The Catholic Thing
Polluted Water, Polluted Culture Print E-mail
By Matthew Hanley   
Thursday, 01 October 2009

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar reacted to an August report that emissions from coal-fired power plants have led to widespread mercury pollution in our rivers and streams by saying: "this science sends a clear message that our country must continue to confront pollution, restore our nation's waterways, and protect the public from potential health dangers." Who, after all, wants toxic levels of mercury in our rivers?

But mercury is not all there is in the water. Estrogen – from artificial contraception pills, consumed daily by tens of millions of women – makes its way through sewage treatment plants and severely pollutes our waterways. Classified in the United Kingdom as a pollutant, “the pill” has led – according even to the Austrian chemist who helped invent it – to "demographic catastrophe". The oversaturation of estrogen in the environment likely contributes to male infertility, which has been rising in recent years; there is also the impact it has on aquatic life.

To take one recent example, University of Colorado scientists found that of the 123 fish they had caught at a nearby mountain stream for research purposes, “101 were female, 12 were male and 10 were strange ‘intersex’ fish with male and female features.” The director of the Colorado Genetic Engineering Action Network, Dave Georgis, reacted to these freaky findings by saying: “Nobody is to blame for this, and I don’t have a solution.”

That, no doubt, would be above his pay grade.

It does not take much effort to imagine a Dictator behind the scenes (Relativism, as Benedict XVI famously suggested), ordering him to dissemble like that. To speak the truth – even only about the science of estrogen overload, as Salazar did with respect to mercury – would be an act of gross insubordination. The inability to say what is manifestly so or not so, Romano Guardini (a mentor to Benedict) perceptively wrote nearly fifty years ago, is “the most hideous manifestation of tyranny.”

You can get away with such evasions scot-free, since the Zeitgeist cannot be bothered to target this source of contamination, even though that means making peace with harming women and the environment. How quickly its professed faith in strictly disinterested science is exposed as mere pretense, when the science scrutinizes its interests.

Is there any better illustration of the connectedness between human and natural ecology, each of which Benedict XVI stresses (in Caritas in Veritate) can only be protected by firm commitment to moral truth? Artificial contraception’s modus operandi is to thwart nature – it ruptures the intimate (“ecological”) bond between a man, a woman and future generations, splinters entire societies, and contaminates the environment.

Nature can only brook so much dissent.

Connecting the dots is a straightforward but thankless task. Anyone who is aware of ever having preferred darkness to light knows that truth can irritate before it illuminates. Indicting the tools of consequence-free sex as the culprit in environmental degradation, much less personal or social disintegration, is to court rage.

In this case, ’roid rage, since oral contraceptives are steroids (yes, think Mark McGwire), though few know it – and carcinogenic ones at that. To “work,” they must first interfere with the liver, which normally breaks down ingested substances; they are specifically designed not to biodegrade – which helps explain estrogen’s presence in the environment, and why they are implicated not only in breast cancer, but also liver cancer.

Plato timelessly remarked that “men prefer themselves to the truth.” Overcoming the all-too-human aversion to uncomfortable truth costs parts of ourselves dearly – which is why grappling with truth is a noble act.

Without a willingness to acknowledge and “love what is true,” Benedict suggests, there can be “no real social conscience or responsibility,” however much well meaning environmentalists earnestly cultivate and aggressively retail those goods. (A woman may believe that by bringing her own reusable grocery bag to Whole Foods in one hand she helps save the planet – but only if she does not let herself know that the contraceptive pill she pops with the other hand is messing with the planet’s water supply). Quite the contrary: without truth, “social action ends up serving private interests and the logic of power.”

This striking passage calls to mind not so much Plato and the human penchant to struggle with truth, but Nietzsche and the “will to power”; it evokes the cold, self-centered nihilism which lends a brutish quality to our culture.

The nihilistic assertion of the self – which lashes out at truth in its quest for power (even over the human body) – is a defining characteristic of “modern liberalism,” which Cardinal Pell of Sydney observes “has strong totalitarian tendencies.” It is a toxic cultural contaminant that shrinks hearts and minds, restricts happiness, and produces “lovelessness, fear, and despair.” It helps foment what Archbishop Dolan of New York called “the real vocation crisis”: fewer and fewer people getting married, later and later in life.

It, like truth, also imposes costs – but in diametrically opposed ways.

The nihilistic “hook-up” culture dishes out debilitating and drug resistant emotional wounds that, though less quantifiable, propel many young and not so young people to “lead lives of quiet desperation” – as Thoreau put it.

But the Truth came to set us free, to heal and reconcile, to restore equilibrium, so that we do not take our quiet desperation “to the grave,” as Thoreau imagined most men do, but rather might find love and happiness in this world and the next.

