Southeast Texas Record

Sunday, February 16, 2020

‘Wolf! Wolf!’ ‘The sky is falling! The sky is falling!’

Our View

Feb 12, 2020

General court 06

Everyone knows the story of the shepherd boy who cried wolf when there was no wolf. He was bored and wanted some excitement. The panicked townspeople who came running to help were not amused by his repeated pranks and learned to ignore them. When a wolf eventually did appear, the boy’s cries went unanswered.

The story of Chicken Little also involves a false alarm, this one resulting from gullibility rather than guile. When a leaf falls on her tail, Chicken Little foolishly concludes that the sky is falling and sets off to warn everyone.

It’s easy to laugh at these stories and smugly conclude that we would never fall for such nonsense, but a distressingly large portion of our population does fall for them, over and over again, in the form of preposterously dire and utterly unsubstantiated warnings about pending ecological disasters.

The scares are started by persons or groups who resemble the boy who cried wolf, in that they know exactly what they’re doing and why (usually hoping to reap the political and/or economic benefits of the ensuing panic). The general public falling for the scares resemble Chicken Little, having no awareness of how easily they’ve been duped, but feeling very good about themselves for spreading the false alarm.

The EtO scare is just the latest example of this absurd phenomenon.

Ethylene oxide (EtO) is a manmade chemical used in the production of other industrial chemicals, as a fumigant, and as a sterilant for medical equipment. The EPA has labeled EtO as carcinogenic, but the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), for one, demurs. 

Jefferson County has more EtO emissions per square mile than any other county in Texas, more than 300 times the nationwide average. Nevertheless, the incidence of cancers allegedly caused by EtO is, according to TCEQ, “lower in Jefferson County than in the general U.S. population.” 

Sounds like a false alarm, doesn’t it? But that won’t stop plaintiff’s attorneys from crying wolf, or our fellow citizens from joining the latest sky-is-falling chorus.

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