Beware: RISE Gets New Leader Tomorrow
The lawn and garden pesticide industry will soon have a new front man to claim its products are safe. Aaron Hobbs is slated to replace Allen James as the head of the propaganda organization known as The Responsible Industry for a Sound Environment effective tomorrow, Sept. 1.
Announced in a press release published today by the trade journal Lawn & Landscape magazine, Hobbs appeared to be well versed in swaying the opinion of elected officials while he served as director of the National Assembly of Sportsmen’s Caucuses for the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, an organization that prides itself in identifying politicians who are sympathetic to its cause. According to the press release, Hobbs has also served in past positions as an international trade economist and presidential management fellow with the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Foreign Agriculture Service, and as a resource economist with USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service.
The chemical fertilizer and pesticide industry is clearly hoping that Hobbs can reverse an overwhelming tide of legislative and public relations losses that occurred on James’ watch. James, who ran a college fraternity organization and a sanitary supply group prior to 1991, has been the only leader in the 20-year-history of RISE, which is supported by manufacturers and distributors of fertilizers, weed killers, insecticides and fungicides among other toxic substances — many of which are now banned in Canada and at the municipal level in various communities in the U.S.
“We have reached the tipping point with respect to activism targeting our industry, emboldened by Presidential and Congressional leadership favorable to their views,” he said. “They call our scientific basis into question.”
To James, a proper man who was rarely seen in public without a suit and tie, any of us who questioned the safety of lawn and garden pesticides were un-American.
“There is a tremendous divide between the beliefs of the majority of our nation and the voice of the few well-funded activist/detractors of our industry and critics of our standard of living,” he said. “The activists opposing our industry are one-and-the-same as those opposing the progress of our great nation. That point we need to understand clearly. And, if we do not stand firmly against these groups, we will surely be torn apart by them.”
It’s somewhat remarkable to me that in 17 years as an outspoken activist, I’ve never had an actual conversation with James. He wrote to me on at least three occasions while I served as Editor of People, Places & Plants magazine, each time taking me to task for my pro-organic and anti-pesticide positions. I knew for certain that I was getting under his skin when he appeared in person at our SafeLawns.org kickoff rally on the Washington Mall on April 4, 2007. How did I know? He immediately went back to his office and issued this press release that is still parked three and a half years later on the RISE web site: http://pestfacts.org/media/newsheadlines/dynamic.aspx?pageID=4&contentID=18.
In that release he rather infamously equated the arrival of spring with the availability of pesticides, as if one wouldn’t happen without the other. Appearing as dour as he was dapper, his cameo at the rally made him literally the classic villain in the film, A Chemical Reaction.
“Allen believes what he believes and he will never, ever change his mind,” said his arch nemesis, Jay Feldman, who has debated James on numerous occasions as the head of Beyond Pesticides. “Whether he believes it because he’s paid to believe it, or because he really believes it, you were never going to change Allen James’s mind or get him to admit that pesticides were dangerous.”
I won’t ever forget the two men going head to head on CNN in 2003 when the original West Nile virus scare was breaking nationally. To Allen James, only one solution existed: “The only way to reduce adult mosquitoes is to use adulticide insecticides.”
When Jay pointed out that those pesticides “are chemicals that have been linked to cancer, birth defects, neurological conditions, respiratory effects,” Allen James called him a liar right there on the air.
It was a classic case for agnotologists to study years from now. As we discussed in our Monday blog, agnotology studies the manufacturing of doubt. By calling Jay Feldman a liar in that moment, and sounding convincing in the process, Allen James had created the doubt he was looking for — and probably won the debate despite Jay being the more informed, accurate and reasonable man.
It’s tempting to celebrate James’s departure as a victory. Though the chemical industry now has an award in his name, and it’s trotting out all sorts of tributes about how he persevered against all odds, James is clearly leaving office utterly defeated. The truth is he spent tens of millions of dollars to convince people to spread as many poisons as possible on their lawns, and yet his industry lost an entire nation of Canada and will eventually lose this one, too.
But as Dr. June Irwin predicted in our film, A Chemical Reaction, the chemical industry will never, ever give up. They’ve trotted out a new, younger villain. This one doesn’t wear a suit quite as well, but reportedly works a congressional caucus like nobody’s business. Aaron Hobbs has vastly more experience as a lobbyist as he takes this job than James probably ever acquired and he’ll hit the ground running tomorrow with an energy that can never be dismissed.
He is, in other words, going to be a formidable opponent. When you wake up tomorrow, you need to renew your resolve to spread the word about the organic alternatives.