Suppose you are an idealist who wants to help poor people in Africa. You are also an environmentalist. You are working in Africa as part of a NGO (non-Governmental organization – such as The Sierra Club). A conflict arises between your ideal of helping the environment and your ideal of helping African villagers. Which ideal do you choose?
Here are two examples from the book Eco-Imperialism by Paul Driessen. Before I give these rather dramatic examples, I should explain that Europe bans genetically modified food – but America allows it and Americans eat it. Europeans fear unforseen consequences, such as the possibility that genes from genetically modified (GM) crops could escape and alter other plants. Here are Paul Driessen’s examples:
Green activists and European bureaucrats may not be conspiring to starve millions of sub-Saharan Africans, but they may as well be, Andrew Natsios charged in August 2002. The director of the US Agency for International Development accused environmental groups of endangering the lives of 14 million people who face starvation in southern Africa, which is enduring its worst drought in a decade, by encouraging governments to reject genetically modified US food aid.
“They can play these games with Europeans, who have full stomachs, but it is revolting and despicable to see them do so when the lives of Africans are at stake,” he said.’ US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick also excoriated European Union officials, calling them “Luddites” and saying it is “immoral” for them to bully Africa into refusing to accept American food shipments.’
Nearly 2.5 million people were on the verge of starvation in Zambia alone, where President Levy Mwanawasa bowed to NGO pressure and EU import policies, and refused to accept food aid from the United States.
The US had shipped 26,000 tons of corn to Zambia, where many people were down to one small meal per day, only to have the grain sit in storage. Parroting the EU/Greenpeace line, Mwanawasa decreed it was unsafe for consumption, because some of the corn (maize) had been genetically modified, to make it resistant to insect pests, reduce the need for pesticides, and increase crop yields without having to put more land under cultivation.
“We would rather starve than get something toxic,” Mwanawasa cavalierly remarked. Anonymous European Commission officials went so far as to accuse the US of using Africans as guinea pigs, to prove biotech foods are safe to eat. Rumors circulated among the locals that women would become sterile and people would get AIDS, if they ate the corn.
You can’t blame the average poor villager from assuming some nefarious plot by the Americans to do them harm with the aid, if their own president refuses to let them eat it. A good deed by America becomes a reason to blame America. Though I should say that starving Africans repeatedly tried to break into the warehouses that had the corn.
Driessen quotes the Wall Street Journal editorial of 9/17/2002:
The green brigade, which likes to buttress its political opposition to GM foods with junk science, is cheering Zambia’s intransigence. And the willingness of Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and the like to let Africans starve in the name of someone else’s ideology is remarkable enough…
But the Europeans are also blameworthy. Zambia is just as worried about upsetting trade relations with Europe, its biggest export market. The European Union bans most GM crops — lest they upset Europe’s heavily subsidized farm system — and Mr. Mwanawasa’s concern is that the US corn will cross-pollinate with non-GM varieties and taint future yields [thus triggering EU bans on crops from Zambia and neighboring countries].
In some cases, GM crops actually help the environment, for instance by reducing the use of pesticides.
But environmentalists tend to default to the anti-technology position. In my view, genetic engineering could indeed intentionally be used to cause harm – perhaps a genetically altered bacterium used in war – for instance. And I understand that well-meant technology can back-fire. But at times risks need to be taken.
Greenpeace co-founder and ecologist Dr. Patrick Moore…an outspoken critic of the group he once led, underscores the “huge and realistically potential benefits” that GM crops could bring “for the environment and human health and nutrition.” He calls the war on biotechnology and genetically modified organisms (GMOs) “perhaps the most classic case of misguided environmentalism” in memory.
“There are no known serious negative impacts from growing or ingesting the GMOs that have already been developed and distributed,” Moore continues. “Yet every half-baked sensationalism and contrivance from activists with no training in science gets airtime on the evening news. Even the Golden Rice, a GMO that may help prevent blindness in half a million children every year, is rejected out of hand by these anti-humanists, who put unfounded fear-mongering ahead of the world’s poor.”
The second example of conflicting ideals leading to dead people is the banning of DDT.
The WHO, United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP), World Bank, Greenpeace, Pesticide Action Network, World Wildlife Fund, Physicians for Social Responsibility and other groups remain adamantly opposed to the use of DDT —and other pesticides.
This stance has been catastrophic.
In 2000, say World Health Organization and other studies, malaria infected over 300 million people. It killed nearly 2,000,00 most of them in sub-Saharan Africa. Over half of the victims are children, who die at the rate of two per minute or 3,000 per day — the equivalent of 80 fully loaded school buses plunging over a cliff every day of the year. Since 1972, over 50 million people have died from this dreaded disease. Many are weakened by AIDS or dysentery, but actually die of malaria.
