Is Tampering With Nature a Good Thing?

Across the United States, there's an ever-loudening outcry over genetic engineering, cloning and environmental threats like global warming.

Why have recent advances in science been met with fear, protests, even acts of terrorism? Why is the industrial society that helped make our comfortable lives possible treated with suspicion and contempt?

Environmental activists have had an enormous impact on our national agenda over the past generation. Sure, it's good to take care of the planet. It's nice to plant trees. But have radical activists brainwashed us into thinking that everything humans do is bringing us all closer to Armageddon?

Being at one with nature is a popular view today. But that's an extreme idea when you give it a little thought. What that really means is running around naked, hungry, maybe killing a rabbit with a rock, then dying young. That has been "natural life" for most of human history.

Sometimes nature is pretty hostile to humans, and tampering with it has actually been good for us.

Educating or Indoctrinating?

But that's not what kids are learning. Many grade-school students are taught that tampering is evil, that humanity is destroying the Earth. This is even part of the curriculum in some schools.

One child said he learned: "President Bush is polluting the country so he can make millions for his friends."

The organizers call this education. What's more, they say it's "nonpartisan."

But our kids are thoroughly scared. They fear massive floods — "Alaska's melting!"— increased cancer and even "drowning in our own garbage!"

Why don't they know that over the past 30 years, the air has been getting cleaner? Nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, lead and every major pollutant the government measures is decreasing. Lakes and rivers are cleaner now, too.

According to former Greenpeace Director Patrick Moore, the environmental movement has been hijacked by political activists. "They're using environmental rhetoric to cloak agendas like class warfare and anti-corporatism that, in fact, have almost nothing to do with ecology," Moore says.

Moore says scientists have an incentive to scare people, because they need to keep their fund-raising machinery going. So, they exaggerate problems to persuade keep the money coming in.

A Lot of Hot Air?

Time magazine calls global warming a greater threat than anything but nuclear holocaust or getting hit by an asteroid. Just last week we heard that the White House acknowledged that global warming exists, is a problem, and is largely man's fault.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the United Nations' environmental study group, and its former Chairman Robert Watson, say global warming could be devastating. "It will threaten agriculture, especially in developing countries, water resources. … It will increase sea level and displace tens of millions of people in coastal regions."

The media imply that scientists agree with all the dire predictions, but do they?

A group of 1,600 scientists signed a letter warning of "devastating consequences" if we don't quit our lowdown, polluting ways and curb global warming.

But I bet you hadn't heard that a group of 17,000 scientists signed a petition saying there's "no convincing evidence" that greenhouse gases will disrupt the Earth's climate.

Despite what we hear from the media, there is no consensus that global warming is harming the planet. Some climatologists point to the often-overlooked fact that huge piles of funding are at stake.

"Let's imagine there's a Senate hearing, and the senator who disburses the funds goes to the administrator of NASA and says, 'I've heard global warming is the most serious problem confronting mankind. Can your agency use another $2 billion a year to study this thing?' What's he gonna say? No?" asks Pat Michaels, a research professor of environmental sciences at the University of Virginia.

Even if greenhouse gases were restricted, at a potential cost of trillions of dollars to U.S. taxpayers, it is estimated that this would prevent a rise in temperature of only a fraction of a degree.

Cows on Crack vs. More Milk for Kids

And when people aren't worried that global warming is one of the dreaded horsemen of the Apocalypse, then they're likely worrying cloning technology is.

Dr. Panos Zavos, a physiologist who hopes to clone human beings, has gotten a lot of attention in the media. But he's often been branded by the press as a sort of Dr. Frankenstein. With new technology, Zavos hopes to help infertile couples have babies through cloning.

"It's a marvelous thing," says Zavos. "We have more than 1,000 couples that want to be cloned." he says.

But the Rev. Patrick Mahoney, an anti-cloning activist, disagrees. He asks what will become of deformed children created by this new technique. "Who takes care of that child?"

Despite activists' fears, genetic engineering is already saving lives through cutting-edge medical treatments. Biotechnology is also helping to make food more plentiful, as with bovine growth hormone that increases milk production.

And even though the World Health Organization, the Food and Drug Administration and the American Medical Association all say milk from cows given bovine growth hormone is perfectly safe, activists condemn it. One New York protester even likened it to "crack for cows."

The Not-So-Simple Life

Many of us romanticize the simple life of groups like the Pilgrims, but life without modern technology is tough — often fatal. Half the Pilgrims died. That's something to keep in mind when people insist that we should never "tamper with nature."

We alter our environment not to destroy it, but to make our lives better in hundreds of ways. Let's hope we continue to tamper and create a future that's far more comfortable and kinder than anything nature intended.

Tampering With Nature originally aired on June 29, 2001.