World’s Scariest Words: ‘I’m an Environmentalist and I’m Here to Help’
Environmentalism's road to hell is paved with good intentions.
June 11, 2008 - 12:30 am
Two weeks ago the media was thrilled and alarmed by a film of a “lost” tribe of naked, painted Indians, living somewhere on the Brazil-Peru border and firing arrows at a helicopter flying overhead. Some reports claimed that this tribe was previously uncontacted by the modern world. But some anthropologists admitted that “this group is one of many in the Amazon that have chosen isolation.”
The fact that this tribe chose isolation did not stop the activists from the Brazilian government’s National Indian Foundation from distributing these films worldwide. They deliberately violated this tribe’s privacy because they wanted to use these Indians to prove that logging can be harmful to indigenous people.
Of course, the film shows no proof that loggers have violated this indigenous group’s privacy. It only shows proof that environmentalists violated their privacy. It also shows how much the natives appreciated their presence.
Writing for Haaretz, thousands of miles away from the Brazil-Peru border, environmentalist Dan Rabinowitz projects his own heartfelt feelings onto the Indians and their arrows:
The arrows fired at the helicopter, which could have been seen as an instinctive, boorish response to an unfamiliar entity, should perhaps be read by us as a piercing critique of modernity. … If the pictures cause the liberal public around the world to lean on governments and make them save primordial forests, those who fired arrows at the helicopters will have done a huge service for a modern civilization bent on self-destruction. Perhaps as a sign of gratitude for their participation in this crucial campaign, they could be granted the ultimate prize: to be left alone, free of contact with a civilization they clearly do not want.
They will be left alone — until other “helpful” people decide that they can be a useful tool in a war against the logging companies. Then the helicopters will descend again, to take colorful pictures of the natives and their piercing critiques of modernity.
These films are just the latest, and least harmful, illustration of the fact that the environmentalist movement is a road to hell paved with good intentions. Yes, their goals sound noble — they want to preserve the wild spaces, clean up the oceans, save endangered species. But their actions often create more harm than good.
Much of the modern environmental movement was inspired by Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring. Anti-corporate, anti-globalist, pro-ecology campaigns usually follow the formula established by the activist opposition to DDT.
- Gather evidence that some form of human activity is having an effect on the environment. In Silent Spring, it was the effect DDT was having on bird’s eggs.
- Emphasize the malign effects of this human activity while downplaying the positive effects.
- Accuse corporations of spreading disinformation, and claim that public officials favorable to profit and capitalism are accepting industry claims uncritically.
- Envision the dystopia, apocalypse, or ripple of evil that will result from this unchecked capitalist/corporate abuse. Demand that the government step in.
One of the most harmful effects of this activism was described by Nicholas Kristof in his op-ed in the New York Times, “It’s Time to Spray DDT.” As a good leftist, Kristof feels a need to condemn the U.S. and “other rich countries” for “siding with the mosquitoes against the world’s poor” by opposing DDT. But even a good leftist is willing to acknowledge that many thousands of people in the Third World are dying as a result of the “environmental politics and incompetent bureaucracies” that allowed malaria to spread unchecked.
Norman Borlaug — American agronomist, humanitarian, Nobel laureate, and the father of the Green Revolution — has little patience for “well-fed utopians who live on Cloud Nine but come into the Third World to cause all kinds of negative impacts,” unnecessarily frightening people and blocking the use of biotechnology. According to Paul Driessen in his article “Still Feeding the World,” Borlaug criticized:
These callous activists persuaded Zambia to let people starve, rather than let them eat biotech corn donated by the USA. They also oppose insecticides to combat malaria — and fossil fuels, hydroelectric dams, and nuclear power to generate abundant, reliable, affordable electricity for poor nations.
“Our planet has 6.5 billion people,” says Borlaug. “By all means, use manure. You can’t let it sit around. But if we use only organic fertilizers and methods on existing farmland, we can only feed 4 billion. I don’t see 2.5 billion people volunteering to disappear.” To feed everyone with organic and traditional farming, we would have to plow millions of acres of forests and other wildlife habitat, he calculates. If, instead, we continue to use commercial fertilizer and hybrids, and have strong public support for both biotech and traditional research, “the Earth can provide sufficient food for 10 billion people.”
The long-running battle between environmentalists and capitalism has generated such things as the prohibitions against the use of DDT, the Alar scare, fears of a link between vaccination and autism, hysteria about “overpopulation,” and fears of global cooling.
Now they’ve turned their attention to the problem of global warming. They’ve done the usual business of gathering some evidence that a form of human activity has an impact on the environment, emphasizing the malign effects while downplaying anything positive, blaming capitalism — and they’ve demanded that the government do something to stop the oncoming apocalyptic ripple of evil that results from unchecked humanity.
Even if global warming is treated as a fact and not a theory, the environmentalists’ recommendations will cause more harm than good. This recent, controversial article in Wired demands that instead of encouraging Luddism, people should “Keep your SUV, Forget Organics, Go Nuclear, Screw the Spotted Owl.”
Among the Gaia-shaking revelations:
The average environmentalist will probably react to this advice in the same way those “undiscovered” Indians reacted to the helicopters. Enviro-do-gooders have always shown an inclination to cling to the past, to Luddism and traditions. Although they talk about noble goals, their accomplishments have often been destructive. If we want to fix the future, they need to step aside. As John Mellencamp said: “It’s what you do and not what you say. If you’re not part of the future then get out of the way.”