For the week of Oct. 3, 2016


Find the facts


By John Schlageck, Kansas Farm Bureau


   Lack of understanding and critical thinking on the part of some in the environmental movement has compromised their effectiveness as self-appointed protectors and guardians of our planet.


   Whenever we improve our critical thinking skills it becomes easier to see through deception and exaggeration that has characterized the promotions of some environmental organizations and the mass media’s coverage of their issues.


   If we examine the issue of critical thinking, one of the first things we must realize is that correlation is not causation. I know I am wandering into a deep subject for such a shallow mind as mine, but bear with me.


   Correlation means two things tend to happen at the same time. Causation means one thing is known to cause another.


   Because two things happen at the same time doesn’t mean one is causing the other. We need proof, including a reasonable theory showing the path by which one thing causes another to occur.


   Global warming and pollution of the water supply with herbicides for example – common environmental concerns – have resulted when correlation of two things was mistaken for causation. To avoid future errors, radical environmentalists must be responsible for proving that one thing is actually causing another to happen.


   They just can’t say it. That doesn’t make it so.


In today’s world, much remains unexplained. Cancer is one disease that comes to mind.


   This dreaded disease might be due to genetic conditions, nutrition, a health problem in childhood, prolonged stress or a combination of these factors. One day scientists may find a cure for this disease, but that day has not arrived.


   Trends don’t always predict the future. During the early ‘70s some scientists predicted the advent of another ice age. During the ‘80s temperatures increased and some experts said we’d experience catastrophic global warming. The cold winter of 1993-94 prompted a new wave of hysteria about another ice age.


   Today’s projected cataclysms are the continued fear of global warming and the melting of the polar ice caps. Predictions of resource depletion are another reason for concern. Most of these are based on projections of past trends. Trends only serve as a guideline of past events and cannot document exactly what will happen down the road.


   Another element of critical thinking is reliance on fact rather than opinion. So often in our society, the “squeaky wheel gets the grease.” The loudest or most controversial opinion receives the most attention.


   This has definitely been true in the environmental movement where claims of upcoming calamities receive extensive media coverage. To make sure experts with a minority view don’t mislead the public, seek relevant facts and make up your own mind.

   One reason apocalyptic abusers thrive is the general public rarely relies on its long-term memory. People are unlikely to remember a doomsayer’s dire predictions of a few months ago, much less 10 or 20 years back. We must remember yesterday’s false alarms and the people who sounded them if we are to respond to future calls to action.


   While few people enjoy risk in their lives, we can’t live without it. Everything we do has risk attached even ordinary events like walking down the steps (falling and breaking bones) or crossing the street (being hit by a truck).


   Remember the risk of drowning (16 in a million), or dying in a home accident (90 in a million), or being killed in an auto accident (192 in a million) greatly exceeds the alleged environmental risks being hawked by some organizations.


   Throughout our lives we make choices. We must decide between the black pair of shoes and the brown. We must decide on catsup, pickles or mustard on our hot dog.


   The same can be said about our environment. We have to choose our priorities. We can’t do everything at once. To do so could produce unintended consequences that could harm the world in which we live.


   Instead, we must apply the same prudence we apply to other significant aspects of our lives. The importance of environmental issues doesn’t exempt them from this discipline. Their importance makes careful planning and efficiency all the more necessary.


   John Schlageck is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas. Born and raised on a diversified farm in northwestern Kansas, his writing reflects a lifetime of experience, knowledge and passion.