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Dixy Lee Ray
Dixy Lee Ray
Trashing the Planet
ISBN: 0060974907
Trashing the Planet
Dixie Lee Ray, former governor of Washington and former Atomic Energy Commission chairman, discussed her book Trashing The Planet: How Science Can Help Us Deal With Acid Rain, Depletion of the Ozone and Nuclear Waste (Among Other Things). The book deals with scientific means of environmental management and media distortion of environmental issues. She discussed her work as a scientist, her years of involvement in government, and the misinformation she perceived in the media on the environment that led to the writing of the book. For example, she said temperature records for the past hundred years show no unnatural increase in global temperatures despite the heavy media emphasis on global warning.
Trashing the Planet
Program Air Date: June 16, 1991

BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Dixy Lee Ray, former governor of the state of Washington and author of the new book "Trashing the Planet," what's it all about?
DIXY LEE RAY: Well, some people might think the title a little misleading unless you also read the subtitle, which is "How Science Can Help with Problems Like Acid Rain and Nuclear Waste and Depletion of the Ozone" and so on. It's about the environmental issues that get a lot of public attention these days, and the effort is to try to bring out the facts or the evidence that supports those charges or makes them less believable -- either way.
LAMB: Where did you get the idea for the book?
RAY: Since I retired, which was some years ago, I've been doing a certain amount of writing and book reviewing and some speaking. I find as I move around the country and read a lot of the material that comes out in this field that there's a great deal of misinformation. There's a great deal of fright, there's a great deal of misunderstanding of the actual science that's involved in these technical issues. Therefore, I think people are being unnecessarily worried and sometimes to the point where we're spending unnecessarily large sums of money to correct a problem that doesn't really exist.
LAMB: Where are you living now?
RAY: I live on an island in the southern part of Puget Sound in my home state of Washington.
LAMB: One of the first things you do for us in this book is take us back to the early days of your life. Obviously it must not be too sensitive, but you basically tell us in here that you're, what, close to 77 years old?
RAY: I will be 77 in about two months, three months. Yes.
LAMB: What about those early years did you want us to know?
RAY: That times have changed enormously. I have to tell you I beat the odds. When I was born, my life expectancy was much less than the number of years that I have actually lived. One of the reasons for that is that life has become better. We are living in a cleaner environment. We are more healthy. We have greater relief from hard physical labor, and, all in all, it's a better life than it used to be. So I described what it was like when I grew up. It was dirty. It was smelly. There were very few household appliances that could help with the drudgery of housework. Sickness was a fact of life. Infectious diseases always struck every year, and, particularly for children, many did not survive. Tuberculosis was rampant. We sometimes forget all those things when we think about the "good old days" when life was more simple. We didn't have fresh vegetables in the wintertime because we didn't have refrigeration because CFCs hadn't been invented and so there wasn't any Freon gas and so on and so on and so on. I try to make the contrast of all the things that have happened to improve life in the course of my 77 years of being here.
LAMB: Where did you grow up?
RAY: I grew up in Tacoma, Washington. That's where I was born.
LAMB: What did your parents do?
RAY: My father was a printer, a commercial printer, and Mother was a housewife and a good mother. Took care of the five children. All of us were girls, and so we had quite a good squabbling household.
LAMB: How many of your sisters are still alive?
RAY: All of them.
LAMB: Younger or older?
RAY: I'm number two.
LAMB: Do they all live out in the northwest?
RAY: No. My older sister and I live together in our family place on Fox Island. I have two younger sisters that live in Oregon and one in California.
LAMB: I don't know if I remember this correctly, but did you say in here that the invention of the Model T Ford helped the smell because it got the manure off the streets?
RAY: Yes, I did.
LAMB: Is that really true? Can you remember that?
RAY: That is really true. Oh, yes. I can remember the smell. I can remember the pervading smell of horse manure in every community. Streets weren't paved except in the main downtown areas of towns as large as a place like Tacoma. There were all kinds of horse-drawn vehicles, and the poop just filled up the streets.
LAMB: Well, what about the smell of the coal?
RAY: And coal, yes. Beginning about 1920, when I first went to school, I recall the coal smell, particularly during the wintertime, because that's what almost everyone burned in a furnace or a fireplace in order to keep warm.
LAMB: Where did you go to school?
RAY: I went to school in the public schools of the city of Tacoma. Sherman School up through the sixth grade and then I went to a middle school and then to a high school in Tacoma called Stadium High. It's a very interesting old building, still exists. And graduated from there in 1933.
LAMB: How about college?
RAY: My undergraduate work was at Mills College in California and my graduate work at Stanford.
LAMB: What did you do when you first got into professional life?
RAY: My first position, after my graduate studies were completed, was on the faculty of the University of Washington in Seattle, and I taught and did research there for 26 years.
LAMB: And your degree was in what?
RAY: Zoology. Specifically, marine biology.
LAMB: Where did you get interested in that?
RAY: I suppose the interest went way back to my childhood because even though we were not a family of great means, we always were able to go out to some place around Puget Sound to a beach area, a cabin on an island or something like that and spend our holidays. That's how we happened to acquire the property on Fox Island where I live now. I became very interested in the animals that you could see when the tide was out and in fishing, swimming, things like that.