The National Catholic Bioethics Center will be publishing Matthew Hanley's book, with Jokin D. Irala, M.D., Affirming Love, Avoiding AIDS: What Africa Can Teach the West.

© 2009 The Catholic Thing. All rights reserved. For reprint rights, write to: info at thecatholicthing dot org

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Comments (12)Add Comment
Truth by Fiat
written by Willie, October 02, 2009
A compelling and well written piece. One must wonder if any other problems such as the demographic rise in autism is related to these steroids. To even suggest such a thing is so publically incorrect! To be PC is to engage in tyranny because truth doesn't matter. We have more and more drifted by way of the new regime into the philosophy of Rousseau, whereby the elites in control determine the truth. This new found Enlightenment may very well lead to disease, nihilism and family destruction.
Source Reference?
written by Ars Artium, October 02, 2009
This article provides support for those who would prefer prudence to haste when scientists devise ways to alter fundamental human biology. Can Dr. Hanley provide his readers with links to sources providing scientific evidence of the presence of estrogen in the water supply? This will assist his readers in bringing this matter before the public.
Something Fishy
written by Howie, October 02, 2009
The moral point of this essay is well taken. Nature can only brook so much dissent. The science is somewhat fishy. How many estrogen pill taking-mountain stream polluting women live above the 5400' elevation of Boulder? Could not the abnormalities in fish of the study be caused by a surfeit of estrogen from other sources? A Google search on 'estrogen pollution' reveals many.
Birth Control
written by Joseph, October 02, 2009
America, a land hooked on drugs, indeed.
Bishop Sheen wrote, "It has always struck me as strange that we should pardon a wife, on the grounds of "temporary insanity," for limiting her married life by shooting her husband, and at the same time glorify the same wife as a "progressive free-born woman" because she limits her family by stifling an unborn life. All of which goes to prove that we do not need new laws but expansion of the definitions of old ones, and particularly of the law of murder."
written by Willie, October 02, 2009
Yes. There are quite a few sources of estrogens polluting our rivers and streams. However most of the serious effects on animal life have taken place where there is a high amount on human sewage. This is significant. I wonder if there are any studies that could confirm chemically the concentration of these products and if they are of human origin. That might be a provocative cause and effect relationship for our politically correct society.
Science with Blinders
written by Watcher, October 02, 2009
There used to be many small settlements above Boulder (Gold Hill to name one) populated by pill culture types, plus thousands of campers. In the high country excretion runs down hill and right into the local streams.
That is off the point, which is really about "science" being applied for specific (political) ends. Back in the Fifties, the Commies outlawed the concept of the Big Bang, too close to creation. It didn't fit the world view that gave them power. Don't look now, but ...
Good Science
written by Tyler, October 02, 2009
Howie, good point, but what wasn't mentioned here is that the study was done in the stream below the discharge from the sewage treatment plant. Watershed studies is a small part of what I do, and pollution from pharmaceutical and personal care products (called PPCP's) is the growing concern in pollution of our watersheds. It is a conundrum for those who are genuinely concerned about our environment, but who also support contraception. This is a crack in the Left coaliton in the making.
off limits
written by Vern, October 02, 2009
Amazing….we hear so much about environment, but never this. It is just off limits. I guess the lesson here is that champions of the environment will have their pills come hell or high (or toxic) water
prove it!
written by Achilles, October 02, 2009
If it is not emperically provable exactly what the material cause and effect of a specific case at 5400 feet altitude is... the much bigger truth stands, we are polluting our culture with materialism and scientism and relativism. St. Agustine said love of self to the contempt of God is the city of man. Excellent article, the ideas don't need test-tube evidence to resonate in the heart and soul of humanty, thanks very much.
more science
written by Matt Hanley, October 03, 2009
Yes there are other possible contributing factors to the fish irregularities. The stream in Colorado was a micro-example. The US Geological Survey just published a much broader overview of this phenomenon nationwide, which found that one third of male smallmouth bass and one fifth of the male largemouth bass are intersex (male fish producing eggs). In covering this study, the AP said the problem is “linked to women's birth control pills and other hormone treatments" Hope this helps.
stopTruth decay
written by Lynda, October 03, 2009
In order to "Love what is true" we must hate what is false...
2 Timothy 4: 2 proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching. 3 For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths.
The Sorcerer\'s Appentice
written by Chuck, October 04, 2009
When I was five my grandma took me to see Walt Dysney's Fantasia. The state of the world today reminds me of Mickey Mouse in The Sorcerer's Apprentice, masterfully put together around Duka's music. Poor Mickey tries to use magic to get his chores done and things get awfully out of hand. Only God can run this world properly: we are the keepers, not the owners of the vineyard. And what is most important, if we keep running things without God. We will kill ourselves.

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