Needed: Ethics for Environmental Activists

Commentary, Environment, Paul Driessen

They rail about energy shortages and high fuel costs, but oppose onshore and offshore oil drilling. Bemoan over-fishing of wild stocks, but oppose aquaculture. Worry about the loss of wildlife habitat, but promote organic farming methods that require much more land than conventional or biotech ones. Condemn industry for all manner of “sins,” but engage in practices that would get corporate executives fired or even jailed.

Such inconsistencies are common with environmentalist groups like Greenpeace, the Sierra Club, the Rainforest Action Network and others. While demanding social responsibility from corporations, these activists perpetuate poverty, misery, disease and premature death in the world’s most destitute communities. While concern for human health is the pretext for campaigns against pesticides and other chemicals, these people exhibit callous disregard for lives harmed or lost in the name of preventing pollution, global warming and species extinction. They stoke public anxieties, fault every proposed solution, yet offer no viable alternatives.

Over two billion people in Africa, Asia and Latin America still don’t have electricity – for lights, refrigerators, clinics, water purification, and other benefits we take for granted. Mothers and children spend hours every day gathering wood or animal dung for cooking and heating fires. Four million die annually from lung infections caused by breathing polluted smoke, millions more from dysentery and other diseases due to unsafe water and spoiled food.

Yet these pressure groups adamantly oppose fossil fuel, nuclear and hydroelectric power plants. Renewable energy – from wind turbines, or little solar panels on huts – is the future for Third World countries, they insist. Their prescription is totally inadequate for a modern society, India’s Barun Mitra points out. It would also mean sacrificing hundreds of thousands of acres of scenic and wildlife lands to gargantuan windmills that slice and dice birds and bats by the thousands.

Malaria infects three hundred million people every year in developing countries and kills up to two million, one person every 15 seconds. Nearly 90 percent of these victims are in sub-Saharan Africa, and the vast majority are children and pregnant women. Yet eco-activists pressure health and donor agencies not to fund the use of pesticides like DDT, which scientific studies have proven safe for people and the environment when properly used. They insist that agencies employ only partial solutions like bed nets and drugs. Uncounted thousands die who would live if they could spray DDT in tiny quantities on the inside walls of homes, just once or twice a year, to repel and exterminate mosquitoes.

Worldwide, eight hundred million people are chronically undernourished and two hundred million children suffer from Vitamin A deficiency, which blinds up to 500,000 of them every year. Two million die annually from AIDS, malaria, dysentery and other diseases they might survive, if they weren’t so malnourished. Biotechnology could help end this tragedy. Yet genetically engineered golden rice, rich in beta-carotene which humans can convert to vitamin A, is one target of a $45-million-a-year campaign by anti-biotech radicals to banish such crops and keep them from reaching the world’s poor.

Manitobans have witnessed their extreme tactics first-hand. In June, 2003, Greenpeace radicals barricaded themselves inside the offices of the Morden Research farm to stop its work on genetically modified wheat. This September, they tried to halt Prairie research into fungus-resistant grains, and Sierra Club sympathizers defaced Manitoba Hydro property in Winnipeg to protest the production of clean power with Northern dams. They sneer at the pulp and paper industry as Kleenex-makers and have blackmailed forestry giants like Tembec into granting eco-activists a veto – in the guise of “certification” – over the harvesting of the province’s vast supply of trees. The loss of vital employment in rural communities is apparently of no concern.

“Telling destitute people that they must never aspire to living standards much better than they have now – because it wouldn’t be ‘sustainable’ – is just one example of the hypocrisy we have had thrust in our faces, in an era when we can and should grow fast enough to become fully developed in a single generation,” says South Africa’s Leon Louw. “We’re fed up with it.”
“The environmental movement has lost its objectivity, morality and humanity,” adds Greenpeace co-founder Patrick Moore. They constantly impose their agendas and anxieties about distant, theoretical risks on people who desperately want to improve their lives and safeguard their families. Instead of recognizing the hard reality that confronts billions of people far less fortunate than themselves, the activists engage in a near-constant drumbeat of ecological catastrophe. What inspires it?

“What you get in your mailbox,” admits National Audubon Society chief operating officer Dan Beard, “is a never-ending stream of crisis-related shrill material designed to evoke emotions, so that you will sit down and write a check.” Concedes Sierra Club conservation director Bruce Hamilton: “I’m somewhat offended by it myself, both intellectually and from an environmental standpoint. And yet, it is what works. It is what builds the Sierra Club.”

These “true confessions” underscore the need for balanced, fact-based environmental policies. And for laws requiring that environmental activist groups abide by the same rules they demand of everyone else: honesty, ethics, humanity, transparency and accountability. Is that really too much to ask?