Envi logic skewed

In case the excitement has not already gotten to you: Today is Earth Day. It is undoubtedly the case that humans have a significant effect on the environment, and this effect is, in some cases, negative. Unfortunately, many of the measures advocated by “environmentalists” are aimed more at making the activists feel good about themselves than actually addressing the legitimate issues about our relationship with the Earth.

This phenomenon is well encapsulated by the decision to have a campus-wide “Earth Day” dinner tonight that will feature an entirely organic menu. There is nothing inherently wrong with organic food: Many people choose to eat organically for reasons of taste (a matter of personal preference) or health (though studies have shown organic food is more susceptible to disease and has no inherent nutritional advantage over alternatives). That said, the case that eating organic food is somehow “environmentally-friendly” does not hold water. Indeed, the reluctance of many in the West – particularly Europe – to resist modern farming methods is one of the great environmental challenges of the 21st century.

A study by Dennis Avery of the Center for Global Food Issues found that modern farming has saved more than 16 million square miles of wildlands from destruction. If “environmentalists” are serious about saving rainforests, they need to explain their resistance to modern agricultural techniques.

Hostility towards modern farming plays itself out in even more treacherous ways if you look at the praise heaped on Robert Mugabe, the thug dictator of Zimbabwe. European leaders exulted Mugabe for his refusal to accept American food aid to help his starving people because it contained genetically modified corn. Apparently, starving Africans is a small price to pay for European cultural snobbery. I would also invite “environmentalists” to explain their resistance to so-called “golden rice” – a bioengineered food that could save millions of third world children from death or blindness due to Vitamin A deficiency.

The emphasis of good intentions over rational inquiry is similarly present in the College’s desire to build a “wind farm.” Windmills, while theoretically appealing, are not a serious solution to any problem. As of last year, the United States required 750,000 megawatts of electrical generating capacity. Ralph Nader has called for America to meet 20 percent of that capacity with wind power. To meet that goal, 60,000 square miles (1.7% of the land mass of the United States) would have to be populated with windmills. As an alternative energy source, nuclear power could safely and cleanly meet that capacity while using far less land and costing about 60 percent as much as gas power. Despite the innumerable advantages of nuclear power, in 2000, America got only one-fifth of its electricity from nuclear power (compared to nearly four-fifths in France) because of irrational and unsubstantiated fears.

Currently, the ignorance surrounding environmental issues is striking. Williams, as one of this nation’s leading social and educational institutions, should use this Earth Day to consider environmental solutions that involve more than simply good intentions.

Mike Needham ’04