L. Fletcher Prouty and Saving the Earth

Slightly Cracked Environmentalism

by Megan Knuth
Where ecology is concerned, the late L. Fletcher Prouty certainly meant well. He was against global warming, deforestation, nuclear power plants — all the bugaboos of the environmentalist movement. A statement of his views can be found here:


Much of what he said was conventional enough, but on certain issues he mangled the facts badly. He left the impression of someone who isn't overly concerned that what he said was actually true — provided it served a good cause. It's not that he was actually lying. It's more the case that he had a lot of misinformation in his head, and didn't particularly mind sharing it.

What Prouty Says The Scientific Truth
We learn with dismay that our modern way of life generates an over-abundance of carbon dioxide. We read of the Greenhouse Effect. This threatens the ozone balance that is so essential to life. We must cut back on this deadly practice. We know that trees and plants consume carbon dioxide and in the process of their living produce oxygen. This is good. We must have more trees. We must dedicate ourselves to the replenishment of trees by the millions, all over earth. This is a necessary objective. "Buffered by scores of news accounts, the public has sometimes mixed up global warming, which is fueled by heat-trapping gases in the lower atmosphere, and stratospheric ozone destruction, spurred by voracious chlorine compounds like chlorofluorocarbons." Prouty is one of these people. A recent, but crude, "computer model suggests there may be a real connection between the two processes." But "given. . . uncertainties, the best result of the GISS study . . . may be the enhanced awareness that two great human alterations of the atmosphere-greenhouse warming and ozone depletion-are indeed interdependent." This does not mean that ozone depletion and the greenhouse effect are the same thing. Instead there is only a relationship between the two.

Kerr, Richard A. "Ozone Loss, Greenhouse Gases Linked." Science. Vol. 280. 10 April 1998: 202. 

"Study Shows Important Link Between Global Warming and Ozone Hole." Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society. Vol. 80. August 2000: 1954.

We now know that the civilization, a well advanced civilization, of the Easter Islands far off the Pacific Coast of Chile, died out because these people were very unwise and profligate with their trees. They consumed their trees and their forests, denuded their islands and destroyed their ecosystem. This led directly to their gradual and certain extermination. There is only one island so Prouty is incorrect in using the term the "Easter Islands." The Easter Islanders did consume most of their trees and plants for survival, but in the end the weather had the greatest influence on their survival and environment. Varying weather and the Little Ice Age made it difficult for the civilization to feed the growing population, but they did their best with the limited resources and still thrived. Their civilization actually died out mainly because Europeans forced them into slavery. This left only one-tenth of the original population on the island and within a few months, ninety percent of the slaves were dead from disease. The remaining slaves were brought back to the island and with them brought disease to the few remaining natives left on the Island.

McCall, Grant. Rapanui: Tradition and Survival on Easter Island. University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu:1994. 

Metraux, Alfred. Easter Island:a stone age civilization of the Pacific. Andre Deutsch, London:1957.

The last tribes of that doomed society ended their days in the madness of tribal warfare. The East Islanders had many tribal fights throughout their history, but with so much property no longer having owners and old tribal hatreds, civil war broke out and the civilization disappeared with it. It was a war over the new property to gain and not over starvation.

Metraux, Alfred. Easter Island:a stone age civilization of the Pacific. Andre Deutsch, London:1957.

They were in such bad shape for food that they ate each other. This all began because they decimated their verdant islands of trees. We are destroying our trees. Will cannibalism follow? Recent research has failed to show proof that there was cannibalism within the Easter Island civilization, though stories of cannibalism have been passed down through oral tradition. It is believed that if there was cannibalism, it was for revenge or in religious practices, not because of starvation.

Bahn, Paul. Flenley, John. Easter Island, Earth Island. Thames and Hudson, New York:1992. 

Metraux, Alfred. Easter Island:a stone age civilization of the Pacific. Andre Deutsch, London:1957.

Around the world there are many similar cases [to the case of Easter Island]. Southern Arabia, from 30,000 feet above in a luxurious jet aircraft, looks like the surface of the moon. Yet it was once forested and green. Green enough to provide Frankincense and Myrrh as we recall in the ancient Christmas stories. "It seems possible that Southern Arabia was not a more fertile land at the time of the ancient tribes. This is shown by the number of rain-water ways, catchments and irrigation schemes which would probably have been inundated by a wetter and more temperate climate. There is also no evidence that present living conditions and aridity are so very different from that of about three thousand years ago."

Doe, Brian. Southern Arabia. McGraw-Hill, St. Louis:1971.

Spain, Greece, Nepal, India, great sections of China have been deforested as well as much of Saharan Africa. And the process continues. Man is, for the most part, responsible for this. "Meteorologists say this rapid desiccation [during the pre-historic period] of a large part of a great continent [Africa] has been caused by drastic changes in atmospheric pressure over the centuries and of continued action of the unfavorable winds. The result has been a disastrous decrease in rainfall. It became so low and in places so irregular and spaced at such wide intervals that almost all vegetation gave up the unequal struggle."

Duignan, Peter, Lewis H. Gann. Africa and the World. Chandler, Toronto:1972. 

Ward, Edward. Sahara Story. W.W. Norton & Company, New York: 1962.

Or take a flight in a small plane. Go over the mountains and the forests. See all those dying and dead trees. In the areas downwind from nuclear stations, even far downwind, they are all dying. They are dying in Europe. They are dying wherever the poisons from nuclear power plants flow downwind. "While access limitations at some plants have turned unneeded land into wildlife refuges, in other cases limited farming and cattle grazing has been permitted, provided adequate radiation monitoring was maintained." In contradiction to what Prouty believes, that trees downwind of nuclear plants are dying, how could farms and wildlife refuges on nuclear power plant grounds thrive? 

In general, the emissions from nuclear plants are so small there is no need for concern of plant, animal, or human life being negatively affected. ". . .the average US resident gets a dose of 0.01 millirems per year from nuclear power plants." To put this in perspective, ". . .a person receives an internal does of about 20 millirems per year from his own blood . . ." And a nuclear power plant worker will receive a dose in the range of 1 to 3 mSv per year while sometimes up to 4 to 12 mSv per year. The body receives an internal does of 0.34 mSv.

Beckmann, Petr. The Health Hazards of not going Nuclear. The Golm Press, Boulder: 1976. 

Eichholz, Geoffrey G. Environmental Aspects of Nuclear Power. Ann Arbor Science, Ann Arbor:1980. 

Pochin, Edward. Nuclear radiation: risks and benefits. Clarendon Press, Oxford:1983.

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