The first programme in the series presents arguments that global warming is a myth and that the environment in the developed world is improving. Environmentalists hanker after a pre-industrial idyll, but conditions in the Third World are harsh and millions die every year because of unclean water and smoke from indoor fires.
The Greens oppose major development projects, but many local people want the electricity and clean water they will bring. Many resent the interference and hypocrisy of Western environmentalists, who have all the benefits and comforts of industrialisation.
The program hears both from those who criticise the environmental movement and from the Greens themselves.
|Introduction||The pre-industrial fantasy|
|The shadow of the Enlightenment||Damning development: the Greens and the Narmada project|
|The power of the Greens||Conservation and conservatism|
|Suspending disaster: the myth of global warming||Fascism, animal rights and human rights|
|Clearing the air: growth, technology and pollution||A Western agenda|
|« NEXT »||« The Nature Of Environmentalism »||« The Impact Of Decline »||« Our Decline »||« Home »|
Most people in the Third World lack the basic amenities of modern life that we in the West take for granted: clean drinking water and a reliable supply of electricity. And Third World governments are eager to industrialise in order to catch up with the West. But environmentalists say that if they do this, the future of the planet will be imperilled.
"If everybody in the world consumed like the British, the Europeans or the Americans," says Tony Juniper, Campaigns Manager for Friends of the Earth, "then we'd need about eight planets to meet people's needs. And it would still be unsustainable."
In the name of preserving nature, environmentalists have challenged the old ideas of progress and economic development. But in doing so, they have been accused of needlessly consigning millions of people in the Third World to poverty and early death.
The Shadow Of The Enlightenment
The attempt by man to understand and to conquer nature was at the heart of Enlightenment thinking. A scientific, rational understanding of the physical world was a means of changing nature to serve our needs and desires better. But these Enlightenment ideas of rationalism and progress have been called into question by environmentalists. They have led, they say, to the monstrous creation of modern industrial life, with its factories and cars, chemicals and fumes.
"People seem to have accepted the view that they should feel guilty about man's impositions on nature, about progress and technological improvement," says Steve Hayward of the Pacific Research Centre. "Even science today is somewhat suspect in the public mind. I think this is a result of the pervasive environmental philosophy that there's a distinction between man and nature, and that what man does is bad and what nature does is good."
Gregg Easterbrook, author of A Moment on the Earth, a critique of environmental thinking, agrees. He argues that the idealisation of nature common in the environmental movement is a modern luxury that has, paradoxically, been made possible by development.
"Most of our ancestors spent their lives struggling to grow food, to protect themselves against disease and the elements," he says. "They found nature did not know best. Nature was a hostile force for them."
The Power Of The Greens
Environmentalists often depict themselves as folk heroes and rebels, fighting a mighty anti-Green establishment. But the Green movement itself has become a powerful political force, which dominates much of Western thinking. "It's said they control the Clinton administration," says Senator Larry Craig.
The environmentalist movement today is rich and powerful: the top 12 Green organisations in the US alone have an annual turnover of just under a billion dollars. In the UK, four million people are members of Green organisations — that's more than are members of all the other political organisations put together.
Suspending Disaster: The Myth Of Global Warming
Green groups such as Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, the World Wildlife Fund and Earth First are using their influence to persuade people that an environmental disaster of historic proportions is just around the corner. As Barbara Mass of the Pan African Conservation Group succinctly puts it: "I think we're going to drown in our own muck."
Environmentalist thinking is now widely accepted in the West. However, many scientists argue that what the Greens say about global warming and pollution is wrong. Professor Wilfred Beckerman, a former member of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, was himself an enthusiastic environmentalist until he started examining the facts. He told Against Nature:
"Within a few months of looking at the statistical data, I realised that most of my concerns about the environment were based on false information and scare stories."
According to Piers Corbyn, Director of Weather Action, many scientists do not accept the idea that pollution is causing global warming. Environmentalists claim that world temperatures have risen one degree Fahrenheit in the past century, but Corbyn points out that the period they take as their starting point — around 1880 — was colder than average. What's more, the timing of temperature changes does not appear to support the theory of global warming. Most of the rise came before 1940 —before human-caused emissions of 'greenhouse' gases became significant.
According to the Greens, during the post-war boom global warming should have pushed temperatures up. But the opposite happened.
"As a matter of the fact, the decrease in temperature, which was very noticeable in the 60s and 70s, led many people to fear that we would be going into another ice age," remembers Fred Singer, former Chief Scientist with the US Weather Program.
Even in recent times, the temperature has not behaved as it should according to global warming theory. Over the last eight years, temperature in the southern hemisphere has actually been falling. Moreover, says Piers Corbyn,
"When proper satellite measurements are done of world temperatures, they do not show any increase whatsoever over the last 20 years."