LAMB: Where did you get the name Dixy Lee Ray?
RAY: Well, as you probably remember, after the Civil War there was quite a migration of people from particularly North Carolina and Virginia. The greater numbers of people who left the South went either to Brazil, where there's quite a colony of former North Americans there, or to the Pacific Northwest. It was my grandparents' generation that came west, and we are descended from the families of particularly North Carolina.
LAMB: After 26 years at the University of Washington, what?
RAY: I got a telephone call from President Nixon and asked me if I would be willing to take a position on the Atomic Energy Commission. And so -- you really want to know? Okay. I talked to the people in the White House. I had two questions. One of them was, was it a full time job? The answer was yes. The second was, would I have to live in Washington, D.C.? The answer was yes. So my response was no. I'm doing what I like to do. Besides teaching at the university, I was also directing a kind of science museum for public understanding of science called the Pacific Science Center in Seattle. I said, "I'm doing what I like to do. It occupies all my time, and I'm living where I like to live, so thanks anyway." Three months later I was sworn in as a member of the Atomic Energy Commission. Presidents can be very persuasive.
LAMB: How did he change your mind?
RAY: He convinced me that it would be an opportunity to enter into a new era, into a new field of science, and perhaps to do something about public understanding, which was my primary interest. Besides it reminded me of the president of my undergraduate college, Mills. When I was there, the president was Aurelia Henry Reinhardt, a very remarkable woman. She was, in fact, the first woman to receive a Ph.D. degree from Yale University. She knew all the students quite well, and when I was getting my master's degree there, she said, "Dixy, you know, you should really develop your skill in your chosen field, but if ever there comes an opportunity to do something else, don't turn it down. Because every time you change and move into a different or a new area, you will enlarge your horizons and it will be very rewarding." And she was right.
LAMB: How long did you serve on the Atomic Energy Commission?
RAY: Until it was decommissioned, shall we say, by the Congress, which was a total of three years. I was the last chairman.
LAMB: Then what?
RAY: I stayed in Washington for a short time and I was the Assistant Secretary for Oceans and International Environmental and Technical Science in the Department of State. But that was not the kind of thing that I found I was either very interested in or very good at, and so I returned home to the state to try and make up my mind what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I was then over 60 years old. I had become really quite interested in this whole field of the interaction of science and public policy and the recognition that actions in government have an enormous influence on what our economy will do and what science, as it affects the economy, will do. I had come to the conclusion that at the federal level things are so enormous and so complex that it's difficult, especially for an individual, to make any impact. But I had reached the conclusion that at the state level there was a great deal that could be done to improve the functions of government, particularly in the technical areas, and so I decided to give it a try. I was much too old to start at the bottom, so I decided to start at the top.
LAMB: How?
RAY: I ran for governor.
LAMB: As a Democrat?
RAY: Let me say this: I've never been really interested in party politics. But to run for a major office, you have to declare yourself either a Democrat or a Republican if you want to be elected. As I looked at the situation there, I saw that the Republican slate was full. The Democrats were in total disarray as usual, so I ran as a Democrat.
LAMB: And won.
RAY: And won, yes, sir.
LAMB: One term?
RAY: One term.
LAMB: What did you think of that experience?
RAY: It was really tremendous. You know, there's nothing else quite like it. There are only 50 jobs like that in the whole world. It's a little bit like I've heard airplane pilots describe flying a big airplane -- moments of exhilaration, hours of sheer boredom, and seconds of absolute -- I think that word shouldn't be used on air. In a way, it's like that. A governor is the head of the administration of state government, must work with and through the legislative body. But, nevertheless, the governor, as a single individual, stands out and is therefore held responsible for everything--even things that don't come under your jurisdiction at all. You're dealing with problems on a daily basis that are very intractable. Many of them don't really have solutions, and yet you have to do everything you can and some progress can be made.
LAMB: What years were you governor?
RAY: 1977 to 1981.
LAMB: Tell me if I'm wrong about this. I remember one thing about you. There was a picture that I saw somewhere of you and a dog. Did you live in a trailer?
RAY: No, sir, it was a motor home.
LAMB: Motor home.
RAY: Yes, sir.
LAMB: Now that picture was published more than once.
RAY: Well, it happened to come out on the front page of the Washington Post. The dog was sitting at my desk in the State Department at that time. He was a little poodle. He was wonderful.
LAMB: But when you went on to be governor, didn't you carry on this life of the outdoors woman?
RAY: Well, certainly.
LAMB: Did you travel around in your motor home then?
RAY: No, no. I had my home on the island and, of course, I lived in the governor's mansion. That was only about an hour's drive away from the island and when I could, I got home for weekends. But our lifestyle there is very much out-of-doors. It's a very relaxed and rural area. But I had my dogs with me, yes. I had two poodles while I was governor.
LAMB: There are some fun things that you have in here. You've used some words. Normally when you read about these words, when people use them, you don't' know where they come from. I just want to ask you. These are non-sequiturs. You use the word "saboteur." Why did you use that and where does it come from?
