Property Rights Foundation of America®
from PRFA's Eleventh Annual National Conference on Private Property Rights

The Craze of Environmental Irrationality

John Berlau

Thank you, Carol, for your kind words, and for having me here. Thank you, all of you, for coming out on these important issues that CEI and your groups deal with of protecting American freedoms and for all of the feedback you have given me on Eco-Freaks, I appreciate that.

I wanted to ask our previous speaker before I go, is there a web site where we can find out about things coming up in Congress that the minority staff of the research committee has? That might be something to work on. I would love to be on the list. I think a lot of people would be, too. I thought I was well informed about these issues, but I didn't know about half those things you were mentioning, and I am amazed at what is coming down the pipeline.

Well, we have an interesting new winner for the Nobel Peace Prize, and they did that just in time, just to give us something to talk about. Just some interesting statements that he has made about other things, like he doesn't like Norman Borlaug's advances in agriculture that have fed the world. He's had some skeptical things…I mean Gore. If you read Earth in the Balance, which was written eleven years ago, about which he has also said, "There is not a paragraph in that book that I would have changed," He doesn't like man getting away from nature and complex science. But the Nobel Committee celebrated him as a man of science. There are a lot of other gems. I wrote a piece in Eco-Freaks and a piece on that said a tree cut down to save a cancer patient's life seems like a good bargain until you realize that you have to cut down three trees for one cancer patient.

I guess the interesting thing and what I tried to get to in Eco-Freaks, was where do people like Gore get their ideas from? And with Gore there seems to be one person in particular, and that is Rachel Carson in Silent Spring and she has affected negatively, I would say, a lot of people. And he said again and again that she's his heroine and that she's the reason that he got involved with the environmental issues. You look at that and you look at what she did with DDT, and there is a case to be made that as far as who has killed the most people—I am not the first one to have said this—in the twentieth century and now going out into the twenty-first century, it has been Rachel Carson with her vilification of DDT and all the deaths from malaria and other insect-borne diseases that have resulted from some of her baseless allegations when it's never been shown to be harmful to humans. Even the things about animals have been exaggerated. And yet you have everyone dying from this disease that used to be a common disease that DDT wiped out and now it's coming back—malaria.

In looking at this we have had some success this year. This was the one hundredth anniversary of Rachel Carson's birth and the enviros were planning a big celebration and all of this. CEI and our affiliates put out a web site,, which you may want to look at. And the lefties have criticized us for this. Usually they just don't pay attention to something; so you know we got through. There have been resolutions in Congress to celebrate Rachel Carson that did not get through because Senator Coburn put a hold on it in the Senate, and even in the House a lot of Republicans stood up for principle for once. Even the leaders like Representative Boehner and Hastert voted against a resolution in honor of Rachel Carson. So we are getting some progress here and that did not go through. And there have been similar things; attempts to name bridges and things after Rachel Carson have been stopped. So the message is getting through, and we can take hope from that.

Now does anyone know what Rachel Carson was before she became a full time writer and wrote Silent Spring and books like that? What was her profession? Anyone know?

Yes, she was a wildlife biologist. She was indeed. She worked as a biologist for the Fish and Wildlife Service. And how many of you have had some dealings with the Fish and Wildlife Service? Well, isn't it something that she came from that same agency that's shown such disregard for property rights. It is kind of the same cheese, as the environmentalists would say, of the same species of people who don't let you farm because bugs and bunnies might live there. It shows you something, and that is what the environmentalists, what the movement of sound science and property rights define as the enviros, the extreme environmentalists want to do. The other side is sort of based on both issues like property rights, oil exploration, and also sound science when it comes to things like global warming and the vilification of chemicals such as DDT, pointing out the good that good chemicals can do. Sometimes one side seems to be, you're working with the land and the other things, and the other side is, like, chemical companies and chemical products. It's kind of like, "What do these things have to do with each other?"

