This article appeared in the "Editor's File"
in The Textbook Letter, September-October 1995.
Promoting the Far Right's Fictions
William J. Bennetta
In the 29 March issue of Education Week, a "Take Note"
column signed by Peter West and Lonnie Harp promoted a classroom
poster that allegedly debunked "bogus environmental claims." The
poster, issued by something called the National Anxiety Center,
had arrived "Just in time for the 25th anniversary of Earth Day,"
said West and Harp in their gushy endorsement. They quoted the
creator of the poster -- one Alan Caruba, who said that young
people were becoming "green neurotics" -- and they declared that
his views were supported by "some environmental groups and science
I hope that readers of Education Week weren't taken in by
West and Harp's effort. The poster (titled The Earth Is Fine!
Save Yourself!) is really a melange of far-right political
fictions, including ignorant incantations, lies, and an attempt to
brand environmental organizations as Marxist conspiracies.
Caruba's material has no respectability whatsoever, and it can
serve only as a sample of the anti-scientific, anti-environmental
trash that agents of the extreme right try to inject into schools.
Look at some of Caruba's tricks:
- Although there is no doubt that chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) are
destroying stratospheric ozone, Caruba flatly denies it. He
ignores all the scientific work that has shown how CFCs deplete
the ozone layer (including the work that was commemorated by this
year's Nobel Prizes in chemistry), and he declares that "Ozone is
not being destroyed by 'man-made' chemicals." He says that holes
in the stratospheric ozone layer are "a natural phenomenon," and
then he sinks into pseudoscientific raving: "The evaporation
cycles of the world's oceans annually generate 300 times more
chlorine than the entire world production of CFCs."
That is nonsense -- and even if huge quantities of chlorine were
being liberated from the oceans, this would be irrelevant. Such
chlorine couldn't reach the stratosphere: It would react, here in
the troposphere, to form chlorides. CFCs, on the other hand, are
extremely stable and do not react in the troposphere at all. They
ascend unchanged to the stratosphere, and only when they reach the
stratosphere do they decompose (under the effect of ultraviolet
radiation) to release chlorine. The chlorine reacts with ozone,
and the ozone is destroyed.
- "Global warming," Caruba says, "is a completely discredited
theory." This is a vicious political slogan promoted by coal
companies, oil companies and some other commercial interests. If
there has been any doubt about global warming, the doubt was
abolished when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
reported (in September) that Earth's atmosphere is definitely
growing warmer, that the warming is at least partly due to human
activity, and that the resulting changes in the average global
temperature will be more rapid than any changes that occurred in
the last 10,000 years.
- Caruba dismisses water pollution in two sentences: "Clean water
is what comes out of the tap from one end of the nation to the
other. Enjoy it." So Caruba wants students to believe that all
our drinking water is clean and that we have no reason to be
concerned about the pollution of water supplies. The fact is this:
From one end of the nation to the other, various local populations
must use water sources that are badly contaminated by heavy metals,
organic solvents, and other industrial or agricultural pollutants.
- Here's what Caruba wants young people to believe about air
pollution: "Clean air is precisely what we breathe full-time in
America. Yes, in some cities, . . . . the air isn't that great,
but no one is dying from it. Today's automobiles contribute very
little to so-called air pollution. Environmentalists want you to
stop driving. You won't. You don't have to."
When I recited that stuff to my friend Milton Feldstein, who is a
chemist and a senior officer of the Bay Area Air Quality
Management District (in San Francisco), Feldstein remarked:
"Obviously, the person who wrote that doesn't know anything about
science or anything else." In every urbanized region in the
Western world, Feldstein told me, automobiles contribute more than
50% of the air pollutants, including carbon monoxide, particulate
matter, and substances that create smog by driving the formation
of tropospheric ozone. The effects of such pollution on health
include the inhibition of respiratory function -- and (contrary to
Caruba's claim) people are dying from it. Particulate
matter is known to cause excess deaths, and carbon monoxide kills
persons whose cardiovascular systems have been weakened by age or
- "Pesticides," Caruba says, "are one of the reasons more people
are living longer, healthier lives . . . ." He ignores all of the
environmental issues involving pesticides, and (of course) he
promotes the view that feeding humans is the only thing that
matters. Then he tries to divert attention from the dangers posed
by pesticide residues on foods: "Fully 99% of the pesticides
ingested by humans are produced naturally by fruits and vegetables
. . . ." That is an absurdity and an attempt to sow confusion and
misinformation by muddling the meaning of the word
- "Forests," Caruba says, "are not disappearing. In the U.S.,
fully two-thirds of the forests that existed when the Pilgrims
arrived still exist." That is another absurdity -- one that shows
up often in propaganda dispensed by timber companies and religious
In the end, Caruba turns to overt political cant. He attacks the
federal Environmental Protection Agency, and he says that
"environmental organizations" -- all of them -- demand "that
centralized government control property, natural resources,
agriculture, and all means of production." (Do you know of any
environmental groups that demand government control of "all means
of production"? Neither do I. Caruba has obviously dredged up
that trite phrase to imply that all environmentalists are Commies.
Shades of J. Edgar Hoover!)
I know all that I need to know about Alan Caruba and the faction
that he represents, but I don't know what motivated West and Harp
to plug Caruba's sleazy stuff in Education Week.
William J. Bennetta is a professional editor, a fellow of the
California Academy of Sciences, the president of The Textbook
League, and the editor of The Textbook Letter. He writes
frequently about the propagation of quackery, false "science" and
false "history" in schoolbooks.
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