February 19, 2013
Bjørn Lomborg, in a recent article on how environmental activist groups like Greenpeace have held up trials on Golden Rice (GM rice enriched with beta-carotene which produces vitamin A) for twelve years for no good reason, considered whether they should be held in part responsible for the loss of around eight million lives in that time from vitamin A deficiency. I cannot argue with the research that Lomborg lays out in excellent detail, or how campaigners continue to make up ridiculous points rather than admit their errors on GM technology, but I would have to argue with a basic premise underlying Lomborg’s conclusion: that to blame NGO activists, you would have to assume that these campaigners are in some way responsible for their actions.
Environmental activists are paid to attack, criticise and reject the institutions of western societies (governments, industries, certain transnational organisations). This is their raison d’être. They isolate or fabricate imperfections, create public fear about wild hypotheses and then fundraise to convince people they have the means to restore order via some utopian dreams. It is a simple formula that has proven to be very successful if one considers the billions raised every year to pay their salaries and expenses. There is no sense of responsibility in this model, never was, since these activists hide behind a precautionary principle-based logic which holds that not being right is not the same as being wrong (with precaution, you are never wrong, you are just being safe). If you are never deemed to be wrong, how could you possibly be held responsible for any negative consequences?
An example of the perversion of precautionary logic that the Risk-Monger has used before: Today, it was a sunny day, but I still brought my umbrella with me to work. I was not right to bring my umbrella, but I would not consider that I was wrong in doing so either, and, under similar conditions, I would bring it again tomorrow. I would never be wrong to take my umbrella (just very frequently not right). Potential mistakes are not part of the equation in precautionary logic.
So I would advise Mr Lomborg to look at the built-in escape clause that the environmental activists use when they claim, for twelve years, that we need to use precaution regarding the introduction of Golden Rice. The eight million who have died from vitamin A deficiency are momentarily shocking but these numbers can be explained away or put into a twisted context against a clever scaremonger’s wild scenarios (which will justify further attacks on the field test sites they are no doubt planning). They have been playing this game for over three decades regarding the three thousand (mostly children) who die every day from malaria. There is no responsibility attributed towards those who pushed, erroneously, for the ban on DDT. Mr Lomborg should look at how the concept of precaution has been manipulated as a policy tool.
Still, there are eight million deaths that did not need to happen. Lomborg is right that someone should be responsible for this. It is the policy-maker who is responsible for delaying decisions to begin field testing. Preferring the path of least resistance, governments don’t want public conflict or to be forced into making difficult decisions. So they cower behind the shield of precaution that the activists make available to them and demand further studies (repeatedly until the rage machine goes away). Their decisions may not be right (many more may die), but under the guise of a caring concern for public safety, no one would ever come back to them and say they were wrong. What voice does the mother of a dead three-year-old in Bangladesh have? But these policy-makers are not paid to criticise; they are paid to be responsible. Regrettably, they have not been at all.
Like a child, environmental activists simply say “No!” to everything. What would happen if groups like Greenpeace or WWF agreed with everything we are doing? Could they continue to exist? History shows how, in the 1970s, before these groups took hold in the mainstream, there were serious environmental problems affecting the air, soil and water that needed to be addressed (and they were). Today’s environmental campaigns are insignificant and mostly fabricated (GMOs, pesticides, chemicals in clothing) or immeasurable (biodiversity, climate change), and yet the market has become so great for this fear consumption, that activists are filling this gap with contrived campaigns that have convinced us that the environmental situation is worsening (we are on the brink of destruction by …). This was behind Patrick Moore’s beef with Greenpeace, an organisation he helped found. Sometimes activists are successful in pushing through change, and like clockwork, as soon as we adopt their proposed technologies, they themselves begin to attack these decisions (biofuels, HFCs, electric cars …).
These children, though, should not be allowed to run the household. It is the parent who is responsible for making the decisions; telling the spoilt child: “Yes!” and not reacting to every single tantrum the child throws. When will governments get this?