet in order to protect the endangered Dehli Sands fly.

On Earth Day, it’s worth remembering the costs and the victims of environmental extremism. With intelligent, nuanced policies, it’s possible to protect plants and wildlife without hurting people. But the first step is to stop listening to the green groups that care about every species except the human one.

Emma T. Suárez is a PLF attorney which promotes a balanced approach to environmental protection. This commentary was distributed on as part of Knight Ridder News Wire's “Earth Day Commentary” on 4/20/04.

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