RAY: Well, a saboteur is a kind of industrial terrorist. The word actually comes from the early days of the industrial revolution in France, the workers who felt that the mills, particularly the textile mills, were taking away their jobs. They'd pull off their wooden shoes and throw them into the machinery to block it. Of course, the French word for wooden shoe is sabot, so they're saboteurs.
LAMB: And the word "distaff."
RAY: Distaff. Well, that's an interesting one. It comes to us from medieval times. The very first sort of technology that freed women from total bondage was spinning. The way that spinning was done at that time was to take the threads and wind them up on a stick, about as big around as your finger, and about a dozen, 15 inches long. The stick was called a distaff. The thread was wound up there and twisted and then eventually woven into cloth. Now, the men did the weaving, but the women produced the thread. The invention of the spinning wheel, which did away with the distaff, was sometime around the 15th century, and it meant that instead of about nine women busy with the distaff making enough thread to keep one weaver busy, one woman with a spinning wheel could make enough thread to keep six weavers busy. So for the first time her work became valuable in the market place. In a way, this also related to the same time things happened -- it may have been coincidence but it happened at the time -- women earned the first possibility of economic independence. At that same time, at least in the Western world, women earned the right to inherit from their husbands, to keep the property that they brought into a marriage through a dowry and to own property in their own name. Those were very significant steps forward. The word "spinster" comes down to us from those days, referring to the woman who decided to support herself through spinning rather than to marry, or for a variety of reasons was not married to have a man support her. So, an independent woman was called a spinster.
LAMB: Did you ever marry?
RAY: No.
LAMB: When you look back on where you've come from, do you think that women in our society are doing well today?
RAY: Let me assure you, first of all, I don't brood on these problems. Secondly, I think that the opportunities for women now are just absolutely without end and so much more than they have been in the past. Again, this is another area -- I don't emphasize it in this book -- where a tremendous change has taken place. When I was a student in college, if it had been possible, I would have become an engineer. But it wasn't possible because engineering colleges would not admit women. Even as late as 1952, when I had a Guggenheim Fellowship and chose to take it for six months at Cal Tech, I was there because I came with my own fellowship as a postdoctoral student. There were no women allowed in the undergraduate body or even accepted in the graduate school at that time. Now, 1952 is not a thousand years ago, you know, and so much change is taking place now. There's nothing that isn't open to a woman if she has the talent and the interest and the will to do it.
LAMB: This book is 206 pages. Back on Page 165, you write this: "Activist environmentalists are mostly white, middle to upper income and predominantly college-educated. They are distinguished by a vocal do-good mentality that sometimes successfully cloaks a strong streak of elitism which is often coupled with the belief that the end justifies the means and that violence and coercion are appropriate tactics."
RAY: Yes, I want to make sure that I emphasize I was speaking there about the radical leadership of the activist part of the environmentalist movement. I was not speaking about all the fine, sincere people who belong to the Audubon Society and the Nature Conservancy and all those other organizations. I was speaking about the real leadership of those organizations that are the most outspoken and most active and most radical.
LAMB: Are they harmful, in your opinion?
RAY: Yes, they are. I believe they are.
LAMB: Why?
RAY: Because their actions, whether purposeful or not, and I think in most cases it is purposeful, are directed toward tearing down industrial society. They seem to believe, and they often say this outright, that industrialization is wrong and that human beings should not live in this way, that we should find a way to go back to live in some kind of nice pastoral pleasant way where everybody runs out and gathers berries and honey from the bees and that kind of thing, that industrialization is harmful. From their speeches and from their books, it's clear that most of them don't really like people very well. Some come right out and say, as in an editorial in the London Economist in December of 1988, I think, that--and I'm quoting now as well as I can remember -- the extinction of the human species is not only inevitable but may be a good thing. There is this strong strain, somehow, of anti-human, anti-person attitude that worships nature and believes that man is an intruder into nature.
LAMB: Let me read some more. This is the page before. "However, the leaders of some of their organizations such as the Natural Resources Defense Council, Friends of the Earth, Earth First, Greenpeace, Government Accountability Project, Institute for Policy Studies and many others are determinantly leftist, radical, and dedicated to blocking industrial progress and unraveling industrial society." You feel strongly about this.
RAY: I tried to make it clear.
LAMB: Where did you get your intense feelings about this kind of thing?
RAY: From the actions and the actual words of the people that I'm quoting there. There are a number of quotes that express how they want to destroy the basis of industrialization. I suppose it first became evident to me through the anti-nuclear movement. Anti-nuclear movement was one of the most outspoken early ones, and it was aimed really at destroying our ability to make electricity. Electricity is really the lifeblood of modern society.
LAMB: You're not concerned at all about nuclear power being a negative?
RAY: No. Not when it's done right, but you have to do right with everything. You know, the internal combustion engine is a pretty dangerous thing unless you handle it right. We've had an exceedingly fine record in the nuclear industry. It's a record of safety that can't be matched by any other industry.
LAMB: What's the status of nuclear power in the country right now?
