Tampering with Nature, which aired on Friday the 14th, sets new “lows” for journalistic integrity. John Stossel aided and abetted by his producers, produced a one -hour hoax, disavowing environmental protection and giving environmental education a black eye. But this is only the tip of the iceberg.
Who would ever think, that Michael Sanera, avowed enemy of environmental education, would be given a forum for his “snake-oil” diatribe, by self-proclaimed friends of children? Yes, the wonderful world of Disney, power brokers for ABC news and their industry puppet, John Stossel, have environmental education in their “cross-hairs.” Stossel’s producers contacted Sanera, this nationally recognized demagogue who is on a “search and destroy” mission to dismantle environmental education for pointers on the program. Sanera is resolute in his hostility towards environmental education and is akin to Stossel in terms of being a king of rhetoric and a pauper with factual data.
I know the story well, as an avid defender of environmental education and critic of, Sanera, my credentials were given to Stossel’s producers. Stossel’s producers tried to set me up, but I had known of this sham for months before the taping took place.
An urgent email from RISE (Responsible Industry for a Sound Environment) had beckoned their members to support Mr. Stossel and Mr. Sanera’s covert attack on eco-education. RISE, affiliated with the American Crop Protection Association, a trade group founded to defend “urban usage of pesticides”, apparently, believes that a frontal assault on education about the environment could be beneficial. The last line of their alert is most revealing. “Let’s try to help Mr. Stossel. He treats industry fairly in his programs.” So, the search for disgruntled parents and their “scared green” children paid dividends. But little did the audience know on Friday, that Stossel and company had played little children as pawns in a game of set-up and takedown.
While in St. Louis at a National Science Teachers’ Convention two years ago, I stumbled upon Michael Sanera, peddling a book titled, “Facts Not Fear.” His booth, sponsored by the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a well- funded think-tank, supported by the likes of Dow Chemical, General Motors, Texaco, and Philip Morris, was a strange sight. In the midst of all these science teachers, Mr. Sanera was akin to a carnival caller, alerting the unsuspecting educators to the “evils” of environmental education. The main problem with his manifesto, “Facts Not Fear”, was on closer inspection, light on scientific facts. From downplaying ozone loss and species extinction, to making misleading statements about forest issues, this transparent attack on ecological studies leaves little to the imagination. Yet, Mr. Sanera is apparently the “point person” and a favorite son of many think tanks troubled by the scientific enlightenment provided by environmental education.
Even more intriguing, is that on the web page for the Competitive Enterprise Institute; there is a “Save John <Stossel.org>” section. Apparently, the folks at CEI were dismayed for the tongue-lashing Mr. Stossel took for stating that organic food is no safer than agricultural products sprayed with pesticides. Tests that Stossel reported, that proved his thesis, were strangely never done. CEI states in their web page that Stossel should not be open to criticism because he has the “right to free speech.” They warn their supporters that “politically correct causes and special interests” are prepared to place that freedom in “jeopardy”. But shouldn’t investigative probes be held accountable to the parameters of accountability and scientific truth?
With the current occupant of the White House downplaying everything from global warming to the dangers of arsenic in water, the timing of this “witch hunt” could be invaluable for debunking the value of nationwide environmental education programs in school. The corporate flood of environmental education materials entering schools is reaching a fever pitch (forest lessons from Weyerhaeuser, coloring books from the coal industry and teacher lesson manuals from the biotech folks). Teamed with a well- financed attack on environmental education, this could further numb our youngest citizens to the environmental challenges that lie ahead.
So, here they are, strange bedfellows indeed. A coalition of interests that possess the weapons for a winning campaign: access to the media, a large cash flow from a consortium of powerful corporations and a “Madison Avenue” public relations plan “words-smithed” by topnotch professionals. And the results were predictable: Tampering with Nature contained a number of half -truths, supported by the likes of Patrick Moore, an obsequious lapdog for the timber industry and the same scientists that appear on the “Greening Earth Society” videos which downplay global warming. Nowhere, to be found were scientists fluent in the current rate of extinction or climate change. This show was an abysmal attempt to circumvent reality, but maybe we should expect nothing more from the masters of virtual “non-reality”: Disney.
Will educators like myself, who have seen the power and enlightenment of environmental science classes have the time, access and money to counter this onslaught of formidable critics? Or will viewers be asked to follow like sheep the lies and distortions that Stossel has paid a Judas wage to manufacture?
The apparent Sanera, Stossel, and RISE connection only seems to reinforce that money and power guarantee access to a large public audience. And maybe even more evident, are the nails that are sealing the coffin of the “liberal media”, will further tilt the power of the media to the few and the mighty. And in the end, somewhere between the commercials and the spin, the truth will shrink to an all time low in this age of information. Tampering with Nature is an embarrassment to Disney/ABC, a shrill and transparent attempt to protect their funders from the light of day and the damage they are causing to this planet.
But alas, I don’t lose hope, because in classrooms around the country, some dedicated teacher will enlighten their “charges” with credible and sound data providing the skills to make rational and sound decisions on ecological issues. And maybe that is what the foes of environmental education fear the most.
John Borowski has taught high school environmental science for 24 years. his articles have appeared in the NY Times, “Z” magazine, and UTNE Reader. He lives in Philomath, Oregon and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org