Visualizing Environmental Science is a textbook used in colleges all over the country in Environmental Science classes. Printed by Wiley Publishers in cooperation with National Geographic, one would assume this book deals with environmental topics like water and air and soil. And indeed it does, to a limited extent. But what it also does is make some pointed political and ethical statements. Embedded in the opening paragraphs the authors make what could be considered the thesis for the book: “Earth's central environmental problem, which links all others together, is that there are many people, and the number, both in North America and world-wide, continues to grow” (Berg and Hager 4). While the imprecision of this statement may cause some English teachers to smile condescendingly, the message is clear enough: people are a “problem” that needs to be reduced or eliminated. Yes, that's right, the same basic premise used by Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia to eliminate “socially undesirable” elements of society like the Jews. Only, in this case, the environment--not race or ideology--is used as the justification; all of humanity is the problem and not just one small political or racial minority group.
Consider some of the other ideas that the book puts forth in explicit and implicit terms. This one also deals with population: “A single child born in a highly developed country such as the United States causes a greater impact on the environment and on resource depletion than perhaps 20 children born in a developing country” (9). The obvious conclusion the authors want us readers to reach is that having children is a planet destroying evil. Every child you have is twenty times worse than a child in a Less Developed Country. One is tempted to ask how accurate this statistic is: perhaps it is only 10 children? Perhaps 5? The end of chapter summary has this question for students: “Criticize the following statement: 'population growth in developing countries is of much more concern than is population growth in highly developed countries'” (23). We know what the answer is since we read the text. Children in developed countries are twenty times worse than in Less Developed Countries. Knowing this fact, how could anyone in the United States or Europe dare to have children: it would be immoral!
Turning from the evil of children to the evil of other groups within society, the authors ask this question: “Which groups in society are responsible for the greatest environmental disruption? How can we alter the activities of these environmentally disruptive groups? It will take years to address such questions, but the answers should help decision-makers in business and government formulate policies that will alter consumption patterns in an environmentally responsible way.” (11-12) Clearly, businessmen, entrepreneurs, and Republicans are “environmentally disruptive groups” since they are the ones logging forests, manufacturing cars, and encouraging oil drilling. They need to be stopped by whatever means possible. They are the global enemies.
Perhaps anticipating objections to these positions, the authors dismiss ethical and political counter-arguments by pointing out that, “several areas of human endeavor are not scientific. Ethical principles often have a religious foundation, and political principles reflect social systems” (15). The implication is that because these disciplines are not “scientific” they are somehow of inferior importance and, should a conflict ever occur between them, “science” should always have the final say. But in the surrounding paragraphs the authors take pains to assert the universal postmodern “fact” that even science can never “prove” anything (17). “there is no absolute certainty or universal agreement about anything in science... scientists never claim to know the final answer about anything” (15). “There is no absolute truth in science, only varying degrees of uncertainty” (18). When it comes to some of their ideas, that could be a comforting thought, because it means there might be a possibility of deterring them from plunging humanity into further misery by returning us to the technological conditions of the third-world in order to “save the planet.”
I can hear outraged voices: “nobody wants to return to the conditions of the third world!” Are you sure? On page 36 the authors bemoan the “very unequal distribution of the world's resources” (36). Rather than attempt to raise the living standard of the entire world to that of the 19% who live in industrialized nations, the solution put forth in the text is to lower the living standard of highly developed nations. Backward thinking? Decide for yourself: “Such poverty, along with the enormous pressures of human population growth and consumption rates, are global problems that can't be solved without modifying the standard of living enjoyed in highly developed nations” (36 emphasis mine). Clearly there is an agenda here that seeks to strip away the comfort and security Western nations have provided for themselves. The promotion of socialism is also unmistakable. Invoking an undefined morality (Marx's perhaps?), the text states bluntly that, “everyone must have a reasonable share of earth's productivity” (36).
Far from being a small side issue taken out of context, the evil of the Developed World is a major theme of Visualizing Environmental Science. “Perhaps the single most important lesson you will learn in this text is that those who live in highly developed countries are at the core of the problems facing the global environment today. Highly developed countries consume a disproportionate share of resources and must reduce their levels of consumption” (40). Of course this comes right out of the thinking of environmental idol Paul Ehrlich who in the 1970s said: “Most people do not recognize that, at least in rich nations, economic growth is the disease, not the cure.” (as quoted in Gerdes) How shall we reduce our consumption? The text is quick to point out that the UN could help: “The strengthening of the United Nations as an effective force for global sustainability would contribute greatly to the creation of a sustainable, healthy, peaceful, and prosperous world” (40).
Clearly, from what we have seen, the authors (or the publishers, or both) have a political agenda that includes curbing the world's population, instituting socialism, and giving trans-national organizations like the United Nations legislative authority over national governments. For such a social revolution to take place extensive propaganda must be used. The text itself gives an illustration of the type of propaganda that can be used. Large-scale public health risks are minimal, to paraphrase the example I have chosen from page 72, yet they are often hyped-up by the media. The authors of Visualizing Environmental Science admit that, “these stories are more sensational then factual” (72). Nevertheless, instead of trying to correct and educate by presenting the true facts without the sensationalism, they welcome this misinformation for its usefulness as propaganda. According to the authors, “these stories serve an important role in getting the regulatory wheels of the government moving to protect us as much as possible from the dangers of our technological and industrialized world” (72, emphasis mine).
Using science or psuedo-science as a weapon of propaganda is a powerful means of waging ideological battle. Few people are bold enough or have knowledge enough to defend themselves against “science” or “experts” who tell them what to believe. Convince people that the earth is overpopulated and they will freely give up their right to reproduce; convince people that humanity is a parasite sucking life out of “mother earth” and they will rejoice when whole segments of this parasite are “eliminated” through holocaust, euthanasia, or abortion. Convince them that they are in imminent danger from rising CO2 levels, rising temperatures, and rising seas, and they will give up their money, give up their comforts, and, ultimately, give up their freedom. In the name of “protecting the environment” they will give up protecting all their rights: the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Berg, Linda and Hager, Mary. Visualizing Environmental Science. John Wiley and Sons Publishers-National Geographic Society, 2007.
Gerdes, Louise I. “Overpopulation Does Not Threaten the Environment or Humanity.” Opposing Viewpoints: Humanity's Future. Ed. Louise I. Gerdes. Detroit: Greenhaven Press, 2006.