RAY: Right now, 110 operating nuclear power plants. They're producing a little over 20 percent of our electricity today in this country. It's an established industry and I think it's here to stay. I think that we're going to see in the future, as we recognize that our capacity to make electricity is being overcome by the need and the demand for more electricity, we're going to realize that using nuclear energy is probably the best way to supply the additional amounts that we're going to need.
LAMB: When did we build the last nuclear power plant?
RAY: Oh, there's several came on line last year.
LAMB: Are they building some now?
RAY: I think there are still some under construction. There haven't been any new orders in a decade, but there haven't been any new orders for big coals plants either or big hydroelectric dams either. It's because the enormous amount of construction that took place during the '60s and early '70s built a surplus of capacity, and we haven't had to build new generating plants until now. Now we're going to have to.
LAMB: You used to be a member of the Atomic Energy Commission. Is that now the Nuclear Regulatory Commission?
RAY: Yes, and part of it is, of course, in the Department of Energy. The AEC was split into two parts. Half of it, the actual production and development of the source, into the Department of Energy and the regulation into the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
LAMB: How do you assess how well those organizations are doing when it comes to regulating nuclear power?
RAY: Well, the only one that regulates is the NRC. I think that they bend over backwards. I think that they're sometimes tougher than they need to be, but that's all right.
LAMB: Would you change anything?
RAY: Yes.
LAMB: What would that be?
RAY: Having to go through the same process twice. The same process takes place when a utility that intends to build a plant applies for a license to build it, and then they have to go through the whole thing again after it's built to get a license to operate. I think that that's unnecessary. It is certainly costly. It is a duplication, and I think those two things need to be combined.
LAMB: This book called "Trashing the Planet" is put out by Regnery Gateway. Where are they located?
RAY: Here in Washington, D.C.
LAMB: What kind of books do they normally publish?
RAY: They're a conservative press. It's an old-line publishing house, not the largest, but very well established and well thought of. Mostly they publish books in government and history and politics. They have published, for example, Senator Goldwater's books. They were the ones that published books written by William Buckley, to mention a few names that are probably familiar to people.
LAMB: And who is this gentleman right here, Lou Guzzo.
RAY: Lou Guzzo, he was formerly, when I first met him, the managing editor of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, which is a big daily newspaper in Seattle. We became well-acquainted and began to work together. He is a journalist in the finest sense of the word, a journalist who believes in reporting the news, and if you're going to editorialize on it, to do that specifically in an essay that's labeled an editorial. He and I have worked together quite a lot. When I was governor, he was on my staff as a counselor and as head of the Arts Commission and historical preservation group. We've been associated for a long time and his contribution primarily was to be sort of a pre-editor editor and my sounding board. When you know something and have worked with a lot, it's hard to describe it for people who don't know about it. That is, you assume lots of times that people know things that they don't or you'll unnecessarily use words that aren't in the common vocabulary, so he was the one who watched out for things like that.
LAMB: Did you write it yourself, the book?
RAY: Yes. And every word he went over.
LAMB: In the beginning, you have this dedication. You say, "This book is dedicated to two groups of people. One, to all those honorable men and women of science and engineering, past and present, who work to better the conditions for human life on this planet." Why that group?
RAY: Because those are the scientists that have developed the kind of information that we use in the book. They're the ones who develop the evidence and the information on all these subjects.
LAMB: How are we doing as a country in the areas of science and engineering today?
RAY: We do very well, indeed, except in one area, and that's teaching non-scientists about it.
LAMB: Why is that?
RAY: I don't know. If I knew, I'd have tried to do something about it.
LAMB: Do you do any more teaching yourself?
RAY: No, my teaching has been over many, many years. I don't do any active teaching at the present time.
LAMB: The second part of your dedication was "to all those sensible citizens who may wonder or worry about all the environmental fuss, what it's all about, but whose access to facts is limited to the hyperbole of the popular media or technical papers that are replete with qualifications and footnotes and are seldom written in common language. We have tried to be true to the first group while serving the second." Sounds like there's a little hostility in that second part there about possibly the popular media and these technical papers. Tell us more.
RAY: I wouldn't say hostility. Critical, yes, because I think the popular press, whose job is not to inform the public but to report on things that they see that they think are important, doesn't always give more than one side. The popular press tends, quite understandably, to pick out things that are sensational and develop them, and I think they have been responsible, in many cases, for unnecessarily frightening people. So, yes, I think that there's room for criticism there. Turning now to the scientific press, most scientists write papers for their peers, not for the public, and, therefore, it's quite common that people outside their own field may not understand them at all. But there's so much of interest in science. There's so much in science and technology that's important and that people can get excited about if they just know about it. They can't know about it and get their information from either the popular press or the technical papers. There has to be an effort to interpret and an effort to reach people with information, couched in language that people can understand.
LAMB: Why do you say that the press understandably has to go for the sensational?
RAY: Because that's what they always tell us -- that they have to sell papers.
LAMB: Do you think that's true?
RAY: No, because I think that there's one area of the popular press where they report accurately, they never misspell a name, they never give an inaccurate figure, and they report things as they happen quite objectively and that's the sports.
LAMB: Is that right?
