J. KARL MILLER: Earth Day, a fad or necessary?

Wednesday, April 24, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CDT

This column was originally published April 29, 2008.

I fully expect to be chastised severely, perhaps even accused of heresy, for voicing this opinion, but I am singularly unapologetic in refusing to wax enthusiastically over the extravaganza that 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 that weans children from TV, takes them outdoors and teaches them not to litter has intrinsic value.

Nonetheless, Earth Day has evolved into 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, the evils of commercial fertilizers, 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 nationwide or worldwide 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 traditional 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, its addition to drinking water was the greatest advancement in public health as it virtually eradicated waterborne diseases like cholera.

Additionally, the banning of DDT, triggered largely by Rachel Carson’s 1962 book, Silent Spring, which inspired the pioneers of the green movement to a mind set 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 heretofore all but eradicated by that pesticide. The cost of this leap to false conclusion to save species from extinction has been 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 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. Inclement weather caused mud or snow, and 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. I was "green" before green was cool. 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.

J. Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via email at Questions? Contact Opinion editor Elizabeth Conner.

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Ellis Smith April 24, 2013 | 8:01 a.m.

J. Karl:

Like it or not, rituals are part of human existence, and they are not without value; however, in the case you cite we need to separate the desire (expressed as a ritual) for better conditions from the actual work and expense required to obtain them. In a city such as Columbia, based on education, that OUGHT to be a simple matter. If the city were located, say, somewhere in the Missouri Ozarks we might assume the residents (plus any university campuses present) would be intellectually incapable of making the separation.

As with most human activities, expense is involved: both intellectual and monetary expense. We need to come up with solutions (the "intellectual" component), but we also need to PAY for them.

We could shut down all fuel combusion activities (which includes all motor vehicles with internal combustion engines, and all home and commercial heating activities based on burning fossil fuels), all mining activities, and all exploration and production activities for fossil fuels, and I'm certain the ecology would be the better for that, but are those celebrating Earth Day prepared to LIVE with the consequences? No.

We've spent years getting matters in the state they're in, so why do we believe we can put them right in short order? As W. Edwards Deming has put it, "There IS no such thing as 'instant pudding'."

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Mark Foecking April 24, 2013 | 8:13 a.m.

"Unfortunately, it has been a one-sided program to validate predetermined conclusions, refusing honest debate with those of different scientific persuasion."

That's a perception that isn't borne out by the actual science. There is quite a bit of debate about contributions of various forcing factors, including natural ones, but the general feeling is that it is not only possible, but likely, that man is driving much of the current change. Most denial comes from political, not scientific, sources.

"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.\"

The critical point is none of these ice ages (or warm periods) happened when there were 7+ billion people to feed. Also, condition were likely different in those times. What's important is the here and now. If we can keep some level of consistent climate, or at least stay ahead of the changes, that'll make a lot of difference in feeding people.

I don't think we can cut back our global emissions enough to matter, so we'll have to adapt as best we can. It's more from a standpoint of wasting critical resources like petroleum, which we'll need to adapt, that I would like to see us conserve.

"If I sound overly skeptical of the charms of the green, back to nature culture, it is because I actually lived it from second through sixth grade."

I use solar power and have pretty much everything the average American family has. It just works without the grid. These days, using solar doesn't mean you need to do without lights at night, or a radio.

Earth Day is just a symbolic event, but it's certainly too long running to call it a "fad". I don't think it means much to real climate or energy solutions, but I think it has value, if for nothing else than getting people to appreciate the real cost of some of the things we take for granted, and maybe resolve to be careful in how they use them.


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