Activists stoke anxieties, oppose solutions

Driessen, Paul

Many Cape Breton residents, anxious to solve their long-festering tar ponds problem, are frustrated by the latest delays. They can take a measure of comfort from knowing they aren’t alone in facing activists who stoke public anxieties, fault every proposed solution, yet offer no workable alternatives, ensuring that problems and health risks remain.

Activist groups like the Sierra Club, Greenpeace and Rainforest Action Network rail about high fuel costs but oppose onshore and offshore oil drilling; bemoan overfishing of wild stocks but oppose aquaculture; condemn timber cutting but are silent when millions of acres burn.
Worse, while extolling ethics and social responsibility, they perpetuate poverty, misery, disease and premature death in the world’s most destitute communities. Supposed concern about human health, the bulwark of campaigns to halt industrial development and tar pond cleanups, becomes callous disregard for lives ruined in the name of preventing pollution, global warming and species extinction.

More than two billion people in Africa, Asia and Latin America still don’t have electricity for lights, refrigerators, clinics, water purification and other benefits we take for granted. Mothers and children spend hours every day gathering wood or animal dung, and more hours breathing polluted smoke from their fires. Four million die annually from lung infections, millions more from dysentery and other diseases caused by unsafe water and spoiled

And still environmental pressure groups do all they can to prevent the construction of fossil fuel, nuclear and hydroelectric power plants. In their view, renewable energy from small, decentralized solar panels and wind turbines is the future for Third World countries, says India’s Barun Mitra. That’s completely inadequate for any modern society, he adds.

Meanwhile, malaria continues to infect 300 million people a year in developing countries, 10 times the population of Canada. It kills as many as two million every year – another father, mother or child every 15 seconds. Nearly 90 per cent of these victims are in sub-Saharan Africa, and the vast majority are children and pregnant women.

How is this possible? A major reason is that eco-activists pressure health and donor agencies not to fund the use of pesticides like DDT which have been scientifically proven to be safe for people and the environment when properly used. Instead, they insist, agencies must employ only bed nets and drugs – a partial solution at best. As a result, hundreds of thousands of children and parents die every year who would live if their countries could use DDT, spraying it in tiny quantities on the inside walls of homes just once or twice a year to repel and exterminate mosquitoes.

Worldwide, 800 million people are chronically undernourished and 200 million children suffer from Vitamin A deficiency. Up to 500,000 of them go blind from the deficiency every year, and two million a year die from AIDS, malaria, dysentery and other diseases they might survive if they weren’t so malnourished.

Biotechnology could help end this tragedy. Genetically engineered golden rice is rich in beta-carotene, which humans can convert to vitamin A to prevent blindness and save lives. Just two ounces a day will suffice. But anti-biotech radicals spend $45 million a year to oppose these advances and keep genetically engineered seeds and foods from reaching the world’s poor.

“Indigenous customs aren’t so charming when they make up one’s day-to-day existence,” observes Kenya’s Akinyi Arunga. “Then they mean indigenous poverty, indigenous malnutrition, indigenous disease and childhood death. I don’t wish this on my worst enemy, and I wish our so-called friends would stop imposing it on us.”

Says Greenpeace co-founder Patrick Moore: “The environmental movement has lost its objectivity, morality and humanity.” Few environmental activists have ever known starvation, had to live without electricity, had to watch their children die of malaria or dysentery. And yet they attempt to put their alarmist agendas and anxieties about distant, theoretical risks ahead of the desperate pleas of people who wish only to improve their lives and safeguard their families from the real, immediate, life-threatening risks that confront them every day.

The need for balanced, fact-based environmental policies is obvious. What, then, inspires the near-constant drumbeat of ecological catastrophe?

“What you get in your mailbox,” says National Audubon Society chief operating officer Dan Beard, “is a never-ending stream of crisis-related, shrill material designed to evoke emotions, so that you will sit down and write a cheque.” Concedes Sierra Club conservation director Bruce Hamilton: “I’m somewhat offended by it myself, both intellectually and from an environmental standpoint. And yet, it is what works. It is what builds the Sierra Club.”

All of this may be very well for these organizations, but perhaps not for those who must live with the consequences of eco-centric ideologies.

It’s time to demand solutions, not just continued carping that prevents progress in Nova Scotia and elsewhere in developed nations and the Third World. Environmental activist groups must begin to abide by the same rules they demand of everyone else: honesty, ethics, humanity, transparency and accountability.

Is it really too much to ask?

Paul Driessen, the featured speaker at an AIMS event in Sydney on October 4, 2004, is senior fellow with the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow, senior policy adviser for the Congress of Racial Equality, and author of Eco-Imperialism: Green Power, Black Death ( He is a former member of Zero Population Growth and the Sierra Club.