The Unintended Consequences of Environmentalism

There are big differences between the responsible environmental stewardship ideals that most of us subscribe to, and the moralistic, anti-development, obstructionist activism that exemplifies much of today's environmental zealotry, says Larry Bell, a professor at the University of Houston.

An example is the 1972 ban on spraying crops with DDT, a synthetic pesticide:

  • After calling 125 witnesses and reviewing 9,362 pages of testimony, it was concluded that the DDT alarm was unwarranted.

  • The World Health Organization pleaded at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) hearings that DDT was very beneficial in fighting malaria in many parts of the world and should not be banned.

  • Still, due to threatened European trade restrictions against countries that used the chemical, African nations terminated use of the effective mosquito pesticide for malaria control.

  • Since that time death rates from the disease have increased dramatically, and are now estimated to be between 155,000 and 310,000 annually, according to data collected at 41 African sites from 1997 to 2002.

    But then, what about protection from something that everyone knows to be dangerous? Take, for example, government legislation that will phase out traditional incandescent bulbs in 2012, replacing them with "energy efficient" compact fluorescent lighting (CFL) containing mercury, a highly toxic substance, says Bell.

  • Many argue that the resulting environmental and health costs will cancel out any benefits realised through touted – and mandated – energy conservation.

  • While advocates argue that the mercury content in a single CFL bulb is relatively low comparable to that in watch batteries and tilt thermostats, a big difference is that those items don't tend to shatter when accidentally dropped.

  • Critics argue that as federal legislation continues to push CFLs into home use, exposures will add up over time, with increased risks to babies, children, pregnant women, the elderly and those in poor health.

    Source: Larry Bell, Greener than Thou: The Tyranny of Eco-Sanctimony, Forbes, January 20, 2011.

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    First published by the National Center for Policy Analysis, United States

    FMF Policy Bulletin/ 01 February 2011
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