Environmental stances challenged

Libertarian scientist
speaks at MU against
tax-funded efforts against pollution.
Tuesday, March 8, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 10:29 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 16, 2008

A nationally recognized scientist and author challenged conventional wisdom about the environment and its relationship to the U.S. economy in a speech at MU’s Life Sciences Center on Monday.

Jay Lehr began his presentation by warning, “What I’m going to tell you is not what you’re used to hearing.”

He took aim at subjects such as recycling, global warming and air and water pollution standards that he said often adversely affect small businesses.

“I’m violently opposed to curbside recycling because it’s your money and every community could use it for real problems,” Lehr said. “Recycling has one major benefit: It’s warm and fuzzy.”

He said many recycling programs rely on community tax dollars and are ineffective because, with the exception of steel from cars, most recycled items end up in the landfill. Instead, Lehr said money used for recycling should be used to eliminate homelessness, crime and teen pregnancy.

“I’m actually a bleeding-heart liberal when it comes to using our funds,” Lehr said. “I want to see our money go to something useful.”

Lehr, the author of more than 18 reference books, is considered a leading authority on groundwater hydrology. As an adviser to the Environmental Protection Agency, Lehr wrote many of the environmental regulations enacted from the 1960s through the mid-1980s. He is the science director of The Heartland Institute, a libertarian, nonprofit research center based in Chicago.

In his speech, Lehr warned against the passage of new environmental laws because he thinks they infringe on individual freedoms.

Lehr said the news the public hears about the environment is often misleading and promotes a “state of fear.”

Lehr urged the audience to read balanced information about the environment and suggested free material from his organization’s Web site or even Michael Crichton’s novel about global warming, “State of Fear,” a New York Times best seller.

“Global warming is a fact of life in that it is currently a big business,” Lehr said. “If you find an environmental problem in the morning, there will be an industry to tackle it by noon.”

Jan Weaver, the director of MU’s environmental studies program, thought Lehr’s presentation was engaging, but she disagreed with most of his views on global warming and conservation.

Weaver said she took issue with Lehr’s critique of computer-based scientific modeling of global warming patterns.

“It’s a perfectly respectable way to get at what’s likely to happen if you continue certain behavior,” Weaver said.

Lehr’s visit was sponsored by the MU Department of Biological Sciences and the MU chapter of Phi Beta Sigma fraternity.

Doug Ngomsi, president of MU’s chapter of the fraternity, said he brought Lehr to campus to increase awareness of different viewpoints on campus and in the community.

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