TCS Daily


CORE Problem

By Richard Tren - June 4, 2003 12:00 AM

NEW YORK - Greenpeace, the radical international environmentalist group, recently came under attack from an unusual source. The organization that has spent decades attacking the institutions of capitalism wasn't attacked by the oil or chemicals industry, but by the New York based Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). In what is increasingly a black and white issue, CORE charges Greenpeace with being racist and keeping Africa poor, sick and underdeveloped.

Recently Greenpeace organised a run in Liberty State Park, New York, to campaign against chemicals that it considers to be a danger to human health. CORE arranged a rival event at the same venue to highlight Greenpeace's policies and their damaging and sometimes deadly effects on Africa. CORE's spokesman, Niger Innis lambasted Greenpeace for being a "powerful elite of First World activists whose hardcore agenda puts people last."

Greenpeace has been at the head of campaigns to ban the use of the insecticide DDT. Green groups were successful in banning DDT use in agriculture in most countries during the 1970s. The insecticide is still permitted for use in public health programs where it saves lives from mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria. Despite the fact that it saves lives every day, Greenpeace still campaigns against its production, trade and use.

Greenpeace and others campaign against most pesticide use, but most Greens are particularly fond of attacking DDT; many environmentalists cut their teeth on the DDT issue. Their influence stretches far beyond disaffected anti-globalization students from rich countries. The World Health Organization, World Bank and United Nations Environment Programme are all against the use of DDT and are encouraging African governments to reduce its use.

The upshot of this pressure is that lives are lost. In 1996 South Africa submitted to Green pressure and removed DDT from its malaria control program. The result was one of the worst malaria epidemics in the country's history as malaria cases rose by around 1000% in just a few years and hundreds of lives were lost. South Africa thankfully did the right thing and reintroduced DDT in 2000. In one year, the number of cases fell by 80% in the worst hit province, KwaZulu Natal.

Despite the clear evidence in favor of DDT, Green groups continue to insist that DDT is dangerous to the environment and to human health. In reality DDT is sprayed in tiny quantities on the inside walls of houses and simply does not escape into the wider environment. Even if it did, the environmental impacts of DDT have always been grossly exaggerated. As to the human health impacts of DDT use, in the 60 years of its use, not one scientific study has been able to replicate a case of actual human harm from the chemical. In all that time and with widespread use, one would think that someone, somewhere would have had some ill effect from DDT if it was so dangerous, yet apparently not. In any event, the human health dangers from malaria far outweigh those of DDT.

Perhaps it isn't surprising that groups like Greenpeace campaign against something that could save lives. Although the group likes to portray itself as defending humanity and has assumed the moral high ground on almost every issue, it actively campaigns against technologies that could increase wealth and save lives. For instance, if Greenpeace really cared about people, why would it campaign against GM technology in agriculture? GM food has been consumed in the US for many years and has been shown to be safe for human consumption and to improve agricultural yields. If Africa were free to adopt GM technology, not only could we feed more people and reduce starvation, but we could increase farmers' incomes.

Campaigns against the burning of fossil fuels to provide energy ignore some basic realities and highlight the outrageous naiveté of Greenpeace. In almost any African or Indian city, young children suffer from terrible and life threatening respiratory diseases as a result of burning biomass like wood and dung indoors to provide heat. Even the dirtiest coal fired power plant that would provide cheap electricity would be a technological advance that would reduce illness. Yet Greenpeace promotes expensive, renewable energy such as solar or wind power instead, keeping electricity well out of reach of poor people in Africa.

Greenpeace's run in New York was organised by white, wealthy and healthy New Yorkers that were seemingly amazed that anyone would be opposed to their views. Their quizzical looks at the sight of 70 black CORE activists chanting "Africa Yes, Greenpeace No!" betrayed their ignorance of the policies for which their organization stands. Liberty State Park is a million miles from poverty and disease in Africa that Greenpeace is helping to perpetuate.

But the rally was held in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty, that beacon of hope and freedom that so many oppressed people around the globe look up to. If the Greenpeace activists were capable of looking beyond the ends of their noses, they might have recognised the importance of the statue towering above them. Africa needs the liberty that the US enjoys. We need the liberty and freedom to use whatever technology we require without interference and restrictions from organization s like Greenpeace. We need free trade and individual liberties that made the US the wealthiest and most powerful nation on earth. We don't need the misguided and life threatening anti-growth campaigns run by eco-imperialist Greenpeace.

While CORE's demonstration was successful they should have been supported by many other groups and organization s. For instance, the chemicals and energy industry against which Greenpeace campaigns should have been there with CORE. Many of these companies however have been pandering to the Green agenda and trying to demonstrate how socially responsible they are. In reality, the only responsible thing for these companies to do is fight back against the lies, misinformation and scare tactics of Green pressure groups. CORE has had the moral courage to strike a blow against Greenpeace, let's hope they get the wide support they deserve.

Richard Tren is a director of the health advocacy group Africa Fighting Malaria.
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