Mars and the Eco-Inquisition

I’m going to start with a potentially pedantic point about this week’s widely reported close encounter with Mars. I can’t resist because it meshes nicely with this week’s theme.

Every media outlet that I checked wrongly reported Mars’ supposed “visit.”

“Mars made its closest pass to the Earth in 60,000 years,” reported The Associated Press. The Washington Post reported that “Mars drifted closer to Earth than it ever has in human history.” CNN reported the two planets “passed” each other.

Earth to the media: Mars (search) never has and never will “approach” or “pass” the Earth.

It’s true that on Aug. 27, 2003, the Earth and Mars were closer together than they have been in 60,000 years, but not because Mars neared the Earth.

Planets that are closer to the sun (like Earth) move faster than planets further away (like Mars). This planetary motion is analogous to a faster car on the inside lane of an oval track passing a slower car on the outside lane. The Earth, in fact, passes Mars every 26 months.

So this week it was the Earth that passed Mars at a time when their respective orbits just happen to bring the two planets especially close together.

The reports of Mars “approaching” the Earth are reminiscent of the Greek astronomer Ptolemy’s (search) second-century view of the cosmos that the Earth is the center of the universe. Questioning Ptolemy’s universe was considered heresy by the Catholic Church (search ) until the 19th century.

Certainly this week’s erroneous news reports are due to the media’s ignorance or carelessness and not to any effort to re-impose theology on the cosmos. But they happen to coincide with more attempts on the part of the high priests of environmentalism to discredit and destroy anyone who dares to question eco-orthodoxy.

Bjorn Lomborg (search ) is a former eco-activist from Denmark who questioned alarmism over the environment in his attention-getting book "The Skeptical Environmentalist." Lomborg wrote, for example, that the dangers of global warming were exaggerated and that trying to slow it was a waste of money.

Lomborg became the subject of unprecedented, vicious attacks by the eco-activist community and its cadre of “scientists.”  

Earlier this year, the Danish Research Agency (search) -- an organization supposedly similar to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences -- accused Lomborg of scientific dishonesty because of "The Skeptical Environmentalist."

Another panel of “scientists” formed by the Danish government concluded this week that Lomborg’s book was unscientific and of dubious value.

Also this week, an article in the Aug. 29 journal Science titled “False Alarm Over Environmental False Alarm” claimed that Lomborg’s book had been “officially” discredited and that society isn’t sufficiently sensitive about the environment.

But the only thing that seems to be official is Denmark’s relentless persecution of Lomborg for his “heretical” views.

This persecution has some similarities to that faced by Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei (search ) for his 1632 book, "Dialogue on the Two Chief Systems of the World," in which he presented arguments for the Copernican cosmological system of the Earth revolving around the sun.

Galileo, the inventor of the practical telescope, used his astronomical observations to make his scientific case.

In 1633, the Papal Inquisition (search) and Pope Urban VIII (search) determined Galileo’s book to be heresy (search). Galileo was imprisoned and then sentenced to house arrest for the remainder of his life.

Fortunately, the church had no such jurisdiction over German astronomer Johannes Kepler (search).

Using Danish astronomer Tyco Brahe’s (search) observations of Mars, Kepler developed during 1609-1619 his three laws of planetary motion, establishing that the planets revolve around the sun.

And by applying Kepler’s laws, we know that the Earth passes Mars and not vice-versa.

Now Lomborg is definitely no Galileo or Kepler. On the other hand, the global warming debate is more important to us than the Copernican (search ) controversy was to 17th-century society.

Leftist Greens seek to dictate energy use -- and, hence, control our economy and society -- via the Kyoto global warming treaty (search ). Cosmology didn’t much matter to European society caught in the Thirty Years War.

Lomborg’s real claim to fame lies in the fact that he turned on the Greens. They’re pulling out all the stops to silence him. But even if the Greens destroy Lomborg, others will continue exposing the eco-fanatics and their junk science.

Galileo was silenced, but Kepler couldn’t be. The Catholic Church eventually was forced to rehabilitate Galileo and accept Kepler’s laws -- albeit after 200 years.

Now if only someone would teach the media some basic science while the struggle against the Green theocracy continues.

Steven Milloy is the publisher of, an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute and the author of Junk Science Judo: Self-defense Against Health Scares and Scams (Cato Institute, 2001).

Respond to the Writer