DuBois: Catastrophic cravings misguided

I am one of the most gullible people I know. I am routinely the butt of pranks from family and friends, like the time my stepbrother convinced me of the existence of black Gatorade, or the time a girlfriend of mine convinced me she had brain cancer for over a year.

Funny story, but a topic for another column, or a discussion with my therapist. The point is, I am willing to believe much of what I am told by those I trust to know what they're talking about, particularly when the news is bad. And I am not alone: Over the course of recent history, the American people have been convinced by people in high places, ranging from credible experts to demagogues, of a number of very dramatic and catastrophic fairy tales.

Consider, for example, the 1972 DDT ban, precipitated largely by public furor over Rachel Carson's 1962 book, Silent Spring. She posited that DDT, a then-widely-used pesticide and insect repellent, was a human carcinogen and posed a threat to ecosystems and wildlife. Despite the EPA's initial findings that DDT was not a health hazard, the conclusion was overturned and most developed nations banned DDT.

The U.S. refused aid to the pest control programs of developing nations that continued to use DDT. As a consequence, it is estimated that anywhere between hundreds of thousands and tens of millions of people in developing nations died unnecessarily of malaria and starvation. The DDT scare isn't the first example of groundless hysteria affecting public opinion and policy, nor will it be the last.

Paul Ehrlich's population bomb never exploded, SARS never ravaged the nation, nor did bird flu (though a friend of mine was convinced she'd die of it in 2005) and oil production didn't peak in 1970 causing a new Great Depression.The fact is, the popularity and tenacity of catastrophe theories is more reflective of humanity's morbid fascination with disaster than with the actual state of the world.

We are spellbound by bad news. The news media doles it out each day, and we eat it up like the catastrophist baby birds we are, keeping ourselves in a constant state of paranoia and near-panic. Call it a mechanism of sociopolitical control, or what you will, but the portrait the media paints of our globalized world is an ever-more-frightening one.

This kind of fear-mongering takes on a new relevance in light of the newest disaster-of-the-hour: global warming. It's the buzzword on everybody's lips, a major plank in the presidential candidates' platforms, and the impetus behind the "go-green" phase that's sweeping the nation's corporate ad campaigns.

Two years ago I bought it hook, line and sinker, leading the charge into the Lamron Opinion section and urging everyone to take off their blinders and fight the good fight against climate change.This year, after reviewing the data and actually reading the arguments of dissenting voices, I'm here to urge a different course of action: Don't listen to me, or anyone else who claims to know unequivocally what they're talking about. Read scientific reports, not news about them.

There is evidence out there, though unpopular, to suggest that climate change isn't the apocalypse we're all waiting (and half hoping?) for. I'm not saying the atmosphere isn't warming, or that we shouldn't take care of our environment, but we may not need to spend 500 trillion dollars (better spent stemming starvation and AIDS) in a crash course to save the world from a questionable calamity.

Read the data, cut through the politics, decide for yourself. Or, go on believing that we're all going to drown in the Atlantic. If you believe that, then I've got brain cancer.

Matt Dubois is a senior English major who really shopped for black Gatorade.