April 25, 1996

April 25, 1996 | Commentary on Energy and Environment

ED042596d: Environmental Flip Flops

Liberal activists once again have used the occasion of Earth Day to scare people into believing the environment is in such bad shape that more government programs are needed to "protect" us. One favorite theme is the alleged global population explosion.

In the last five years alone, U.S. newspapers and magazines have published more than 7,200 articles on this subject.

Now, the latest rave in environmental circles is a new book claiming a devastating drop in male fertility over the past half-century, threatening our very ability to reproduce.

OK, so which is it? Are we about to overpopulate ourselves to death, or die out as a species?

As most Americans realize, environmentalists are constantly sounding the alarm about something or other. Fortunately, most of us know instinctively that a healthy dose of skepticism is in order -- that the doomsday stories are a bunch of baloney (itself alleged to be a health hazard, because of the chemical preservatives in the meat).

Virtually all of the stories involve highly complex scientific issues that a nonscientist can't possibly understand. Which is why its so important to put things in perspective.

The newest "danger" on the horizon involves a somewhat racy subject: sperm. According to the new book, various chemicals in our diets and environment are wrecking havoc with our genetic material, lowering global sperm counts to dangerously low levels and threatening the future of life itself -- man and animal alike.

According to the overheated publicity materials being sent out by the New York publisher, studies have documented "as much as a 50 percent drop in human sperm counts over the last 50 years." Oh really?

Predictably, supporting the book's claims (here's where perspective is important) are some of the same people who have been hollering the loudest about global overpopulation, urging the United States to support United Nations and Planned Parenthood birth-control efforts. Now, instead of financing condoms for Chile and Chad, America is supposed to do something about the fertility deficit in Fiji and France.

This is precisely the kind of contradictory flip-flop confusion that raises skepticism about the entire environmental movement.

Of course, the agenda of environmental alarmists is the same as it has always been: Convince the American people that modern chemicals are deadly and evil and stampede the government into spending more money on more programs that will further restrict our choices and freedom.

The bottom line, of course, is that environmentalists can't have it both ways. We can't have a global population explosion and a fertility crisis at the same time. As Mr. Spock of "Star Trek" might put it, "It doesn't compute."

Note: Edwin J. Feulner, Ph.D. is president of The Heritage Foundation, a Washington-based public policy research institute.

About the Author

Edwin J. Feulner, Ph.D. Founder, Chairman of the Asian Studies Center, and Chung Ju-yung Fellow
Founder's Office