But Greens refuse to accept they have could have been proved wrong. Now they say global warming can involve temperature going both up and down.
"Global warming is above all global climatic destabilisation," says Edward Goldsmith, editor of the Ecologist, "with extremes of cold and heat when you don't expect it. You can't predict climate any more. You get terrible droughts in certain cases; sometimes you get downpours. In Egypt, I think, they had a rainfall for the first time in history — they suddenly had an incredible downpour. Water pouring down in places where it's never rained before. And then you get droughts in another area. So it's going to be extremely unpredictable."
Scientists also point out that nature produces far more greenhouse gases than we do. For example, when the Mount Pinatubo volcano erupted, within just a few hours it had thrown into the atmosphere 30 million tonnes of sulphur dioxide — almost twice as much as all the factories, power plants and cars in the United States do in a whole year. Oceans emit 90 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, every year. Decaying plants throw up another 90 billion tonnes, compared to just six billion tonnes a year from humans.
What's more, 100 million years ago, there was six times as much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere as there is now, yet the temperature then was marginally cooler than it is today. Many scientists have concluded that carbon dioxide doesn't even affect climate.
Although many environmentalists have been forced to accept much of the scientific evidence against global warming, they still argue that it is better to be safe than sorry. So they continue to use global warming as a reason to oppose industrialisation and economic growth. ( Further Reading )
Clearing The Air: Growth, Technology And Pollution
The industrial First World represents the Greens' worst nightmare. More economic growth, they say, can only mean more pollution and environmental degradation. But others argue that, on the contrary, over the past half century the environment in the advanced industrial world has actually improved.
"Air pollution has been falling in modern industrialised countries for the last 40 years," says Steve Hayward. "And it's been falling precisely because of economic growth and improvements in technology. Even in Los Angeles, which has the worst smog in the United States, air pollution levels have fallen by about half in the last 25 years — and that's at a time when the area's population has doubled and its economy has tripled."
In the United States as a whole, over the past quarter of a century, the population has increased by 30 per cent, while the number of cars and the size of the economy has nearly doubled. And yet, during the same period, emissions of the six main air pollutants have decreased by 30 per cent. In addition, says Gregg Easterbrook, Americans have stopped pumping waste water from cities into lakes and streams, stopped dumping untreated sewage in the sea and toxic wastes on land, and eliminated the use of CFCs.
"Lake Erie 30 years ago was virtually dead," adds Steve Hayward. "Today you can fish in it, you can swim in it. The statistics on the amount of pollution in the food chain have shown dramatic improvement in the last 30 years."
Western cities such as London are cleaner today than they have been for centuries. In the mid 1900s, before cars were even invented, air and water quality was so poor that many thousands of people died each year from typhus and Tuberculosis.
Supporters of economic development don't just argue that the industrial world is getting cleaner, they also say that industrial progress has transformed our lives for the better. "We live longer, we are healthier, we are better educated, we know ourselves better and we are much more able to take control over our destiny than any other time in the past," says Dr Frank Furedi, author of the book Population and Development. "Yes, industrialisation is often exploitative, often leads to the uprooting of people. But at the same time it adds to human civilisation and means progress for all." «top»
The pre-industrial fantasy
But the Greens insist we must turn our backs on these 'outdated' ideas of economic and industrial progress. If we are to avoid an environmental catastrophe, they say, we must go back to living in harmony with nature. And to do this we must learn from pre-industrial tribal societies in the Third World.
40 per cent of the world's population still uses either wood or dung for fuel instead of electricity. But the indoor pollution from this is deadly, especially for women and children who spend most time in the home. According to the World Health Organisation, 5 million infants die every year in the Third World from respiratory diseases caused by breathing indoor smoke and rural smog.
Basic pollution of this kind kills far more people than all First World environmental problems combined. One and a half billion people in the Third World suffer air quality that is recognised by the World Health Organisation as 'dangerously unsafe', a level of pollution almost unknown in the Western world.
Dr Anil Patel is responsible for the health care of more than 200 villages in Gujarat, in north-west India. The vast majority of medical problems he encounters have been brought on by environmental causes. But the environmental problems he is concerned with come not from modern industry but rather from the lack of modern luxuries such as electricity and clean water.
"Clean water is completely out of question," says Dr Patel. "The water they get is untreated. Most of the time it is contaminated with human faeces and cattle faeces, and the ultimate result is that there are all sorts of water-borne diseases."
Water-borne diseases in the Third World have not been caused by modern industry. On the contrary, the only way to get rid of them is with modern water-cleaning facilities— the kind we take for granted in the West.
In the Third World, 250 million people are infected each year by water-borne diseases, mostly dysentery. Patients suffer severe stomach cramps, chronic diarrhoea and various other disorders such as skin disease, and each year 10 million of them die. The World Health Organisation estimated that in 1996 3.9 million children under the age of five died from diseases communicated by impure drinking water, mostly diarrhoea.
