Friday, August 30, 2002

Help the Poor Now!
Unless We Say Not To.

The Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development continues to horrify and amuse, particularly the confusing arguments of the professional activists. This week the leftist paradox of the developing world has come into sharp focus: activists castigate the United States and the rest of the G-7 for not contributing enough towards growth and development in the Third World, yet every development project and new technology that is proposed is immediately attacked as being environmentally harmful and culturally destructive. From the standpoint of the environmental movement, of course, they’re correct to object – any development project makes life significantly better in a poor country is going to consume more natural resources and use additional energy, and that violates the idea that everyone on the planet should be conserving and using less of everything. The same activists know how callous it sounds to say that people living in poverty don’t deserve the same energy intensive luxuries we have here in the U.S., though, so they generally talk out of both sides of their mouth (“We must encourage development in poor countries” / “We all need to reduce our use of scarce natural resources”) and hope no one calls them on it, which most people never do.

A refreshing if also depressing example of honesty came earlier this week when a development expert from India assailed the expanding prevalence of flush toilets as a pernicious and environmentally destructive trend. Perhaps the Greenpeace monkey wrench crews that have spent the last few years trampling fields of bioengineered crops can start on a new environmental jihad – tear out the indoor plumbing of the cities and villages of the Third World. This new project could be even more successful than their old one, since most of the universities and agribusiness companies that they’ve hit can afford to re-plant their crops, while most developing countries will be too poor to replace their plumbing.

Speaking of which, the development paradox becomes especially stark when it comes to bioengineered foods. Activists point the finger of blame at the wealthy developed countries whenever there is a famine anywhere in the world, yet they vociferously oppose the single most potent solution: the introduction of higher yield crops created through precision genetic modification. The hypocrisy in simultaneously demanding and opposing aid has not gone entirely unnoticed, fortunately. The Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development said of the activists’ victory this week in persuading Zambia not to accept U.S. aid that might contain bioengineered foods: "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." Shame especially on the government of Zambia that has decided it is better that their people should starve than be exposed to the imagined risks of new crop varieties.


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