Environmental Activist Failures Highlight Earth Day

Published April 23, 2008

The Earth Day propaganda machine will be in full swing today with alarmist stories of humans destroying the environment. By virtually every measure — including air quality, water quality, forest health, etc. — environmental health in the U.S. continues to improve each year.

Just as strikingly, science has demonstrated that the environmental activist groups’ so-called “solutions” to environmental problems often serve only to worsen the environment.

For example, environmental activist groups for years have pushed ethanol and other biofuels as a solution to global warming. Giving in to such activist group demands, President Bush in December 2007 enthusiastically signed an energy bill requiring Americans to purchase large amounts of ethanol, adding to a pre-existing array of state and federal ethanol subsidies and mandates.

In February 2008, however, scientists reported that ethanol releases more greenhouse gases than does gasoline. Moreover, with three gallons of water required to make one gallon of ethanol, scientists are warning that ethanol poses a serious threat to Midwestern water supplies.

Environmental activist groups have also lost credibility regarding plastic grocery bags. For years activist groups have worked hard to ban plastic grocery bags, asserting the bags cause more than 100,000 marine animal deaths each year. In response to such assertions, cities and towns such as Annapolis, Maryland, New Haven, Connecticut, and San Francisco and Oakland, California passed bans on plastic bags. Similar bans are also being considered in many state legislatures.

Earlier this year, however, scientists reported that plastic bags are having virtually no impact on marine life or other animals. Although a single study several years ago found that 100,000 marine animal deaths occur each year from all forms of environmental plastic (most notably six-pack holders), scientists reported this year that the number of deaths attributable to plastic grocery bags is almost zero.

Adding to the activist groups’ embarrassment at being caught misrepresenting the facts regarding marine animal deaths, recent studies show plastic grocery bags are better for the environment than paper bags.

The manufacture of plastic grocery bags uses less energy than the manufacture of paper bags, cutting down on pollution and greenhouse gas emissions during the manufacturing process. Plastic bags, unlike paper bags, do not require cutting down trees. And because plastic grocery bags are lighter than paper bags, it takes less fuel to transport them to grocery stores, reducing air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions still further.

Environmental activist groups are also catching heat regarding bottled water. Activists groups have long asserted alleged health threats from trace chemicals such as chlorine and fluoride in tap water. As a result, a growing number of consumers are drinking bottled water transported from as far away as Fiji, even when they have ready access to workplace water fountains and home water taps. Yet the asserted health benefits of bottled water are nonsense. The Environmental Protection Agency and Food and Drug Administration require more frequent and comprehensive testing of tap water than bottled water.

From an environmental perspective, the scare campaign against tap water is even more troubling. The manufacture of water bottles and the shipment of large quantities of bottled water all over the world require a tremendous amount of energy and release a substantial amount of air pollutants and greenhouse gases. After pushing bottled water for so long, environmental activist groups are now being severely embarrassed as grassroots environmentalists at colleges and universities are launching anti-bottled water campaigns across the country.

As activist groups once again hijack Earth Day to make misleading environmental claims and seek to impose all sorts of heavy-handed laws and environmental “solutions,” true environmentalists should remember that regarding environmental activist groups, the cure is often worse than the disease.

James M. Taylor is senior fellow of environment policy at The Heartland Institute. He can be contacted at (941) 776-5690 or [email protected].