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 teachers."

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:

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.

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 disease.

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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