With Frog Scare Debunked, It Isn't Easy Being Green

January 01, 1999  ·  Michael Fumento  ·  Dow Jones & Company, Inc.  ·  Environment

Peter Montague, publisher of Rachel’s (as in Rachel Carson)_ Environment & Health Weekly_, has a novel theory to explain the massacre at Columbine High School. "Because of recent violence in small cities and towns," he writes, "this is a time when Americans are searching for the causes of violence in their society. No one seems to be asking whether pesticides, fertilizers and toxic metals are affecting our young people’s mental capacity, emotional balance, and social adjustment."

Well, Mr. Montague, maybe there’s a reason for that. Tying all harmful trends or perceived trends to man-made pollutants no matter how tenuous the link is old hat for environmentalists. Consider the recently solved mystery of the deformed frogs. In recent years, it seems, we have been swamped with frogs qualifying for the Amphibians with Disabilities Act. They’ve developed hideous deformities, such as sprouting extra legs. That this was man’s fault was beyond doubt. It was left only to identify the specific cause. One theory was pesticides, providing such headlines as:

  • "What’s Wrong With the Frogs? How Pesticides Are Creating Deformities in Frogs" (Sierra Magazine)
  • "Chemicals Seen as Firm Link to Frog Deformities" (Minneapolis Star Tribune)
  • "Deformed Frogs Spark Multi-State Investigation for Genetic Mutations Caused by Environmental Pollution" (CNN)

For those heartless enough to ask, "Yeah, but how does this affect me, other than making frog legs more plentiful and driving the prices down?" the Des Moines Register answered: "Deformed Frogs Stun Scientists . . . Stir Fears of Pollution’s Effects on Humans."

An alternative theory held that depletion of the ozone layer was allowing in too much ultraviolet light for the little green guys to tolerate. Thus we had "Yale Professor: UV Rays Could Explain Rash of Frog Deaths" (Yale Daily News) and "UV Link to Frog Deformities Suspected" (United Press International). And for those who just couldn’t choose between the ozone layer and pesticides, the Palm Beach Post rode to the rescue with: "Study Blames Deformed Frogs on Interaction of Sun’s Rays, Pesticides."

Now comes the April 30th issue of Science magazine with two companion articles indicating the problem is caused by neither the ozone layer nor pesticides, but rather by tiny parasites made in the factories of Mother Nature Inc. The parasite findings were repeated among five species of frogs in 12 different locations from coast to coast. Whoops!

There are plenty of other examples of the blame-man-first mentality. Consider global warming. First, we don’t even know if it’s actually happening. Ground-level temperature readings seem to indicate that it is, satellite data that it is not. Second, if we are warming up, there’s no reason to assume it’s from human activity. The 19th century saw tremendous swings in global temperatures during a period of a few decades, all of it natural. The environmentalists gloss over all of this, instead spending their time amassing an incredible litany of global-warming related problems. Many are contradictory.

A heat wave? Ah, clearly global warming in action — except that even scientists convinced the earth is heating up generally concede it’s happening so slowly that attributing to it sudden sharp temperature increases is preposterous. More so is blaming global warming for terrible winter weather.

But there it was on the cover of Newsweek: "Blizzards, Floods & Hurricanes: Blame Global Warming." Likewise, global warming has taken the rap for long-term water levels both rising and falling, and for both droughts and floods. Vice President Al Gore blamed it for the recent forest fires in Florida, as if this were some new phenomenon.

"Environmentalists often leap to conclusions."

Trends in human health problems have always been fair game for ax-grinding greens. For years, the media bombarded us with talk of a "cancer epidemic." And in fact, even adjusted for age, cancer rates overall did rise through much of the 1980s.

But instead of listening to the experts who said we were merely witnessing a spike caused by earlier diagnoses (and thus allowing earlier treatment), all the usual suspects were again rounded up — PCBs, dioxin, DDT and pesticides in general. Tossed into the lineup were power lines, cellular phones, breast implants and other potential villains.

Yet studies costing countless tens of millions of dollars failed to show any conclusive link between any of these and human cancer. Now we know that cancer rates have been in decline since 1990, exactly in line with the earlier-diagnosis theory.

Meanwhile, childhood asthma rates haven’t just gone up, they’ve skyrocketed. The cause? Why, air pollution of course. A 1997 advertisement sponsored by Clean Air Trust in affiliation with the American Lung Association, Public Citizen and Defenders of Wildlife had a panicked father rushing into the hospital with his gasping child in his arms. "Help!" cries the boy’s mother. "He can’t breathe!" It was part of a drive to support the Environmental Protection Agency’s expensive new air-pollution regulations.

Yet even as childhood asthma rates were exploding, EPA data showed that air-pollution levels were steadily declining. A 1997 international study comprising 460,000 children in 56 countries showed a powerfully consistent parallel between higher levels of pollution and lower levels of asthma.

One might think that in light of such revelations, the activists and reporters who blame humanity for all environmental evils, real and imagined, would be left with a frog in their throats. But no, they just move on to the next crisis. The American white pelican is turning ivory! Blame man. A species of water flea is producing a larger ratio of male to female offspring! Blame man.

Indeed, sometimes man is to blame. But how about a little credit for lakes and rivers that once burned but now overflow with fish and other wildlife, for air that grows ever cleaner, for forests that expand by the year?

And why should we treat little green creatures as harbingers of human health, when we can look at humans directly? Consider the progress with children:

  • From 1970 to 1995, the death rates of children ages one to four dropped by half; for infants the rate fell by almost two-thirds.
  • Since 1950, infant deaths have fallen by three-fourths. This partly reflects a large drop in birth defects.
  • Acute accidental poisonings of children ages one to four dropped from over 200 in 1972 to fewer than 30 in 1994.
  • Since 1973, childhood cancer deaths have been cut in half.
  • Children’s IQ scores have risen 20% since 1930.

Only a wealthy society can afford to improve both the ecology and human health. It’s the very products environmentalists have demonized — be they pesticides, plastics or power lines — that allow us to do just that.