Out for signatures: A California ballot initiative by Cheriel Jensen that sounds as though it were written by Mike Adams

Back in 2015, California passed a bill that no one (least of all I) would ever have thought possible. I’m referring to SB 277, which banned all nonmedical exemptions to school vaccine mandates. Of course, the law wasn’t perfect. For example, it allowed any doctor to write a letter in support of a medical exemption, leading the way to the sale of medical exemptions by antivaccine doctors like “Dr. Bob” Sears and a whole underground of health care providers who are either antivaccine or antivaccine-sympathetic and willing to write such letters. However, it has worked in decreasing the number of students with nonmedical “personal belief exemptions” to school vaccine mandates.

Unfortunately, I just learned of a ballot initiative in a story published by Ars Technica that, if passed, would reverse not only that progress but a whole lot more. Indeed, the initiative, which was recently cleared by California Secretary of State Alex Padilla so that its proponents can begin collecting petition signatures, is basically a crank wet dream. It’s called the California Clean Environment. It failed to make it on the ballot in 2016, but, much like a serial killer at the end of a 1980s slasher flick, even though it looked dead, it came back to life for a sequel.

Here’s what I mean:

The initiative would eliminate vaccination requirements for schools and daycares, banish genetically modified organisms, and prohibit basic water treatments with fluoride and chlorine. The initiative would ban more than 300 chemicals, including fire retardants, and it would order the removal of smart meters. These, the initiative claims, are “neither smart nor meters but intermittent samplers, not accurate, not accountable, [that] emit and receive unnecessary radiation.”

The initiative, dubbed the “California Clean Environment” initiative, will create an elected, three-person board to oversee the sweeping regulations and approve new chemicals. Violations under the initiative would be considered up to felony crimes punishable by fines and prison sentences.

As justification for extensive regulation, the initiative claims that GMOs and unspecified contaminants in the environment, food, and vaccines are causing cancers, autism, Parkinson’s, and a slew of other diseases.

The official ballot summary of the last version of the initiative read:

Prohibits genetically engineered plants and animals and over 300 listed substances from being introduced or released into the environment. Creates a new state entity to regulate environmental activities, modify or stop projects having pollution and radiation impacts, and test and approve substances before they are introduced into the environment. Prohibits treatment of water with fluoride or chlorine. Eliminates vaccination as a prerequisite for attendance at schools and daycare facilities. Provides criminal and civil liability for violations, with no statute of limitations.

This initiative sounds as though it were written by Mike Adams, but it was written by someone named Cheriel Jensen, who has taken to the press yet again to promote it:

“We are trying to restore people’s ability to fight for themselves and decide what they should do,” said the initiative’s proponent Cheriel Jensen. “These companies that make the chemicals have taken our right to refuse those chemicals away.”

Jensen said she was inspired to write the initiative after she became sickened by pesticides at the county government building where she worked. She believes chemicals used in foods, vaccines and in the environment are to blame for prevalence of cancer, autism and a host of other diseases.

Because of course she does. Never mind pesky things like the scientific evicence that shows that vaccines don’t cause autism (even in monkeys), are not loaded full of deadly “toxins“, do not cause sudden infant death syndrome, and are safe and effective and that there is no “autism epidemic“. Never mind the evidence that decreased vaccine uptake leads to outbreaks and epidemics. Never mind all the scientific evidence that GMOs are safe, such that the “science” claiming to show dangers from GMOs is pretty much always bad science poorly done by advocates.

If you read the ballot initiative as received by the initiative coordinator at the California Attorney General’s office, you’ll see that it reads like a crank fantasy:

We the people of California have inalienable right to clean: water, air, watersheds, forests, land, crops, seeds, food, the ocean, roadsides, neighborhoods, creatures of the environment, our bodies and our children’s bodies.

We have the right to organic food uncontaminated or genetically altered. We have the right to grow organic gardens uncontaminated by toxic pesticide, herbicide, fungicide or other toxins applied directly, from drift or applied from aircraft.

Genetically engineered flora and fauna of the environment, or flora and fauna fed genetically engineered life forms have not been objectively tested according to the criteria of SECTION e. to prove short or long term safety, cannot prove they will not genetically forever alter parts of the surrounding environment, or as food alter the genetics of human or animal intestines, and thus are not allowed in California.

No food genetically altered? Does Jensen not know that pretty much all organisms used for food have to some degree or other been genetically altered? Selective breeding and plant hybridization have introduced some pretty amazing changes into food crops over the years. No one can (or should) argue that people don’t have the right to clean air, water, food, and the like, but this initiative is based on pure pseudoscience to attain that. For instance, look at the justification:

Cancer was a relatively rare disease a century ago. Now more than one in three people are projected to encounter cancer. Average life spans are recently reported shrinking by 5 years. Autism, almost unheard of in 1975, now alarmingly impacts more than one in 50 children, the rate rapidly accelerating. Cancer, autism, Parkinson’s, kidney or liver failure, nerve damage and many other adverse, increasing medical conditions are known to be linked to toxic exposures, GMOs, and/or radiation. Tests now document pervasive, multi-chemical contamination in people, even newborns. Allergies and chemical sensitivities severely impact growing numbers.

