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Shane Frith: It is time to expose the real harm done in the developing world by the Western environmental lobby

Shane Frith Shane Frith is director of the classical-liberal think-tank Progressive Vision. He has worked for Conservative MPs in the UK and National Party MPs in his native New Zealand.  He is a former chairman of the International Young Democrat Union, linking young people involved in centre-right political parties worldwide, including the Conservative Party.

On Tuesday, Progressive Vision launched a new campaign called Green Monitor. Whilst groups such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth are no doubt well intentioned, they too often advocate policies without reasonable scientific basis that can result in the death, injury and poverty of vulnerable groups in Africa and Asia. We intend to highlight the real harm done by these groups in the developing world.

Those of us who live in the developed world often look with bemusement, frustration or even anger at the activities of the Western environmental lobby.  Sadly, the effects of the environmental movement on the millions in the developing world can be far more serious.  Policies advocated by environmental groups have led to the deaths of millions, the blinding of countless others and the impoverishment of tens of millions.

Like many my first memories of DDT is from stories in the 1970s and 1980s about how bad this chemical was claimed to be.  As a result of these claims and the resulting hysteria, DDT was banned, first of all in the developed and then increasingly in the developing world.  An apparent triumph for the environmental movement and planet Earth!

Sadly, that is not how things have turned out. The initial research that condemned DDT as a dangerous chemical was deeply flawed.  It turns out that DDT, used responsibly, is not as harmful to insects and bird life as the original reports suggested.  In addition, the weight of scientific opinion finds that there are no detrimental affects to human health.

In the West, the effect has been minimal – after all we used DDT to wipe out malaria before the bans. Few now realise that malaria was present in Southern Europe until the 1950s. The developing world has not been so lucky as malaria still kills over one million Africans every year.  Many – of course not all – could be saved if DDT were used.  DDT is not a wonder weapon and it needs to be used be used in conjunction with other methods, however its continued use is vital to the survival of many.

To demonstrate the stark difference DDT makes, we only need look at South Africa, where DDT was used widely to control malaria-carrying mosquitoes until a ban in 1996.  Immediately, both incidence of malaria and resulting deaths sky-rocketed.  The South African Government reintroduced DDT in 2000, and the number of yearly cases had reduced by more than 90% by 2005-06, but not until one thousand South Africans had unnecessarily lost their lives.

As well as the need for the green movement to cease peddling their baseless accusations about DDT, the EU and national governments need to be much warier about listening to them.  For example, the EU’s strict stance on DDT deters many African nations from using DDT for fear of losing trade access. Quite frankly, one million preventable deaths in Africa each year is one million too many.

Nowhere have the dubious scientific credentials of the green movement been more on show than their opposition to genetically-modified food.  Since first being commercially planted in the 1990s, no one has been harmed by GM crops.  Yet, the hysteria from the green movement is unrelenting.  Today the United States, Argentina, South Africa, China, Canada and Brazil all use some variety of GM food. 60% of all food and 75% of all processed food in the United States now contain GM elements. Yet, the green movement continue to oppose what they call “frankenfood” with lurid scare stories about mixing a fish gene with apple or any other fruit or vegetable.

GM crops enable better crop yields - preventing deforestation, providing cheaper food and making many people healthier.  In Asia and Africa, Golden Rice has the ability to alleviate Vitamin A deficiency.  More than 500,000 people go blind and one and a half million die in the developing world every year because of Vitamin A deficiency. It is also estimated that 13.8 million children have sight problems due to Vitamin A deficiency.  Many of these people could be helped if Vitamin A-enhanced Golden Rice were available in the developing world.

No only are these groups listened to within EU circles, but the European Union directly funds many of their activities.  WWF received €660,000 from the EU last year and Friends of the Earth received nearly €1,000,000.  On top of this, many companies, such as Eurostar, cooperate with these groups in the name of corporate social responsibilities - or perhaps as marketing stunts.

It is common to describe these groups as “do-gooders”.  However a more correct term is “mean-wellers”.  Few would suggest that Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and WWF don’t like poor people in Asia and Africa and wish to see them suffer and die as a result of their policies.  This is not a malevolent deliberate plot to reduce the population in these regions, but the outcomes are the same.

Today, in the crusade to fight climate change, the recommendations of these groups are being listened to again.  But too often, these groups stand in the way of economic progress in the developing world.  They seldom support a new power station or dam to provide power or water to impoverished communities.  Have you ever seen Greenpeace endorse an oil pipeline in Nigeria?  They oppose palm oil in South East Asia on the grounds of fighting climate change, despite carbon emissions there being less than a fifth of Europe’s.  They oppose Bt Cotton, which has the ability to drastically improve the productivity of farmers in South Asia.

It is time that the claims of these groups were properly scrutinised and I hope a new Conservative Government will be more sceptical about the advice from these misguided groups.

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