When ‘Environmentalism’ Kills

The National Academy of Sciences recently released some startling indeed astonishing- statistics: а federally mandated fuel efficiency standards, which have resulted in a proliferation of smaller, lighter automobiles (the so called Corporate Average Fuel Economy or CAFE standards), probably contributed to an additional 1,300 to 2,600 traffic fatalities in 1993, and 13,000 to 26,000 incapacitating injuries in that year alone.

Given that CAFE has been in full effect for about 15 years, this “environmental” program has likely contributed to 20,000 or more deaths and at least 200,000 incapacitating injuries in the U.S. since its enactment.

Advocates of CAFE have long maintained that fuel-efficiency is good for public health–and the environment–because. among other things, it would lessen air pollution. CAFE enthusiasts, as well as other self-appointed environmentalists and social engineers, traditionally propose programs and interventions to “protect public health” despite the fact that they have no evidence to a) document that a public health problem exists ; b) justify that their proposed intervention would promote health, safety or longer life and c) assure us that the program itself will cause no harm.

For example, groups such as the Environmental Defense Fund, Greenpeace, the Environmental Working Group and the Natural Resources Defense Council have over the years proposed the banning of agricultural chemicals, and insisted that trace levels of environmental chemicals be exorcised from rivers, landfills and elsewhere–no matter what the cost in dollars, lost jobs or decreased standard of living. They argue that even in the absence of solid data that a risk exists, it is “prudent” to take action anyway–“just in case.” In other words, they follow the hallowed “Precautionary Principle,” a premise that plays well to those who assume there are no downsides to avoiding even hypothetical risks.

But, as the NAS data on CAFE clearly demonstrate, there are, of course, risks introduced by environmental “precaution”–risks that can be deadly.

In the case of banning pesticides, the consequence is fewer and more expensive fruits and vegetables. Given that a diet high in produce is essential for balanced nutrition, and is thought to reduce the risk of cancer and other diseases, the bottom line resulting from banning approved agricultural chemicals is a solid “minus” for good health.

Similarly, by spending lavishly to eradicate the hypothetical risks of PCBs in the Hudson river, there are fewer resources available for expenditures which are scientifically established means of promoting good health–including education about healthy living and expanding affordable health care services.

In the case of CAFг, with its resulting smaller, less safe cars, the risk is more deaths and injuries on the highway.

Given the NAS findings, ones which only confirm the observations of other auto safety specialists over the years, it is mind-boggling that health and safety advocates are not taking to the streets to demand that CAFг standards be repealed.

But they are not. Indeed some are actually lobbying to EXPAND the reach of CAFE–a move that would lead to even smaller vehicles and more injuries and deaths. Why does a society which becomes outraged over 50 parts per billion of natural arsenic in water, a level which has never been shown to be harmful to human health, remain complacent over findings confirming that federally mandated laws cause thousands of real not hypothetical–deaths?

The answer here is unclear, but some sobering speculation has been surfacing. First, could it be that scientifically-bereftаа “environmentalism,” which calls on government to restrict industrial pursuits and individual freedom, is largely an ideological movement?

Similarly, could it be that environmentalists place the vague concept of “pristine environment” over the value of human life?

Supporters of the CAFE standards–who are clearly pursuing some undefined environmental nirvana — are not the first onesа to prompt critics to raise the question of where the value of human life ranks in the priorities of environmentalists.а

Back in the 1960’s, environmental activists proposed the banning of DDT, a synthetic chemical which had saved more human lives than any industrial chemical in history by eradicating mosquitos that spread malaria. Dr. Charles Wurster, an outspoken anti-DDT crusader in the 1960s, addressed the issue in the most extreme and unsettling terms. When asked if he thought a ban on DDT might encourage the use of a more dangerous chemical, he responded, “Probably… so what? People are the causes of all the problems; we have too many of them; we need to get rid of some of them; and this is as good a way as any.”

Wurster and his supporters expressed no concern about the ban on DDT and the subsequent resurgence of malaria in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). Do supporters of CAFE now have anyа concern that their pursuit of environmental agendas is literally on a collision course with our commitment to preventing premature disease, injury and death?

Given that we have known for decades that small, light-weight cars are inherently less safe than larger, heavier ones, why didn’ t the precautionary principle kick-in 15 years ago when the CAFг standards were first proposed? There were solid theoretical grounds for projecting that CAFг would increase death and injury. Now that the NAS has concluded that the risks are real, why aren’ t environmentalists who decry the “carcinogens” and toxins de jour mobilizing to repeal CAFг?

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