MICHAEL DUFFY, SYDNEY MORNING HERALD, MAY 6, 2006
May 6, 2006
BEWARE THE BIG GEEEN POLITICAL MONSTER: GREEN ACTIVISTS ACTUALLY POSE SERIOUS THREATS TO THE ENVIRONMENT
LAST week saw the 20th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster. Environmental groups continue to use this as part of their irrational campaign against nuclear energy.
In truth, Chernobyl was caused by communist managerial incompetence, not nuclear technology. France went nuclear in 1974, has had no significant accidents and today has 78 per cent of its power coming from nuclear plants. Its energy is almost the cheapest and its air probably the cleanest in Europe.
Last month Mikhail Gorbachev, former president of the USSR, wrote that Chernobyl “was perhaps the real cause of the collapse of the Soviet Union five years later. Indeed the Chernobyl catastrophe was a historic turning point … the system as we knew it could no longer continue.” This is an amazing admission. It suggests that Chernobyl should be seen in a new light, as an event that helped free a large part of the Earth’s surface from a regime that had killed some 20 million human beings.
We don’t know how many people will die as a result of Chernobyl, but it will be fewer than the number killed by the Russian Revolution. The Chernobyl Forum, which includes the World Health Organisation and the International Atomic Energy Agency, says 56 people died after the accident and up to 9300 more will die. Greenpeace claims 100,000 will die. It’s a huge difference in prediction. Who do you believe: a United Nations body that depends on its reputation for accuracy, or the green fear factory?
Recently I interviewed Patrick Moore, a co-founder of Greenpeace, on radio and asked why he quit the organisation. He said: “I left in the mid-’80s when the policy started to drift away from science and logic into these kind of zero-tolerance positions that I believe are based more on sensation and fund-raising around scare tactics. Look at the campaign against genetically modified crops and the whole ‘Frankenstein food’ … these are scare words that are attached to what is actually one of the most important advances to genetic science in history … for example, taking a gene from corn and creating the ‘golden rice’ which could eliminate blindness in half a million kids every year in Asia and Africa, and could eliminate chronic vitamin A deficiency in over 200 million people in the rice-eating countries.”
Moore, who has an honours degree in forest biology and a PhD in ecology, says he left Greenpeace when “I was an international director, one of five. My fellow international directors had no science education. Most of them were political activists or entrepreneur environmentalists, for want of a better word, and they decided we should start a campaign to ban chlorine worldwide. I said, ‘Chlorine is one of the elements in the periodic table. I don’t think that’s in our jurisdiction.’ And they said, ‘No, this is a good campaign. Chlorine is the devil’s element, and it works really well for fund-raising and media and everything.’
“I said, ‘Just a minute, 75 per cent of our medicines are based on chlorine chemistry, and adding chlorine to drinking water was the single biggest advance in the history of public health, and the best way to deliver that slightly chlorinated drinking water to the general public is in a PVC pipe. So give me a break. I cannot go along with this. You guys make a list of the chlorine compounds that you don’t like and we’ll look at them one by one like any regulatory agency would do, but you can’t just condemn chlorine. We put it in swimming pools so that people don’t get cholera and tetanus.’ ”
The others weren’t persuaded. Moore says: “That was the beginning of my having to leave the organisation that I helped found.”
These days the green movement often seems driven by left-wing rather than environmental causes. The biggest example is population growth, which is the greatest single danger to Australia’s environment. When is the last time you heard a green activist even mention immigration, a major source of that growth? When the Herald-Sun newspaper in Melbourne claimed before the 2004 election that the Greens political party wanted to reduce the population by 2 million, Senator Bob Brown took it to the Press Council on the ground that this was not the party’s policy – and won.
The activists focus on other issues, such as globalisation. They claim free trade moves dirty factories offshore, thereby exporting Western environmental problems to the Third World. But in his new book, The Undercover Economist, Tim Harford of the Financial Times points out that “foreign investment in polluting industries is the fastest growing segment of foreign investment coming into the United States. In contrast, foreign investment in clean industries is the fastest growing segment of American investments abroad.” The reason, Harford says, is that “seriously polluting industries like bulk chemical production require high levels of skill, reliable infrastructure and – since a lot of capital investment is involved – political stability. Why jeopardise that by moving the plant to Ethiopia to save a few dollars on environmental costs?” He notes that air pollution in China has dropped substantially as globalisation has boosted its economy, a correlation also seen in the other major developing nations of Brazil and Mexico.
It’s strange that so many of the positions now advocated by green activists actually pose serious threats to the environment.