Eco-Imperialism: Reflections on Earth Day

April 14, 2004

Eco-Imperialism: Reflections on Earth Day

It’s time to focus on the needs of the Earth’s poorest people,

say experts at National Press Club event

Washington, DC. “Safeguarding environmental values is essential,” Niger Innis, national spokesman for the Congress of Racial Equality, told journalists and others attending an Earth Day discussion today at the National Press Club. “But we must stop trying to protect our planet from every imaginable, exaggerated or imaginary risk. And we must stop trying to protect it on the backs, and the graves, of the nation’s and world’s most powerless and impoverished people.”

Innis led off a stimulating and informative briefing about the negative implications of “eco-imperialism” –policies that seek to protect the environment, but deny impoverished people the chance for better lives and the ability to rid their countries of diseases that were vanquished long ago in the United States and Europe. “We intend to make this Earth Day a clarion call for human rights and more responsible environmental policies,” he said.

Dr. CS Prakash, professor of plant genetics at Tuskegee Institute and a native of Bangalore, India agreed. “We need to put humanity back into the environmental picture,” he said, “and promote policies that demonstrate as much concern about people, as about the environment.” All over the world, nations are trying to emerge from poverty, he pointed out, by generating more electrical energy, increasing their agricultural output, and eradicating the diseases that have plagued them for centuries.

However, they are often prevented from doing so by developed countries and activist groups that claim such activities might impact wildlife and environmental values.

    • Environmental pressure groups, wealthy foundations and even the United Nations and World Health Organization oppose the use of DDT and other pesticides to control malaria. This killer disease afflicts 300 million people every year, and kills 2 million – mostly women and children, and mostly in sub-Saharan Africa – leaving this region one of the most destitute on Earth.

    • These activists deprive poor countries of electricity, denying them lights, refrigeration, better jobs, and modern schools, clinics and hospitals. As a result, millions more die from tuberculosis, dysentery and other diseases.

  • Opposition to biotechnology perpetuates malnutrition, prevents Third World farmers from replacing crops that have been devastated by disease and drought, and results in extensive erosion and habitat loss.

DDT’s critical role was conclusively demonstrated by South Africa, which reintroduced the chemical in 2000 – and slashed malaria disease and death rates by over 90 percent in just three years, noted American Enterprise Institute fellow Dr. Roger Bate. “DDT has never harmed a single human being,” he emphasized, “and any damage to wildlife occurred when massive amounts were employed in farming, not when small doses were employed for disease control.”

“The world’s poor don’t need sustainable development. They need sustained development, so that they can take their rightful places among the Earth’s prosperous people,” argued Paul Driessen, author of Eco-Imperialism: Green Power · Black Death.  “They don’t need a precautionary principle that protects healthy, affluent Americans and Europeans from global warming or trace chemicals. They need a one that safeguards them from the real, immediate, life-threatening risks that confront them every day.”

“Eco-imperialism is clearly a pervasive problem in the United States, too,” Project 21’s John Meredithemphasized. “It imposes policies that drive up housing prices, prevent the cleanup of polluted brownfields, stifle job creation in minority neighborhoods, and keep poor people impoverished. The policies promote a narrow political agenda, and fail to give the poor a voice in these decisions.”

These activists practice “eco-segregation,” added Norris McDonald, President of the African American Environmentalist Association. “Ninety percent of elitist environmental groups do not hire African Americans in professional policy positions, and they promote numerous policies that are detrimental to the African American community.”

“Ineffective actions taken to prevent climate change will significantly increase energy prices for poor Americans and Europeans, making it even more difficult for many to afford heating and air conditioning,” noted Dr. Sallie Baliunas, astrophysicist and science host. “Unfounded fears about global warming are also used to justify policies that prevent poor Africans, Indians, Asians and Peruvians from using fossil fuels to generate electricity, thus forcing them to keep using wood and animal dung for fuel.”

While these experts met with the press in Washington, Greenpeace co-founder and coalition member Dr. Patrick Moore promoted his message of “sensible environmentalism” in New York City’s Central Park. “I helped start the environmental movement to protect people, as well as our planet,” he said. “Unfortunately, too many policies today ignore the needs of the Earth’s poorest people. That’s not just unnecessary. It’s eco-imperialism. It’s counter-productive, and morally wrong.”

Following their Press Club event, the panelists also briefed congressional staffers. In both venues, they underscored the need to hold environmental pressure groups to the same standards of honesty, integrity, transparency and accountability that we demand for for-profit corporations and their officers. “No one should be above the law, or free to ignore basic ethical principles,” Driessen and Meredith agreed.

Basic standards of ethics, corporate social responsibility and environmental justice require that we no longer ignore the “horrendous toll” exacted on poor people by these well-intended but ill-considered policies, the policy experts emphasized.

“If people of conscience join us, we will challenge and end this scourge of eco-imperialism,” Innis concluded, “and ensure that Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream will become a reality for poor people throughout the United States and world.”

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