RAY: Do you ever find any errors on the sports page? If you go to a game or you see a game and then you read about it and so on, they really report the things as they did happen. If you go to some other public event, that's not always the case. Now, if they can report accurately in sports, I think they can report accurately in other affairs, too.
LAMB: Why do you think they approach it differently -- sports vs. general news?
RAY: Tradition, probably. Habit. Most reporters are not well versed in science, but most reporters, like most people, do have an interest in sports, and many of them make it their business to learn about it in great detail.
LAMB: Are you a sports fan?
RAY: Of some sport, yes.
LAMB: You say on page 23, "Here we are in the final decade of the 20th century, a once buoyant nation with unbounded faith in the future and in our ability to make it better but now so possessed by self-doubt and recrimination and so frightened that something might go wrong that we are unwilling to accept even minute amounts of personal or environmental risk."
RAY: It seems that way. I think that there's plenty of evidence -- let's take the field of health -- that people are so afraid that something that they eat or something that they might do will give them cancer. There's a cancer mania in the country. Actually, much of the fear of cholesterol and red meat and all those things are really quite misplaced.
LAMB: Chapter 4, "Greenhouse Earth." Are you worried about the greenhouse effect?
RAY: Oh, no. Of course, the earth acts as a greenhouse. If it didn't, we wouldn't be able to live here. The atmosphere cover that we have all over the surface of the earth does act like a blanket. It both keeps some of the sun's rays out and holds others in and moderates the temperature. It is the changing of the composition of the atmosphere, specifically by an increase in the amount of carbon dioxide -- perhaps a number of other things -- that people have seized upon and claimed that due to human activity, enough carbon dioxide is being produced that it's actually going to modify the climate in a way which will be, according to some authors, quite drastic or even catastrophic by causing it to warm up. I think that it's quite clear the evidence is not there to support that.
LAMB: Take the average citizen who doesn't know anything about science, who just reads the headlines. They keep reading that there's this greenhouse effect that the earth is getting hotter. How can we, as average people, find out what is actually the truth?
RAY: Well, you've put your finger on exactly the problem. Everybody thinks the earth is warming up because everybody says so, but they never give you any evidence. What are the facts? Do these stories that talk about the earth warming up tell you exactly what the temperature has been for the last 50 years or whatever? It's not so hard to find out. The fact is we have temperature records that go back not 50 years but probably 150 years, and those temperature records show that there is no warming trend. Just a few weeks ago, a new study was published by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology analyzing 150 years of temperatures of the surface of the sea. You have some years when it warms up a little bit and some years when it cools down a bit and so on. There's fluctuation. But there's no long term trend. Tiros 2, one of our satellites, was sent up in 1978 and for 10 years, from '78 to '88, took continuous temperature records all over the surface of the earth, over the land as well as the sea. As a result of those 10 years of records, no warming trend at all. We should say to the people that are publishing headlines, "The Earth is Warming, Watch Out, Watch Out", say, "How do you know? What's the evidence?" All we have to do is to ask for the evidence, and it's quite clear that the problem does not exist.
LAMB: "It is estimated that banning CFCs" -- first of all, what are CFCs?
RAY: CFCs are chlorofluorocarbons or more commonly knows as freons. It was the invention of freon gas that made widespread use of refrigeration possible. In the days of my youth, as I describe in that early chapter, the best you could do was to have an icebox. You put ice into it and as the ice melted, it would keep other things cool. But the invention of refrigeration and refrigeration that could be handled in a unit, that could be put into an ordinary home and was economical enough for an average family to be able to afford, that came about only after Freon was invented or discovered. It is the prime refrigerant of the refrigeration industry. When you stop to think about how many things use refrigeration and what a tremendous effect that has had upon the safety of our food as well as our comfort and air conditioning and all manner of other things, you can see that Freons are extremely important. Those people who have claimed that the Freon gas destroys ozone in the stratum above the atmosphere have called for and have succeeded in getting governments to agree to ban the use of Freon. What are we going to use for refrigeration then?
LAMB: Where does freon come from? Do you know?
RAY: The major manufacturer of freon gas in this country is DuPont.
LAMB: What is it?
RAY: Chlorofluorocarbon. It's a pretty big molecule with chlorides and carbons and fluorides.
LAMB: Sorry I asked.
RAY: That's all right.
LAMB: But, you say here, "It is estimated that banning CFCs would mean changing or replacing capital equipment valued at $135 billion."
RAY: That's right.
LAMB: Do you think that we, as a country, will ever ban CFCs?
RAY: It was done already. It's been done.
LAMB: Completely?
RAY: Yes.
LAMB: Can't be used anymore?
RAY: That's right. It isn't being manufactured anymore.
LAMB: What about the old . . .?
RAY: Well, they'll be phased out, of course. It means that in the future, refrigeration is going to be very much more expensive. Whether it's going to be possible to develop a substitute for Freon is still debatable. The substitutes that are being looked at right now will require units that are much larger than the ones we have here so that having, say, an air conditioner in your car may become very unlikely or extraordinarily expensive. When you think about all of the air conditioners, all of the uses of refrigeration in grocery stores and department stores and everything you can think of, it is a big, big problem.
LAMB: What year will we see, as consumers, this starting to affect us?
