Earth Day little more than a fashion statement

Tuesday, April 29, 2008 | 10:00 a.m. CDT; updated 2:47 p.m. CST, Monday, February 2, 2009

I fully expect to be chastised severely, and perhaps even accused of heresy for voicing this opinion, but I am unapologetic in refusing to wax enthusiastic over the extravaganza which has been celebrated since 1978 as “Earth Day.” Admittedly, its adherents are, for the most part, well-meaning and sincere, and I will submit that any activity which weans children from TV, taking them out-of-doors and teaching them not to litter has intrinsic value.

Nonetheless, Earth Day has evolved as little more than a “feel good” exercise in pop environmentalism, embraced largely by those with negligible scientific or agricultural experience. Respect for the environment and for conservation are admirable traits; however, worship of all that is green because it is trendy and popular regardless of the consequences hardly conforms to the properties of conscientious research.

Locally and nationwide, the celebrations of “Mother Earth” include booths hawking “eco-friendly” products such as organic T-shirts, hemp place mats, instructions on organic gardening, recycling and the evils of commercial fertilizers and chemicals and, of course, bringing awareness to global warming or “climate change,” the newest euphemism. For individual practice, most of the methodology constitutes a harmless exercise in pioneer living; nevertheless, to consider it applicable to the entire nation or world is to court economic disaster, a catastrophe in infectious diseases and global starvation.

Those “evil” commercial fertilizers have increased crop yields since the 1950s. Organic or plain gardening are fine for those who have the time and space for growing food but obviously impractical for the majority of us, and the eschewing of the use of fossil fuels will put millions out of work long before sufficient “green collar” jobs can be created. The bashing of chlorine has no basis in fact, as science has shown that its addition to drinking water was the greatest advancement in public health as it virtually eradicated waterborne diseases such as cholera.

Additionally, the banning of DDT, triggered largely by Rachel Carson’s 1962 book, “Silent Spring,” inspired the pioneers of the green movement to a mindset of extremism in treating the use of all industrial chemicals with an attitude ranging from suspicion to contempt. The damage to world wildlife, to birds in particular, was later shown to be wildly exaggerated — the result was the resurgence of malaria, a disease all but eradicated by that pesticide. The cost of this leap to false conclusion to save species from extinction was millions of human lives, particularly in Asia and Africa.

Increasing the awareness of climate change could be considered a plus for society — if the playing field was level. Unfortunately it has been a one-sided program to validate predetermined conclusions, refusing honest debate with those of different scientific persuasion. Any student of geology knows that Earth has survived at least four ice ages, none of which were ended by fossil fuel burning or use of SUVs. Moreover, an increase of six-tenths of one degree in temperature in 125 years is hardly alarming. Perhaps we should question more closely the pied pipers of doom and consider the probability that climate change is a natural evolution

If I sound overly skeptical of the charms of the green, back-to-nature culture it is because I actually lived it from the second through sixth grade. From 1941 to 1947, I lived on a farm without electricity, the drinking water was carried from a well some 100 yards from the house, refrigeration was an ice box and ice purchased in 100-pound blocks, and plumbing facilities consisted of an outhouse at home as well as at school. Wind power supplied water for humans and livestock as well and also a wind charger for a battery radio — no wind meant pumping water by hand and no radio.

Solar power meant pumping tubs of water early on spring and summer mornings and hoping the sun heated them sufficiently for bathing. When inclement weather caused mud or snow, a trip to town was a two-mile trek either by horse or by “shank’s mare.” I do not regret that period of my life; nevertheless, I have no earthly desire to repeat it. Living a primitive and “green” experience one day a year may be fashionable and trendy but a steady diet of it is more than tiresome.

Conservation and environmental stewardship are indeed vital to our very existence — but scientific and common sense application must replace an uninformed or purely political agenda.

Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via e-mail at

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Steve Hanson April 29, 2008 | 3:59 p.m.

I am suprised that the Missourian is trying to compete with the Onion with this piece. That is what you're trying to do, isn't it? That last sentence could only come from a work of satire. And the bit about "back in my day." Look out Swift! All this time I thought Karl was a rabid conservative who practices the parroting of other's opinion week in and week out. Now I realize its all big joke. Ha! You had me going for so long on that one!!!

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking April 30, 2008 | 9:12 a.m.

In general, we will have to make do with less in the future, because availability of our main sources of energy are dwindling, and renewables will not step in to replace them in time. Victory gardens in WWII provided people with a lot of produce, and can do so again.

What I object to, like Miller, is the categorical denigration of industrial and chemical solutions that much of our society owes it's well being to. I've heard people go off on all the "additives" in our food, when they did not know (and didn't even know how to find out) what they were or what they were there for. I hear people bash nuclear power, when it is, by operational records, the safest bulk power source ever devised. I hear people say how solar, wind, and biofuels will allow us to live like we do now in the future, when the facts are that none of these sources will make more than a tiny dent in our energy mix, for decades.

To build a prototype of an exotic electric car, and to manufacture that car for millions of people, are totally different things. However, to hear some, the existence of that prototype solves all our problems. There is precious little sense of scale or proportion in many of these discussions, meaning there will be a lot of disappointed and angry people when the lights don't stay on and they can't get to work.

Any discussion of our energy future must involve conservation as it's central theme. Juneau. AK, has found it can cut 30% of it's electrical use because it is faced with a shortage due to power line failure. Rolling blackouts caused California to cut back 11% in the summer of 2005. This is the most effective way to cushion the shock of high energy prices and possible shortages, and this is what we need to hear about a lot more.


(Report Comment)
Kevin Gamble April 30, 2008 | 9:25 a.m.

