December 29, 2004
Eco-imperialism Won't Save the Environment
New, "uncontrolled" methods of mass communication have emboldened a revolutionary rethinking of smug assumptions surrounding the environmental movement. Now, the question is finally being asked: Is it really helping people lead better lives, or is it hurting the most vulnerable?
One American revolutionary, Paul Driessen, recently visited Winnipeg to present the findings of his controversial book, Eco-Imperialism: Green Power, Black Death. As the Winnipeg Free Press noted in its Dec. 10 coverage of the speech: "At the heart of Driessen's argument is the belief that the Third World is footing the bill for the developed world's preoccupation with what he calls 'environmental purity.'"
People starve, he says, while activists campaign against the "far-fetched, hypothetical" threats of genetically modified food, which could feed the world's hungry.
Mr. Driessen calls this "eco-imperialism," an effective term that appeals to the disdain for the domination of vulnerable or weak societies by the more powerful. This resonates with rural Canadians, especially those engaged in the fur trade and commercial forestry, some of whom are the chief victims of this sort of arrogance.
Members of the environmental and animal rights movements have been very successful in portraying themselves as self-sacrificing activists who put their lives on hold to save the Earth.
Well, save those crocodile tears for someone else. Reason magazine's Ronald Bailey estimates that the top 12 American environmental groups had combined budgets of US$1.95-billion. Mr. Driessen estimates the movement's annual resources worldwide at US$8-billion. So much for activists' lives of poverty.
These well-funded folks always claim to have the best interests of indigenous people at heart. But what do indigenous people themselves have to say about that? Speaking to Frontpage magazine, Kenya's Akinyi Arunga observed, "Cute indigenous customs aren't so charming when they make up one's day-to-day existence. 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."
Canadians at the bottom of the heap appreciate the point. Manitoba's fur industry was decimated by 20 years of animal rights activism and is only now starting to recover. In the late 1970s, a lynx pelt was worth over $500. Today, it would fetch maybe $100.
The collapse of Manitoba's fur trade is a direct consequence of animal rights campaigns that have created wrenching problems. Self-reliant people have been forced into poverty and penury. What was once a proud occupation has been reduced to a mere hobby. The life skills associated with trapping -- tools that could alleviate much of the misery and lack of self-esteem in many remote aboriginal communities -- are rapidly disappearing.
Nor has the environment benefited. Overly abundant populations of predatory skunks, foxes, raccoons and coyotes are overwhelming the ability of ground nesting birds, especially waterfowl, to hatch their young successfully. The lack of trapping, especially in Manitoba's agricultural regions, has contributed to increased risk of rabies and other wildlife diseases. Local and provincial governments have to spend millions of dollars to deal with the burgeoning number of beavers, whose dams cause all manner of road and highway damage. What Manitoba trappers used to do for free must now be done with tax dollars.
Mr. Driessen calls for a halt to this victimization: "Environmental activists who've never known starvation, never had to live without electricity, never had to watch their children die of malaria or dysentery, must no longer be allowed to put their anxieties, priorities and agendas ahead of the desperate pleas, the most basic needs, of destitute people who wish only to improve their lives, and save their children's lives."
Other people have joined Mr. Driessen in the war to reprogram the environmental movement. Some, like Greenpeace founder Patrick Moore, are appalled at the movement's direction. Others, like The Skeptical Environmentalist author Bjorn Lomborg, start off as committed (and usually left-wing) activists but have an epiphany of sorts after detailed study uncovers the consequences of eco-imperialism. The thriller writer Michael Crichton has turned the conventional wisdom on its head with his new book, State of Fear, in which the environmental activists are the bad guys.
Those of us who criticize the excesses of the movement are always accused of not caring about the environment. That's rubbish, and the positive environmental record of advanced democratic capitalistic countries is there for all to see. My wife and I recently cut a deal with the Nature Conservancy of Canada, a private sector conservation group, whereby we have ensured that our 320 acres of Manitoba land will remain "forever wild" as part of a "conservation easement." That's real environmentalism.
If we really want conservation, we must include the people who actually live in nature, work the fields and harvest natural resources.
Robert Sopuck, Senior Fellow
is a modern environmentalst whose interests include solving environmental problems without reducing human freedom. He is a natural resource policy consultant with a special interest in rural issues who lives and works at Lake Audy, Manitoba. He received his B.Sc. from the University of Manitoba and Masters from Cornell University. His first career was in fisheries management. He later coordinated the sustainable development initiative for the province of Manitoba and was on the Canadian delegation to the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. He was Manitoba's observer on the Board of the International Institute for Sustainable Development. In October 2007 he was appointed to the federal government's National Round Table on the Environment and Economy.