TCS Daily

Imperial Backlash

By Hans H.J. Labohm - November 13, 2002 12:00 AM

THE HAGUE - In the Third World the hostility against ecoimperialism from the West is growing. This ecoimperialism in practised both by western governments and western NGOs.

In international trade negotiations, for instance, western governments urge the developing countries to adopt high environmental standards, based on the argument that the playing field of worldwide competition must be level. Developing countries reject these standards as a luxury they cannot afford. In their current stage of economic development, growth comes first.

But besides governments, NGOs play an important role. Deepak Lal, an economist of Indian descent, who teaches development studies in the US, compares the behaviour of western NGOs, such as Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund, with the proselytic zeal of western missionaries in the past. He sees environmental radicalism as a modern secular Christian crusade, which has replaced the saving of souls for the saving of spaceship Earth. In his view, their primary goal is to prevent the economic development. Therefore, he argues that green radicalism needs to be fiercely resisted, because only economic development offers the world's poor any chance of escaping their age old poverty.

Green radicalism may be very harmful. It can even be a mortal threat. A dramatic example was the murder of the Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn, in May of this year, by an animal rights activist. But, however tragic this has been, it was 'just' a single event. More serious is the systemic and less visible menace of green radicalism, which puts the livelihood and even lives of millions of people at risk. In term of numbers of victims, the megaterror of al-Qaeda looks pale compared with the impact of green fundamentalism.

Examples abound. Lal points, for instance, at the shipbreaking at Alang in Gujarat. India is a signatory to the Basel Convention, which by defining various metals as 'hazardous,' controls trade in waste, scrap and recyclable materials. Greenpeace is using the treaty to organise a total embargo on trade with developing countries, excluding them from global scrap metal markets. This is already having deleterious effects. It may threaten the livelihood of one million people, who are directly or indirectly involved in this

Another example relates to the ban on DDT. According to Lal, this substance is still the most cost-effective controller of diseases spread by bugs like flies and mosquitoes that has ever been produced. The US National Academy of Sciences estimated it had saved 500 million lives from malaria by 1970. In India, DDT spraying had reduced the number of malaria cases from 75 million in 1951 to around 50,000 in 1961, and the number of malaria deaths from nearly a million in the 1940s to a few thousand in the 1960s. But in the 1970s, foreign aid agencies and various UN organisations began to take a jaundiced view of DDT, and the use of DDT declined. Not surprisingly, the mosquitoes hit back and endemic malaria returned to India. By 1997 the UNDP's Human Development Report 2000 estimates there were about 2.6 million malaria cases.

GM (genetically modified) foods offer still another example. The recent scare about GM food equally needs to be resisted, argues Lal. The Green Revolution having disproved the doomsters predictions that the world would not be able to feed a burgeoning population, they are now attempting to stop the next stage in the agricultural revolution offered by bio-technology. GM crops provide major economic benefits as they have reduced pesticide applications, higher yields and lower consumer prices. Yet, particularly in Europe, the Greens - again led by Greenpeace - have created mass hysteria about these crops, labeling them as Frankenstein foods. But if GM crops are the creation of a Frankenstein, so is virtually everything we eat. Any method that uses life forms to make or modify a product is biotechnology: brewing beer or making leavened bread is a 'traditional' biotechnology application. There is no danger to health or the environment from GM food. Since 1994, more than 300 million North Americans have been eating several dozen GM foods, but not one problem with health or the environment has been noted. Yet the hysteria continues.

In all these cases Third World governments have yielded to, or weakly defended them, against green pressures. Yet at the at the recent World Summit in Johannesburg, they showed growing resistance. It was, for instance, expected that Johannesburg would canonize the Kyoto Treaty on the reduction of man-made greenhouse gasses, especially CO2. But with the support of the Third World the opponents of Kyoto succeeded to prevent this, just as they did at the recent climate talks in New Delhi. This has been a most fortunate outcome, because Kyoto's scientific base is fatally flawed. It will cost hundreds of billions of dollars annually. It represents a frontal attack to our system of free enterprise, because it legitimizes all kinds of government intervention in the economy. And it is utterly ineffective in terms of cooling (only 0.02 degrees Celsius in 2050). Against this background it is no exaggeration to qualify Kyoto as a serious case of collective insanity. Or, to put it in other words, an exercise in modern day rain dancing ... and equally effective. The Third World emphasised that it wanted access to cheap energy. In their view, renewable energy sources, which are two to three times as expensive, are something which only the rich countries can afford.

It is no point to deny that society owes a great deal to the contribution of the green movement to the raising awareness that the environment matters. But the movement has radicalized over the years. Dr. Patrick Moore, one of the founders of Greenpeace, described the shift as follows: '[In the past] truth mattered and science was respected for the knowledge it brought to the debate. Now this broad-based vision is challenged by a new philosophy of radical environmentalism. [...] Many environmentalists have taken a sharp turn to the ultra left, ushering in a mood of extremism and intolerance [...] They perpetuate the belief that all human activity is negative whereas the rest of nature is good.'

'This metamorphosis has damaged the respectability and credibility of the green movement.'

That is regrettable. Time for introspection.

Hans H.J. Labohm is a senior visiting fellow at the Nederlands Instituut voor Internationale Betrekkingen, Clingendael.

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