It has recently come to light that there is something rotten in the state of California. Last year, California’s top official at the Department of Pesticide Regulation, Mary-Ann Warmerdam, made a ruling on a particularly nasty pesticide called methyl iodide, used primarily on strawberries. Excessive exposure to methyl iodide has been linked to increased risks of cancer and miscarriages, among other things. Warmerdam had staff scientists determine an acceptable level of exposure. Their results concluded that only trace amounts of daily exposure was safe and they reported this finding to Warmerdam. She then decided that these guidelines were ‘excessive’ and ‘unacceptable, due to the economic viability’ of the pesticide manufacturer. Warmerdam proceeded to approve an exposure rate 100 times higher than what her own scientists recommended! I am willing to bet no one in her family picks strawberries for a living.
The information obtained shows a complete disregard for scientific-based recommendations and instead reveals a decision based purely on what would be best for the pesticide manufacturer. This callous disregard for human health is chilling, to say the least, especially when it comes from the top of an agency that one would assume is regulating the amount of chemicals with an eye towards keeping workers, the public and the environment safe. Instead, we see the same old story of profit trumping all other concerns. But there is another factor hidden in there, a trend in modern politics I find particularly disturbing: a disdain for science.
Environmentalism is rooted in science. Sure, critics love to harp on ‘tree huggers’ and ‘dirt worshippers,’ and there is no denying the spiritual component of environmentalism that is very important to many people. But most of the folks I know who would brand themselves environmentalists have a firm grasp on ecosystems, symbiotic relationships, and chemical processes. They realize our planet is a vast interconnected web of life and understand the complex relationship between healthy forests, clean water and global climate patterns. I’m not saying that I have a deep understanding of the many intricacies involved, but I have a healthy respect for people who have made this their life’s work. If my plumber tells me I need a certain valve coming off of my hot water heater, I’m not going to disregard his years of experience and just go with whatever I feel will work. I’m going to respect his training and hands-on experience and have that valve installed. So if a respected climate scientist or toxicologist offers an opinion, based on painstaking research and years of diligent study, I generally listen. I may look for further opinions, just like I may get a second opinion for a major plumbing job or auto work, but that is a case of due diligence as opposed to disrespect.
You may notice I specified ‘respected’ scientists in the passage above. As in every field, there are shady dealers looking out for their own self interest. It always pays to follow the money and see who is funding a study if you have questions about its results.
As we find ourselves at the beginning of the next presidential race, take a close look at how the candidates feel about science. There have already been some revealing comments, made right here in New Hampshire, about evolution. There has been a lot of talk about eliminating the Environmental Protection Agency, about how this country was founded on unfettered development and anything else is unpatriotic. Remind yourself, and the candidates, that this country also blossomed because we embraced science and had a profound respect for the pursuit of knowledge. Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, to name just two of our founding fathers, would surely agree.