Critics are “lying about environmentalists” and “willfully representing facts” about them and their views, concerns and agendas. So says a recent commentary by the Earth Island Institute and Environmental News Network.

A principle object of their wrath was a recent article by this author, shredding lofty claims about wind turbines, much as these towering “Cuisinarts of the air” eviscerate birds and bats. They particularly objected to this statement:

The Earth Island Institute longs for the day when Africa’s poor made clothing for their neighbors “on foot-pedal-powered sewing machines” and says, “once they get electricity, they spend too much time watching television and listening to the radio.”

“Earth Island longs for no such thing,” the ENN column protested, “and Driessen is misrepresenting ‘a former Earth Island staff member who spoke supporting sustainable development in Africa.’”

One can readily understand their pique at being roundly criticized for their eco-imperialistic, anti-development ideologies. However, the facts speak for themselves. Former EII editor Gar Smith’s comments were duly reported in a 2002 story in which Smith opined:

"I don't think a lot of electricity is a good thing…. I have seen villages in Africa that had vibrant culture and great communities that were disrupted and destroyed by the introduction of electricity." [Once they got electricity,] African villagers spent too much time watching television and listening to the radio, allowing their traditional ways to fade away, according to Smith.

Smith lamented that "people who used to spend their days and evenings in the streets playing music on their own instruments, and sewing clothing for their neighbors on foot-peddle-powered sewing machines," lost their culture with the advent of electricity. "If there is going to be electricity, I would like it to be decentralized, small, solar-powered," he said.

Moreover, in the common vernacular of radical environmentalism and “corporate social responsibility,” helping African villages to retain their “traditional ways” – by keeping their access to electricity at a bare minimum – is precisely what is meant by “sustainable development.” Thus, actor Ed Begley, Jr. pontificates that “it’s much cheaper for everybody in Africa to have electricity where they need it, on their huts.” (And huts forever, one might suppose, since little solar panels like these can barely power a few light bulbs and small appliances – and certainly can never provide enough electricity for a modern hospital, school, office, manufacturing facility or society.)

Similarly, the Rainforest Action Network (RAN) demands that the World Bank, Citigroup, Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase and other lenders demonstrate their social responsibility by pulling the plug on coal and natural gas power projects, and funding only renewable energy. But not the most efficient and cost-effective of all renewable sources, of course – the hydroelectric facilities that generate 99% of all electricity that currently comes from renewables. Wind and solar are the only “appropriate” and “sustainable” sources permitted under radical green and CSR standards. And the smaller-scale the better, when it comes to poor developing countries.

Begley, RAN, Earth Island, Friends of the Earth, International Rivers Network and similar groups are adamantly opposed to “damming more rivers” to provide clean water and abundant, affordable, reliable electricity to the world’s poor. Hydro projects “ruin good kayaking rivers” and “displace” little creatures that live along river banks. On the other hand, most of these activists voice few objections to the impact that forests of 300-foot-tall wind turbines have on scenic values or bird and bat populations.

Environmentalists airbrush and sanitize “sustainable development,” dressing it up in fancy verbal raiment about pristine nature, indigenous cultures and future generations. But the result remains unchanged. "Sustainable development" is being used to justify blocking energy and economic development, and keeping the world’s most destitute people mired in misery.

“Cute, indigenous customs aren’t so charming when they make up one’s day-to-day existence,” Kenya’s Akinyi Arunga observes. “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.”

Opposition to hydroelectric projects is “a crime against humanity,” a man in Gujarat, India, angrily told a UK television news crew. “We don’t want to be encased like a museum,” a Gujarati woman told the crew, in “traditional” lifestyles so romanticized by Hollywood and radical Greens.

“Telling destitute people in my country, and in countries with even greater destitution, that they must never aspire to living standards much better than they have now – because it wouldn’t be ‘sustainable’ – is just one example of the hypocrisy we have had thrust in our faces, in an era when we can and should grow fast enough to become fully developed in a single generation,” South African anti-poverty activist Leon Louw says bluntly. “We’re fed up with it.”

One factor driving opposition to Third World development is the alarmists’ fixation on theoretical human-caused climate change. They know that, despite the economic pain it will inflict on signatory nations, the Kyoto Protocol will at best keep global temperatures from rising a few tenths of a degree over the next century. That’s why alarmists now say global emissions must be cut by 60 to 80 percent!

But developing countries are exempted from the Kyoto treaty’s draconian measures, and China, India and Brazil refused to be bound – and are strong enough that they can’t be bullied. So the alarmists have turned their attention to the smaller nations, successfully pressuring banks and governments not to support power generation projects. The tactic supposedly keeps emissions down, if one ignores the millions of wood, grass and dung fires that substitute for electricity. It certainly keeps poor people from become middle class consumers (of “finite resources”).

It also gets the banks and other organizations out of the pressure groups’ crosshairs, at least for awhile. But it does so by imposing a death sentence on critically needed projects – and millions of people, who succumb to a host of diseases that no longer exist in developed countries. 

Why any ethical company or politician would want to be associated with such policies is a mystery. Poor countries need sustained development, not sustainable development, if they are ever to take what Rabbi Daniel Lapin calls “their rightful place among the Earth’s prosperous people.”

Opposition to centralized electricity and economic projects, support for “sustainable development” and “appropriate” forms of small-scale renewable energy projects, and an attachment to romanticized visions of “indigenous” cultures, are merely different facets of the anti-human attitudes that dominate so much of environmentalist thought today. They are ingredients in a recipe for sustained poverty, misery, disease and premature death.

They need to be resisted – not applauded or promoted – by every ethical and socially responsible CEO, politician, journalist, clergyman and citizen. For its part, the environmental movement needs to do some serious soul-searching, and begin to abide by the same rules of honesty, transparency, morality, accountability – and concern for people’s lives – that it demands of everyone else.


Paul Driessen is senior policy advisor for the Congress of Racial Equality and Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise, and author of Eco-Imperialism: Green power ● Black death,  

© 2005 Paul K. Driessen