Critics of U.S. confined to Johannesburg sidelines

Published October 1, 2002

With the United States assuming leadership at the World Sustainable Development Summit, the ever-present anti-U.S. crowd was largely relegated to the Johannesburg sidelines. That is not to say, of course, that their rhetoric and demonstrations were entirely absent.

Red-shirted protestors marched in the streets, carrying signs reading “Forward to Socialism,” “Don’t Owe, Won’t Pay,” “Israel USA UK—The Toxic Axis of Evil,” and “No to Neoliberal Policies and Capitalism.” Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa, whose people are struggling to survive a massive food shortage exacerbated by prolonged drought and government mismanagement, pledged to let his people starve to death before he would accept donations of genetically improved American corn. And the usual assortment of activist groups savaged America and other nations for living too high a lifestyle.

Gar Smith, editor for the Earth Island Institute’s Web site, argued that rising living standards, together with such modern conveniences as electricity, are “destroying” the cultures of the world’s poor people. Smith stated, “There is a lot of quality to be had in poverty. I don’t think electricity is a good thing. It is the fuel that powers a lot of multi-national imagery. I have seen villages in Africa that had vibrant culture and great communities that were disrupted and destroyed by the introduction of electricity.”

In a challenge directed specifically to Americans, Smith asked, “The real question is what personal conveniences and self-indulgences are you willing to give up in order to stop destroying the planet?”

An Indian environmental activist further criticized the U.S. in the taping of a Johannesburg special hosted by PBS’s Bill Moyers. The panelist complained about the “pernicious introduction of the flush toilet.”

Apparently, a good portion of the world’s self-proclaimed environmentalists believe flushing human excrement away through modern plumbing devices is a waste of water.

Instead, they hold up the Asian example where, according to the Asia Travel Mart Web site, “A bucket and ladle serve an integral role in both bathing and toiletry.” Hand removal of excrement, followed presumably by hand-washing, is common in many parts of Asia. “Toilet paper is not available in most homes,” states Asia Travel Mart.

Green-activist-turned-free-market-advocate Bjorn Lomborg participated on the same panel. According to Lomborg, household water consumption accounts for only 8 percent of human water use, with flush toilets accounting for a still smaller portion of that 8 percent. Agriculture accounts for 69 percent of human water use, with industry using another 23 percent.

“You don’t start with making the 8 percent more efficient,” said Lomborg.

Patrick Moore, another former Green activist who made the conversion to free-market environmentalism, stated people who would ban electricity and flush toilets hold “a naive vision of returning to some kind of Garden of Eden, which was actually not that great because the average life span was 35.”

Added Moore, “The environmentalists try to inject guilt into people for consuming, as if consuming by itself causes destruction to the environment. There is no truth to that. You have the wealthiest countries on Earth with the best-looked-after environments.”