Sunday, July 23, 2006

the truth will set you free

In 1972, William Ruckelshaus, head of the EPA under Nixon, made it a crime in the United States of America to use a chemical that had been lauded only two years before by the National Academy of Sciences with the following tribute: “To only a few chemicals does man owe as great a debt as to DDT. In little more than two decades DDT has prevented 500 million human deaths due to malaria that would otherwise have been inevitable.” In coming to this decision, Ruckelshaus ignored the conclusions of his own department’s investigation, that “DDT is not a carcinogenic hazard for man.” The result? Many countries trusted the conclusions of the EPA and eventually banned its use. Today, world wide there are 300 to 500 million cases of malaria and 1 to 1.5 million deaths every year from this horrific disease.

Tragically, 4 million people, mostly mothers and children, die every year from preventable lung diseases caused by cooking over open fires fueled by wood and dung. The chemicals released by these fires damage fragile lung tissue and make those exposed to it more susceptible to disease. These deaths could be prevented if abundant, inexpensive electricity was available for cooking, but it’s not. It’s not available because of groups like Rainforest Action Network, which is proud of its record of stopping over 300 hydroelectric projects – projects that would have provided electricity for cooking, light, refrigeration, and health care - not to mention clean water.

An amazing advance in agricultural biotechnology may save hundreds of thousands of lives and over half a million children from blindness a year. Professor Ingo Potrykus of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology has developed, in partnership with the biotech firm, Syngenta, a strain of rice that could potentially supply 100% of the recommended daily allowance of vitamin A for children. However, due to unscientific, overly restrictive biotechnology laws and protocols, Potrykus estimates that it may take five or six years before all the regulatory hurdles can be overcome. During this time, millions of children will go blind or die from diseases due to vitamin A deficiency.

“You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” - St. John’s gospel. To believe a lie, a false view of reality, is to be enslaved to the consequences of that lie – sometimes tragic, horrific consequences. Which is why the greatest service we can offer our fellow man is discovering truth and defending it. Because defending truth is defending the powerless from the reckless acts of the powerful and the ignorant.

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