Environmental Activists Exploit Catastrophic Tsunami

Published February 1, 2005

Two days after the December 25 tsunami that killed more than 100,000 people in Southeast Asia, the executive director of Greenpeace UK told the British newspaper The Independent, “No one can ignore the relentless increase in extreme weather events and so-called natural disasters, which in reality are no more natural than a plastic Christmas tree.”

Friends of the Earth Director Tony Juniper was quoted in the same article as saying, “Here again are yet more events in the real world that are consistent with climate change predictions.”

A spokesperson for the Indonesian arm of Friends of the Earth told the Agence France Presse, “We can expect in the coming years similar events happening as a result of global warming and therefore help and prevention are the responsibility of the Northern countries as well.”

Warming Not a Factor

Efforts to invoke global warming as the culprit for the terrible death and destruction caused by the Indian Ocean tsunamis are absolutely false: The multiple tsunamis were not a “weather event” in even the slightest degree. The tsunamis were caused by an earthquake, which is a real phenomenon, by the way, not a “so-called” natural disaster.

Earthquakes aren’t caused by the weather or greenhouse gas emissions; they’re caused by tectonics–that is, by naturally moving geological faults. Although tectonics may cause climate changes, the reverse is not true.

Unlike the fictional tsunami that hit New York in the movie “The Day After Tomorrow,” there is no realistic climate change scenario that could possibly cause a tsunami-spawning earthquake.

Although tsunamis may also, on occasion, be caused by the breaking of polar ice into chunks–the natural process of iceberg creation known as “calving”–such tsunamis tend to be harmless, localized events.

Sea Levels Declining

Environmentalists also tried to blame economic development for the devastation wreaked by the tsunamis. “A creeping rise in sea levels tied to global warming, pollution, and damage to coral reefs may make coastlines even more vulnerable to disasters like tsunamis or storms in future, experts said,” reported Reuters on December 27.

“Coasts are under threat in many countries,” said Greenpeace’s Brad Smith to Reuters. “Development of roads, shrimp farms, ribbon development along coasts, and tourism are eroding natural defenses in Asia.”

Actually, sea levels in the region have been declining; according to satellite data and the long-term record of sea level changes for Bombay, India, that city’s sea level has dropped one inch during the past 50 years.

Virginia state climatologist and Cato Institute fellow Patrick Michaels said in a December 28 media release that linking the Indian Ocean tsunamis to global warming is “in grave contravention of well-known facts about changes in sea level in that region.”

Poverty Making Disaster Worse

Environmental activists have ignored the two factors that will, in the end, contribute most to the horrendous death toll from the tsunamis: the lack of an early warning system and inadequate post-disaster sanitation, both of which are tragic by-products of the region’s severe economic underdevelopment.

Making matters even worse, activist groups are seeking to deny poor nations, such as the ones ravaged by the tsunamis, the opportunity to develop economically so as to pull themselves out of their abject poverty.

For example, global warming activists are pressuring U.S. banks not to make loans for energy projects in the developing world, even though lack of electricity is one of the things that doom those countries to remain undeveloped. Citigroup and Bank of America already have caved in to environmentalists’ demands in this regard, and as a December 20 Fox News story noted, J. P. Morgan Chase is being pressured by activists wielding second-graders:

“An environmental activist group called The Rainforest Action Network helped organize a second grade class trip from Southport, Connecticut, to the Park Avenue world headquarters of J.P. Morgan Chase,” the Fox story noted. “Chaperones lined the kids up in front of the Chase skyscraper, while the assembled media took pictures of the spectacle, and then the kids went inside to seek an audience with the company’s CEO. RAN has organized similar demonstrations in the past, using (some say exploiting) young kids to deliver their message.”

Environmentalists Ignoring Concerns

Malaria is yet another threat tsunami survivors will have to face. The environmental activist-led ban on the insecticide DDT has had, and will continue to have, terrible human and economic effects on the developing world by allowing malaria-carrying mosquitoes to proliferate unnecessarily.

In its December 29 editorial titled “Death by Environmentalist,” the Wall Street Journal wrote, “It’s been estimated that malaria costs Africa 1.2 percent of its GDP, or some $12 billion annually. The pandemic compromises the educational development of the children it doesn’t kill, and it depletes the mental and physical vigor of the adult population.”

The tsunamis that hit parts of Asia and Africa in late December were a terrible natural disaster–but their effects have been made even worse by the not-so-natural disaster known as modern environmental activism.

Steven Milloy ([email protected]) is publisher of JunkScience.com, an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute, and author of Junk Science Judo: Self-Defense Against Health Scares and Scams (Cato Institute, 2001).