In addition to these needless deaths, malaria keeps millions home from work and school every day. Chronic anemia can sap people’s strength for years and leave victims with severe liver and kidney damage, while cerebral malaria can cause lifelong learning and memory problems, followed by early death.
If anyone inflicted these deaths on purpose they would be considered mass murderers.
And yet these deaths are being inflicted. There is a near-global restriction on the production, export and use of DDT – currently the best way of combating the mosquitos who carry malaria. Originally imposed in the United States by EPA Administrator William Ruckelshaus in 1972, the DDT prohibitions have been expanded and enforced by NGO pressure, coercive treaties, and threats of economic sanctions by foundations, nations and international aid agencies.
Where DDT is used, malaria deaths plummet. Where it is not used, they skyrocket.
During World War II, DDT was actually classified as a secret weapon, because of its unparalleled ability to prevent malaria and typhus among Allied troops.
The chemical is no longer used in agriculture (which accounted for 99 percent of its use at the time Rachel Carson wrote the book Silent Spring, which among other things attacked DDT). So that makes it safer for wildlife which was one of the problems Rachel cited.
“In the 60 years since DDT was first introduced,” notes South African Richard Tren, president of Africa Fighting Malaria, “not a single scientific paper has been able to replicate even one case of actual human harm from its use.”
Nevertheless, the WHO, United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP), World Bank, Greenpeace, Pesticide Action Network, World Wildlife Fund, Physicians for Social Responsibility and other groups remain adamantly opposed to the use of DDT —and other pesticides. Their stance angers many who must live with malaria’s consequences every day. However, these organizations ignore the victims’ growing anger and the rising body count. Instead, they continue to advocate steps that, while helpful, simply cannot be the sole solution to this widespread and complex disease.
“My friend’s four-year-old child hasn’t been able to walk for months, because of malaria,” Fifi Kobusingye says softly, her voice breaking. “She crawls around on the floor. Her eyes bulge out like a chameleon, her hair is dried up, and her stomach is all swollen because the parasites have taken over her liver. Her family doesn’t have the money to help her, and neither does the Ugandan government. All they can do is take care of her the best they can, and wait for her to die.”
Activists like actor Ed Begley, Jr. and the Pesticide Action Network like to say there is no global ban on DDT. But they are playing semantic games. Increasing restrictions on the production, storage, transportation and use of DDT and other pesticides, lengthy delays in getting approvals to use them, mounds of costly red tape, and the refusal of donor agencies and foundations to fund indoor residual spraying programs all add up to one thing: sickness and death for millions of Africans every year.
As author, film producer and PhD molecular biologist
Michael Crichton put it: “Banning DDT is one of the most disgraceful episodes in the twentieth century history of America. We knew better, and we did it anyway, and we let people around the world die, and we didn’t give a damn.”
Suppose we step into the mind of European environmentalists in Africa. We like greenery, animals, sustainable communities, and we have strong reservations about technology. We see nuclear reactors in Japan having a meltdown and shooting radioactivity into the atmosphere. We worry that man-made global warming will flood our cities and destroy eco-systems. We see suburbs and exurbs encroach upon the countryside. We see coal mines polluting the air and causing “black lung” among some miners. We see the unintentional effects of well-meant medicines, such as thalidomide. We don’t want the same to happen to Africa. Surely there are alternatives to DDT? Surely there are alternatives to genetically modified foods? And if there are no alternatives, or they are nowhere near as good, that’s when we start evading reality. And people die.
Eco-Imperialism by Paul Driessen (published 2003, so some of this material may be out-of-date)
Ecological Sanity by George Claus and Karen Bolander
As an additional irony, it turns out that the decision to ban DDT was a political decision, not one based on scientific evidence. The Environmental Protection Agency appointed a hearing examiner who listened to the evidence for and against DDT from 125 witnesses over 81 days of hearings. He concluded:
“DDT as offered under the registrations involved herein is not mis-branded. DDT is not a carcinogenic hazard to man. The uses of DDT under the registrations involved here do not have a deleterious effect on fresh-water fish, estuarine organisms, wild birds or other wildlife .. . in my opinion, the evidence in this proceeding supports the conclusion that there is a present need for the essential uses of DDT…” But although the EPA was supposed to decide whether to ban DDT on the basis of the hearing examiner’s recommendations, less than two months later William Ruckelshaus, then administrator of the EPA, banned DDT for all practical purposes for use in the U.S. Ruckelshaus had never attended any part of the hearings and later admitted he had not even read the transcript of them.