The latest classroom fad is environmental education. Textbook after textbook used in Michigan's public schools teach our children that our world is near destruction.
Here, for instance, is a sample of what our children are reading about acid rain:
"Acid rain has become one of the most serious environmental problems facing the United States and Canada Today." (Michigan: The World Around Us, Macmillan/McGraw Hill, 1992).
Acid rain has rendered "almost lifeless" some of America's lakes and it "destroys millions of dollars of crops in the United States each year." (Health For Life, Scott Foresman, 1990).
"The evidence of the damage [from acid rain] is alarming: lakes and streams that once teemed with plants, fish, and other animals lie barren and still, empty of most aquatic life. . . . Acid Rain is damaging [the Great Lakes region and] nearly half of the lakes and forests in eastern Canada." (World Geography: A Global Perspective, Prentice Hall, 1992).
Such statements from textbooks used in Michigan are pure balderdash. The acid-rain scare was debunked years ago. In 1980, Congress invested $500 million into a major scientific study called National Acid Precipitation Assessment Project (NAPAP). After ten years of careful research, the expert scientists involved in the study concluded that there is very little evidence that acid rain damages forests or crops.
The NAPAP study also found that American lakes and streams were in much better shape than the EPA and other critics had asserted. The Great Lakes, for example, not only passed the acid rain tests with ease, Lakes Michigan and Superior register four times cleaner than they were in 1970.
Other prophets of environmental doom have found children's textbook writers to be willing accomplices. Merrill Publishers' World Geography: People and Places warns children about the "population crisis," where world population is escalating geometrically and "500 million people suffer from malnutrition." Overpopulation and hunger are important issues that require careful analysis, not scary statements. The statistics show that the world population growth rate began to decrease in the 1960s and that world population growth should be level by the year 2100. Annual food production-especially for wheat and rice-is outstripping world population growth.
Yes, some people in the world are starving; but in these cases, mainly in Africa, government is usually the problem, not the solution. Dennis Avery, a food expert with the Hudson Institute, said five years ago that "nearly all the world's hunger in 1990 was political." Avery and others cite examples of African governments using food as a weapon in their civil wars; and of Marxist governments setting prices so low that farmers have no incentive to produce crops for the city people nearby. Avery concludes that "Africa is a vestige of the hunger problem which once faced all of the Third World-it is not a forerunner of impending famine for the Earth."
Many of our environment problems are a result of government meddling. When Merrill's Science Connections laments that "many acres of wetlands have disappeared," we need to understand that our vast and expanding farm-subsidy program encourages farmers to turn wetlands into croplands. When Prentice Hall in its text World Geography: A Global Perspective complains that landfills in the U. S. have declined in number from 20,000 to 6,000, we need to understand that local ordinances give no economic incentive for citizens to want a landfill near their homes. These important facts, however, are not to be found in these books.
Apart from the twisting of facts, a larger question is this: Do we want our children in their history, science, geography, and health classes to be bombarded with scary statements about a dangerous world and a perilous future? All of these books cited are used in Michigan's public schools, mostly at the elementary level. "As if children don't have enough to worry about these days, . . ." Nancy Bray Cardozo observes in Audubon magazine, "environmentalists are teaching them that their very planet is at risk. The pressure is on, and it's taking its toll."
Mike Weilbacher, writing in E Magazine, agrees. "Eight-year-olds should not be asked to become warriors or worriers. Children have much more important work to do. . . . Watch ants. Grow flowers. Dance between the raindrops. . . . It is the adults who must be warriors, not children."
In Michigan's public schools, we need more emphasis on the basics, not on current fads that hide a political agenda. If we must teach children special units on the environment, the focus should be on careful scientific and economic analysis, not twisted facts.