Dr. Caroline Lucas – Green Member of the European Parliament for Southeast England – continues to peddle scare stories to generate political legitimacy. From a press release carrying the dramatic headline “CANCER ‘CAUSED BY POLLUTION’, MEP LUCAS TO TELL BRIGHTON WOMEN“:
CANCER is often caused by environmental factors including toxic chemicals added to household goods, pesticides and poor air quality, local Green Party MEP Caroline Lucas will tell a Brighton cancer-prevention day this Saturday, February 9th.
This rather conjures up images of people deliberately lacing household goods with carcinogens out of sheer spite, doesn’t it? No mention of the usefulness of chemicals, nor even their effect on reducing diseases, and extending human longevity. Nor the countless improvements they have made to our lives in other areas, such as improving the quality and shelf-life of food, leading to lower prices, and better diets, and therefore longer lives. Nope. Chemicals… are bad.
An increasing number of scientists are pointing to the link between toxic chemicals – especially so-called gender-bending hormone-disruptors – and breast cancer, which kills more than 10,000 people each year in the UK alone.
We phoned Caroline Lucas’s press office (again) to find out who these ‘increasing number of scientists’ actually are, and what they are actually saying, and what research actually supports it. They said they’d get back to us. It seems highly unlikely that anyone is deliberately putting carcinogenic compounds into your breakfast, just for fun, nor even just for profit, as our Caroline goes on to suggest:
Similarly links are being found between pesticide use and cancers. Yet these technologies are all growing apace – the Government and EU simply must exercise caution, and put human health above the profits of their friends in the companies that manufacture them.
Ah, it’s the Government and their mates again! A chemical conspiracy. Profit standing in the way of a cancer-free population. On this point, Caroline Lucas’s press officer told us that the statement that implies a conspiracy reflects her experience in working towards the EU’s REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemical substances) regulations. Dr. Lucas apparently believes that a deal between European Conservatives and Socialists to reduce the extent of the regulations was the result of industry lobbying; not the result of debate and discussion. She didn’t like the result, so, of course, there’s a conspiracy… The conceit of the self-righteous. In a press release from 2005, Lucas said of the compromise…
Around 75 per cent of all cancers are caused by environmental factors, mainly chemicals, and each year more than 30,000 die in the EU due to occupational exposure to substances which are carcinogenic. This directive was designed to require manufacturers to ensure their products don’t contain the chemicals responsible, at least where safer alternatives are available.
Is there any scientific basis for the claim that 75% of cancers are caused by environmental factors to imply that industrial chemicals are ‘mainly’ responsible? The claim that 75% of cancers have environmental causes is the corollary to the theory that 25% of cancers have genetic causes. It means nothing. Cancers take years to develop, and their causes are too many to attribute to one category of risk. The complexity of many factors interacting with one another make it virtually impossible to evaluate such a hypothesis scientifically, let alone in lay terms. It is pure speculation. If the true extent of the effect of environmental cancer-causing factors were known, it would imply that all of the factors had been identified. They simply haven’t. Not in synthetic compounds, and not in naturally occurring substances. Nature is made of chemicals too, you know. And in just the same way, we’ve barely begun to understand the role of genetics in cancer. About all one can say with any certainty is 100% of cancers are the result of a complex interaction between genetic and environmental factors. And why stop at chemicals? Perhaps Lucas should be going the whole hog and banning the environment. After all, it’s not just cancer you can catch off it. Just walking through happy organic mother nature friendly fields exposes you to risk. And then again, so does locking yourself up behind your front-door, terrified that cancer is waiting for you at the top of the road. Lucas’s statistic – almost certainly bogus – is meaningless when wielded so inexpertly, and is terrifying to anyone who happens to take what she says at face value.
Lucas takes weak and controversial scientific theories out of context and uses them as scientific fact to use them to create legitimacy for her political campaign. Whether she does this consciously, or whether she is oblivious to the fragility of her argument is not our concern. The effect is the same, and she does not appear to be taking any steps to treat her words with caution, let alone get the measure of just how controversial they are. And she seems happy to terrify people to give her political cause some momentum. Her words are used to effect the same thing as the Labour Government’s claims of WMDs in Iraq being mobilised, launched and landing in the UK in 45 minutes. It is the politics of fear. Without that fear, and ‘sexed up’ scientific ‘evidence’, Caroline Lucas has absolutely nothing, nothing, nothing to offer her constituents.
The problem for Lucas is that one moment science is bad, because it makes nasty chemicals, the next it’s great, because it tells us that we’re all going to die. But what Caroline wants is not for science to develop safe chemicals which better our lives at all. She wants no chemicals, and she wants society to be organised in a specific way. She uses the science which is convenient to give that vision authority, and the fear it generates is used to create political legitimacy. The remaining science is immoral science; the result of conspiracies which dazzle us with false promises to satiate lusts for consumer lifestyles, but actually poison us. There is no middle ground coming from the Lucas Press office. Check it out for yourself.
The irony is that in making people sick with worry, she is likely to have a more deleterious effect on people’s health than industrial substances in the environment. First, because of the direct effect of such terror about getting cancer any minute now. Second, because of the distrust it breeds about useful technologies. Third, because it may have the consequence of generating policies which actually throw the chemical baby out with the toxic bathwater. Lucas wants a chemical free society. But part of the reason that cancers appear to be on the rise is that people are living longer, not dying from other diseases – thanks in part, to the chemicals Lucas is intent on banning. But also, thanks in part to the kind of medical research that Lucas wants to outlaw. Her press office still haven’t got back to us about exactly where she got the idea that ‘increasing numbers of scientists’ are pointing to the link between toxic chemicals and breast cancer, or that 75% of cancers are caused by environmental factors (or what that even means). What they did say was that Europeans for Medical Advancement have something to do with it. Europeans
for Medical Advancement, like Europeans for Medical Progress – of which Caroline Lucas is a patron – campaigns against the use of animals in medical research.