Live Green or Simply Live? by Stella Dulanya

In a rich nation such as the United States, it can be easy to be green.

Americans can often afford heeding the advice of Al Gore and reducing their “carbon footprint” with 40-watt fluorescent light bulbs that are almost 15 times more expensive than traditional bulbs. They can choose to feed their kids Annie’s “Peace, Pasta and Parmesan” organic macaroni and cheese at double the price of the traditional Kraft mac and cheese.

It’s not the same in developing nations – such as those found in Africa – where finding food, water and shelter of any kind is often an achievement in itself. Where so many live a day-to-day existence, the luxury of “living green” takes a backseat to simply living.

Despite this subsistence existence, the international environmental elite seem to feel no guilt in imposing their values on developing populations. It is crucial for the environmental elites to understand that what is possible in an already developed country may not be compatible to the survival of a developing one.

Take, for example, the African nation of Malawi. With a population of over 13 million, Malawi is one of the world’s least-developed countries. Almost 53 percent of Malawians live below the poverty line, and over 900,000 adults there are infected with AIDS.

In 2005, financial relief for Malawi was announced in the form of a uranium mine set to be dug in the northern district of Kayelekera. The mine, however, faced mountains of opposition from international organizations such as the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace and Switzerland-based Institute for Policy Interaction. These groups criticized the mine’s alleged destruction of cultural heritage.

Malawian Ambassador to the United States Hawa Ndilowe echoed the majority sentiment in her country supporting the project when she told me: “At the end of the day, we must analyze all situations in order to determine what is the greater good for the people.” She added, “Because aid can only go so far, it is crucial to look at things in a balanced way because there is a responsibility towards the poverty stricken and disease ridden in terms of improving their daily lives.”

The mine, which is expected to create 1,000 jobs in Malawi, should begin operations soon.

While protecting our environment from unnecessary harm is a worthy and important goal, many of the environmental elite’s methods actually hurt people in the developing world. These activists, who live in relative luxury compared to their third-world counterparts, should not be hasty in imposing egregious standards on those with few options and means.

One deadly environmental trade-off comes from environmentalist opposition to the pesticide DDT. When Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring was published in 1962, it caused an environmental panic that led to its use being discontinued. Without DDT to control the mosquito population, malaria – a deadly insect-borne disease – can run rampant. In 2005 alone, malaria killed 50,000 children in the African country of Ghana, and 50,000 Ghanaian adults. Malaria Foundation International estimates that there are approximately 300-500 million new clinical cases of malaria every year and over one million worldwide deaths from the disease annually.

Today, the risks related to DDT are being called into question with relation to its benefit. A 2005 study conducted by the National Institute of Health and the University of Cagliari in Italy found that “occupational exposure to DDT… did not show any clear excess for any cause of death.” But scientists, medical experts and Africans can say with absolute certainty that, without DDT helping to control the mosquito population, millions risk being infected and dying from malaria.

Then there is the issue of eating.

In 2002, southern Africa was ravished by famine. Over 14 million people were affected by starvation and disease. At the same time, 540,000 tons of genetically modified (GM) grain sat untouched – rejected by leaders of Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Zambia to name just a few. For these countries, accepting GM food aid would incur possible economic repercussions from the European Union – their largest agricultural market – which rejects and labels all GM foods as “tainted.”

African leaders were essentially forced to choose between the lesser of two evils – starve now or eat and face a future with no income.

Where wealth and progress gives people the luxury of choice, the policies and preferences of the environmental elite are easy to stomach. When it comes to actually having something to put in their stomachs, people in developing countries such as those in Africa can’t afford to live by lofty standards.

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Malawi-born Stella Dulanya is a research assistant for the national advisory council of the black leadership network Project 21.  Comments may be sent to [email protected].

Published by The National Center for Public Policy Research. Reprints permitted provided source is credited. New Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author, and not necessarily those of Project 21 or the National Center for Public Policy Research.

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