May 1993 (vol. 9, #4)
1601 N Tucson Blvd #9, Tucson AZ 85716 c 1993 Physicians
for Civil Defense
Compared with the threat of nuclear war, the dangers posed by ``environmental degradation'' are ``more immediate and far more demanding than any other threat we face,'' said Senator John Kerry (D-MA), speaking to a convention sponsored by Physicians for Social Responsibility.
The ``grave consequences to human health'' reportedly include big increases in certain cardiovascular diseases and infertility and accelerated spread of communicable diseases, all due to global warming, according to Dr. Andrew Haines of Middlesex School of Medicine in London (Sacramento Bee 10/11/92). Other perils are said to include CFCs and ozone depletion; the expansion of agriculture to ``marginally productive and environmentally fragile lands''; the destruction of forests; interruption of ecosystems; contamination of air and water; and third-world-like conditions among the American urban poor (Gilbert Omenn, ``Population and Environment: Core Issues for PSR's Agenda on Peace and Security,'' PSR Quarterly, March, 1993).
While many of these alleged menaces have been debunked (see, for example, the facts on America's forests in the May, 1993 issue of the DDP Newsletter), the conclusions about impending disaster could nonetheless be correct, though for different reasons. HHS Secretary Donna Shalala may have had the insight of the century: ``We are destroying our economy, and we're also killing our children.'' She may simply have made the wrong diagnosis. (She was speaking of gaps in medical insurance coverage).
Although intellectuals have the tendency to assume that the universe is stable, cataclysms occur. Populations have been wiped out, and civilizations have been destroyed.
The threat might be one that is totally unprecedented. Or it could be a problem that was once under control but broke out either because of a change in the threat itself (say the development of resistant bacteria) or a degradation in defenses (say disrepair of the public health system). We need to examine not just the potential threats, but also the vulnerabilities of the population.
There are two types of coping mechanisms: anticipation and resilience. These are described in detail in Aaron Wildavsky's book Searching for Safety. (Wildavsky will speak at the 11th annual meeting of DDP in Oakland, August 13-15.)
``Anticipation is a mode of control by a central mind; efforts are made to predict and prevent potential dangers before damage is done...Resilience is the capacity to cope with unanticipated dangers once they have become manifest...
``Anticipation attempts to avoid hypothesized hazards; resilience is concerned with those that have been realized.''
Anticipation is prudent for example, we need civil defense to insure against the hypothesized hazard that existing and potential weapons of mass destruction might actually be used.
However, ``just as the effort to mobilize too many resources against threats can lead the body's defenses to turn on the body itself, destroying healthy cells and tissues,'' excessive or misdirected anticipation can destroy our sources of safety.
Resilience depends on the ability to take risks and to innovate. It requires diversity. And it requires reserves including economic reserves.
A biological population that is highly uniform and is accustomed to a stable environment can more readily be wiped out if circumstances change.
Has our society developed the equivalent of an autoimmune disease, in which would-be defenses are eating out our substance? Are we becoming like knights so loaded down with armor that we (and our horses) cannot move? Are we liquidating our assets and incurring enormous debt to build Maginot Lines with the guns pointed the wrong way? Are we suppressing diverse opinions (as the British once suppressed Winston Churchill)?
A few examples:
The price of CFCs (freon) has skyrocketed from $.50 per pound to $7 per pound, including a $3.35 federal tax. This price is already as high as that of the recently developed substitute refrigerants and will increase further as the production ban nears. Between $50 and $150 billion worth of refrigeration equipment essential to prevent food spoilage will have to be replaced per year. The Chiller Wars have begun (Wall St J 5/10/93).
The introduction of new pharmaceuticals may be stymied, not just by the FDA, but by new costs imposed by the Clean Air Act. The permitting process does not account for the frequent changes needed in product manufacture (EPA Watch 4/15/93).
``Infrastructure rehabilitation'' (sewer line repair) may be blocked by a proposed ban on acrylamide grout, which has been in use for more than 30 years with no known adverse health effects (EPA Watch 1/15/93).
As much as 60% of the water supply of San Antonio may be cut off, costing $2.6 billion in salary reductions and 136,000 jobs in one county alone. Ruling on a case by the Sierra Club, a federal judge has dictated a drastic reduction in water pumped from the aquifer, to save the Fountain Darter, a nonindigenous fish. Two other species were named by the Sierra Club, but the salamander never lived in the endangered spring to begin with and the San Marcos Gambusia is already extinct (Putting People First, 3/15/93).
William Happer, Jr., was fired as
the Dept of Energy's top scientist. Mr. Happer had told congressmen
of studies that show a decline in ultraviolet radiation
reaching the earth's surface, the opposite of what the ozone alarmists
predict. Vice President Al Gore has also targeted Sherwood Idso
(whose research shows that rising CO2 improves crop
yields), global warming skeptic Richard Lindzen, and economist
Bill Niskanen (Wall St J 5/25/93).
The current regime has been described as ``environmental feudalism'' (Bruce Yandle, Society, Nov/Dec 91). It is feudalism, not global warming, that portends grave consequences to human health: the restriction of agriculture; the mandated creation of nonproductive land; the thwarting of public health measures; obstructions to innovation; the crippling of the economy by punitive and costly regulations; and worst of all, the gagging of scientists.