RAY: Very soon. I don't know. I can't put the date onto it. The year was 1989 when 11 nations met in Montreal, Canada, and agreed to what's called a protocol that they would phase out the use of CFCs. Now, CFCs are used not only for refrigeration, but also in fire fighting. You know this foam that's used on air-fields? CFCs. They're called halons. What are you going to use instead? These materials are used in the electronics industry in making sure that these very, very delicate parts for electronic equipment are clean. You'll have to develop some other kind of a solvent.
LAMB: Why did we, as a nation, go along with that?
RAY: Because we're stupid. Sorry. I don't mean stupid. I say uninformed and listened to the fear mongers. The fear mongers say CFC is getting up into the ozone and destroying it. There's no evidence for that at all. It is all based on computer simulations, computer modeling, and the computer models apparently are being believed by a lot of people.
LAMB: So as we sit here, what do you see will be the replacement?
RAY: I don't know. I'm not in the chemical industry business. I don't know what kind of refrigeration it could be. Perhaps we'll have to go back to using ammonia. They used to use ammonia to make ice, you know, or sulfur dioxide. Both of those things are very much more difficult to handle and really quite toxic.
LAMB: Again, you don't know what year we will see any impact?
RAY: No, because it may be that as Freon gas becomes unavailable, people will begin to wake up and realize what we've done to ourselves. I hope that's the truth.
LAMB: Chapter 5, "Acid Rain." Bothered about it?
RAY: No. Not a bit.
LAMB: Should the Canadians be bothered about it?
RAY: No, shouldn't be. One of the reasons we can say that is that there has been a 10-year study, costing something in excess of $500 million and over 500 or 600 of the best scientists in this country -- atmospheric scientists, geologists, biologists and so on -- studying the acid rain problem under a requirement put down by the Congress of the United States. The end result of this study which came out just last year -- it's called NAPAP, the National Acid Precipitation Assessment Program -- showed that except for a very small number of lakes in New England and northern New York state, representing no more than 4 percent of the total number of lakes that have become acidified probably because of increased sulfur dioxide in that area, there actually is no environmental damage that can be traced to acid rain and that those lakes can be corrected by liming, putting lime into them -- or better, putting lime around the edge so that the overflow will drain into the lake -- at a total cost of around a few million dollars. Instead of that, the Congress, even though they had the study available to them in 1990, passed the Clean Air Act, which includes provisions for acid rain correction which will cost hundreds of billions of dollars. It's a multi-billion dollar solution for what is at most maybe a million dollar problem.
LAMB: Where does acid rain come from?
RAY: Well, the rain itself is always acid. The reason it's acid is that water dropping through the atmosphere will pick up some carbon dioxide and form carbonic acid. So the actual pH, as it's called, the acidity of rain is always a little bit below normal. When it hits the ground, then it can be neutralized if the ground itself is kind of alkaline, or if the ground is acid, too, then, of course, it just adds to it. In many parts of our country, the ground is so alkaline that you can never get an acidic reaction on it. This is most of the west and the southwest, for example. But, at any rate, the rain as it falls through the atmosphere can also pick up other materials, and if there's sulfur dioxide in the atmosphere, then some of those droplets of rain may pick that up and form sulfuric acid and that is generally what is believed to cause the rain to become more acid than the pH of about 5 or 5.4 that it normally is. Seven is neutral. Anything below 7.0 is more acid.
LAMB: Put yourself in the White House and Mr. Mulroney calls you and says, "President Ray, you've got to do something about this acid rain." What do you say then?
RAY: I say, "Sir, we've got a 10-year study that's looking into that, and the results are out in 1990. The results show that you don't really have that kind of a problem -- not coming from this country you don't." You know, many of the big smelters of Canada, smelting ore, are located in southeast Canada, and they don't have the kind of emission controls on them that we require in this country. Many studies, even before this national 10-year study that took place in this country, have shown over and over again that most fallout of rain that is really acid happens in the vicinity of where the sulfur dioxide is produced. It doesn't travel long distances. It's been found in Norway, it's been found in England, it's been found in Germany, it's been found in the Continent, and it's true here, too.
LAMB: What if he says then, "You know, Madame President, I've got to do something about this problem. I'm getting a lot of heat up here. You've got to help me."
RAY: Well, you know, the best way to cure a problem is to know what the truth is, to know what the facts are. That's really one of the problems we face right now, I'd say, throughout Western civilization. These problems -- and there are some that exist -- are trying to be solved politically without calling upon the evidence and the facts that are there to make it possible for people to make decisions as to whether the problem is real and whether the problem requires an expensive solution. I think one of the worst things that's happened has been the asbestos problem. Even the EPA now admits that asbestos is not a problem so far as human health is concerned; that is, the kind of asbestos that is used in building insulation and for fire retardation and soundproofing and things like that. Right from the very beginning, they didn't tell the public that there are two major varieties of asbestos, and the kind that gave people lung problems and led to lung cancer and asbestosis of the lung is a kind that was only used during World War II and only in shipyards, but those people were exposed and they did get lung problems. But the kind of asbestos that is used in school buildings does not cause that problem at all, and yet it has cost school districts in this country $120 billion last year alone to remove asbestos totally unnecessarily.
