The U.N. Honors Environmental Uselessness

Rachel Marsden
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Posted: Jun 20, 2009 7:44 PM

The United Nations’ environmental agency recently named its “environmental heroes”. Judging by the results, the formula for anyone interested in being a “hero” in the eyes of the U.N. is to apply Herculean effort in a sufficiently misdirected manner, so as to best reflect the organization’s values.

Let’s have a look at a few of the winners:

First, there’s the British woman who plans to row across the Pacific Ocean and walk from London to Copenhagen, having already rowed across the Atlantic. According to a U.N news release, she wants to “encourage people to walk more, drive less.” What a quaint idea -- returning to our roots, when we used to run or row between villages or countries. If I could take months off from working, I might consider it. Then I could reclaim marathon titles from all the people whose countries boast untouched environmental beauty but no running water.

Environmental ideology has always been at odds with economic productivity: If people are ditching modern transportation and walking around everywhere, then they’re wasting valuable work production time. If a cap-and-trade air-trading system is implemented, then companies will be forced to reduce output to save money (or pass the cost to the consumer). If someone is standing out on the sidewalk handing out brochures to save the rainforest, then he’s not filling orders at McDonalds. Get the idea? Of course there are exceptions -- many corporations create products out of recyclable materials -- but they’re not (a) sufficiently wasting their time, or (b) approaching the task from a self-sacrificial financial position, making them unlikely to be getting any recognition from the United Nations anytime soon. Only martyrs need apply.

Meanwhile, the U.N. frets in a recent news release about humans in impoverished countries surviving weather patterns (aka “global warming”): “In coming decades, climate change will motivate or force millions of people to leave their homes in search of viable livelihoods and safety.”

Well, that’s why we have private industry creating opportunity and solutions where none exist. That’s how we got modern electrical air conditioning, for example. Not coincidentally, that isn’t a U.N. invention, either.

The second “environmental hero” -- the young David de Rothschild of England’s Rothschild banking family -- apparently plans to blow part of his trust fund on taking a catamaran made out of plastic bottles on a joyride across the Atlantic, sailing past the drowning polar bears and choking dolphins. Hopefully the boat won’t also feature an environment-raping propeller.

I’m not sure where precisely the heroism lies in this feat, except perhaps in risking life and limb courting danger on the high seas using only environmentally hazardous materials. This is a common theme among those seen as leaders or “heroes” of the environmentalist movement. If they’re not floating down polluted rivers to “raise awareness,” then they’re clinging to (or lying under) massive trees as they fall to the ground. Often the only difference between these people and, say, someone with their lips wrapped around a vehicular exhaust pipe is a little grant money.

Then, there’s the group of environmental heroes in California that wants to suck plastic garbage out of the ocean and transform it into diesel fuel. While this group is only beginning to embark on some reconnaissance ocean-sweeping trips this summer to explore their idea, NASA already has astronauts drinking their own recycled urine in space. I’d say the pee drinkers have the edge this year. But again, NASA is probably a bit too big and successful a brand for the U.N.’s tastes. Sometimes the U.N. likes to combine their two favourite jokes of environmental and foreign policy inaction into one: They recently encouraged Russia to make their 2014 Olympic games environmentally friendly -- making them sign an agreement promising to stick with the plan at risk of a strong tongue-lashing. I’m sure the U.N.’s friends at Amnesty International will be happy to know there’s nothing left to clean up in Russia except the scenery.

The U.N. excels at the art of accomplishing nothing while making the public feel great about it. And if you have the ability to convey that sentiment to the average person, you too could be a U.N. hero.