Mr. Miller is living in the past with his comments. He's obviously refused to avail himself of any information regarding the development of ecologically-conscious thought, replacing actual knowledge with his own primitive, limited experience and anecdotal examples which he casually extrapolates into real understanding of others--something the steadfastly refuses to develop in himself, preferring gross generalizations.

The most troubling thing to me is that, yet again, Miller is using his soapbox only to tear down other people who he doesn't understand. He watches from afar, defensive in his ignorance, and mocks those who make different choices and have different priorities from his own. He obviously feels threatened by what he doesn't understand, and as a result is wasting the opportunity he's been given with his regular column, and the result is intellectual and emotional stagnation.

Mr. Miller, I'd much rather read about something you believe in, what matters to *you*, instead of why everyone else is always wrong to believe what they believe, while you always know more about what others are passionate about than they do. Do you ever think in a way that is non-contrarian? That kind of one-sided thinking is always wrong, no matter how right you may feel.

And that very feeling of rightness, to the thoughtful, is the first clue that more investigation is needed.

(Report Comment)
Chris Miller April 30, 2008 | 5:02 p.m.

--Forgive me readers for taking valuable space to address this person - but I have watched silently for too long - and spare me Mr. Gamble with the dimwitted comebacks - this is not the forum for bickering back and forth on irrelevant issues. Stick to the topic at hand and save your energy.--

So, Mr. Gamble, did you intend to actually comment on Colonel Miller's editorial, or simply do exactly what you accused him of doing - bash others for opinions that differ from your own? You are always conveniently absent when Colonel Miller writes a "non-contrarian," as you so eloquently put it, editorial - you do, however, find plenty of time to grandstand on your own. Put your own soapbox aside and open your mind. Part of being an intellectual is realizing that not everyone has the same opinion as you, and refraining from making this an arena for character bashing. Last I knew, an editorial was just that -- a place to voice your opinion, which is exactly what Colonel Miller does weekly. You using it as a field for character bashing does nothing but make yourself look foolish.

As a great man recently said - "There was a popular radio show in the 40s "It Pays to be Ignorant" which was, alas too early for those pseudo intellectual nitwits who elect the Internet as a vehicle for espousing irrelevance. It was much better when such individuals restricted their talents to toilet stall scribbling." You would do wise to heed this advice.

So that I am not guilty of doing exactly what Mr. Gamble has done, and fail to comment on the debated editorial, I will say that I welcome Colonel Miller's opinions. It would do us all well to remember we should always look at the "big picture," and not simply follow along with the current mod trends. As we've all seen too many times in the past, what is believed to be true now, will more than likely prove to not be so earth shatteringly significant in the near future. Live wisely, and remember to take care of your fellow man ---how hard is that?

Speak on Colonel!

(Report Comment)
Jean Bell April 30, 2008 | 5:08 p.m.

I'm surprised that certain Readers would take issue w/ the Colonel's comments, although they were done in an articulate fashion, as are the articles which he writes. I have always been impressed with his wide knowledge on various topics and the presentation which invites thoughtful consideration. Personal background which he shares does NOT date him; instead it provides insight. While I don't always agree with some points of view, I appreciate the opportunity to access them and come to my own conclusions, which I do believe that he appreciates. So, thanks for the intellectual stimulation provided; it's valuable in the world of ideas. Jean Bell

(Report Comment)
Hope Jen April 30, 2008 | 9:54 p.m.

I find it interesting how the lefties think they need to leave opposing commentary to Karl's fine works. Are we supposed to read them? There are alot of people who are up to their eyeballs with emotion over "global warming" and it's prudent and wise to look at the history of facts being ignored by those kinds of people. I prefer Teddy Roosevelt's conservation to the "greenies" of today.

(Report Comment)
Georgia Williams May 1, 2008 | 1:16 p.m.

I have been reading Col. Miller's articles for almost as long as he has been published. It is so refreshing to read his common sense and timely editorials. I am sick to death with the masses who follow along with Al Gore's global warming scam like blind sheep, and the greenies who think they are saving earth. They are contributing to the hoax and lining the pockets of scam artists.

(Report Comment)
Kevin Gamble May 2, 2008 | 9:25 a.m.

The comments above by Chris Miller fail to recognize what it is that I'm commenting about, which means I've either not made myself clear enough, or that in trying to make my point I've ended up communicating in the same hurtful style I accuse Col. Miller of. If that's the case, I apologize. It was not my intent.

I don't have an issue with what the columnist chooses to believe on his own. In fact, if you've read my comments, however severely they may be worded at times, you'll know that I have on more than one occasion encouraged the columnist to share more of his own beliefs and ideals, rather than using the platform to belittle and spread misinformation about the beliefs of others.

A statement such as, "Earth Day has evolved as little more than a 'feel good' exercise in pop environmentalism, embraced largely by those with negligible scientific or agricultural experience" is simply insulting to all of those with genuine expertise, experience, and knowledge of ecological issues who use the day for education, promotion of forward-thinking ideas, and support of conservation-minded practices. I know many people with agricultural and scientific backgrounds who support and appreciate this celebration, and for Col. Miller to paint that in a narrow, adversarial way is unfortunate and unhelpful. If he's saying such things in response to specific things he's seen or heard, then better to respond to them specifically, rather than through prejudicial extrapolation.

It's that aspect of Col. Miller's style that I'm critiquing. I obviously don't agree with Col. Miller about many things, but that's fine, and it's not the point. I don't dismiss his own views and experience. But I do dismiss his dismissal of everyone else's views and experience, which are more substantial than he gives them credit for.

I welcome voices that take the time to explain what they believe and why. I would actually enjoy reading a full column about Col. Miller's past and how it informs his world view on matters like this. If he could write one on a topic like this without poisoning it with insulting dismissals of different views, I as a reader would greatly appreciate it.

(Report Comment)

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