LAMB: So where's it all coming from?
RAY: It comes out of the school budget. And that's $120 billion that we can't spend educating young people because you have to take the asbestos out.
LAMB: I'm sorry. That's the wrong question. Where does the controversy come from? Why are people convinced that they have to pull the asbestos out of schools?
RAY: All right, because several years ago, the Environmental Protection Agency announced that asbestos use was banned and any of it that was in place had to be removed, and they won't change the rule.
LAMB: Why were they convinced that they had to change the rule?
RAY: Because of a mimeographed paper which came out of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, as it was known at that time, when Mr. Califano was the secretary. That was a paper that made some wild claims about the dangers of asbestos. It was never reviewed in the scientific literature. It was ridiculed and criticized by established scientists all over the world, and yet, it was accepted by HEW and it was used by the EPA as a basis for banning asbestos.
LAMB: Again, why do you think that's the case? I mean, if there's no basis, why do they keep making these decisions?
RAY: It's like passing laws. It's awfully easy to get a law passed. It's awfully difficult to get it unpassed. It's relatively easy to pass regulations, make rules, but they're seldom retracted. I suppose it's human nature. Nobody likes to admit having made a mistake.
LAMB: Are you saying that in a case like asbestos that the issue is presented to the Congress and to HEW or to the press and none of them asked the tough questions to get to the bottom of the fact that you say there was nothing to be alarmed about?
RAY: Apparently so. They can only hope that that's the case, that they passed the rulings regarding -- this would be the EPA -- the requirement to remove asbestos in ignorance. Otherwise, I can't understand why it would be done. If they had know, as they should have, that the asbestos -- remember, there are two kinds -- that is used in the school buildings and so on is not a dangerous kind. Incidentally, it's also used in brake linings. You can't use it in brake linings anymore because you can't use asbestos anymore and, therefore, modern brakes are not as good on the modern cars as they have been. What the public doesn't realize is that it is probably asbestos and the ban on asbestos that caused the Challenger disaster. It wasn't the O-rings themselves that failed. It was the putty that held the O-rings in place. Up until that time, the time of the Challenger, that putty had had asbestos in it to strengthen it and make it fire retardant. When the asbestos was removed, it was the putty that gave way.
LAMB: Where does asbestos come from?
RAY: It's a mineral. It's very widespread in nature. Most of the asbestos that we use in this country, probably 95 percent of it, is mined in southeast Canada. It's very clear that in the area where it's actually mined and milled and produced for commercial use, there's no lung problems, no respiratory epidemics or anything like that in the workers or the miners or the miners' families or the people that live in the area where it is all being handled. Another interesting thing is that 40 percent of all the rock outcroppings in the San Francisco Bay area contain this type of asbestos, and since those rocks weather, there's a lot of asbestos fiber in the air. There's a lot of it in the drinking water and so on. There's no epidemic of any problem from that material at all in the San Francisco Bay area. It's not that kind of widespread asbestos in widespread use that causes any problem. It's no worse breathing it than breathing coal dust or house dust or anything else. You'll always find a few people that have a very sensitive respiratory system that will get an allergic reaction to these things. Of course, if you're overwhelmed with it, if you breathe clouds of it, then there's bound to be a respiratory reaction. But the normal amount of it that floats around in the air does not cause any problem.
LAMB: Alar.
RAY: That is a famous case because that one was deliberate. The people who proposed that Alar was a cancer-producing substance and was put on apples did it -- for what reason I don't know -- but did it knowing that their information was certainly misleading if not outright wrong. I think that the suit, which is now underway, a multi-million dollar suit against CBS and against the program "60 Minutes" and against the Natural Resources Defense Council who originated the story, that is in the courts at the present time because it can be shown that they knew that their information was misleading. The only way that they were able to get an effect on laboratory animals by feeding them Alar was to feed them enough so if you were the human equivalent of having to eat 28,000 pounds of apples per day for 70 years. Now, that would be a pretty hard thing to do even for one year. If they fed the laboratory animals only 14,000 pounds equivalent -- 14,000 pounds of apples per day -- they didn't get any bad reaction at all.
LAMB: I know you know this sensation. There's a lot of people sitting out there right now listening to this saying,"I can't believe she's saying this." Now, the reason I bring this up is because I want to back to the first chapter, second paragraph. You write, "Now my disclaimer: I am not in the pay of nor am I employed by any industry and I am as much opposed to pollution as anyone." Let me go through that. You didn't write this book for any financial gain at all from any corporation . . .
RAY: Oh, no.
LAMB: . . . that will enjoy listening to you knock down all these?
RAY: No way.
LAMB: None?
RAY: None.
LAMB: No money involved in this at all?
RAY: No, no. The only thing that comes in is from the sale of the book. And we hope that people will buy it. So that's all.
LAMB: Do you need the sale of this book -- this is a personal question -- to live on? Is this money that you need to live on?
RAY: No, I'm retired and I live on Social Security and a small government pension like everybody else does. But it's always nice to have a little extra cash, and I have to go out and earn some which I do by consulting and speaking primarily or doing book reviews and so on in order to pay the ever-increasing taxes.
