Today is Earth Day, a celebration conceived by then-U.S. Sen. Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin 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 devolved into an occasion for professional environmental activists and alarmists to warn of apocalypse, dish anti-technology dirt, and proselytize.
However, if there was ever a time that Earth Day's hysteria was completely overshadowed by genuine apocalyptic scenarios, the COVID-19 pandemic is providing it.
Passion and zeal now trump science on Earth Days, and provability takes a back seat to plausibility. The Earth Day Network, which organizes events and advocacy, regularly distorts science and exaggerates fears in order to advance its Big Government agenda.
With a theme of "Climate Change," this year's event is no exception. In the United States, the prototype of climate activism is the Green New Deal (GND), which is impractical, unworkable, monumentally expensive – and lethal.
Its price tag – tens of trillions of dollars – means that, were it to be implemented, the GND would lead to what has been dubbed "statistical murder," because the diversion of resources to fund it would exert a so-called "income effect" on health and longevity that reflects the correlation between wealth and health.
Let us explain. It is no coincidence that richer societies or segments of the population have lower mortality rates than poorer ones. This is demonstrable in places such as California's Marin County, just north of San Francisco, which ranks first in both health and per capita income, while the poorer parts of the state, such as the Central Valley, score poorly on measures of health.
To deprive communities of wealth via taxes to fund the GND, therefore, is to increase their health risks because the deprivation of income itself has adverse health effects — for example, an increased incidence of stress-related problems, including ulcers, hypertension, heart attacks, depression, and suicides.
The GND aims to remedy the problem (almost certainly without making the connection) by offering universal health care. However, those costs, too, would run into the trillions of dollars, and single-payer health care has been thoroughly and meticulously debunked and discredited – to take one example, in health care reform expert Sally Pipes' "The False Promise of Single-Payer Health Care."
It's not at all obvious that we can tax our way out of the income effect, especially given the huge federal debt that will be incurred by economic stimulus packages and other government programs related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
To make matters even worse, the costs – and mortality – associated with the income effect would be felt up front, because the GND programs cannot begin without funding. Yet, by contrast, the benefits, which will surely fall short of the GND's predictions, can be realized only in the very long term.
The "green" in the Green New Deal refers, of course, to lowering greenhouse gas emissions to slow the progression of global warming, but the United States cannot ameliorate it alone; and we are already far ahead of huge emitters China and India in moderating our carbon footprint. Nor, arguably, do we have the right to dictate to them, because carbon-emitting in those countries and other poorer nations saves lives in many ways (again, related to wealth). And even before the economic destruction wrought by the pandemic, they didn't have the resources to focus on being green.
The bottom line is that siphoning off vast amounts of wealth from a significant fraction of the nation's population to achieve the GND's goals will cost lives today, with uncertain benefits far in the future. And providing a health care framework to mitigate the damage would escalate the cost of the GND to the point of near (or actual) economic and social collapse, creating a downward spiral.
How do such ideas gain any traction at all? As public policy scholar Grace-Marie Turner wrote, the high-profile Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) "leads a generation of young people to take pride in their ignorance – of the laws of nature, of history, of the Constitution, of the eternal battle for freedom – and still succeed."
Clearly, we need some adults with sound judgment, who will step back and consider the much darker effects of the plan, and of environmental activism generally. This is a feel-good, let's-believe-in-the-tooth-fairy moment we simply cannot afford.
One of the United Kingdom's great contemporary thinkers, Dick Taverne – also known as Lord Taverne of Pimlico – discusses in his book, "The March of Unreason," the New Age philosophy that underlies the organizers of Earth Day.
Taverne 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. Congress, the Trump administration and many Americans are now firmly on the side of more sensible, more limited regulation. Thus, it would behoove the Earth Day activists to collaborate in good faith and to support advances in environment-friendly technologies and business models.
Among these advances, we would include ridesharing services, Airbnb, modern genetic engineering applied to agriculture, and state-of-the art agricultural chemicals. All these things enable us to do more with less – but they have been vilified by activists.
Perhaps adding Lord Taverne's book to the Earth Day curriculum would allow students to consider the issues in a more thoughtful way. But we are not sufficiently naïve to expect that to happen.
Rather, we suspect that activists prefer their eco-fundamentalism to go unchallenged. During Earth Day and beyond, they don't want reason, science, and respect for differing views to impede their agenda.
Henry 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. Andrew Fillat has spent his career in technology venture capital and information technology companies. He is also the co-inventor of relational databases.