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David Ropeik

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The Ugly Comparison of the Syrian Gas Attacks and Pesticide Risk

Posted: 09/09/2013 10:49 am

This is just despicable. Reprehensible. Maria Rodale, the CEO of Rodale, Inc., has likened the purposeful murder of more than 1,400 people in Syria by sarin gas to the alleged health harms of the products of chemical companies. What an egregious, hurtful, and just plain wrong, comparison to draw. This ugly and utterly inappropriate conflation of heinous purposeful murder -- literally a war crime by global standards -- with the health risks of the products of chemical companies is heartlessly demeaning to the Syrian victims, and it cheapens and undermines the efforts of anyone who wants serious attention paid to the health risks that industrial chemicals do sometimes pose. It should be roundly and seriously condemned by any moral fair-thinking person, no matter their beliefs about industrial chemicals or environmental risks.

Rodale says she was inspired to write her note, which is mostly a plea to President Obama to avoid military action in response to the Syrian atrocity, by a photo that went flying around yesterday on the Facebook page of "Rise Up Around the World" which lists its mission as 'rise up and take control.'

This is part of the open letter Rodale posted on her Huffington Post blog:

What got me thinking about this was one of those Facebook posts where there is a picture of you, Mr. President, talking to a child in a classroom. It's an adorable picture because I know you genuinely care for children, and it shows. But the bubble coming out of your mouth says, "We are going to war with Syria because they poison their children" which is met with a little girl's words, "So why don't you bomb Monsanto, you prick." Harsh, I know. Perhaps unfair. I know you probably don't hang out on Facebook much, but it's getting a lot of "shares" among my friends. Yes, even my liberal friends. I laughed when I first saw it. But the more I think about it, the angrier I get.

We've been trying to tell you for years that chemical companies like Monsanto, Syngenta, Dow, DuPont, Bayer Crops Sciences, and others are poisoning our children and our environment with your support and even, it seems, your encouragement. Just because their bodies aren't lined up wrapped in sheets on the front pages of the newspapers around the world doesn't mean it's not true. Perhaps you're surrounded by advisers who are keeping the truth from you. But I know many people who have spoken to you about this directly, and you seem not to understand or listen.

Rodale says her comparison may seem 'harsh' and even 'perhaps unfair. It is far, far worse than that. It is offensive. It is embarrassing in its environmentalist extremism and naive exaggeration. And it is a frightening and sobering example of how easily we can lose our broader moral compass when we get too passionate about any one issue.

In her fierce chemo-phobic myopia, Rodale, who boasts that her company founded the modern organic movement (it was her grandfather, Jerome, in 1930), has drawn a comparison that is offensive. The nature and severity of the suffering of the Syrian victims, including 400 children, was horrific. That this suffering and death was inflicted with specific and murderous intent affronts the basic morality of human civilization. To like that suffering and overtly murderous intent to the health effects of industrial chemicals and to the behavior of chemical companies, no matter how much you hate Monsanto or fear pesticides, simply because 'chemicals' were involved, is repugnant and ignorant.

Rodale's company has published books by Al Gore, Bill McKibben, and former FDA Commissioner Dr. David Kessler. They should publicly denounce what Rodale has said. So should any environmentalist who can see the difference between their honest concern about industrial chemicals and conscious purposeful mass murder.

And the readers of Rodale's magazines -- Men's Health, Prevention, Women's Health, Running, Bicycling, and Organic Gardening -- should give serious thought to rejecting Ms. Rodale's offensive remarks by refusing to buy her company's products, as a growing number of commenters on her HuffPost blog have made clear they intend to do.

There is lesson here for all of us, and an opportunity. People with legitimate environmental concerns (I am one) should distance themselves from the extremism of what Rodale has said, no matter how much they agree with her central concerns about chemicals and chemical companies. To let these remarks stand would only foster the kind of myopic passion that becomes so closed-minded that it loses sight of the larger central moral threads that hold the fabric of society together... and that will do any cause far more harm than good.

 

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