Eco-Freaks by John Berlau, Nashville, TN: Nelson Current, 2006, 250pp, $26.
At first the cartoon of an eco-freak on the cover and some simian on the back cover, as well as the title itself, made me think this book was a lightweight. In fact, it was both easy to read fast, well-referenced in academic style, has a good index, and is mostly accurate. True, there were some odd sentences, an occasional transitive verb with no object, and the repetitive use of "decimate" when destroy or damage was meant. Sadly, there were no photos, tables, graphs or charts whatever. Nevertheless, I recommend it highly for being on the technically correct side of most of the wrenching environmental issues covered.
Chapter 1 (of just 7) is an introduction to the general excesses of environmentalism, including a first look at the tendency of environmentalists of today for calls to spend tax money to protect every single species on Earth except humans.
Chapter 2 exposes Rachel Carson's Silent Spring as the mistake-ridden diatribe it is. When I first read it about 45 years ago as a graduate student at M.I.T. I said to a friend that I doubted that more than 20% of the claims were accurate. Berlau does a fine job of making me look too kind, especially on the banning of DDT, a political act. For confirmatory hard facts in a peer-reviewed journal see J. Gordon Edwards, DDT: A Case Study in Scientific Fraud, Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons 2004;9(3):83–8.
Chapter 3 explains the societal fit over asbestos in the USA with flair. If the common chrysotile asbestos in the USA were toxic, I would have died 1530 years ago from having inhaled vast amounts of it for years. Its beautiful helical crystals are easily seen with a microscope, so different from the sharp-edged and dangerous crocidolite and pulled-taffy Fiberglas. Berlau explains how our most modern buildings have lost fire protection by not having asbestos, how abatement has released what should have been left alone, and how $billions were transferred, 60% to attorneys, by lawsuits run amok.
Chapter 4 defends mass use of the large, heavy automobile in the USA. Berlau shows that cars contribute little to "global warming," recommending the books of S. Fred Singer and Dennis Avery: Unstoppable Global Warming: Every 1500 Years, 2006, and Patrick Michaels' Meltdown: The Predictable Distortion of Global Warming by Scientists, Politicians and the Media. This is the one topic on which Berlau and I disagree a little. He seems to advocate the choice of heavy, truck-based SUVs for their protection and space, pointing out that most people stuck in New Orleans after hurricane Katrina had no cars. Because such vehicles can manage only 1018 mpg on the highway, I oppose them. Any gain from them in collision protection is lost by those in vehicles struck by them. The collision protection of even the newer 4600-lb Ford Explorer is worse than that of a Sienna, Odyssey or Montana, or even a Passat, Audi A6 or SAAB 9-5 wagon (Injury, Collision, & Theft Losses, Sep, 2006, Highway Loss Data Institute).
Chapter 5: "Reagan Was Right: Forests Cause Pollution" was not as outrageous as it sounded. Fire danger, lack of food for deer, and enviro laws that waste wood are all explained well.
Chapter 6 shows how the failure to build floodgates of the type used in the Netherlands or seriously raise levee heights doomed New Orleans to the damage of hurricane Katrina in 2005. Also, the use of wetlands as protection was shown to be flawed in concept. Besides corruption, enviro obstruction of protection of the city is laid out in gruesome detail. Enviro attacks on dams are shown to ignore the 3 benefits of flood control, irrigation and power generation.
Chapter 7 describes a hideous future if eco-terrorism really takes hold, and the killings by the Unabomber are one example given, along with extreme acts of animal rights types. Berlau makes it clear that the Earth- and Animal Liberation Front organizations are the number-one domestic terrorism threat, according to the FBI. The "Precautionary Principle" is shown to be misused by ignoring known dangers of not doing something and acting on hypothetical dangers of doing something.
Berlau might have done more to give examples of good works of environmentalism in the past to contrast with the undeniable excesses of the present. Still a worthwhile book.
March 5, 2007