April 22 is the 49th anniversary of Earth Day as well as the former communist dictator Vladimir Ilyich Lenin’s 149th birthday. Is it a coincidence that these two events occur on the same day? Maybe.
But there’s no doubt that each share a blind adherence to ideological biases against the free market — biases so devoted to big-government policies that disregard their failings.
For example, the activist website Earthday.org calls for government bans on innovations that convey substantial environmental benefits. Specifically, they call on citizens to “support a ban on the use of pesticides.”
These ideologically motivated activists simply dismiss the fact that pesticides are crucial to high-yield agriculture, producing more food per acre and leaving more land accessible for wildlife and conservation.
Research scholar Indur Goklany’s calculations show that if farmers eschewed high-yield agriculture, which includes pesticides, adverse environmental impacts would be severe. “Massive deforestation, soil erosion, greenhouse gas emissions and losses of biodiversity would occur with the more-than-doubling of land and water diverted to agriculture, but hunger and starvation would not decline,” explains Goklany.
Ignoring those realities, activists spin a web of misinformation to support policies based on their failed ideology. Consider their claims about systemic pesticides known as neonicotinoids. Activists have been pushing bans — and have succeeded in Europe — largely based on unfounded claims about the impact on pollinators, particularly bees.
Yet as the U.S. Department of Agriculture explains on its website, these products “were developed in the mid-1990s in large part because they showed reduced toxicity to wildlife” compared to traditional pesticides that require regular spraying.
In fact, systemic pesticides can be applied to seeds or roots where they are absorbed into the plant. Because they do not require regular spraying, these products greatly reduce environmental exposures to non-target species, such as bees and butterflies. They mostly affect pests that bore into or chew on the plant.
In agricultural fields, bees might be exposed to tiny traces of systemic pesticides sometimes found in pollen and nectar. Greens largely acknowledge that such tiny exposures don’t immediately kill bees. Instead, they claim that small amounts end up in beehives, causing bees to abandon them and basically disappear.
But there isn’t much evidence that these systemic pesticides play such a role in real-life situations. Instead, a large body of research indicates that the real challenges for bees involve serious health issues related to mites, other parasites, and diseases found in hives — which are ironically treated with the help of pesticides — as well as nutritional issues related to habitat loss.
In the United States, a coalition of beekeepers, farmers, researchers and pesticide producers are providing solutions without the heavy hand of government bans. They are working to advance improved beekeeping practices, increased plantings of a more diverse food supply, and education on careful use of chemicals.
Meanwhile, systemic pesticide bans in Europe are harming both bees and farmers. These farmers have suffered substantial crop damage and may have to rely on other pesticides that are more toxic to bees. In addition, European farmers are even abandoning crops that were very beneficial to bees — such as the flowering canola crops — because they can’t control leaf-chewing pests without these products.
Similarly, activists have targeted herbicides — including the active ingredient in Roundup — by spreading misinformation. Activist claims against Roundup are based on one faulty cancer classification issued by a United Nations agency widely criticized for producing politically influenced junk science. Meanwhile, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the European Chemicals Agency, the European Food Safety Authority, Health Canada and numerous other agencies have determined that the chemical is unlikely to be carcinogenic.
As they advocate bans, activists refuse to acknowledge the vast benefits of no-till farming that herbicides made possible. A Scientific American article by David R. Huggins and John P. Reganold points out that no till-practices have greatly reduced pollution in nearby waterways, reduced the amount of water needed for irrigation, dramatically cut soil erosion by 43 percent between 1982 and 2004, cut energy use by 50 percent to 80 percent, improved biodiversity in soils, and has even increased the number of game birds on farmlands. All those benefits could be lost if the greens succeed.
There’s no doubt that the innovations of a free-marketplace yield monumental environmental benefits. But alas, the green movement remains devoted to big government solutions that are as flawed as the former Soviet Union’s collapsed economic system.