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18th May

First Published by The New York Sun, May 18, 2007

By Andrew Wolf

Last month, as the world marked Africa Malaria Day, a massive international campaign was mounted to fight the disease by donating mosquito nets to be placed around the beds of African children. Of course nets may protect the children some of the time, but malaria will take the lives of about two million in Africa each year.

In the developed world, we have largely eradicated malaria, largely because of a massive spraying effort that took place in the mid-20th century. The insecticide that was, and is, so effective at killing the mosquitoes that carry the disease is DDT.

Rachel Carson’s book, “Silent Spring,” was the 1960s equivalent of Al Gore’s documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth.” It made the case that DDT was working its way into the food chain and killing birds, creating a chirpless silent spring. This book had a profound effect on the creation of the environmental movement, now among the most powerful societal forces.

Ten years after the book was published, DDT was banned in America and much of Europe and its use is shunned in the developing world. That is why we are reduced to fighting malaria in Africa with $10 nets.

No studies have emerged that conclusively prove that DDT harms humans. The real message is that there are no simple answers. Rather than teach our children this important lesson, we seem to be hell-bent on propagandizing them with the “definitive” science of our day. In New York, at the center of this effort, is an obscure member of the State Assembly who you almost certainly never heard of.

Peter Rivera is not well known to many New Yorkers, despite a decade and a half in the Assembly. He is familiar to the mental health industry because he chairs that committee. In his Bronx district, his major efforts seem to be towards directing “member item” funds into questionable projects.

Mr. Rivera is making a stab at wider recognition with the introduction of a dangerous piece of legislation, one that has grave implications for our schools, our children, and our society.

Mr. Rivera proposes that all students in middle and high school be required to watch the Mr. Gore’s film, “An Inconvenient Truth.” In fact, by the end of his press release, he expands the mandate right down to the first grade. It is never too early to proselytize.

“This documentary,” Mr. Rivera says, “captures the science along with social issues that undoubtedly have relevance to the lives of all of our young people. It is a must showing to our future generations if only to have them serve as our daily reminders to the adults who govern this planet that we must change or cease to exist.”

Mr. Rivera, who up until now never seemed to be particularly interested in the education issues of his community, where test scores rise a lot slower than the temperature of the earth, seems to have found a new cause.

“Al Gore has suggested that every science class in America watch this film,” Mr. Rivera says. “My legislation will mandate the showing to all students in grades 1 through 12 because the message of this documentary must be seen by every member of the next generation. They are the ones most likely to listen. The Environmental Revolution we need to confront global warming, if there is one, will come from the youth, as most uprisings do, not from their parents, who are mostly too entrenched in old behavior and lifestyles to be willing to make real change.”

I wonder whether there was an Al Gore spreading word of impending disaster among the cavemen, excuse me, cave people, when the glaciers were retreating? Perhaps the earth is warming at an unusual rate, something that is hard to tell since the data we have for it is for so short a period that it is but an eye blink in the march of time. The earth certainly has warmed and cooled in the past. Where does the current time frame fit in? Is the earth, as some suggest a self-regulating mechanism? I don’t know, and I suspect neither does Mr. Rivera.

But that doesn’t stop him from mandating that his preferred theories be exclusively taught to your children.

Is there a need for a debate, a dialogue? Sure. Will the reduction of the use of carbon-based fuels be of benefit to the earth? I don’t know for the long term, but in the short term, we would be better off if the market encourages technology such as hybrid automobiles and nuclear power generation.

Not because I’m worried about the polar ice cap, but because I worry about dependence on Middle East oil sheiks who pose a greater real threat to our society today than the possibility that the temperature of the earth will rise a degree or two in the next hundred years.

© 2007 The New York Sun, One, SL, LLC. All rights reserved.

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