No, cancer was not that rare a century ago, although its apparent increase over the last century could have a lot to do with the increased life expectancy of the population. Most cancers are diseases of aging. (Breast cancer, for instance, has a median age at diagnosis of 61, which means that half the women diagnosed with it are over 61.) Consequently, if more people reach a ripe old age there will be an increase in the amount of cancer. Also, in actuality, the age-adjusted incidence of cancer has been declining for nearly 20 years, and the age-adjusted mortality from cancer has been declining for nearly 30 years. Jensen parrots a common misconception about cancer that is widely embraced by those hostile to scientific medicine and/or who embrace alternative medicine. Also, there is almost certainly no “autism epidemic,” as she describes. Rather, widened diagnostic criteria, more screening, and more awareness have lead to a large increase in autism diagnoses over the last 30 years. This is not the same thing as a large increase in the prevalence of autism. Another process known as diagnostic substitution has led to many children who previously would have been diagnosed with mental retardation or some other neurodevelopmental disorders.

To protect Californians against the scourge of vaccines, “chemicals,” GMOs, fluoride, Jensen proposes:

We, Californians, have the right in our person and families to live, as free as possible, from toxic chemical or toxic process-caused cancer, paralysis, structural or functional birth defects, autism spectrum disorder, diminished intelligence, gut cell genetic alteration, seizures; pregnancy complications, developmental complications, cellular structural damage; structural and functional nerve damage, demyelination, brain tumors, Guillain-Barre syndrome, ALS; fluorosis, brittle bones; joint damage; altered thyroid, testosterone, estrogen, cortisone, sperm counts, pineal gland calcification, early or delayed puberty, extra heavy or lengthy menstrual bleeding, reproductive system damage, or other harmful hormone related impacts; Parkinson’s; Alzheimer’s; eye damage such as reduced vision, dry eyes, twitching eye lids, red eyes, watery eyes, cataracts, macular degeneration, blindness; hearing damage; intestinal bacteria die-off or alteration; chemical bums, rash, eczema, abnormal hair loss, photosensitivity, inflammation, spontaneous nose bleeding, idiopathic thrombocytopenia purpura; breathing difficulty, asthma, voice volume or frequency losses, repeated coughing, choking, rhinitis, chemical sensitivity, allergy, anaphylaxis, immune system deregulation, lupus, fibromyalgia; pancreas, kidney, spleen or liver damage, diabetes; interference with sleep, inability to concentrate; pain, headache, racing heart; body retention of the toxic substance or its’ breakdown products; invasion of living cell wall structures by nanoparticles; or changes to the body’s genetic material, or other adverse conditions

I’ll give her credit. She’s a completist. I’m having a hard time thinking of a condition attributed to the evil chemicals, GMOs, vaccines, fluoride, and pollution not listed above. She uses such claims as a rationale to ban:

  1. Fracking.
  2. Soil sequestering carbon.
  3. Genetically engineered food, environmental flora, fauna and vaccine ingredients.
  4. New nuclear power plants.
  5. Smart meters

And then to require:

Emissions and reception of radio frequencies in the one millimeter to one meter range shall be investigated for health effects and interference with AM and FM radio. Within 3 years, limits on frequencies, power, pulse at certain modulations, cycling and distances to sensitive receptors, shall be scientifically established by CCEA. Set limits shall protect newborns, children and sensitive individuals from sleep disturbance, cancer, ability to concentrate, autism, blood/brain barrier leakage, and hyperactivity.

As I’ve discussed before many times, radio waves from cell phones, wifi, radio, and the like are not dangerous and do not cause the problems claimed.

I know what some will say, particularly my Californian friends: You don’t know enough about this. Cheriel Jensen is just a crank. She’s a retired urban planner who is resident of the affluent Santa Clara County town of Saratoga and has a history of environmental activism. For instance, in 2015 she sued Santa Clara County to stop it from spraying pesticides to combat mosquitos carrying West Nile Virus and lost. In 2017 she sued the count again to prevent it from passing a tax to generate money for public transit and road repairs because she thought that an extension of the BART light rail system would disturb an aquifer. In any case, it appears unlikely that she will be able to gather the 365,880 signatures from registered California voters by August 8. After all, she failed last time two year ago, and this is a daunting challenge.

Still, I thihk it’s worth discussing this proposed ballot initiative even if it is a long shot that it will ever make it to the ballot. The reason is that, were this initiative to make it to the ballot, I believe that it would have enough of a chance of passing to be worried about. No, I don’t think it would be favored to pass, but I don’t believe that its rejection would be such a slam dunk as we would like to think, either. There are enough people in California (and, to be honest, everywhere in this country these days) sufficiently ignorant of science and vulnerable to false appeals to nature that I no longer have faith that reason will prevail in most cases.