Thursday, July 30, 2009

Environmentalism and Africa

I'm having a good-spirited debate with a friend of mine on facebook regarding the role of environmentalism in Africa.  He has taken the side that we must do all we can to ensure that nothing the developing countries do will impact Africa, and that we must do all we can to ensure that we don't impact Africa with our environmental emissions.

He even brought "white guilt" into the equation with the line, "However, we also can't ignore the centuries of colonialism that has been a major contributor to African countries being in the position they are in now."

I don't think he is talking about setting up wind farms in our country because England took over large portions of Africa 130 years ago.  I'm going to take a guess that he is thinking we should impose modern Environmental standards on today's Africa.

I take the tack that with Africa being largely free since the '60s, the best thing to do is offer goods and services, but withdraw from telling them how and where they should conduct their affairs.  Let them use DDT to combat Malaria.  Let them drill for oil using the methods they want.  To do otherwise is to revert back to a "convert the heathen" approach used by colonialists years back.

It's not often I find an article that nails it on the head, but I found one here:
(The Independent Review, v. VIII, n.1, Summer 2003, ISSN 1086-1653, Copyright © 2003, pp. 65– 86.)
(See mom!  I can do references!)

Yet much of the crusading energy of current environmentalism derives from a much different source. For many of its followers today, environmentalism has been a substitute for fading mainline Christian and progressive faiths—its religious quality obvious to any close observer of its workings. Its language is often overtly religious: “saving” the earth from rape and pillage; building “cathedrals” in the wilderness; creating a new “Noah’s Ark” with laws such as the Endangered Species Act; pursuing a new “calling” to preserve the remaining wild areas; and taking steps to protect what is left of “the Creation” on earth. At the heart of the environmental message is a new story of the fall of mankind from a previous, happier, and more natural and innocent time—a secular vision of the biblical fall from the Garden of Eden.

Before the corrupting influence of modern civilization (and perhaps the true date of the fall can be traced as far back as the rise of agriculture, almost ten thousand years ago), human beings lived in genuine harmony with nature. Since the fall, the rise of acquisitive urges and the destructive powers of modern science and industrial production have defiled the innocence of nature almost everywhere. Environmentalism therefore seeks to protect the vestiges of the original natural order and perhaps in some places to restore a “true” nature—the original Creation, as it is in effect regarded within the movement—that has been lost.
One of the issues often overlooked is that Africa in its current state cannot afford to have environmentally friendly solutions to power needs.  For the price of solar cells, they can get, at a minimum, 3 times the electricity using gas or coal-burning methods, and can have electricity during the night (imagine!).  Not to mention the environmental damage done from the production of solar cells.  (ethylene-vinyl acetate lining and heavy metals in water, not to mention the electricity draw necessary to heat and dope the silicon itself)

Later on, he talks about massive displacements of the indigenous people to make way for conservation parks.  Ironically, most of these are on some of the most fertile ground that Africa has to offer.  This is done to preserve these areas to bring in tourist dollars.  People come in to experience "primeval Africa".  Mostly westerners. 

Turns out that the needs of the people are being marginalized due to the massive lobbying efforts from outside.  By environmental groups.  Western environmental groups.

The western world is starving Africa with its environmentalism practices, then making ourselves feel better by arranging aid. But hey, we get to feel better in the process.  And isn't that the important part?

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