I wanted to call this the “Ten Dumbest Environmental Quotes Ever,” but that would imply that the Ten Dumbest Things Ever have already been said, and that I knew where to find all of them. Since surely neither of these things is true, let’s just call it an all-star list of unfortunate, ill-advised statements that will live forever on the Internet.

When it comes to impolitic, tactless, crude, scientifically unsupportable environmental statements, the anti environmentalists may have the edge, but they certainly don’t have the monopoly:

“Let's just say that global warming deniers are now on a par with Holocaust deniers, though one denies the past and the other denies the present and future.”

Boston Globe Columnist Ellen Goodman spewed this one in a Feb. 9, 2007 column. I like Goodman’s work, over a 40-year career for the Boston Globe and in a slew of other papers syndicated nationwide. But puh-lease. I know a lot of climate deniers, including some with legitimate science credentials and honest intentions. I think they’re wrong, but I don’t know any who deserve to be likened to apologists for the worst evil in human history.

The Hitler connection gets plenty of mileage both ways. On Glenn Beck’s new Fox News show, Feb. 5, he set up an Al Gore audio clip in a monstrously hokey way to pose the Nobel Laureate as the Josef Goebbels of global warming, poisoning the minds of schoolchildren:

“Well what’s next?  If Mom & Dad decide to keep the temperature above 72, should our ‘Gore Youth’ report Mom & Dad?

Glenn’s Third Reich riff is every bit the equal of Rush Limbaugh’s “enviroNazi” line, or former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay’s likening the EPA to the Gestapo.

You’d have to dig back in the vault to find the mother of all climate change denial quotes more than 18 years ago:

J.R. Spradley, a U.S. delegate to a 1990 climate change delegation, tried to assuage the concerns of a Bangladeshi delegation concerned that its nation would be underwater (quoted in the Washington Post, 12/30/1990):

"This is not a disaster, it is merely a change. The area won't have disappeared, it will just be underwater. Where you now have cows, you'll have fish."

When Lee Iacocca was widely hailed for rescuing Chrysler from bankruptcy, remarks like this one were part of his strategy to defeat the Clean Air Act of 1990: “We've got to pause and ask ourselves: How much clean air do we need?” Look where Chrysler is now. Clean air might come in handy for a company that’s drowning in self-inflicted red ink.

And here’s a look at how to roll out true environmental progress, one little bit at a time: “I propose a limitation be put on how many squares of toilet paper can be used in any one sitting — only one square per restroom visit, except, of course, on those pesky occasions where two to three could be required." That was Sheryl Crow, 4/23/2007. After an initial uproar, Sheryl blogged that she was joking. I believe her, but it’s still a dumb thing to say.

I’m also disappointed. A roll of toilet paper could last eight months — a 500-sheet roll could last from now until Memorial Day, 2010. But it really hit the fan after she said this, including this YouTube video. Of course, once it hits the fan, one square won’t accomplish the mission.

“Taken in the right light, clearcuts can actually look quite pretty. Think, for just a moment, of the clearcut as a temporary meadow.” That was Patrick Moore, 2000. Pat was a colleague of mine at Greenpeace, back in the 20th century. He was one of the organization’s earliest leaders who then took an abrupt turn showing up as an apologist-for-hire for controversial methods of fish farming, various toxic chemical manufacturers, the nuclear industry, and in this case, the timber industry. His foes at British Columbia’s Forest Action Network have set up a website in his honor, titled “Patrick Moore is a Big Fat Liar.” Technically, he’s right. Ecologically speaking, a clearcut is a temporary meadow, in the same sense that a gunshot wound is a convenient place to store your loose change.

“A tree is a tree — how many more do you have to look at?” That was Ronald Reagan, March 12, 1966.

This is actually one of the most widely misquoted eco-quotes. There’s no evidence that Reagan ever said, “If you’ve seen one tree, you’ve seen them all.” But the context was not lost when he said the words to a timber industry meeting during his campaign to become California governor.

"I think God's will has to be done in unifying people and companies to get that gas line built, so pray for that." That was Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, June 2008, Wasilla Assembly of God.

Campaign 2008 update: Since Gov. Palin lost the vice presidential race, there is no evidence to date that God has taken her calls, and a pipeline has not been bestowed unto Wasilla.

Mankind is not responsible for depleting the ozone layer.” That was Rush Limbaugh, in his book See, I Told You So.

It was hard whittling Rush’s repertoire down to one erroneous statement for this list, but this one flies in the face of decades’ worth of peer-reviewed science. While there’s some shred of legitimate debate about the cause, and severity of global warming, there’s no such thing on the depletion of the earth’s protective ozone layer by manmade chemicals like chloroflourocarbons.

I’ve saved the best for last, and it’s from the queen of unhinged quotes. On the Fox News show Hannity & Colmes on June 22, 2001, Coulter had this exchange with fellow guest Peter Fenn:

COULTER: I take the biblical idea. God gave us the earth.

PETER FENN (Democratic strategist): Oh, OK.

COULTER: We have dominion over the plants, the animals, the trees.

FENN: This is a great idea.

COULTER: God says, "Earth is yours. Take it. Rape it. It's yours."

FENN: Terrific. We're Americans, so we should consume as much of the earth's resources...

COULTER: Yes! Yes.

FENN: ... as fast as we possibly can.

COULTER: As opposed to living like the Indians.

Your nominations for additional dumb quotes are welcome. Contact me at pdykstra@mnn.com.


Peter Dykstra, the former executive producer of CNN's Science, Tech and Weather Unit is currently a Public Policy Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington. He writes three columns for MNN: Media Mayhem on Mondays, Political Habitat on Wednesdays, and Green States on Fridays. (Yes, he writes a lot.)