Readers talk back about poverty, population, and biodiesel
I was angered by Jon Christensen’s assertion that conservationists and environmentalists are sitting on the sidelines while others are supposedly doing all the heavy lifting with regard to alleviating AIDS and poverty in the developing world. Just because an environmental group is not a member of the so-named Campaign to Make Poverty History does not mean it isn’t active on the ground making a difference in the developing world.
I work for a small nonprofit organization called Solar Light for Africa, which just returned from a three-week trip to rural Uganda and Rwanda installing solar lights, solar electricity, and solar-powered water-pumping systems for small mud huts, schools, and even a local hospital. The provision of pure solar-pumped water at the Kakuuto Hospital in southwest Uganda has not only dramatically improved the health of as many as 200,000 villagers served by the hospital, but has dramatically reduced the need to cut down trees for firewood for boiling water.
And Solar Light for Africa isn’t the only organization with a penchant for helping the poor and saving the environment. The Solar Electric Light Fund, World Water, Solar Electric Light Company, National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, Winrock International, EnerSol, and others are all doing similar work.
We were never approached by the Campaign to Make Poverty History. I guess we were too busy trying to make a difference on the ground and missed the memo.
There is a group of environmentalists who have for years been addressing the issue of poverty: its name is Planned Parenthood. Any conservationist who ignores human overpopulation as a major contributing cause of resource depletion, habitat destruction, animal species genocide, biospheric mega-pollution, and global warming — to say nothing of famine, disease, and territorial warfare — is missing the whole point. Where is the admonition by Greenpeace, Sierra Club, WWF, and others for responsible human breeding habits?
Please, think causes, not symptoms!
Christensen states, “People used to talk about conservation and development.” Yes, and they used to talk about the key to conservation being population control. Even the Nixon administration knew and articulated that. It is a cheap form of “ethics” for rock stars and others to help agribusiness drain the water tables and topsoil of temperate-zone farms to feed all those people who are living in totally untenable locations with no conceivable future, encouraged to settle down and farm in a desert by generations of missionaries. (Indeed, some of the desertification has come about since people settled down and began reproducing like rabbits.)
How about handing out condoms with instructions along with any food? How about telling whole countries we won’t be back with more food until their population shrinks by a defined amount? Otherwise, the most “humane” policy would seem to be to allow war, famine, and plagues to take their toll. This is what misguided religious zealotry has brought us to.
Scotts Valley, Calif.
Jon Christensen may be a distinguished research fellow, but his diatribe against progressive conservationists reads like an inconsistent freshman analysis. He highlights the shortage of relevant environmental issues in G8 talks on restoring good governance to third world countries, but instead of criticizing G8 finance ministers, he decides to vent his fury against those who were never privy to the summit’s resolutions.
Christensen even attacks Walter Reid for his perceived lack of concern for good governance campaigns, although Reid’s Millennium Ecosystem Assessment is sponsored by the United Nations Foundation, a direct partner in the ONE Campaign to Make Poverty History. Such flagrant cheap shots at the collective efforts of conservationists are not only divisive, but show Christensen to be a low scorer with progressives everywhere.
Environmentalists actually haven’t missed out on the global fight against poverty and are not, as Jon Christensen writes, on the sidelines “while the Big Game unfolds.”
The National Wildlife Federation (NWF) believes that fighting poverty and preserving the environment must go hand-in-hand to achieve sustainable development. Though not a part of the ONE campaign, the U.S. version of the Make Poverty History Campaign, NWF and other environmental organizations are actively working on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and making the important linkages between poverty, development, and conservation, as poverty alleviation is essential for the conservation of the planet’s biodiversity and precious natural resources. Visitors to the NWF website can even download an MDG toolkit.
NWF and the National Audubon Society coordinated with ONE to generate support for including poverty alleviation and the environment on the G8 Summit agenda. Both groups are also actively generating support for a congressional MDG resolution sponsored by Reps. McCollum (D-Minn.) and Leach (R-Iowa) that would affirm U.S. commitment to reduce poverty. And, as a member of the United Nations Millennium Campaign, NWF, along with partners Izaak Walton League of America and Sierra Club, is holding educational events in California, New York, and Ohio on global poverty viewed through an environmental lens.
