When visions collide

January 14, 2005

The Rainforest Action Network’s real target is the Third World’s poor
by Paul K. Driessen
January 2005

Rainforests are disappearing at a frightening rate, the students were taught, so they raised $523 for an activist group’s “protect an acre” program. At the behest of their teacher and the group, they trekked into Manhattan to ask a major bank to “stop lending money to projects that destroy endangered forests and cause global warming.”


Indoctrination and manipulation are deplorable enough when high school or college students are involved. But these were second graders, and the close cooperation between their teacher and radical environmentalists underscores a widening problem.


People want to live in a clean, civil and safe world, activists piously assert, to justify their high-pressure campaigns. Corporate interests should be aligned with the interests of “society as a whole.” Companies need to be “socially responsible” and base their policies and investment decisions on “fundamental principles” like environmental justice and sustainable development.


But what happens when their vision of a “better Earth” collides with the dreams of billions of poor people who still don’t enjoy even the most rudimentary necessities: electricity, safe water, basic nutrition and health care, and a chance to see their children live past age five? Who then gets to decide which dreams and priorities take precedence, how high a price must be paid, and who pays that price?


Perhaps more to the point, who has given the activists the moral or legal authority to inflict their ideologies on people who may not agree with them, must live with the consequences, and had no role in making the decisions?


Thosse essential questions rarely get asked – much less answered. They certainly weren’t proffered in this case, which involves yet another attempt by the Rainforest Action Network to impose its narrow definition of ethics, ecology and the public interest. Past targets include the World Bank, Citigroup and Bank of America, and the message is always the same: Pull your investment dollars out of any projects the activists oppose.


This time RAN’s crosshairs are on New York-based JP Morgan Chase, a financial services firm with $1 trillion in assets and operations in 50 countries. But the real targets – the victims – of all these campaigns are the world’s poorest children and families. Their countries are being deprived of investment dollars to generate electricity, create jobs, improve health, education and nutrition, build modern homes and businesses, and instill hope for the future.


To further its campaign, RAN manipulates the naïve fears, good intentions and eco-centric worldview of young elementary students who have little understanding of these complex issues. Its latest stunt conned kids into delivering handmade posters to Morgan Chase, asking CEO William Harrison to “protect the rainforest, instead of hurting the Earth for oil.”


The students hailed from Fairfield, Connecticut, and were led by teacher Paula Healey, who had happily recruited her young charges and indoctrinated them in Rainforest mythology. “Earth is on loan to us from future generations,” she pontificated, via a RAN press release that promoted the protest, “and these students know the value of protecting their natural inheritance.”


A form letter, helpfully provided on RAN’s website, makes it easy for her students and other children to tell Morgan Chase that “using its money to invest in oil and other fossil fuels makes me sad, because children want to grow up on a healthy planet.”


Neither Ms. Healey nor her students have to worry about the life-threatening conditions that confront their counterparts in Kenya, Uganda, India, Peru and dozens of other less fortunate countries. Nor apparently did they pause to consider how much their actions are helping to perpetuate unhealthy conditions in those nations.


Fairfield County’s real estate prices are among the highest in America. The area is so white that it imports children from Jersey and the Bronx to give its schools an integrated feeling – so wealthy that residents happily shell out $50 apiece for Christmas trees. That’s tops in the USA and three-months’ income for a billion of our Earth’s citizens.


So it’s perversely ironic that these students are the “poster children” for a campaign that self-righteously demands that Morgan Chase join them in “saving the planet.” That their utopian efforts are being carried out on the backs – and often the graves – of the world’s most destitute and powerless people certainly never occurred to them. And it probably wasn’t mentioned in their one-sided curriculum on rainforests.


RAN battles timber cutting and fossil fuels. Its equally radical allies – Greenpeace, Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council and hundreds of other “socially responsible” organizations, foundations and government agencies – oppose nuclear and hydroelectric power, biotechnology, pesticides and economic development. In other words, pretty much everything that generates health, prosperity and improved environmental quality.


The death toll these groups inflict is unfathomable, and unconscionable. Four million children and parents die each year from lung infections, caused by breathing the smoke, dust, bacteria and pollutants that are ever-present in their homes and villages, because families don’t have electricity and are forced to burn wood and animal dung for fuel.


Six million more perish from intestinal diseases like dysentery, caused by spoiled food and unsafe water, due to nonexistent refrigeration and water purification. Three million from malaria and other insect-borne diseases, because mosquitoes are everywhere and their countries are prevented from using pesticides. Eleven million from malnutrition and starvation that could be alleviated with biotechnology.


Would Ms. Healey, her students and the RAN radicals “go native” 100 percent – and live under these conditions? Eat only what they grow themselves – organically? Do without electricity, heating and air conditioning? Without safe water or decent jobs, nutrition and medical care? Happily endure being bitten by hundreds of malarial mosquitoes year after year? Give up their cars, televisions, Barbies, IM-ing and Nintendo? Highly unlikely.


“What, then gives them the right to make choices for the world’s poor?” Kenyan economist James Shikwati wants to know. “Wealthy countries want the Earth to be green. The underdeveloped want the Earth fed.”


There is no more basic human right than to live – and no worse human rights violation than to cause or prolong the needless suffering and premature death of so many people. With nearly half the world’s population – over three billion people – struggling to survive on less than US $700 a year, one can only hope the tide of public opinion is turning against these narrow special interests. The need for more balanced environmental policies could not be more clear.


All too often, the targets of RAN, Greenpeace and other pressure groups’ attacks simply cave in. Seeking to placate their antagonists, they buy a brief respite until the next attack – thereby encouraging (and inadvertently helping to fund) assaults on still more targets.


Through project funding and donations, like a promised $3 million in aid for tsunami victims, Mr. Harrison and his bank have helped millions in the United States and overseas. This holiday season, they could give a special and precious gift to the world’s poor: the gift of life.


They could do what their World Bank, Citi and B of A colleagues could not bring themselves to do: Stand up to the Rainforest Action Network demagogues.


They could continue helping to protect destitute families from real, immediate, life-threatening risks – while resisting pressure to condemn families to poverty, malnutrition, disease and premature death, to prevent risks associated with purely conjectural eco-catastrophes. And expand efforts to explain how Morgan Chase protects the environment – while making life in poor countries just a little more like what Fairfield County enjoys every day.


It would epitomize what corporate social responsibility and environmental justice really mean. Make Morgan Chase shareholders proud to be part of such an institution. And make the world a better place.



Niger Innis is national spokesman for the Congress of Racial Equality (www.CORE-online.org); Paul Driessen is CORE’s senior policy advisor and author of Eco-Imperialism: Green Power · Black Death (www.Eco-Imperialism.com)