Glenn Reynolds endorses a post by John Berlau who accuses environmentalists of making racist comments like Don Imus. Berlau gives five examples and Berlau is deceptive in each and every one of them. Environmentalists must be completely non-racist if Berlau can’t make a case without resorting to quote doctoring.
The most outrageous environmentalist comment Berlau offers is this:
Charles Wurster, co-founder and former chief scientist of Environmental Defense Fund (now Environmental Defense):
When asked about human deaths that would result from the banning of DDT, due to exposure to more acutely toxic DDT subsitutes, Wurster allegedly said, “It doesn’t really make a lot of difference because the organophosphate acts locally and only kills farm workers, and most of them are Mexicans and Negroes.” Wurster was accused of saying this by EDF co-founder Victor Yannacone, and the accusation was reported at a Congressional hearing. Wurster denied making the statement, but Yannacone — a prominent environmental attorney — has never taken back his accusation against Wurster.
Does that quote sound like Dr Wurster or Dr Evil? How gullible do you have to be to find that quote plausible? Jim Norton has tracked down the source of the quote. It seems that after Yannacone was fired by the EDF, he came up with the claim that Wurster made the statement above at a press conference. At a press conference. You would think that an outrageous statement like that would have been reported by at least one reporter, but no, there is no contemporary record of him saying it, just the unsupported statement of a man with an axe to grind. Berlau knows all this but keeps it from his readers.
Berlau also charges John Muir with racism:
Muir said American Indians are “mostly ugly, and some of them altogether hideous.” They “seemed to have no right place in the landscape,” he continued.
Berlau is being deceitful again. Look at the full quote from Muir. Muir is walking in the California mountains and encounters a group of Mono Indians:
Occasionally a good countenance may be seen among the Mono Indians, but these, the first specimens I had seen, were mostly ugly, and some of them altogether hideous. The dirt on their faces was fairly stratified, and seemed so ancient and so undisturbed it might almost possess a geological significance. The older faces were, moreover, strangely blurred and divided into sections by furrows that looked like the cleavage-joints of rocks, suggesting exposure on the mountains in a cast-away condition for ages. Somehow they seemed to have no right place in the landscape, and I was glad to see them fading out of sight down the pass.
Muir is not making a racist statement about American Indians, but saying that particular group were mostly ugly. And when he writes that they “seemed to have no right place in the landscape” he is not, as Berlau wants you to think, arguing for the extermination of Indians, but expressing a preference for wilderness without people in it.
Berlau’s next target is Paul Ehrlich:
In his best-selling book, The Population Bomb, Ehrlich called for all men in India who had three or more children to be forcibly sterilized.
But what Ehrlich actually wrote was:
A few years ago, there was talk in India of compulsory sterilization for all males who were fathers of three or more children.
And then he went on to say why he felt that such a plan was not a good idea. Are you starting to see a pattern in Berlau’s work?
Correction: I was wrong on this point. Seventy pages later Ehrlich writes:
When he suggested sterilizing all Indian males with three or more children, we should have applied pressure on the Indian government to go ahead with the plan. We should have volunteered logistic support in the form of helicopters, vehicles, and surgical instruments. We should have sent doctors to aid in the program by setting up centers for training para-medical personnel to do vasectomies. Coercion? Perhaps, but coercion in a good cause.
So Berlau was correct when he wrote that Ehrlich called for sterilization. (But this does not support a charge of racism.)
Berlau on Alexander King:
In an essay in a book called The Discipline of Curiosity, King wrote that DDT’s main problem was that it worked too well at saving Third World lives. “In Guyana, within almost two years, it had almost eliminated malaria, but at the same time the birth rate had doubled. So my chief quarrel with DDT in hindsight is that it greatly added to the population problem.”
Berlau deliberately left out King’s next sentence:
“Of course I can’t play god on that one.”
Berlau made it look like King was arguing that Guyanese should have been left to die from malaria by leaving out the sentence where King made it clear that he didn’t want that.
Berlau’s last example:
Jeff Hoffman, poster on popular environmental news site Grist.org:
Arguing against efforts to resume DDT use to combat malaria in Africa, Hoffman explained, “Malaria was actually a natural population control, and DDT has caused a massive population explosion in some places where it has eradicated malaria.”
Hoffman wasn’t writing posts at Grist as Berlau implies, but was just a random commenter. And in the same comment he wrote:
I think a good environmental ethic woould be that it is immoral to kill anything one doesn’t eat, meaning that all pesticides should be banned immediately.
I don’t see any respect for the mosquitos in these posts
I think Hoffman was a troll parodying environmentalists. In any event, nobody agreed with him, so it is wrong for Berlau to present him as being somehow representative of environmentalists.