Today is Earth Day, a celebration originally conceived by then-U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson (D-Wis.) and first held in 1970 as a "symbol of environmental responsibility and stewardship." In the spirit of the time, it was a touchy-feely, consciousness-raising, New Age experience. Most activities were organized at the grassroots level.
In recent years, however, Earth Day has become an occasion for professional environmental activists and alarmists to warn of apocalypse, dish anti-technology dirt, proselytize, and raise money more to sustain their movement than to sustain the planet. Provability inevitably takes a back seat to alleged plausibility.
The Earth Day Network, which organizes Earth Day events and advocacy, regularly distorts or ignores science and exaggerates fears in order to advance its anti-technology, big government agenda. With a 2019 theme of "Protect Our Species," this year's event is no exception. Predictably, "our species" refers not to us humans, homo sapiens, but only to the other species on the planet, which we are destroying.
How dire are the threats to the planet's species? According to the Earth Day 2019 website, nothing short of apocalyptic: "The unprecedented global destruction and rapid reduction of plant and wildlife populations are directly linked to causes driven by human activity: climate change, deforestation, habitat loss, trafficking and poaching, unsustainable agriculture, pollution and pesticides to name a few."
Unprecedented global destruction? That isn't hyperbole—it's hysteria.
By injecting a toxic mix of politics and junk science into Earth Day, its organizers forfeit an opportunity to promote the kind of environmental awareness that might lead to worthwhile initiatives. They turn genuine environmentalists (like us) into Earth Day skeptics.
The Earth Day campaign itself isn't about saving species; it's about limiting or ending the benefits of science and technology that spur progress on so many fronts. Consider this assertion, for example: "Worldwide bee populations are in decline, including the honey bee and many of our wild native bees." And the number one bullet on their list of threats? "Widespread use of pesticides, neonicotinoids and GMOs." It's remarkable that so much misinformation could be packed into two short sentences.
First of all, contrary to the claims of environmental activists, honey bee populations in North America and Europe have been steady or rising throughout the two decades that neonicotinoids have been on the market. Honey bee populations have nearly doubled worldwide since 1961. The challenges that honey bees do face are principally attributable to three factors: parasites, like the tenacious varroa destructor mite; pathogens, such as the widely-prevalent gut fungi Nosema apis and Nosema ceranae; and, yes, habitat loss.
Second, neonicotinoid pesticides ("neonics," for short) are state-of-the-art crop protection products that anti-pesticide zealots have been campaigning to eliminate for the better part of a decade. Applied mostly as seed coatings—which eliminates the need for foliar spraying—they are absorbed into crop plants and control crop-destroying pests. They are safe for humans and animals, and the way they are used minimizes exposure to beneficial species such as bees and other pollinators.
Third, so called "GMOs," or genetically modified organisms, are actually beneficial to bees and other species, because their increased yields conserve water and arable farmland; obviate the need to spray huge amounts of chemical pesticides; and promote no-till farming, which reduces soil erosion and the runoff of chemicals into waterways.
The various marches and demonstrations this Earth Day won't be limited to supposedly imminent species extinction, of course; they'll feature many other causes as well. Many of those stumping for Earth Day on Monday will oppose environment-friendly advances in science and technology, such as fracking, nuclear power, and genetic engineering to produce new crop plants and microorganisms that can clean up toxic waste.
And if past is prologue, another recurrent theme will be disdain for the capitalist system that provides the wealth to expend on environmental protection and conservation.
The Earth Day Network has a "Greening Our Schools" initiative, so it's not surprising that kids holding signs they're too young to understand are a fixture of Earth Day events.
A frequent Earth Day assignment kids get in schools is to read Rachel Carson's best-selling 1962 book, Silent Spring, an emotionally charged but deeply flawed condemnation of the widespread spraying of chemical pesticides for the control of insects.
As described by Roger Meiners and Andy Morriss in their scholarly yet eminently readable analysis, "Silent Spring at 50: Reflections on an Environmental Classic," Carson exploited her reputation as a well-known nature writer to advocate and legitimize "positions linked to a darker tradition in American environmental thinking: neo-Malthusian population control and anti-technology efforts."
Carson's proselytizing and advocacy led to the virtual banning of the pesticide DDT and to restrictions on other chemical pesticides, even though Silent Spring was replete with gross misrepresentations and scholarship so atrocious that if Carson were an academic, she would be guilty of misconduct.
Carson's observations about DDT were meticulously rebutted point by point by San Jose State University entomologist J. Gordon Edwards, a longtime member of the Sierra Club and the Audubon Society, and a fellow of the California Academy of Sciences.
In his stunning 1992 essay, "The Lies of Rachel Carson," Edwards demolished her arguments and assertions and called attention to critical omissions, faulty assumptions, and outright fabrications in the book.
One of the United Kingdom's great contemporary thinkers, Dick Taverne—also known as Lord Taverne of Pimlico—discusses the New Age philosophy that motivates the organizers of Earth Day in his book, The March of Unreason. He deplores the "new kind of fundamentalism" that has infiltrated many environmentalist campaigns—an undiscriminating back-to-nature movement that views science and technology as the enemy and as a manifestation of an exploitative, rapacious, and reductionist attitude toward nature.
That eco-fundamentalism is out of step with current events, at least in the United States. Congress, the Trump Administration and many Americans are now firmly on the side of more sensible, more limited regulation. We are not naïve enough to expect it, but it would behoove the Earth Day activists to collaborate in good faith and to support advances in environment-friendly technologies and business models. A more evidence-based approach would advance civil society, alleviate human suffering, and even help to protect the planet's species.
Henry I. Miller, a physician and molecular biologist, is a Senior Fellow at the Pacific Research Institute. He was the founding director of the FDA's Office of Biotechnology. Follow him on Twitter: @henryimiller. Jeff Stier is a senior fellow at the Consumer Choice Center and a senior fellow at the Taxpayers Protection Alliance.