Polluting Our Common Life

A graduate student at the University of Arizona thinks he is a hippopotamus. Well, that’s a sentence I never thought I’d write. He calls himself a “tranimal.”

Ordinarily, any layman could diagnose him – sight unseen and without a fear in the world of malpractice – as non compos mentis. But we have all been put on notice, as the pace of just such egged-on derangement has intensified, that however anyone “self-identifies” must be validated.

Just ask the Canadian professor facing hassles galore for refusing to go along with pronoun abuse; his overlords insist that Gnostic inventions such as Ze, Hir, Xe, Verself, etc., are to be used as replacements for standard English pronouns (he, she, hers, etc.), whensoever anyone deems grammatical reflections of biological reality way too restrictive.

Since the legal profession has seen fit to force delusions upon the masses (and we were lamentably litigious long before this moment), I think the University of Arizona is on very shaky ground. A lawsuit clearly beckons – if not against the university then against whoever is supplying this hippopotamus with a steady supply of food. I count myself fortunate to have seen hippos in the African wild, and I’m pretty sure every game park the multicultural world over insists that feeding the wildlife is punishable by law.

So which is it going to be, when the exaltation of autonomy in the realm of sexuality – which now includes redefining biological reality – conflicts with respect for the environment? It’s really no contest: wildlife takes the back seat. Autonomy is in the driver’s seat.

Speaking of wildlife, let’s look at another example of this conflict. It even involves a “tranimal” – inasmuch as you could refer to the phenomenon of “inter-sex” fish with some such term. These are male fish in whose testes eggs develop. How on earth does this happen? Too much estrogen in the water; sewage treatment plants are simply unable to break down all the estrogenic hormones that humans consume, eliminate, and flush back out into the natural world.

There are decades worth of evidence – to which even mainstream journals such as Nature attest – that the active ingredient in the birth control pill (EE2), along with other estrogens “cause widespread damage in the aquatic environment by disrupting endocrine systems in wildlife.”

Earlier this month University of Exeter Professor Charles Tyler added his dramatic findings to the growing evidence base in a keynote address to an International Symposium sponsored by the Fisheries Society in the British Isles.

His presentation, tellingly entitledThe Feminization of Nature – an Unnatural History,” was quite technical, but one of the main takeaways was that testing at fifty sites revealed an astonishing one in five fresh-water male fish in the U.K. had feminine characteristics. This, among other adverse impacts, diminishes the capacity of those fish to reproduce. The ecosystem, in short, is taking a hit.

Many other contaminants are implicated, such as the by-products of cosmetics, plastics, and cleaning agents, but – like the pill – they too have estrogenic properties that account for these imbalances at the physiological level. Other chemicals, such as those found in antidepressants, trigger abnormal changes in the realm of behavior.

It is well established that the pill is carcinogenic; direct consumption, however, may not be the end of that story. Other fallout from elevated estrogen levels in the water supply may be on the horizon. There is a strong correlation – not, I stress, established causation – between use of the pill and the incidence of prostate cancer in men. At the least, that significant association arose in every one of the eighty-eight countries in which it was investigated.

In any event, the concern attached to the reality of intersex fish – an incontrovertible example of “man made” befouling of the environment – pales in comparison with the frenzy manufactured over allegedly “anthropogenic” climate change; it doesn’t even register. When the science is as unmistakable and unwelcome as this, far more effective it is to be an ignorer rather than a denier.

The sheer quantity of the pill’s repercussions (across the board) that need to be ignored can only be done via comprehensive exercise of power. Melinda Gates recently called the pill one of the greatest anti-poverty measures of all time; perhaps she is simply ignoring the work of the late economist Julian Simon, who demolished that recurring view, which, deep down, reflects a zero-sum vision of limited resources bound to diminish as people proliferate. A vision of fear contradicted by reams of evidence.

Simon, in contrast, felt the greatest resource on earth is human beings; he contended that more people rather than less is conducive to the innovation and productivity so responsible for development:

The main fuel to speed the world’s progress is the stock of human knowledge. And the ultimate resource is skilled, spirited, hopeful people, exerting their wills and imaginations to provide for themselves and their families, thereby inevitably contributing to the benefit of everyone.

His overall corpus proved so persuasive that his thesis went from contrarian to widely acknowledged today. Even the fish would be happy if Mrs. Gates would come to see things his way: “One would expect lovers of humanity” – that is to say Mrs. Gates in her current occupation as philanthropist – “to jump with joy” at the triumph of human ingenuity over the apparent deprivations of nature.

Mrs. Gates seems to be holding out hope that a change in teaching pertaining to contraception may happen one day in the Catholic Church. Maybe she knows something I don’t. Some have indeed speculated that a revisiting of Humane Vitae may coincide with its 50th anniversary next year.

To all the weighty, primary reasons why that would not be wise, I’d just add here one more: Wouldn’t blessing an established pollutant demolish the 2015 admonition, issued in Laudato Si, to care for “our common home”?

Matthew Hanley’s new book, Determining Death by Neurological Criteria: Current Practice and Ethics, is a joint publication of the National Catholic Bioethics Center and Catholic University of America Press.