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Eco-Imperialism By: Roger Bate
Tech Central Station | Friday, January 23, 2004


Despite the best efforts of historian, Niall Ferguson, to demonstrate the better side of the British Empire (see Empire, Basic Books, 2002) the overwhelming view of the American people to colonialism and imperialism is largely negative. So any charge made against a group, individual or government that involves these words is bound to be resisted strongly by the recipient.

At recent events in Washington and New York a broad charge of eco-imperialism has been laid at the feet of the environmental movement. Government officials, aid agency bureaucrats, as well as sandal-wearing greens, are blamed for mass disease and death in the poorest countries of the world because they export their most vile regulatory policies. So far, the green movement has largely ignored the criticism, but it is slowly having to respond, since "eco-imperialism" is becoming a more widely heard, if not yet fully appreciated, term.

The most obvious example of eco-imperialism has been the push to restrict the use of the insecticide, DDT, for controlling mosquito-borne diseases. Concerns about damage to egg shells of birds of prey (probably caused by massive agricultural DDT use), have pushed the greens to demand DDT restrictions, which have cost tens of millions of lives over the past few decades. But in addition to this pinnacle of eco-imperialism, other examples have emerged. At the George C. Marshall Institute event in Washington DC last month, Indian economist, Prasanna Srinivasan discussed the pesticide Paraquat. He documented how the greens have tried to ban its use and unfortunately, they have succeeded in several places.

Unlike DDT, Paraquat is extremely toxic, and as many wretched people have found out, it is an efficient, if appallingly painful, method of committing suicide. But because the pesticide is dangerous when used wholly inappropriately, should it be banned for those who would use it responsibly? The greens say yes, Mr. Srinivasan says no.

"Pesticides like paraquat protect 40 percent of global food output. That is not what I say; it is what the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) and every agricultural expert recognizes," Srinivasan asserts. Without Paraquat, people are likely to die from starvation in certain parts of the world. Moreover, Paraquat is benign to the environment, it biodegrades and, unlike DDT, does not persist; it also reduces the amount of land required by farming by making food production more efficient and so gives higher yields per acre. Its inherent properties and the way it is sold in over one hundred countries, means that the chances of accidentally drinking it are very, very low. Accidental poisonings do occur (as they do with bleach and ammonium in western homes), but they are very rare.

Regardless of such arguments, green groups, like the International Pesticide Elimination Network, demand its worldwide ban. Of course, the main actors for groups like IPEN do not struggle to eat every day, and banning Paraquat would not affect their purchases of expensive, organic produce from their specialist suppliers. But most of the world's poor do not have such luxury of choice.

According to Greenpeace co-founder, Patrick Moore, "The environmental movement has lost its objectivity, morality and humanity." Speaking at an event this week in New York City, organized by the Congress on Racial Equality, Dr. Moore, concluded that: "The pain and suffering it inflicts on families in developing countries can no longer be tolerated."

CORE aims to make eco-imperialism a household word. CORE's Niger Innes says he wants to stop the '"callous eco-manslaughter." Somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but making an important point, Mr. Innes says that the average European cow gets a $250 a year subsidy, while over a billion people survive on less than $200 a year. By reducing markets for their goods, western farm subsidies cause as much hardship in poor countries as do restrictions on pesticides.

Dr. C. S. Prakash, professor of plant genetics at Tuskegee University, explained how genetic modifications of plants could reduce the number of children blinded by vitamin A deficiency. Currently, 500,000 children go blind and golden rice could help this problem disappear, but many greens oppose the technology. "By orchestrating unfounded scare stories that biotech crops are unsafe or untested, they put huge road blocks on the development of plant genetic engineering that could bring economic prosperity to the rural poor," concludes Dr. Prakash.

Paul Driessen, an organizer of the CORE event and the author of Eco-Imperialism: Green Power Black Death, hopes, like, Mr. Innes, that eco-imperialism becomes a household word. Mr. Driessen says "It's time to hold these groups accountable and compel organization, foundations, courts and policy makers to understand the consequences of the policies they are imposing on our Earth's poorest citizens."

It has to be hoped that the efforts of Mr. Driessen and Mr. Innes bear fruit. The moral bankruptcy of the modern environmental movement must be exposed and their work is a good start.


Roger Bate is a visiting fellow at American Enterprise Institute.


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