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Humpty Dumpty environmental policies

By Paul Driessen
web posted February 18, 2008

"Environmental justice" is often used to benchmark corporate social responsibility.

"People of color and low-income populations are disproportionately impacted by pollution," argues Leslie Fields, Sierra Club director of environmental justice.

It's unjust that people lose their jobs when companies merge or downsize, to cut costs or boost profits, activists claim.

"Every time a child dies as a result of floods in Bangladesh, an airline executive should be dragged out of his office and drowned," for causing global warming, rants UK firebrand George Monbiot. Government leaders "should go to jail" for failing to act more quickly to prevent planetary climate cataclysm, insists Canadian eco-zealot David Suzuki.

These assertions range from simplistic to outrageous to straight out of Lewis Carroll. 

"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said in a rather scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less."

"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."

"The question is," Humpty Dumpty replied, "who is to be master. That's all."

Indeed, activist terminology often guides public policy – and dictates who is to be master: those who must live with the consequences of their personal choices – or those who must live with policies imposed by others. That reality underscores why policies must be founded on full and fair assessment of risks and benefits, especially to the poor and powerless, rather than on what advances political agendas.

A few years back, mostly black residents of Convent, Louisiana welcomed the construction of a modern plastics factory that would have brought 2,000 construction jobs and 165 permanent positions that paid double  the wages of working in sugar cane fields, plus health benefits and a stronger tax base. The local NAACP also supported the facility.

But Sierra Club activists opposed the plant, claiming Shintech, Inc's factory might increase allegedly high cancer rates, in violation of environmental justice principles. The factory was built elsewhere, in a mostly white community, and Convent remained poor.

Allegations of high cancer rates turned out to be false. In fact, cancer rates might well have declined, because workers with medical benefits would have discovered the disease in time to get treatment. But activist notions of "environmental justice" had prevailed. They were the masters, and Convent's residents never had a choice. By the time the truth came out, the activists were off lambasting other facilities.

Losing a job is always a wrenching experience. Capitalism's forces of "creative destruction" are as powerful today as when horse-and-buggy craftsmen were laid off by automobile makers – and mountains of manure were replaced by exhaust from internal combustion engines. Mergers and acquisitions fueled by innovation, competition and profit-seeking clearly create jobs, though they also destroy jobs.

However, corporate decisions affect a limited number of workers – whereas government policies affect millions. The drive to eliminate fossil fuels, switch to a CO2-free economy and prevent computer-generated climate disasters might create some new jobs, but it would also cost countless jobs and impact families all across America.

European industries are already reevaluating investment decisions and cancelling projects, largely because of an increasingly strict and unpredictable regulatory climate in the EU, according to World Energy Council vice chairman Johannes Teyssen. New power plants are being put on hold, threatening to hike electricity prices even further and exacerbate a growing energy shortfall – and companies are pondering relocation to China and India, as it becomes harder to get building and expansion permits.

Similar anxieties are increasing in the United States, as Congress considers a dozen tough climate change bills. Not one of them acknowledges the uncertainties inherent in climate models and predictions of catastrophic warming. Not one considers recent solar magnetic readings that some researchers fear could reflect a downturn in the sun's energy output, which could trigger a planetary cold spell, severe weather and widespread crop failures.

Will legislators and eco agitators be as outraged about widespread job losses caused by such legislation, as they have been about comparatively minor "injustices" perpetrated by capitalists? Will they restore funding to the FutureGen coal project that was to evaluate the economic and technological viability of carbon sequestration initiatives on which so much climate change policy relies?

Will they reverse land use policies that have driven tens of thousands of blacks from San Francisco and other California cities – and reject proposals to limit how many miles workers can drive each year to get from affordable homes to jobs in those cities?

Drownings in impoverished Third World countries are tragic, but no more so than far more numerous deaths from malaria, dysentery, malnutrition and lung disease among children in those nations. But environmental justice agitators are among the perpetrators of these unnecessary deaths.

They pressure countries and aid agencies not to use DDT, insecticides or larvacides, causing disease, death and eventual resistance by mosquitoes to pyrethrum in bednets and by parasites to ACT drugs. They oppose biotech crops and medicines, which could reduce blindness, malnutrition, intestinal disease and deaths – and enable Third World farmers to grow more nutritious crops, with less water and fewer pesticides, under widely varied climate conditions.

Eco-alarmists tell impoverished Africans that global warming is the greatest threat they face – when Al Gore uses more electricity in a week than 100 million Africans together use in a year. Those people rarely or never have electricity and must burn wood and animal dung, resulting in lung diseases that cause millions of deaths annually. Yet alarmists oppose fossil fuel power plants, as well as nuclear and hydroelectric projects – guaranteed that Africa's poverty and death toll will continue.

Should we demand that eco-imperialists be jailed or drowned every time children die because of these policies? Certainly not. But we should demand real environmental justice. We should demand an end to the censorship and intimidation practiced by the United Nations and many colleges, as documented by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education and Evan Maloney's provocative film, "Indoctrinate U."

We should insist that the US government begin developing our publicly owned energy resources, as Congress of Racial Equality chairman Roy Innis suggests in his new book, Energy Keepers - Energy Killers: The new civil rights battle.

We should define "environmental justice" to recognize economist Indur Goklany's finding that "future generations will be better off in even the richest but warmest" IPCC scenarios, and under worst-case scenarios presented by the Stern Review. If communities have abundant, affordable energy to sustain economic growth and technology, they will enjoy better health and be able to adapt to whatever climate changes nature (or humans) might bring.

We need kilowatts, not Killawatts – and reliable, affordable energy, not anti-energy policies that force poor families to rely on BeggaWatts. ESR

Paul Driessen is senior policy advisor for the Congress of Racial Equality and Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow, and author of Eco-Imperialism: Green power - black death (www.Eco-Imperialism.com)

 

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