Experts Decry Eco-Imperialism on Earth Day

Published June 1, 2004

“Safeguarding environmental values is essential,” Niger Innis, national spokesman for the Congress of Racial Equality, told journalists and others attending an Earth Day discussion April 22 at the National Press Club. “But we must stop trying to protect our planet from every imaginable, exaggerated, or imaginary risk. And we must stop trying to protect it on the backs, and the graves, of the nation’s and world’s most powerless and impoverished people.”

Innis spoke at a briefing about the negative implications of “eco-imperialism”–policies that speaker after speaker said seek to protect the environment, but deny impoverished people the chance for better lives.”We intend to make this Earth Day a clarion call for human rights and more responsible environmentalism,” Innis said.

Dr. C.S. Prakash, professor of plant genetics at Tuskegee Institute and a native of Bangalore, India, agreed. “We need to put humanity back into the environmental picture and promote policies that demonstrate as much concern about people, as about the environment.”

All over the world, nations are trying to emerge from poverty, he said, by generating more electrical energy, increasing their agricultural output, and eradicating the diseases that have plagued them for centuries. But they are often prevented from doing so by developed countries and activist groups that claim such activities might adversely impact wildlife and environmental values.

DDT, Biotech Key

Environmental pressure groups, wealthy foundations, and even the United Nations and World Health Organization oppose the use of DDT and other pesticides to control malaria. The disease afflicts 300 million people every year, killing 2 million–mostly women and children, and mostly in sub-Saharan Africa–and leaving the region one of the most destitute on Earth.

DDT’s critical role in the battle against malaria was conclusively demonstrated by South Africa, which reintroduced the chemical in 2000–and slashed malaria disease and death rates by more than 90 percent in just three years, noted American Enterprise Institute fellow Dr. Roger Bate. “DDT has never harmed a single human being,” he emphasized, “and any damage to wildlife occurred when massive amounts were employed in farming, not when small doses were employed for disease control.”

Environmental activists deprive poor countries of electricity, denying them lights, refrigeration, better jobs, and modern schools, clinics, and hospitals. As a result, millions die from tuberculosis, dysentery, and other diseases. Opposition to biotechnology perpetuates malnutrition, prevents Third World farmers from replacing crops that have been devastated by disease and drought, and results in extensive erosion and habitat loss.

“Eco-imperialism is clearly a pervasive problem in the United States, too,” said John Meredith, a member of Project 21. “It imposes policies that drive up housing prices, prevent the cleanup of polluted brownfields, stifle job creation in minority neighborhoods, and keep poor people impoverished. The policies promote a narrow political agenda and fail to give the poor a voice in these decisions.”

These activists practice “eco-segregation,” said Norris McDonald, president of the African American Environmentalist Association. “Ninety percent of elitist environmental groups do not hire African Americans in professional policy positions, and they promote numerous policies that are detrimental to the African-American community.”

“Ineffective actions taken to prevent climate change will significantly increase energy prices for poor Americans and Europeans, making it even more difficult for many to afford heating and air conditioning,” noted Dr. Sallie Baliunas, an astrophysicist and science host of “Unfounded fears about global warming are also used to justify policies that prevent poor Africans, Indians, Asians, and Peruvians from using fossil fuels to generate electricity, thus forcing them to keep using wood and animal dung for fuel.”

Matter of Conscience

While these experts met with the press in Washington, Greenpeace cofounder and coalition member Dr. Patrick Moore promoted his message of “sensible environmentalism” in New York City’s Central Park.

“I helped start the environmental movement to protect people, as well as our planet,” he said. “Unfortunately, too many policies today ignore the needs of the Earth’s poorest people. That’s not just unnecessary. It’s eco-imperialism. It’s counter-productive, and morally wrong.”

Following their Press Club event, the panelists also briefed congressional staffers. In both venues, they underscored the need to hold environmental pressure groups to the same standards of honesty, integrity, transparency, and accountability that we demand of for-profit corporations and their officers. “No one should be above the law, or free to ignore basic ethical principles,” Meredith explained.

Basic standards of ethics, corporate social responsibility, and environmental justice require that we no longer ignore the “horrendous toll” exacted on poor people by these well-intended but ill-considered policies, the policy experts emphasized.

“If people of conscience join us, we will challenge and end this scourge of eco-imperialism,” Innis concluded, “and ensure that Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream will become a reality for poor people throughout the United States and world.”

Paul Driessen is a senior fellow with the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow and Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise, nonprofit public policy institutes that focus on energy, the environment, economic development, and international affairs. He is author of Eco-Imperialism: Green Power–Black Death. His email address is [email protected].