"Death from diarrhoea has been unheard of in the Western world in the past two generations," says Gregg Easterbrook. "That 3.9 million children dead in the developing world last year exceeds all deaths at all ages from all causes in the United States and the European Union combined. And yet we endlessly speak of water purity in the West as an issue."
The idealisation by Greens of life in the Third World is resented by many people there. "I see in this a serious problem of hypocrisy, and if not hypocrisy, a gross insensitivity," says Dr Patel.
According to the World Health Organisation, life expectancy for people in the Third World is 20 years less than our own. In the poorest areas they live 35 years less.
Damning development: the Greens and the Narmada project
People in India are struggling to emerge from the backward condition in which they find themselves. The Indian government is trying to build a hydroelectric dam on the Narmada river to provide clean water and the electricity which is vital for industrial progress. It will submerge 350 square kilometres of land and provide enough electricity to supply almost 5,000 villages in north-west India. It will provide clean drinking water for 30 million people and it will be an enormous boost for economic and industrial growth.
Not everyone is keen, however. Lisa Jordan is a director of The Bank Information Centre, an environmentalist group which tries to stop the World Bank from funding large-scale development projects in the Third World that are deemed environmentally unfriendly. She is keen to preserve traditional tribal life.
"This is genocide of tribal people who have lived in the forests that are being drowned for centuries. They're one of the oldest living populations on this earth that have been documented. These are the cultures that pay because of a large dam being developed to pipe water to a larger agriculture system, to provide electricity, to provide the dream."
But locals are not so keen on preserving things as they are.
"Instead of saying that we want this particular life to be encased like a museum, we must say that we want progress," one woman told Against Nature. "We want development of a particular kind and therefore we need larger dams."
Environmentalists are worried about the damage the dam will do to wildlife in the area, but supporters of the dam are equally appalled that the environmentalists are so concerned with preserving bio-diversity at the expense of human development.
"What exactly is the value of all this bio-diversity?" asks Wilfred Beckerman. "This idea that you have to preserve every scrap of nature, even though destroying it might confer enormous benefits on people whose standard of living and quality of life is so low as to be unimaginable for the vast majority of people in the Western world, I think is scandalous. I just get very angry when I hear this sort of thing. Whose side are these people on?"
As it happens, no pristine forest will be destroyed by the Narmada dam and the only endangered species to be affected is a colony of sloth bears, for which the Indian government is building a wildlife reserve nearby.
But the Greens say they aren't just concerned about the natural destruction of the dam. They point to the number of tribal people who will have to be resettled elsewhere. Brent Blackwelder, chairman of Friends of the Earth US, says more than 100,000 people will be uprooted from their homes. But according to the Indian government and the World Bank, the project will displace 70,000 people, who will be given farmland elsewhere with the benefits of roads, schools, electricity and clean water.
Critics of the Greens say environmentalists themselves are prepared to push tribal people off their land to make way for wild animals. Nature reserves founded in India by the World Wildlife Fund have displaced at least 25,000 people simply to make way for tigers.
Five years ago Dr Patel welcomed environmentalists' concern about tribal people and was even persuaded by the Greens to campaign against the dam. Today, he believes the real concern of environmentalists is to block progress. He is now a fervent supporter of the dam and accuses the Greens of seeming to care more about animals than people.
Many environmentalists argue that if people in the Third World want electricity, they should use solar power or wind power. But not only would solar and wind power fail to meet the need for clean water, environmentalists themselves admit that they would be fantastically more expensive. To produce the same amount of electricity as the Narmada dam using wind power would cost at least six times as much. Using solar power would cost more than seven times as much— and even then it is doubtful that it could be done. The Narmada dam will produce 400 times as much electricity as the largest solar panel installation currently in existence.
Local Indians such as Dr Patel dismiss all the Green arguments against the dam, saying that the dam will change things, but there can be no development without change.
Green pressure on the World Bank has led to funding for the Narmada dam being withdrawn. Consequently, work on the dam, which began in the early 60s, has all but stopped. Most environmentalists believe it will never be completed.
In addition, leading environmentalists have estimated that they have effectively blocked around 300 hydro-electric dams in the Third World, denying many millions of poor people the benefits of electricity and clean water.
Tom Blinkhorn of the World Bank thinks many people in the West who contribute to environmental organisations don't realise the implications.
"What they don't see is the tremendous poverty that exists in other parts of the world, and that if we are going to help people address that poverty, we need to do it through large dams and activities that many organisations in the Green movement are opposed to. I think a lot of the constituency for Green groups simply do not know about the problems in the Third World."
