Escaping Responsibility

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The Article

I’ve been thinking a lot about the number 30,000,000 lately. It’s a big number. Canada’s population crossed that milestone a few years ago. It’s around the population of Mexico City. And it’s at least the number of people who have died of malaria since Rachel Carson wrote A Silent Spring, and the world jumped on board and banned DDT.

It turns out DDT wasn’t actually that harmful, but not using it certainly did cause deaths. Now the powers that be are allowing DDT again, which is wonderful. But that’s small comfort for those who have already died, isn’t it?

Rachel Carson didn’t suffer from DDT being banned. She lived in North America, where there was no malaria. She could feel good about herself by raising the alarm, and never had to apologize when it turns out what she stood for was the equivalent of 45 Rwandan massacres.

My uncle, who was a Ph.D. candidate in the early 1970s, was immersed in a social milieu similar to Rachel Carson’s—all intellectual, all academic, all the time. In his scholarly days, the big talk was Paul Ehrlich’s The Population Bomb. Many of his friends decided not to have children because they didn’t want to contribute to over-population. I wonder what those aging baby boomers now think, as they are greeted by headlines like: “Stats Canada says birth rate at an all-time low; Population Crisis Looms”. But Paul Ehrlich doesn’t have to pay for their loneliness now, does he?

And that is the problem with our society. Academics and intellectuals and politicians can advocate all these brave new changes, and thirty years down the road, when it turns out they were exactly wrong, they won’t suffer from it. On the contrary, they probably made a nice wad of cash promoting their ideas, and now they’re retiring in comfort while the rest of us have to live in the mess they created.

My husband, when he had his pediatric practice, often tested kids for learning disabilities. Over and over again he’d encounter fourth grade children who could read “beat” but not “meat”. Why not? Because they had been taught to read by the whole language approach. They knew what the word “beat” looked like, but they didn’t know that “when two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking”, as any kid schooled in phonics would. Whole language was a fad brought in by education academics that is persistently hanging around, though it has been shown to be seriously flawed. But do those academics have to march into those children’s homes and apologize to those parents that their kids have been turned off reading entirely and now hate school? Nope. They don’t.

Or what about the homeless? In the 1960s, intellectuals demanded that we close mental hospitals because they violated patients’ rights. So those with true mental illnesses were tossed out on the street, where there was no one to supervise their medicine intake. Are those policy makers going around and helping them today? Nope. They’re not.

I could go on and on, but let me turn to the major policy change that we’re being asked to make today. Al Gore and David Suzuki want us to completely alter the way we live to prevent global warning, even if it means our economies shrink.

But Rachel Carson was wrong. Ehrlich was wrong. That doesn’t mean, of course, that Gore and company are wrong now. But I do think we owe it to those who will be hurt the most to be cautious. And in this case, it’s those barely hanging on in marginal Third World economies who can’t afford an economic downturn in the west. 

I’ve worked at a Kenyan orphanage, and I’ve seen Kenyan entrepreneurs desperately trying to make a better life for themselves. Before we increase their poverty, we had better make sure we’re right, and that what they’re calling for will be effective. We had better stop silencing scientists because they’re not on the right bandwagon. We had better listen to all voices, both those who agree and those who dissent, so that we can judge the facts impartially. If we don’t, it’s not we who will pay, or David Suzuki, or Al Gore, anymore than Rachel Carson did. It’s the Kenyans and those like them. And I think they deserve better.

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