Imperialism of a different kind
By Jay Ambrose
(SH) – “Eco-Imperialism” is the name of Paul Driessen’s book, and unsurprisingly enough, it is the subject of the book as well – the way in which environmental extremists of rich, developed countries have foisted their ecological standards onto the people of poor countries.
The consequence is to help poverty stay put, to afford starving people less hope for rescue, to stand back from helping when thousands upon thousands are killed by disease, to abet in the deaths of the world’s least powerful people.
Driessen, a long-term Washington hand who has worked in the Senate and Department of the Interior as well as for advocacy groups and think tanks, was once a true-believing, organization-joining environmentalist himself. Then he noticed something. The movement had become ideologically frozen, too often unwilling to consider fresh evidence and “insensitive” about the lives of billions.
I myself have been writing about some of Driessen’s themes for several years now, ever since I first became aware that a kind of intellectual zaniness was responsible for terrible suffering in this world and that it was not easy to find people speaking out on the side of sanity.
Washington is filled to bursting with hearts that bleed at even the hint that someone somewhere might not have been treated well, but many of these same people just don’t care 2 cents about this issue, which is very big and very real. The reason, I think, is that they would then have to concede that some of their prejudices are just that – prejudices. They would have to let go of a political correctness they hold dear.
Driessen is not likewise tethered as he takes on the nonsense some greenies dish out, such as the precautionary principle that “holds that companies should halt any activities that might threaten ‘human health or the environment,’ even if no clear cause-and-effect relationship has been established, and even if the potential threat is largely theoretical.”
The environmentalists, he says, seek either tough restrictions or an outright ban of a new technology “until it is proven to be absolutely safe.” What is given “short shrift,” he says, is the “improved safety” that could be achieved by the technology. There is no consideration of “opportunities foregone.” A result, he says, is the thwarting of “risk-taking, innovation, economic growth, scientific and technological progress, freedom of choice and human betterment.”
Driessen cites a group of scientists who said the precautionary principle, if applied in the past, would have prevented the development of “airplanes, antibiotics, aspirin and automobiles; biotechnology, blood transfusions, CAT scans and the contraceptive pill; electricity, hybrid crops and the Green Revolution; microwaves, open heart surgery and organ transplants; pesticides, radar and refrigeration; telephones, televisions, water purification and X-rays – to name but a few.”
Inhabitants of sub-Saharan Africa are paying a big price for this principle. The Sierra Club and Greenpeace are among the groups that have fought with success to stymie biotechnology experiments that could ultimately do much to feed those inhabitants while aiding economies and even helping to protect the environment. In one widely reported incident, Driessen reminds us, the president of Zambia refused to allow his starving people to eat biotech corn supplied by the U.S. government. The corn is safe; we Americans have eaten plenty of it with no digestive difficulty. But for a period, the Zambia president was more impressed with the superstitions voiced by environmental groups and protectionist-minded representatives of the European Union.
Driessen explores a number of other issues, such as the opposition to using the highly effective chemical DDT to combat the malaria that kills some 2 million people a year in sub-Saharan Africa. When sprayed inside homes, the risk to the environment is something on the order of zero, and the risk to people about the same, he reminds us. South Africa, he also reminds us, had reduced its malaria to under 10,000 cases a year with DDT, then discontinued its use, watching as cases went up to 62,000. The number dropped again to 10,000 when DDT was brought back to fight the disease.
My hope is that the Driessen book (published by Merril Press, P.O. Box 1682, Bellevue, Wash. 98009), along with work being done at a number of think tanks and by some other groups, will help wake more people up to how the good intentions of some extreme environmentalists have been paving the way to something hellish for many in the Third World.
Jay Ambrose is chief editorial writer for Scripps Howard News Service.
Contact Jay Ambrose at AmbroseJ@SHNS.com.
(Published 6:41PM, December 1st, 2003)
This opinion was published in the:
Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, CA), December 1, 2003
News Tribune (Tacoma, WA), December 1, 2003
Naples Daily News (Naples, FL), December 2, 2003
… And many other papers