The Eco Forum (Letters to the Editor)

The United States -- the Hope of the World
I am writing to comment on your editorial, "Great Expectations" (available at, under Archives, October 2002).

You state that the U.S. has benefited enormously from the exponential increases in scientific knowledge and technology during the past 100 years. And the conclusion is that this "science and technology should play an integral role in distributing economic and social opportunity more evenly" in the world. This science and technology and economic and social opportunity did not descend on us from the heavens. We are the beneficiary due to our own hard work and entrepreneurial spirit. Economic and social opportunity cannot be "distributed" like peanuts at a baseball game. Likewise, "democracy" is not spread, like fertilizer. It is naive to think otherwise.

Why 60 some countries prosper and advance and some have not, do not and will not? We (the U.S.) were not ordained by the gods to sit atop land that contains untold resources and riches while other countries are doomed to occupy a desolate wasteland by fate. The U.S. was not "born on second base;" we legitimately hit a double. Our economic system (market capitalism) and form of government (republic) have fostered this economic, technological, scientific, medical and agricultural innovation and productivity. Others can do it too. We are not the bane of the world; we are the hope of the world.

Widely different economic models are pursued in nations across the world. Many of these models have resulted in non-productive economies; however, they have persisted over decades. Military force and geopolitics sends false messages about economic prosperity (as compared to others) and opportunity. Large amounts of foreign aid have been pored into "developing" countries, propping up ineffective leaders and obscuring disastrous economic policies.

Why are 66 percent of the oil wells in the world on U.S. territory, yet the U.S. has only 20 percent of the oil reserves (see the following paragraphs for an explanation of reserves)? Why all this drilling in the U.S.? The answer is NOT to satisfy our insatiable appetite for oil. It is the fact that the U.S. system of laws protects private contracts and we allow private ownership of mineral rights. Market capitalism and rule of law allows companies to take the risk and reap the reward if successful. In many countries the ruling despot immediately confiscates a successful oil well where the rule of law does not protect contracts.

The U.S., from the overwhelming majority of oil wells in the world, produces only nine percent of the oil produced in the world. While true that the U.S. consumes 28 percent of oil used in the world, we produce almost 20 percent of the food produced in the world. And we do all of this with only five percent of the world's population. We don't eat all of that food. We feed a substantial portion of the world -- those who cannot feed themselves for a variety of reasons.

This battle cry, "sustainable development" when applied to energy, is a distortion of the petroleum industry measure and reporting of reserves. The Reserves/Production ratio (R/P) is the proven reserves (with geological and engineering information) that could be recovered with reasonable certainty under existing economic and operating conditions with current technology. Thus, it is a "static" number and does not account for changing technology, economic or operating conditions. More fields become economic as technology improves and incentives change. As the cost of recovery increases, alternative fuels will become competitive and market forces (not regulatory ones) will drive a change if needed.

"Sustainable development" is a code word used by those who will not institute market capitalism, protect contracts with law, allow private ownership of land along with mineral rights, etc. It is code for legalizing and legitimizing the plunder of the productive for the benefit of the unproductive.

President Bush did not attend the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa in August 2002 for good reason. It was a shameful orgy of excess self-aggrandizement and debauchery - and it took place on the very doorstep of the starving.

I am afraid that you, like so many other well-intentioned "environmentalists" have been duped.

"And so you've always got to be on the alert for when you think you are talking common sense or received wisdom, actually you are simply repeating propaganda that was designed for you by very ill-intentioned people." -- Christopher Hitchens