Conservation and conservatism
There have been many attempts in the past to block social and economic progress. But few have been as successful as today's environmentalist movement, which uses the threat of a global ecological crisis to override the wishes of those people who most need the benefits of progress. And it's not only dams that the Greens campaign against.
"Western environmentalist sentiment has been successful ...in blocking a whole range of industrial facilities," says Gregg Easterbrook. "Factories, roads, logging— even well-regulated logging— have been vehemently opposed."
Steve Hayward argues that it's immoral for rich environmentalists to impose their ideology on Third World countries, where people are poor and disease is rampant.
"The best thing that could happen to those countries is to industrialise rapidly ... so they have the resources not only to be healthier but also to protect their environment. To stand in the way of that is wrong and dangerous in my mind."
After all, adds Gregg Easterbrook, we became affluent through industrialisation and exploiting our resources.
Greens are often portrayed as left-wing radicals, battling against a backward-looking establishment. But they are in fact part of a long tradition of conservatism that idealises nature and the past. These conservative instincts motivated 19th-century figures such as Nietzsche and Wagner, and movements such as the Romantics, who were horrified by England's 'dark satanic mills' (as William Blake described them) and dreamt of returning to a mythical past of medieval knights and maidens, and even the Boy Scout movement, which in its origins combined a mystical affinity with nature, Right-wing nationalism and a hatred of degenerate modern life.
"What we today call 'environmentalism' is ... based on a fear of change," says Frank Furedi. "It's based upon a fear of the outcome of human action. And therefore it's not surprising that when you look at the more xenophobic right-wing movements in Europe in the 19th century, including German fascism, it quite often had a very strong environmentalist dynamic to it."
Fascism, animal rights and human rights
The most notorious environmentalists in history were the German Nazis. The Nazis ordered soldiers to plant more trees. They were the first Europeans to establish nature reserves and order the protection of hedgerows and other wildlife habitats. And they were horrified at the idea of hydroelectric dams on the Rhine. Adolf Hitler and other leading Nazis were vegetarian and they passed numerous laws on animal rights.
"They had essentially a biological view of society," Dr Furedi continues. "They regarded society as an organism to which you were rooted through blood ties ... and felt much more comfortable with what they perceived to be natural than what were the products of human creativity. I think that's one of the reasons why [Hitler] had this celebration of the animal kingdom, the celebration of wildlife."
The historian Dr Mark Almond, of Oriel College, Oxford, goes further.
"Goering made ferocious blood curdling speeches saying that people who were cruel to animals, including scientists who did research on them, would be put in concentration camps," he says. "This was perversely part of the logic which could at the same time put people into concentration camps, on whom they experimented."
Frank Furedi agrees.
"History shows us is that whenever people begin to treat animals like human beings, it's only a smell step away from treating human beings like animals. And that seems to me the logical outcome of this nostalgic, sentimental approach towards animal rights."
A Western agenda
Environmentalists today have been accused of effectively imposing their views on the Third World, and causing immense suffering in the process.
"The new focus on environmental issues too often has the consequence of turning societies into theme parks," argues Frank Furedi. "They are very attractive for the voyeuristic Western imagination, but actually doom people in those societies to a life of poverty."
"And it seems to me that there is no accountability here. It's not the people of Africa and Asia or Latin America that have demanded environmental policies; these are policies that are being pushed by everybody in the West, from the World Bank to Green organisations. Who gave them the authority? By what moral right do they dictate the terms of how these societies can develop and realise their potential for the future?"
Gregg Easterbrook emphasises the hypocrisy of attitudes in the West:
"It's still possible in affluent circles in the United States or Europe to see people sitting in an air-conditioned room eating free-range chicken and sipping Chablis, talking amongst themselves about how farmers in Africa shouldn't have tractors, because it might disrupt the soil, or how peasants in India shouldn't be allowed to have hydroelectric power, because it's not appropriate to their culture.... What would really be immoral is if we insisted on keeping material affluence for ourselves and try to deny it to the billions of others in the world who want and deserve exactly the same thing."
Our attitude to the Third World, as Frank Furedi puts it, is that
"... your societies are doomed to be poor-houses for the rest of the world. It purports to be ever so radical and ever so sensitive, but what it does is it sets a Western agenda on the rest of the world. It's as intrusive today as imperialism was in the 19th century. "
"The problem isn't that we have so much that we're squandering resources, the real problem is that most people do not have access to even the most basic needs of everyday life. The real problem is that they're denied good education and good health. Therefore, the answer does not lie in going backwards and trying to be anti-technological, close down factories and not build roads.... Only through the appliance of science and technology can people's aspirations be realised even at the most elementary level."
People today face many difficulties in the First World as well as the Third: poverty and squalor, ignorance and disease. But the battle against these evils cannot be won by returning to nature or some mythical past. Instead, we must go forwards to a better future with confidence in our ability to understand and change the world. «top»
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