Politics & Policy

The Pill as Pollutant

A really inconvenient truth.

In 2002, thanks to soccer star David Beckham, the world was introduced to the “metrosexual.” Two years later, and with less mainstream-media attention, we got our first exposure to “Intersex.”

Intersex is not some new perversion or a weird combination of science fiction and pornography. It is an unfortunate condition that is affecting freshwater fish all over the developed world. It occurs when fish of one sex also exhibit sexual characteristics of the other sex.

In 2004, for example, researchers on the Potomac River, downstream from Washington, D.C., found large-mouth bass that in most respects were males, but who had eggs in their sexual organs. Quite often when this happens to fish, they find themselves unable to reproduce. When it happens primarily to male fish, the fish population in general suffers.

The cause of intersexuality among fish, scientists speculate, is pollution in the water, particularly hormones. Why don’t we have more outcries about hormones, and campaigns to save the fish populations? Why aren’t environmentalists lobbying on Capitol Hill to keep these chemicals from being dumped into our rivers?

Maybe because the source of these chemicals is not some corporate polluter, but something a little more dear to the Left: human birth-control pills, morning-after pills, and abortion pills.

The environmentalists’ silence on this topic and their willful distortions when they do talk about it show how, for many of them, the environment is more a tool for advancing favored policies than a real cause in itself.

As I demonstrate in The Really Inconvenient Truths, by any standard typically used by environmentalists, the pill is a pollutant. It does the same thing, just worse, as other chemicals they call pollution.

But liberals have gone to extraordinary lengths in order to stop consideration of contraceptive estrogen as a pollutant. When Bill Clinton’s Environmental Protection Agency launched its program to screen environmental estrogens (a program required under the Food Quality Protection Act), the committee postponed considering impacts from contraceptives. Instead, it has decided to screen and test only “pesticide chemicals, commercial chemicals, and environmental contaminants.” When and if it considers the impacts from oral contraceptives, the Agency says that its consideration will be limited because pharmaceutical regulation is a Food and Drug Administration concern.

As a result, the EPA’s program will focus all energies on the smallest-possible part of endocrine exposure in the environment and the lowest-risk area. If regulators did screen for estrogen from contraceptives or for estrogen from plants (phytoestrogens), these two sources would dwarf the impact of pesticides and other chemicals.

These findings would highlight the fact that low-level exposure to commercially related endocrine disruptors is relatively insignificant, a fact that would undermine the agency’s ability to regulate commercial products on the allegation that they are a significant source of endocrine disruption.

So government bureaucrats, the enforcement wing of liberal environmentalism, officially refuse to do anything about the contraceptive pollution issue in the United States. All this is in marked contrast to the United Kingdom’s Environment Agency, which at least has the decency to label the contraceptive pill a pollutant, even though it appears powerless or unwilling to do anything about it.

What about the activist wing? Well, this is where the story gets really interesting. Environmental groups have a long record of promoting contraceptive use. The current head of the Sierra Club, Carl Pope, was once political director of the group Zero Population Growth. Back in 1970, the Sierra Club adopted a resolution, which said that, “The protection of the quality of our environment is impossible in the face of the present rate of population growth,” and that therefore, “Laws, policies, and attitudes that foster population growth or big families, or that restrict abortion and contraception…should be abandoned; [and] comprehensive and realistic birth control programs should be available to every member of our society.”

The Sierra Club isn’t some outlier in the liberal environmental movement. They all believe this. Take, for instance, the World Wildlife Fund’s senior campaigns officer, Norman Myers, who said in an interview on the WWF U.K.’s website, “This new wave [of claimed species extinctions] is being created partly by pressure of . . . big deep breath . . . too many people, still increasing at quite a rapid rate, an extra 72 million per year. That’s one factor, and we know how to fix it, we know it will not cost the Earth. We could supply contraceptives to all those 180 million people in the developing world who don’t want any more children but they lack the contraceptive hardware. We should supply them as a basic human right even if there was no population problem.”

The list goes on. Environmental Defense advocates “access to contraception” as a vital element in the fight against global warming. The Earth Policy Institute also calls contraception a “vital service.”

It’s not just environmentalists campaigning for contraception, of course. Their colleagues in the liberal movement use environmental arguments in favor of contraceptive use all the time. Take, for example, the Guttmacher Institute, which in 2006 issued a detailed policy report with the ironic title, “Environmental Justice Campaigns Provide Fertile Ground for Joint Efforts with Reproductive Rights Advocates.”

Marie Stopes International says on the environment page on its website, “There are many pressures on the environment and natural resources, but the environmental challenges humanity faces will become harder to address as the world’s population continues to increase. Worldwide, there is still a vast unmet need for contraception. Around 200 million women world wide who want to access contraception, can’t.”

Planned Parenthood of America says, “For the past decade, prominent women in the global environmental movement have been advancing an environmental agenda based on feminism and human rights. They believe there are strong links between the health of the environment, the ability of women to engage and lead their communities, and their ability to exercise their inherent reproductive rights. Women have a stake in a clean environment because they are often the main providers of food and water, and their reproductive health can be adversely affected by environmental degradation.”

In other words, in the liberal world, the environment and unrestricted access to contraception are inextricably linked. We therefore have an answer to our question why liberal environmentalists are silent on the synthetic estrogen from contraceptives that is undoubtedly causing real environmental disasters. Because they helped cause them!

Now I’m not an anti-contraception activist by any means. Yet it seems clear to me that there is a real problem here. The problem could probably be solved by a few lawsuits under common law by owners of fishing rights against water-treatment plants, who would then presumably be required to develop means of stopping the estrogen reaching the fishing grounds. However, in the world we live in, people have been stripped of property rights in favor of collective ownership, and the politicians who are supposed to represent our ownership are terrified of doing anything that might be seen as infringing on contraception. That’s where environmental groups could be doing a valuable job balancing out interests. Yet because they’re in cahoots with the contraception lobby, that isn’t going to happen. The environmental groups should be part of the solution. But they’re part of the problem.

  – This is adapted from Chapter 3 of Iain Murray’s new book, The Really Inconvenient Truths: Seven Environmental Catastrophes Liberals Won’t Tell You About — Because They Helped Cause Them, published today by Regnery.


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