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Moralizing environmentalist dogma is immoral

By E. Calvin Beisner, Ph.D. and Rabbi Daniel Lapin
web posted November 1, 2004

With the presidential election just one day away, John Kerry has gotten a free pass as the more "environmentally-friendly" candidate. But voters need to take a much closer look at the credibility of organizations pushing that line before accepting it at face value.

The Sierra Club, League of Conservation Voters, and other eco-activist groups insist the Bush administration isn't just misguided, it's immoral. Whether "gutting" environmental laws, "waging war" on the environment, colluding with "polluters," the dogmatic gist is that "W" stands for "World-killer." One might expect unimpeachable ethical standards from "white hat" critics like these. However, their notion of ethics leaves many of us scratching our heads.

They oppose oil drilling virtually everywhere, for example, and say we should just drive smaller cars. Unfortunately, reducing the size and weight of cars to help meet mileage standards costs lives: an additional 1,300 to 2,600 fatalities every year, and ten times that many injuries, than if people had been driving bigger cars, according to the National Academy of Sciences and other serious analyses.

Even if every car on the road were economy-sized, we'd still get thousands of needless injuries and deaths every year in collisions with buses, trucks, trees and walls. Even worse, the impact is felt most by the poor, who can least afford safety features found in late-model luxury cars. They're forced to buy older, less high-tech, less safe cars.

It's curious how environmentalists demand lower arsenic levels in drinking water to prevent a dozen theoretical cancer deaths a year. But they ignore this very real carnage on our roads – and demand even tougher mileage standards and the elimination of sport utility vehicles, even though many Americans choose to drive bigger vehicles to give them an extra margin of safety or haul boats, kids and construction tools.

As for global warming, which they claim is exacerbated by SUVs, our planet has warmed a degree since 1900. But catastrophic global climate change theories are supported only by unreliable computer models, and ground temperature gauges that are contaminated by urban heat. They are not backed by satellite or weather balloon data, which show little recent warming, or by 18,000 scientists who have signed a petition saying they see "no convincing evidence that humans are disrupting the earth's climate."

The Kyoto climate treaty and other "solutions" would do almost nothing to stabilize greenhouse gases or reduce global warming. However, they would send energy prices soaring. In future cold snaps and heat waves, thousands could die, because heating and air conditioning would become unaffordable for many, especially minorities and the elderly.

Studies by the U.S. government and a coalition of minority business groups found that the treaty could cost over 3 million American jobs, including 800,000 in black and 500,000 in Hispanic communities. Minority family incomes could plummet by $2,000 or more.

The payoff from all this misery? Average global temperatures would rise by 0.2 degrees less than if the treaty had never been implemented, according to studies reported in Nature magazine and the US Energy Information Agency.

Our planet's poorest and most powerless people are already imperiled by policies intended to prevent theoretical climate change. Over two billion Africans, Asians and Latin Americans still do not have electricity, and activists tell them they must be content with wind generators, or little solar panels on their huts – because fossil fuel plants would cause global warming, hydroelectric plants would dam up scenic rivers, and nuclear power is simply taboo.

"Socially responsible" organizations like the World Bank, Citigroup and Bank of America have succumbed to these claims and now refuse to fund such projects. So millions of people continue to die every year in these countries from lung diseases, because they have to burn wood, grass and animal dung. Millions more die from drinking contaminated water, because they lack electricity to purify and transport safe water, or operate clinics.

"Ethical" greens also oppose pesticides that could slash malaria rates – resulting in 300 million people contracting this terrible disease every year, and 2 million dying. They also battle biotechnology – ensuring that malnutrition strikes down millions of children every year, and leaves others too weak to survive other diseases.

These are bedrock ethical issues. Why do environmentalists rarely discuss them?

"Do not do unto others as you would not have them do unto you." Healthy, well-off First World activists and politicians repeatedly violate this version of the Golden Rule, to ward off distant, speculative, relatively minor dangers – while preventing Third World citizens from addressing very real, immediate threats that are literally killing them and their children.

Polices that kill people are fundamentally bad policies. We need to bring honesty, ethics and humanity back into our environmental debates. A first step toward helping the poorest among us take their rightful place among the Earth's healthy and prosperous is rejecting Green authoritarianism, both at home and abroad. 

Dr. Beisner is associate professor of historical theology and social ethics at Knox Theological Seminary in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. Rabbi Lapin is president of Toward Tradition.

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