In 1990, Dixy Lee Ray and Lou Guzzo published a book called Trashing the Planet: How Science Can Help Us Deal with Acid Rain, Depletion of the Ozone, and Nuclear Waste (Among Other Things). Ray was the former governor of Washington state and chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, as well as a zoologist on the University of Washington faculty. According to Ray, who was trashing the planet? Environmentalists, of course. The good-hearted industrialists, and the good-hearted conservative politicians who wanted to let them do whatever they wanted to do, were the ones who loved the planet and humankind.
The first chapter is titled, “Who speaks for science?” Not surprisingly, Ray indicated that she was the one to do so, because she was a scientist. She said she was opposed to pollution as much as anyone, but she was also opposed to environmental alarmism. Sounds reasonable, except that she spent the rest of the book saying that almost any environmental concern is alarmism.
Given her background, it is not surprising that Ray focused on nuclear waste issues. Don’t worry about nuclear waste, she said. Her evidence? There are mounds of natural radioactive earth in Gabon and in Brazil, and there are plants and animals that live on them. The fact that the natural radiation does not instantly kill all of those organisms shows that we do not need to worry about nuclear pollution. Why, for crying out loud, there is actually a colony of rats living on one of them! Nuclear, glowing rats right out of the Simpsons (she might have said ten years later). And if rats, which only live a couple of years anyway, do not die prematurely from the radiation, then humans don’t need to worry about it either. Really, you can’t make something like this up.
And she went on. Nuclear bombs kill people, but fire kills people too, so don’t worry about any uses of atomic energy or even nuclear war. She helpfully pointed out that more people died in the firebombing of Tokyo than in the nuclear blast at Hiroshima. Gee, I feel better already.
Also, she said, don’t worry about carcinogens and cancer. After all, except for childhood leukemia, most cancer affects old people, who are just going to die pretty soon anyway. Besides, most cancer is caused by smoking. So if you smoke, you deserve cancer; and if you don’t, you deserve no further protection from environmental carcinogens or radiation. She didn’t quite use these words, but the implication was clear. And writers who disagree with her were committing, quote, “sob-sister journalism.”
In another chapter, she demonstrated that the good old days weren’t so good. People died back then, too. So take your penicillin and stop whining about environmental contamination.
Ray was especially upset that people were concerned about acid rain and what she considered the non-threat of ozone depletion. But even Republicans would not listen to those who spoke the way Dixy Lee Ray (who was a Democrat) did. In 1990, the president was George Herbert Walker Bush, who wanted to be remembered as “the environmental president.” And right as Ray’s book was being published, nations were coming together to solve acid rain and to ban CFCs. And even though Ray did not want us to worry about nuclear weapons, the rest of the world went ahead and defused the Cold War.
Unfortunately, what was fringe anti-environmentalism in 1990 has now become the norm in the Republican party, against which Democrats have little influence. The anti-environmental spewings of Donald Trump make Dixy Lee Ray sound mild.