On December 14, 2013, the New York Times published an article entitled “The Selling of Attention Deficit Disorder.” Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a neurological disorder that was identified about 50 years ago. The number of children taking medication for ADHD has soared from 600,000 in 1990 to 3.5 million presently.
Advertising in popular magazines such as People and Good Housekeeping suggest that medication for ADHD is needed to cure childhood forgetfulness and impatience and promises that schoolwork will improve and family tensions will be reduced. These are empty promises for symptoms that are normal child behavior. One of the manufacturers of ADHD medication recently paid to publish 50,000 copies of a comic book that uses superheroes to convince children that these medications will make life easier for them.
These seductive promises have proved very profitable for the pharmaceutical industry: “Sales of stimulant medication in 2012 were nearly $9 billion, more than five times the $1.7 billion a decade before.” But the industry is not satisfied with these results. Now they are marketing these medications to adults. Sixteen million prescriptions for ADHD medications were written for adults between the ages of 20-39 in 2012, nearly triple the number of prescriptions written just five years before.
As disturbing as this example of the insidious power of advertising is to convince us that we need something they are selling, it is hardly an isolated example. On a typical evening in front of the TV, men are told that a variety of medications will improve their sex lives and women will be told that a good night’s sleep is just a pill away.
Advertising is also used to improve the image of industries that the public would otherwise think badly of. For example, energy ratepayers are paying for a television campaign that tells us how much P.G. & E.– the monopoly provider of electricity and natural gas in Northern California–cares about our safety. Yet, the mainstream media informs the public of the many breaches of public safety by P.G. & E. In 2010, 37 homes and 8 lives were lost in San Bruno when an underground gas pipeline exploded. The pipeline had been badly built, not inspected, and not repaired. Subsequent investigations of P.G. & E.’s records proved that such neglect and incompetence is rampant throughout their system and continues to this day. Money that could be spent on our safety is being spent on advertising. Such manipulation of the public’s attitudes with advertising is the American industry standard.
Is the pesticide industry fueling the demand for ecological “restorations?”
Readers are surely wondering by now what this has to do with the mission of Million Trees. Clearly the manufacturers of pesticides are the beneficiaries of the ecological “restorations” that destroy non-native vegetation with herbicides (herbicides are one type of pesticide). From the standpoint of the industry, the more plants that are labeled “invasive” the better. And since new plants are always being introduced—either intentionally or unintentionally—it’s a winning business model to label every new plant “invasive.”
We don’t have a lot of evidence to support our theory that the pesticide industry is one of the sources of support for invasion biology and ecological “restorations.” Two of the 31 members of the National Invasive Species Advisory Committee are employed by companies that manufacture pesticides. One member is employed by Dow AgroSciences which manufactures Garlon, the most frequently used herbicide to prevent the resprouting of non-native trees after they are destroyed. The other member is employed by Syngenta which manufactures pesticides and biocontrols which are another method used to destroy vegetation by introducing insects or plant diseases.
Is it inappropriate for the pesticide industry that benefits from the designation of “invasive” species to participate in setting federal policy regarding those species? Undoubtedly there are arguments on both sides of that question.
We also know that pesticide manufacturers and other types of companies that engage in ecological “restorations” are financial supporters of the California Invasive Plant Council (Cal-IPC). In its latest newsletter, Cal-IPC reports that Dow AgroSciences was one of the supporters of their annual symposium in 2013. They also reported that Shelterbelt Builders is an “organizational member” of Cal-IPC. Shelterbelt Builders is the company that does most of the major “vegetation management” projects for the so-called Natural Areas Program in San Francisco as well as doing many of their herbicide applications.
Admittedly, it’s a stretch to say that invasion biology was created to increase demand for pesticides and other products and services needed for ecological “restorations.” We can’t and won’t say that. But we invite our readers to wonder with us if some aggressive investigative reporting would find more evidence that it’s a factor. Wouldn’t it help to explain why invasion biology persists despite the lack of scientific evidence to support it?