Susan D. Harms, PhD, CIH, CSP

American Society of Safety Engineers Member

Houston, Texas

Manatees Make Rough Sailing for Boaters
As a scientist/engineer with almost 30 years of experience in the "environmental" business, I read the article entitled "Underwater Collision" (available at, under Archives) by Lisa Rademakers in the March 2003 issue of Environmental Protection with great interest. Please note that in my not so copious free time, I am an avid boater and fisherman and have been following the ongoing controversy surrounding manatees and increasing restrictions on boaters with personal interest. I was encouraged by the relatively balanced tone and factual nature of Ms. Rademakers' article. However, I was dismayed by the one-sided "sidebar" article by Patti Thompson, the director of science and conservation of the Save the Manatee Club. Ms. Thompson has apparently embraced the rabid environmentalist philosophy of discounting and/or ignoring any information that does not support her narrow opinions; e.g., "synoptic surveys could not be used to assess manatee population trends." In addition, I noted that Ms. Rademakers listed only the Web site addresses for special interest groups that support Ms. Thompson's views and did not include the Web site addresses for organizations that seek to protect the interests of boaters, fishermen and other recreational activities; e.g., Boat US (

Fortunately, I live and spend most of my time outdoors in Texas, where manatee sightings are extremely rare. When my wife, who is also an avid boater, asked me about this, I explained the manatee's distribution range limitation from Louisiana to the Carolinas in one word: "boudain" (i.e., manatees are way too big and slow to stay out of some Cajun's sausage grinder).

Gordon Combs

Saving the Arctic Refuge from Big Oil
I do not mean to make y'all my psychotherapists, because this letter is going to seem like it; but, there comes a time when every individual should put their fingers on a keyboard and commence to typing.

In the March 11th edition of Environmental Protection E-News, there is an article putting it out that there are both positive and negative sides to opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to drilling. For one of the few times in my life, I am going to become a fundamentalist in thinking, go out on a limb, and say, "There are absolutely no positives to opening up the ANWR to oil drilling."

The only possible positive likely to come out of drilling in the ANWR is that gas prices might drop 20 to 30 cents per gallon. Let's explore that.

Our president is an oil man; a BIG oil man. This country, right now, has the technology, if not only the ability, to mass-produce both environmentally friendly fuels and the equipment compatible to expend them. Our president knows this; but it is my belief he is one of those who, for whatever possible reasons, wants to use every drop of oil and every crumb of coal before going with the former, healthier options. He has made only one noticeable move toward renewable energy sources, and that was to give the big three automakers, some of his biggest campaign financial backers, $1.5 billion in money to work on hydrogen powered vehicles. Subsequently, the money given to Ford ought to just be enough to cover its legal problems from the Firestone debacle of a few years ago. (A five hundred million-dollar payback to the Big Three automakers for a several million-dollar investment in his 2000 Presidential campaign -- not a bloody bad return on investment, I say.) So, essentially -- yes, a 20 to 30 cent drop in gas prices would be a positive for people who would rather go on using fossil fuels than developing earth-safe, infinitely renewable fuels.

Further, the thirst for oil, for opening up every potential location on this planet suspected of having oil beneath its crust, is a very, very sad sign or example of how everything, especially in the U.S., hinges on huge profits with very little concern for thought on the problems or catastrophes. It may lead to in the future. And that way of thinking, if I'm not mistaken, is the very soul of fundamentalism: progress and looking to the future doesn't really matter, because God is going to come back and have His Reckoning with all of His worthless creations anyway (another irony for our president).

In terms of greed and care for the environment on all fronts, there are absolutely no positives to opening up the ANWR to oil drilling. We could easily be mass-producing safe, effective fuels that would keep the earth chugging happily along, indefinitely. But, I guess we'll reap that profit when we get to it.

There has been more technological progress made in the toilet paper industry than in the fuels industry. We don't use the same toilet paper we did 100 years ago; why are we still using the same fuel sources of a century ago?

Nathan Kirby

Editor's Response: The article Mr. Kirby refers to ("Report: Alaska drilling has had both positive and negative effects") concerned a National Academies report on the effects of 30 years of drilling on Alaska's North Slope. (To access the original article, click on "Site Search" at, then click on "March 2003.") While the Academies' conclusions certainly hold implications regarding opening up ANWR to drilling, neither the report nor the e-news article directly addressed this issue. -- April Ellis, editor, Environmental Protection E-News, e-mail:

These letters originally appeared in the May 2003 issue of Environmental Protection, Vol. 14, No. 4.

This article originally appeared in the 05/01/2003 issue of Environmental Protection.

Featured Webinar