Many conservation groups fully comprehend the critical need for increased support and funding for sustainable international assistance efforts like the MDGs, and the need to work in coalitions. It is our goal to have conversations about development and conservation, as Christensen suggests. By supporting the MDGs, environmentalists can help make a significant positive impact by preserving wildlife, water, and biodiversity across the planet, as well as stemming the rise of poverty, hunger, and instability.
Policy Coordinator, International Affairs
National Wildlife Federation
Jon Christensen replies:
I’m gratified that my Soapbox rant urging conservationists to engage in the dialogue about making poverty history by focusing on governance has provoked so much response. I am sorry that some folks took what I wrote as a criticism of locally based organizations working on conservation, sustainable development, and good governance. Nothing could be further from the truth. Their work is an inspiration to me and many others. I’m also gratified to learn more about the efforts of the National Wildlife Federation and other environmental groups to join this conversation in a very public way.
Truth be told, one of the limitations of a column is that it tilts toward provocation. The ONE campaign was really just the hook for the idea about which I really wanted to get a conversation going: good governance for people and the environment. If my provocation helped contribute in some small way to bringing this debate out into the open, I will consider it a success. The discussion has certainly opened my eyes to a wider world in which people are deeply engaged in conservation and development. Thank you for that.
Editor’s note: You can find lots more discussion about Christensen’s essay in Gristmill, Grist‘s blog.
Re: Paper or Drastic
Umbra has a good top-ten list of things people can do for the environment, but once again she’s left out No. 1: don’t breed!
Granted, not everyone wants to hear this, and it’s a very personal decision, but so is choice of car and dwelling and lifestyle. Why not nudge people who are on the fence about this major life decision in the direction of not producing future little consumers to add to the 6.4 billion we already have clogging the planet?
Sure, you can teach your child to be a good environmentalist and hope that the lessons take hold — they don’t always — but it’s still like the pollution of a hybrid SUV, and all its own little SUVs into the future centuries, versus that of no car at all.
Re: The Grist List
It would be great if the Grist List could make it onto the Grist List! What a wonderful new idea; thank you so much.
Re: We Wuz Rob’d!
I am surprised that you gave Rob Elam such a free pass on biodiesel. George Monbiot and others have demonstrated to my satisfaction that biofuels would be both an ecological and humanitarian disaster. I did a study similar to the one that Monbiot did for the U.K. and here’s what I discovered: If you converted every arable square inch in the U.S. to biofuel production, we would only be able to meet around 29 percent of our annual fuel demand. And that would require that we import all the food we consume.
It sounds like Elam’s heart is in the right place, but his mind should follow.
I’d like to clarify some points made by Umbra in her column on straight vegetable oil and biodiesel. SVO systems almost never approach $2,500 in cost. In fact, some of the highest-end systems have been made for under $2,000. Most systems are made for less than $600 in parts. Colleagues and myself routinely install veggie systems for less than $1,200, parts and labor included.
SVO is greener than almost all biodiesel. Any biodiesel bought at the pump is made from 100 percent virgin feedstock. The process of making this oil (almost entirely soybean oil) is far from sustainable. It involves fossil fuels at every step, from fertilizing to harvesting to pesticide application to transporting. The monocultures responsible for such production are arguably the largest industrial failures of agriculture today and result in millions of tons of precious topsoil lost into the Gulf of Mexico every year. And none of these unsustainable aspects of virgin plant oil compare with the potential problems of the genetically engineered plant materials being used in production — Roundup Ready soybeans courtesy of Monsanto.
Editor’s note: Join the discussion about biodiesel in Gristmill.
I like Grist, but I hate to see you becoming one of the environmental groups that tries to buy support with more consumer goodies that we do not need. Some groups distribute stuffed animals; I see you are distributing bottled drinks. All production and distribution creates an environmental footprint. More than anything other than political work, less consumption is the way to go to save our planet.
Name not provided
Re: Nein Lives
You should know that auf Wiedersehen does not mean “goodbye” as in “good riddance,” but rather means “see you again,” similar to the French au revoir.
British Columbia, Canada
Re: Call Me Fishmeal
May Herman Melville’s ghost haunt your headline writer until the end of his or her miserable days.