CORE Mocks Environmentalists in Cancun

Published January 1, 2004

Environmental activists are famous for using street theater to embarrass opponents and draw attention to their platforms. But during the recent World Trade Organization meetings in Cancun, it was the eco-purists who found themselves on the receiving end of a pointed theatrical event. They weren’t used to it, and they didn’t like it.

“And the winner is–Greenpeace! For leading million-dollar campaigns against energy, pesticides, biotechnology, trade, and economic development that could improve or save millions of lives,” boomed Niger Innis, national spokesman for the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), as he announced the first of three “Green Power – Black Death” awards.

As black-garbed Grim Reapers looked on, Innis presented the first prize–Academy Awards style–to a college co-ed representing Greenpeace. “I want to thank the mosquitoes for bringing malaria to less-developed countries,” she bubbled. “But most of all, I’d like to thank the millions of children who died to make this award possible.”

The humor added a light touch to what was otherwise a deadly serious affair that dramatized the lethal effects of policies championed by eco-activists–and singled out those groups deemed most responsible for bringing misery and death to developing countries. Large black coffins and numerous signs further underscored the human toll exacted by their policies.

Runners-up in the NGO (non-governmental organizations) category were Friends of the Earth and Food First, a supposedly pro-Third World special interest group headquartered in poverty-stricken Berkeley, California. In the Governments and Foundations category, the European Union narrowly edged out Oxfam International and the Pew Charitable Trusts. “I want to thank our African, Asian, and Latin American colonies,” the EU stand-in beamed, “for allowing us to bully them into submission–and letting us live in splendor, while they live in squalor.”

A special Uncle Tom Award went to Malaysia-based Pesticide Action Network, “the developing world NGO most willing to sell out its own people for a foundation grant.” Close but no Cuban cigar honors in that category went to Vandana Shiva’s Third World Network.

Held in the “NGO center,” the nucleus of eco-activist activities at the WTO, the event was organized by CORE, one of the oldest and most respected of U.S. civil rights groups, and the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT), a Washington DC think tank. “These environmental policies are lethal eco-imperialism,” Innis declared.

“Eco-activists know their Earth-First policies devastate families and communities–and kill millions every year. And yet, they continue to impose more and more layers of misguided laws, rules, and treaties on people whose primary concern is simple survival,” he stressed. “We chose to present our awards in the NGO center, because they and the media need to confront the reality of what these policies do to the poorest people on our planet.”

Some of these rules may be appropriate for wealthy developed countries that have already conquered malaria, typhus, dysentery, and malnutrition, which still plague poor nations, Innis continued. “But for rich countries to tell poor nations they must adopt the most stringent environmental rules, to address esoteric First World concerns–and ignore real, immediate, life-or-death problems in Africa, India, and Mexico–is worse than hypocritical.”

Worldwide, 2 billion people still do not have electricity, he noted. Malaria kills 2 million people a year, half of them children, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa. Dysentery and diarrhea kill a million adults and 3 million children a year in developing countries. Lung diseases kill another million women and 4 million infants and children annually. Millions more die from malnutrition and starvation. English and Spanish flyers distributed at the event addressed those issues in detail.

All those deaths are foreseeable, Innis noted, and many could be prevented. “But these Green Power – Black Death organizations do all they can to make sure the slaughter continues,” Innis stated. “For that, they deserve to be pilloried.”

Most of the audience listened respectfully, but a few hissed their annoyance, and two engaged in a shouting match with Innis and CORE’s international affairs director, Cyril Boynes Jr. Refusing to identify themselves by name or organization, the two said Innis’s points were “outrageous lies” that Africans would strongly disagree with.

At that, James Shikwati, president of the Inter Region Economic Network of Kenya, stepped forward and said: “I’m from Kenya, and I agree with everything they said–and so do most of the people I talk and work with every day.” As a Mexican television crew interviewed him, the strident duo became sullen and silent.

Innis noted that CORE–which has had Consultative Status with UN’s Economic and Social Council since 1972 and travels extensively throughout Africa–was making its first appearance at the WTO. He promised this would not be the last time; CORE would participate in this international conference and challenge harmful policies promoted by groups that “until now have monopolized debates on economic development and the environment.”

Paul Driessen is a senior fellow for CFACT and the Atlas Economic Research Foundation. His new book, Eco-Imperialism: Green Power – Black Death, inspired the Cancun event and explores these issues in depth.