Green Activists Hurt the World’s Poor: An Interview with Paul Driessen

Published September 1, 2007

Paul Driessen is a warrior on the front lines of the battle against Third World poverty and disease.

As a senior policy advisor for the Congress of Racial Equality and a senior fellow with the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow, Driessen dedicates himself to identifying and eliminating the obstacles that keep people in underdeveloped countries from breaking through the abject poverty barrier.

All too often, Driessen has discovered, the very environmental activist groups that claim to care so much about people in underdeveloped countries are the ones keeping them down.

James M. Taylor, a senior fellow for The Heartland Institute and managing editor of Environment & Climate News, caught up with Driessen for a discussion of Third World nations and the environment.

Taylor: You have been one of the leaders in presenting affluent Americans with information about how environmental extremists are impoverishing and imperiling the lives of the world’s poorest people. What are the most significant threats the world’s poor face from extremists?

Driessen: I think malaria is probably the biggest threat. There has been tremendous opposition among environmental activists regarding DDT and insecticides. The extremists focus on phony, speculative crises regarding insecticides, yet ignore the extreme and very real negative toll that so-called enlightened environmental policies are imposing on the poor people of the world.

Another threat to the world’s poor are the proffered “solutions” to global warming, where alarmists use speculative scenarios cranked out on computers to justify policies that will cause tremendous harm to the world’s poor.

People in underdeveloped nations desperately need energy, yet the alarmists want to keep it away from them. As a result, people in Third World nations frequently burn dung indoors for their cooking and heating requirements, and will continue to do so until the activists stop opposing fossil fuel use and hydroelectric dams.

Environmental activists frequently call for the installation of small solar panels or a couple of wind turbines in each local village, but these are wholly inadequate sources of power. These cannot give birth to a modern society.

The activists are even using global warming now to justify opposition to shipping food from Africa to Europe, arguing that transportation entails burning too many fossil fuels. This is trade protectionism under environmental garb.

Time and again, despite the rhetoric, Africans’ interests are always dead last on the totem poll of environmental activist priorities. A lack of concern for the Third World poor is being masked by high-minded environmental slogans.

Other threats from environmental activists include opposition to mining, foreign corporate investment, and biotechnology.

In all of these issues, environmental activists oppose Third World rights to self-determination and prevent Africans from developing a middle-income consumer society like that of the Western world. Unfortunately, the stifling of a middle-income consumer society is not the inadvertent result of environmental activist policies, but quite often the desired result.

Taylor: Malaria is running rampant throughout much of Africa and other parts of the Third World. What is the scope of the malaria problem?

Driessen: The malaria problem has been worsening for decades under politically correct schemes that emphasize inadequate “solutions” such as bed nets, education, and treatment rather than prevention. Today in developing nations, half a billion people still get malaria every year. One out of three people who contract malaria die from it–mostly kids.

In recent years, we are seeing signs that this might finally begin to change. The United States is participating with many international groups to provide DDT and insecticides as effective weapons in the battle against malaria.

Taylor: After DDT eliminated malaria in the United States in the mid-twentieth century, environmental activists succeeded in banning it. What has real-world experience told us about the importance of DDT in fighting malaria?

Driessen: In the United States and Europe, DDT got rid of malaria. It is as simple as that. It was the knockout blow that eliminated a substantial human health problem. But today in developing nations, half a billion people still get malaria every year, yet DDT has been banned due to alleged human health fears.

What human health risks can exceed hundreds of millions of people contracting malaria every year? What can justify this horrendous annual death toll?

Developing nations merely seek the right to spray a small amount of DDT inside their homes once or twice a year to keep malarial mosquitoes out, but are being pressured not to.

Taylor: What are the environmental risks of DDT spraying?

Driessen: It is important to note that DDT functions not so much as an insecticide as a long-lasting repellant. You need only spray the huts once or twice a year and the mosquitoes will not enter. The few that enter will leave or die almost immediately. Limited indoor spraying is all people need.

There really is no substitute for this–nothing. How can anyone argue the harms of such limited indoor spraying outweigh the deaths of more than 100 million people per year?

Taylor: Are there any other effects that the DDT ban has on developing nations, in addition to the death toll?

Driessen: The reality of malaria is that hundreds of millions of people in Third World nations, and in Africa especially, spend much of the year sick, battling the disease. They can’t go to work. They spend much of their time in hospitals. They spend a great deal of money paying for medical care.

So many people die from malaria, and so many more suffer the pains of the illness and the poverty that it brings.

Taylor: Any final thoughts?

Driessen: I would just like to make people aware that the Congress of Racial Equality and the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow work so very hard to make a positive difference in people’s lives. As opposed to the environmental activists who sit in their offices opposing everything, we are out there on a person-to-person and village-to-village basis doing everything we can to fight disease and poverty.