Deception and exaggeration have characterized the stance some environmental organizations and the mass media’s coverage of environmental issues. If we look critically at these issues, however, we can begin to sort out fact from fiction.
One of the first things we must realize is that correlation is not causation. Correlation means two things tend to happen at the same time. Causation means one thing is known to cause another thing.
Because two things happen at the same time doesn’t mean one is causing the other. We need proof, including a reasonable theory showing the path by which one thing causes another to occur.
Environmental scares like global warming happen when correlation is mistaken for causation. To avoid future errors, radical environmentalists must be responsible for proving that one thing is actually causing another to happen.
In today’s world, much remains unexplained. Cancer is one disease that comes to mind. Cancer may be due to genetic conditions, nutrition, a health problem in childhood or a combination of these factors.
Someday scientists may find a cure for this disease, but that day has not arrived.
Trends don’t always predict the future. In the early ‘70s some scientists predicted the advent of another ice age. During the ‘80s temperatures increased and some experts predicted catastrophic global warming. The cold winter of 1993-94 prompted a new wave of hysteria and predictions of another ice age.
Predictions of an approaching population explosion and resource depletion make headlines today. We must remember trends only serve as a guideline of past events and cannot document what will happen down the road.
Critical thinking relies on fact rather than opinion. So often in our society, the “squeaky wheel gets the grease.” The loudest person or the most controversial opinion often receives the most attention.
This has definitely been true in the environmental movement where claims of upcoming catastrophes receive extensive media coverage. To make sure “experts” don’t mislead you, seek relevant facts and make up your own mind.
You don’t have to look back far in history. During the energy crisis of the ‘70s the advent of more fuel-efficient vehicles and the discovery of alternative fuels helped ease this energy shortage. Today, the discovery of additional oil reserves in our own country provides additional energy.
One reason apocalypse abusers thrive is the general public rarely relies on its long-term memory. People are unlikely to remember a doomsayer’s dire predictions of a few months ago, much less 10 or 20 years back. We must remember yesterday’s false alarms and the people who sounded them if we are to respond to future calls to action.
Everything we do has risk, even ordinary events like walking down the steps (falling and breaking bones) or crossing the street (being run over by a car).
Remember the risk of drowning (16 in a million), or dying in a home accident (90 in a million) or being killed in an auto accident (192 in a million) greatly exceed the alleged environmental risks being hawked by some organizations.
Throughout our lives we make choices. We must decide between the black pair of shoes and the burgundy. We must decide on catsup, pickles or mustard on our hamburger.
The same can be said about our environment. We have to choose our priorities. We can’t do everything at once. To do so could produce unintended consequences that could harm the environment.
We must apply the same prudence we apply to other significant areas of our lives to environmental issues. Their importance makes careful planning all the more necessary.
John Schlageck is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas. Born and raised on a diversified farm in northwestern Kansas, his writing reflects a lifetime of experience, knowledge and passion.