I think what this shows is that we really need to be united, the whole movement of fighting the greens in one area needs to be united and talk to each other. One reason is that, I think, they certainly are, and I think the other reason is that it comes down to both developing life-saving pesticides, chemicals, herbicides as well as being able to farm your land and drill for oil, things like that. Both are, I would say, related to the human mind—human innovation—what Roger Pilon was talking about today in his brilliant talk about "property rights are human rights." They are universal. They are part of what makes property rights so special and part of property rights is what you do with the land. Indeed, it takes a lot of creativity and innovation to predict when crops will come in, then the marketing that is involved, the different types of soil, and, as far as drilling for resources, everything you do with the seismograph, and some of the software involved with that. Indeed, that is a product of the human mind, the creativity that goes with that, as well as developing complex chemicals. It's a human creation, and I think one of the things in the green movement—the establishment environmental movement today—is sort of the devaluing of humans.

You know that humans are so important. Those in the green movement may not say it outright, but they are devaluing human achievement and assuming "nature good—man bad"—that nature is always kind and sweet. I'm from the Midwest, so I know I am not an expert in the outdoors, but I know a little bit more than some living in Washington, D.C. But if you look at people who fly over nature or their only experience is a weekend camping trip, they might think nature is just nice. It should be preserved. There should never be any improvement. Just preserve it like it was in the 1700's.

Environmentalists themselves are sort of caught. In the book I talk about a contradiction. They say, "Well, man should just act as if he's a part of nature. Man shouldn't act as if he's anything special." Okay, let's take their word about it. Okay, if we are just a part of nature—I think Al Gore said, like the wind and the sea—we're a force of nature, too. So we're a part of nature. Well, building dams and cutting down trees, isn't that what other animals do? Don't beavers build dams? Don't elephants knock down trees with their trunks? They've changed part of Africa. Using our minds, this is what God or nature has given us, so we are acting like we're a part of nature when we're doing that.

Now, I think, again, that part of what separates us is that we shouldn't always cut down trees. We shouldn't build dams everywhere, although building dams is certainly necessary, and we have private property rights, so, yeah, we are special, we are unique. As Mike McConnell, a radio talk show host in Cincinnati, said, we are the only species on earth to have veterinarians for others. We deliberately try to save other species. We should at times, but we also should have no illusions, we need to communicate that somehow we're acting unnaturally when we build dams, when we build shelter, when we drill for oil, when we do all of these things that other animals do for their survival and do them with the creativity of the human species.

I say in the end of the book—and it may sound silly, but say it aloud—we're humans and we're proud. Just imagine, words have a way of sticking—they talk about lowering the footprint, the carbon footprint, the human footprint as if that footprint is always a bad thing. As if somehow a human footprint is worse than a bear footprint, and I don't think that's necessarily so. I mean that I pay attention to language here because I think what Orwell said about language and the way you frame things is very important. Just imagine the way discussions about global warming would be if we didn't assume that the human contribution to our atmosphere was necessarily a bad thing, or if we judged it on a case-by-case basis. Right now where the global warming discussions start is that nature is always good so we must have optimal temperature now. So, if, for whatever reason, temperatures are going up and if humans can be shown to cause only a tiny part of that, that must be bad. But if you think about this or if you have grown up in Albany or any cold atmosphere, it's just common sense that cold isn't always good.

One of my favorite moments in this whole culture of this was in Rolling Stone's fortieth anniversary issue. The founder of the magazine, who has been on this big global warming kick in Rolling Stone, and his other magazines, which are men's journals, bash groups like CEI and, I think, some others here. So he himself, the publisher, Jann Wenner, is doing this interview with Bob Dylan. Any Dylan fans here? Okay, and he says, "Well, what do you think about problems today, as far as global warming and things like that." And so Dylan answered, "What global warming? It is freezing here." So in the article Wenner quickly moved past the topic. I think Dylan has been a little more contrary than the lefties would like to believe, but in general I just think on this, Dylan grew up in Hibbing, Minnesota, and it is hard to say that warmer weather would necessarily be a danger there.

