Enemies of the Poor

Posted: Jun 02, 2007 12:01 AM
Enemies of the Poor

“People here have no jobs,” Mark Fenn admitted, after taking documentary producers on a tour of his $35,000 catamaran and the site of his new coastal home. “But if you could count how many times they smile in a day, if you could measure stress” – and compare that to “well-off people” in London or New York – “then tell me, who is rich and who is poor?”

Fenn is coordinator of World Wildlife Fund’s campaign against a proposed mining project near Fort Dauphin, Madagascar. The locals strongly support the project and want the jobs, improved port, sustained development, and improved living standards and environmental quality this state-of-the-art operation will bring. No wonder.

People there live in abject poverty, along dirt roads, in shacks with dirt floors, barely able to afford food on their $1000-a-year average income. There is little electricity and no indoor plumbing. The area’s rainforest has been destroyed for firewood and slash-and-burn agriculture. People barely eke out a living.

But Fenn claims the mine will change the “quaint” village and harm the environment. He says he feels “like a resident,” his children “were born and raised” there, and the locals “don’t consider education to be important” and would just spend their money on parties, jeans and stereos.

Actually, Fenn lives 300 miles away and sends his children to school in South Africa. And the locals hardly conform to his insulting stereotypes. “If I had money, I would open a grocery store,” said one. “Send my children to school,” start a business, become a midwife, build a new house, said others.

You have to see the film, “Mine Your Own Business,” to fully grasp the callous disdain these radical activists have for the world’s poor. That’s certainly the reaction audiences had, after seeing it May 30 on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Don Imus’s remarks were insensitive and intemperate. But Mark Fenn’s demeaning, even racist statements perpetuate misery.

These enemies of the poor say they are “stakeholders,” who want to “preserve” indigenous people and villages. They never consider what the real stakeholders want – the people who actually live in these impoverished communities and must live with the consequences of harmful campaigns that are being waged all over the world – from Europe to Africa, Latin America, Asia and the United States.

The WWF, Greenpeace, Oxfam, Sierra Club, Rainforest Action Network and other multinational activist corporations battle mines in Romania, Peru, Chile, Ghana and Indonesia; electricity projects in Uganda, India and Nepal; biotechnology that could improve farm incomes and reduce malnutrition in Kenya, India, Brazil and the Philippines; and DDT that could slash malaria rates all over Africa, where it kills 3,000 children every day.

When my son and some friends brought two tons of biotech food to impoverished families near Cancun, Mexico, Friends of the Earth protesters told the villagers the corn was poisonous. The radicals didn’t mention that Americans eat the same corn every day, and they didn’t bring one peso in aid.

They harp on speculative dangers of technology – and ignore the real, immediate, life-or-death dangers that modern mining, development and technology would prevent. They never mention the jobs, clinics, schools, roads, improved housing and small business opportunities – or the electricity, refrigeration, safe water, better nutrition, reduced lung and intestinal disease, fewer dead children.

They pervert “sustainable development” to mean no development, and ignore how mines will lay the foundation for modern schools, hospitals, libraries and businesses that will sustain prosperity and better living standards for generations.

Agitators use global warming and “corporate social responsibility” to force companies to acquiesce to their agendas – and ignore human rights to energy and technology, and people’s desperate cries for a chance to take their rightful places among the Earth’s healthy and prosperous people. They promote little solar panels on huts, but never enough electricity to help communities emerge from poverty and disease.

They extol the virtues of micro credit, to support minimal family enterprises, and demand debt forgiveness and more foreign aid for corrupt dictators – but oppose economic development that would eliminate the need for more international welfare. They blame Newmont Mining for accidents that killed five people over a two-year period in Ghana, but refuse to acknowledge that their policies and pressure campaigns cause millions of deaths every year.

The environmental injustice is prevalent here in the United States, too. A few years ago, the poor, mostly black community of Convent, Louisiana welcomed plans for a $700-million plastics factory that would bring good construction and permanent jobs, health benefits, a stronger tax base and better schools. Over 70% of the residents wanted it. But Sierra Club and a Tulane University group claimed the high-tech plant would pollute and cause cancer.

In fact, cancer rates would have gone down, because residents would have had better nutrition and regular medical check-ups. But the radicals won, the plant wasn’t built, and residents still work menial jobs for minimum wages in sugarcane fields.

Today, the greens’ demand higher energy prices and reduced energy supplies, to prevent global warming. For wealthy families, the impact would barely be noticeable. But low- and fixed-income families would have to spend a far higher portion of their limited budgets on energy and food. Some would likely have to choose between heating and eating – for no detectable environmental gain.

Yes, there are environmental impacts from mines, dams and other development. They change lives and communities. There are health and other risks.

But those changes also came with the Industrial Revolution. Are we worse off for it? Would we prefer to return to the jobs, lifestyles and living standards of pre-industrial, pre-electrical America – when 95% of Americans were farmers, cholera and malaria were ever-present, and the average life expectancy was 45? Are we not able to protect health and the environment with prudent regulations?

Would any of the greens, politicians and celebrities who clamor to keep the world’s poor “indigenous” (and thus impoverished, energy-deprived and diseased) care to live that lifestyle for even one month? Would they exchange their 10,000-square-foot mansions for a Fort Dauphin hovel, give up the blessings of electricity, and stop globe-trotting in private jets?

Why haven’t the UN and its Human Rights Council spoken out about the institutional racism that is being perpetrated in the name of “saving the planet”? Where are the US civil rights groups, news media and churches? The leaders of these poor countries?

This intolerable situation cannot continue, and people of conscience must no longer remain silent.