LAMB: Are you a consultant to a corporation that will benefit?
RAY: No. No.
LAMB: None?
RAY: No. I'm a consultant on call to the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory and the Los Alamos Laboratory, but nothing that would benefit them in these books, no.
LAMB: So what motivated you? What really motivated you to do this?
RAY: It goes back to the years of experience I had at the Pacific Science Center and in government in seeing the difficulty and the problems that evolved from scientific issues being misunderstood, particularly in the political arena. I'm a teacher at heart. I like to think that when people -- and I do believe -- that when the public has accurate information, they'll always make the right decision.
LAMB: Have you been in any debates over this issue?
RAY: No, I've been asked to, but I consistently turn down the debate format. The reason being is that you cannot decide or conclude anything about a scientific or technical issue by argument. These issues can only be resolved by facts. It's an awfully easy thing to say Alar is a carcinogen, and you make the charge. Then how do you refute it if you're a person who knows that that's not the case? It takes a long time to bring out the evidence that will establish that it's not a harmful material and it is not a carcinogen. The advantage is always with the person who makes the charge. They never have to prove it. That's one thing we really need to change. We really need to say to people who say the earth is warming up, the ozone layer has got a hole in it, say, "How do you know? Prove it. What's the evidence?" Don't make the people that know have to prove that they're wrong.
LAMB: Let's go back to the two bodies of individuals who are involved in, as you say, bringing about this change in acid rain and asbestos and radiation and all this -- the media and the scientists and, as you say on the back, the radicals, the people involved, activists. What are the activists' motives? Don't they want to clean the atmosphere up and make it a better place to live?
RAY: No, they want to do away with industrialized society.
LAMB: Why?
RAY: I don't know. If I knew that, it would be easier to find out what to do about it. They don't want to have, let's say, safe nuclear power plants. Their answer is, "No, we want no nuclear power plants." Whenever you get a body of people who believe that the only way to deal with any problem is to ban it entirely, destroy it entirely, then you, I think, have to be very, very suspicious about what their ultimate motives are, and they reveal them in their writings. If you read what they write -- and I have done this--you read the book called Eco-Defense, which describes how to go out and sabotage and commit terrorist acts and they give the rationale for it and the reasons. They're perfectly open in saying it is our intent to stop industrial progress, to undue industrial activity, to take apart industrial civilization.
LAMB: Then what's the motive of the media? Don't they want to just make things better?
RAY: I have a hard time responding to a question about somebody else's motives. I don't really know what their motives are. But when you talk with people or you hear what the people in the media say, they say, "We just report the news as we see it, and we have to sell papers." Or sell time on television or whatever. There's no requirement for a reporter to be either totally accurate or give both sides of any disputed question. It's not incumbent on them to do that. It is on a teacher or a scientist, but not on the reporter.
LAMB: I know you don't like to second-guess someone's motives, but what about the politician? Why does the politician or the government official then follow what the media suggests or the suggestions of the activist?
RAY: Okay, you know that I've spent some time in politics, and to use a trite phrase, some politicians are my best friends. However, there's a range of people in politics just like there is a range of people in any kind of profession. There are some characteristics, however, that you can make some generalizations about. One of them is that any politician who stays in office for any length of time knows how to count. I mean by that, he knows where the votes are. If a person, especially one that's going to be coming up for reelection in a short period of time, feels that there are more votes on one side of a question than another, they can find ways of rationalizing. That's one of the reasons that I personally am an extremely strong supporter of limitation of terms for people in public office, because I think that the perceived need to get reelected does hamper a person's better judgement.
LAMB: This may be too broad a question, but how do you rate government in general today?
RAY: You mean the government of the United States?
LAMB: Yes, our government, the state and national governments. Are governments doing a very good job?
RAY: Let me put it this way, if I may, that our government bumbles along. It makes a lot of mistakes. It does a lot of good things. It's easy to criticize it, but when you stop to think about it, it's the best government that anybody ever invented. It's better than any alternative. We can make it better by limiting the terms that people serve and making sure that it becomes a broader citizen-based government, as it's supposed to be, by constantly electing new people to office. Can't be any worse than the ones that are there.
LAMB: Does any other government do a better job, in your opinion, than the U.S. government does with all these issues?
RAY: No. Nowhere. And the result is absolutely obvious. You travel to any other country, and there is more air pollution, there is more serious environmental degradation than in the United States. We have made tremendous strides in the last couple of decades. We know where we made mistakes in the past, and those mistakes are being corrected.
LAMB: Final question. What do you hope will come from the writing of this book? What will make you the happiest besides money?
RAY: Besides lots of books being sold? Of course. I would hope that it would cause more people to stop and think and demand, in a nice way, evidence before accepting the charges that everything is going to pot.
LAMB: Former Washington state governor, Dixy Lee Ray. Thank you for being with us and talking about the book "Trashing the Planet."
RAY: Thank you. I enjoyed being here.
Copyright National Cable Satellite Corporation 1991. Personal, noncommercial use of this transcript is permitted. No commercial, political or other use may be made of this transcript without the express permission of National Cable Satellite Corporation.