New Book Series Encourages Critical Thinking in Youth

Published May 1, 2003

Critical Thinking About Environmental Issues
by the Center for Free Market Environmentalism (PERC) and Competitive Enterprise Institute
Greenhaven Press, 2002, cloth

Two free-market policy groups have collaborated to launch a new series of books for young people, under the title Critical Thinking about Environmental Issues.

Unlike many environmental books found in schools today, the first three works in the Critical Thinking series– focusing on global warming, endangered species, and pesticides–offer objective and balanced discussions in a very readable format. The series is published by Greenhaven Press, which specializes in books for elementary and high school students.

Emphasis on Facts, Not Rhetoric

Environmental education (EE) in the nation’s elementary and secondary schools has all too often relied on publications from activist groups whose primary goal is to brainwash children into believing humans are abusing the planet. More often than not, EE publications make no effort to achieve balanced debate and develop critical thinking skills in America’s youth.

The Critical Thinking series–co-produced by the Center for Free Market Environmentalism (PERC) and Competitive Enterprise Institute–has set about to right this wrong in an unusually calm and undefiant manner. Personally, I might have taken a more pointed approach in confronting the lies and distortions presented by environmental zealots. But to their credit, the Critical Thinking authors–Jane Shaw on global warming, Randy Simmons on endangered species, and Samantha Beres on pesticides–remained calm and relaxed in presenting all the evidence.

After nearly 50 years of service to the nation’s environment, I have little patience with the misinformation spread about our excellent and still-improving environment. Happily, Shaw, Simmons, and Beres took a deep breath before sitting down to present in simple terminology all sides of these important issues.

The books are not flawless. In an effort to be fair, they lean toward political correctness, offering credence to pronouncements made by the anti-technology lobbies even when those statements have little scientific support. I presume the authors felt to do otherwise might close the minds of their potential young readers (or their teachers).

Additional books in this series, expected in late 2003, will focus on forest fires and energy.

Shaw on Global Warming

Jane Shaw’s brief treatise on global warming is excellent because it gathers all the existing evidence for and against global warming and evaluates it fairly. Her logical analysis leads the reader to recognize that accommodating the Kyoto Protocol to reduce carbon dioxide emissions would be tantamount to shooting ourselves in the collective foot in order to clip our toenails.

Shaw traces the history of global warming concerns to pronouncements in 1988 by NASA’s Dr. James E. Hansen–who, Shaw notes, has since altered his opinions. She traces our knowledge of carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas to nineteenth century Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius. She exposes the failings of reports issued by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) … and quotes the wealth of real scientific evidence produced by senior climate scientists Sally Baliunas, Willie Soon, Patrick Michaels, Richard Lindzen, and Robert Balling, to name a few.

Any young person who reads Shaw’s wonderfully referenced 83-page work will see global warming in a dramatically different light … and face the future without fear.

Beres on Pesticides

Samantha Beres’ 71-page discussion of pesticides is a bit uneven in its treatment of bad science. She is far too kind to Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring, which science has since proven to be loaded with unsubstantiated claims.

To support her case for reintroducing the use of DDT, Beres notes the number of malaria cases in Sri Lanka fell from 2.8 million in 1946 (pre-DDT) to just 17 in 1963 (before DDT’s ban). At the same time, she appears unfamiliar with the work of J. Gordon Edwards and other researchers who proved DDT use did not lead to eggshell thinning or declining raptor populations.

Beres does correctly point out that the Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Counts indicated 26 different species of birds increased in numbers from 1941 to 1960, when DDT use was most prevalent. She explains that no serious evidence has ever linked DDT to cancer, and she accurately describes the famous Doll-Peto study indicating environmental factors generally have little to do with human cancer. She effectively describes the failure of rodent bio-assays to evaluate cancer in humans.

On the other hand, she lends too much credence to the technically terrible book, Our Stolen Future.

Beres concludes her book with a somewhat uneven description of genetically modified crops, probably erring on the side of alarmism with poorly understood data on the death of butterfly larvae from ingesting Bt corn pollen. Nevertheless, the book is worth its price for the picture and description of Norman Borlaug in the mid-1940s, when his development of new hybrid seeds laid the foundation for the green revolution in India–for which he won a Nobel Prize in 1971. Dr. Borlaug, now 90 years old, still works full time as a professor at Texas A&M University.

All in all, Beres’ book is likely to be the best thing any high school student ever reads about pesticides.

Simmons on Endangered Species

Randy Simmons had the most daunting job: explaining the endangered species controversy to young people.

The Endangered Species Act (ESA) is a leading contender for the blue ribbon among horrible federal regulations. It tops any “worst of show” list for the way it has gutted personal freedom and laid waste to the property rights envisioned by our founding fathers.

The ESA is also a biological bastardization of centuries of understanding about what makes a true species. Today, if it serves the purpose of environmental zealots, a new species can virtually be declared based on color alone.

Simmons leads us very well to the conclusion that protection of many species is a valid idea … and that the best way to do so may be through incentive programs rather than command-and-control regulations. He is very straightforward in criticizing Edward O. Wilson’s unreasonable premise that man should attempt to save all species, despite the huge turnover in species that took place long before mankind’s presence on Earth.

Simmons does a marvelous job of documenting the positive aspects of species protection where possible through eco-tourism and captive breeding. He explains how Zimbabwe has successfully protected elephants by allowing some of them to be hunted. He documents how hunting rights controlled by villagers become a valuable asset, leading the villagers to protect their herds.

Simmons also describes the failure of command-and-control species protection efforts. He explains how restrictions placed on private property in order to protect species result in the loss of property values. He tells one of many similar stories about a woman who invested in land for her retirement, only to see its value drop from a million dollars to just $30,000 when her 15-acre parcel was deemed critical habitat for the golden-cheeked warbler. Simmons explains how such regulations give people a reason to discourage threatened species from taking up residence on their properties–just the opposite of what Congress intended the ESA to do.

Simmons describes the inevitability of species extinction, and man’s impact on some of it, with greater clarity and accuracy than ever has been done before. It is in fact virtually impossible to fault this magnificent treatise in any way. Lucky will be the students exposed to this clear-headed discussion of a major national dilemma.

Jay Lehr is science director for The Heartland Institute.

For more information …

Each of the three books in the Critical Thinking About Environmental Issues series is available from Greenhaven Press for $27.45 each. Readers of Heartland Institute publications may order the books at a special discounted price of just $18 each; call the special fulfillment telephone number at 888/406-9532.