Federal and Washington state scientists recently tried to limit the use of two national forests by faking evidence that the parks were home to a threatened species, the Canadian lynx.
Two U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employees, two Washington state Department of Fish and Wildlife employees and three employees from the Gifford Pinchot National Forest sent bogus lynx hairs to a laboratory in an effort to dupe authorities into believing the animal inhabited the Wenatchee and Gifford Pinchot forests. DNA tests of the fur exposed the fraud the hair came from captive lynxes. Logging, tree-thinning for fire prevention, and many recreational activities could have been restricted if this hoax had not been exposed.
What does this have to do with cars, the customary subject of this column?
Cars remain a principal target of environmentalists and regulators. Automobiles are under attack for supposedly contributing to pollution and global warming.
Cars do contribute to local pollution, but carmakers have significantly improved their products in an effort to become more environmentally friendly. Due at least partly to these efforts, air quality has dramatically improved in the United States over the last two decades, according to a study by the Environmental Protection Agency. Levels of ozone declined 43 percent from 1980 through 1999 in 323 major metropolitan areas afflicted by ozone pollution.
Sixty-six percent of the ozone-affected cities in the United States had zero violations of air-quality standards in 1997-1999, the figures indicated. In the Los Angeles-Long Beach corridor, ozone days went from 154 annually in the early 1980s to 23 in the late 1990s. San Diego cut its ozone days from 71 a year to just three. Philadelphia’s ozone days went from 34 to six, and New York’s dropped from 26 to five. Much-maligned Houston cut its ozone days from 62 to 39.
What makes these figures especially impressive is the fact that they coincided with a 20 percent growth of the U.S. population and a whopping 76 percent increase in driving nationwide. This is particularly important because environmental advocates continue to argue for the tightening of environmental regulations despite these improvements, saying that population increases are negating environmental gains.
Public credibility in these matters is important. In the past, environmental claims were as sacrosanct as motherhood and apple pie. Now, it appears some people are adopting the modus operandi, “The end justifies the means.” In other words, when it comes to the environment, anything goes.
Lest you think the Washington state incident is an isolated one, consider that the unique habitat of the tiny snail darter held up construction of the Tellico Dam in Tennessee for years. “Build the dam and we will lose this fish forever” were the claims.
Lo and behold, it turns out the snail darter could be found in a lot of places, and the dam, eventually built, wasn’t a big deal in the snail darter’s world at all.
And remember the controversy over the spotted owl, which was said to be disappearing due to old-growth forest depletion? Owl population was down because their food source, the rodent population, was down. In fact, new-growth forests provided a lot more rodent dinners for the owl.
What’s the point of all this? When it comes to environmental claims about your awful SUV, your gas-guzzling Cadillac or your global-warming Porsche, take a very close look, because you cannot always take at face value the word of people who feel so ardently about their cause that for them, anything goes.
TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES INC.