As we've seen, what's more dangerous is environmentalists not letting us protect ourselves from weather. Carol brought to my attention—and I've written about this—an incident where there was subzero weather around here earlier this year, around the Northway. Alfred Langner and his wife, who were Orthodox Jews from Brooklyn,—I'll get to the significance of that in a moment—were driving back from a wedding in Montreal, and they had a car accident and were trapped. They had a cell phone with them, and they called out for help, yet they could not get reception. One of the reasons is that on this fifty-mile stretch, environmental groups around the Adirondacks and, I think, the local chapter of the Sierra Club, had lobbied against the building of any cell tower over 100 feet even if they were painted like a tree. They tried to make look one like a tree, and they said, "Oh no, that is 'Frankenpine,' and the landscape has to be exactly how Georgia O'Keefe painted it, and we need to save this for our grandchildren." They were actually saying this. Well, unfortunately, because of this, Mr. Langner did not live to see present and future grandchildren. He and his wife were stranded there for about two days. I think he expired after a day and a half, unfortunately. His wife was in pretty bad shape although she is recovering from what I understand.

What also happened, though, was that he was a hero in his community of Orthodox Jews in Brooklyn. I later found out they were actually Hasidic Jews and this is the saddest part, he was an emergency medical technician and an ambulance driver, who would save and bring people to the hospital. He did all these things and he knew what to do in this kind of a situation, yet not getting that cell phone call out, he just… It's hard to talk about, but all of his friends and neighbors suddenly got involved in this cell tower issue that Senator Betty Little here and Carol have been involved with for years and they made phone calls nonstop to the Spitzer administration and what do you know? Elliot Spitzer, no friend of ours, the second good thing he did, because he knows how to butt heads or crack heads together, put together a task force. The environmentalists now agreed, at least in principle, to building cell towers over 100 feet. This isn't a done deal. In fact, this is something we should be watching and make sure it gets done, a done deal, They said as long as they're painted like trees-which is what Verizon was always willing to do, Verizon and the other phone companies, and they said, "No, that is Frankenpine, that still doesn't count." So they said that to save face, but they agreed to it.

It just shows that, when you get an issue, you can show the anti-human nature of a lot of these groups. Now I can't speak for every leader and I think some people, as you know, are members just thinking the earth—the outdoors—that's a good thing. And we all think that is a good thing, but when you can show this, I think there's still a lot of opportunities for winning, and we should take those opportunities to say this is part of a pattern here. They are bad for your health. And modern environmentalism is—with DDT and malaria, with not building cell towers where they could save lives—in conflict with public health. So there we can show it, because it is not even clear if lefties are all radical environmentalists. I would say—I talk about it in Eco-Freaks—that they're not necessarily radical environmentalists. I have quotes from Franklin D. Roosevelt, Mr. Democrat, when he was dedicating what's now the Hoover Dam. It was called the Boulder Dam—it was sort of like Reagan Airport—until they finally named it for Herbert Hoover. Roosevelt said, "I came and saw and I was conquered. This land before was cactus-covered waste." He said that it basically was a great thing. I have the exact quote, that we have "conquered nature," that we are "building…," in language that you wouldn't even hear Republicans talking like today, saying this land beforehand was of no use to anyone. We are altering the geography of a region and isn't that great.

Also Marx and Engels were actually critics of Thomas Malthus, the population control guru, and talked about humans, and science being the ultimate resource in language that the late Julian Simon might have talked about that. It's only really since the left was losing and they couldn't prove that socialism was more effective than capitalism, —I'd say for about forty years—that they formed this alliance with the enviros, but if you can show how environmentalism is even hurting their priorities, as how it's against the poor and things like that, you might even get a couple of people peeling off from that.

So I think there are a lot of reasons for hope if we just stand up for the human race and watch and inform each other about threats like the Law of the Sea Treaty that Lawrence Kogan is going to be talking about. And CEI has done work on that, too, how it affects entrepreneurship as well as national security. I passed out papers by Doug Bandow, who is now a fellow at CEI, about the Law of the Sea. So I would say the message of this book is say it loud, "We are humans and we are proud." And I am willing to take any questions.

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