(Broadcast by Channel 4 in the UK,
The first program in the
series presents arguments that global warming is a myth
and that the environment in the developed world is
improving. Environmentalists hanker after a
pre-industrial idyll, but conditions in the Third World
are harsh and millions die every year because of unclean
water and smoke from indoor fires.
The Greens oppose major development projects, but many
local people want the electricity and clean water they
will bring. Many resent the interference and hypocrisy
of Western environmentalists, who have all the benefits
and comforts of industrialization.
The program hears both from those who criticize the
environmental movement and from the Greens themselves.
Most people in the Third World lack the basic amenities of modern
life that we in the West take for granted: clean drinking water and
a reliable supply of electricity. And Third World governments are
eager to industrialize in order to catch up with the West.
But environmentalists say that if they
do this, the future of the planet will be imperiled.
"If everybody in the world consumed
like the British, the Europeans or the Americans," says Tony
Juniper, Campaigns Manager for Friends of the Earth, "then we'd
need about eight planets to meet people's needs. And it would
still be unsustainable."
In the name of preserving nature,
environmentalists have challenged the old ideas of progress and
But in doing so, they have been accused
of needlessly consigning millions of people in the Third World to
poverty and early death.
The Shadow Of The
The attempt by man to understand and to conquer nature was at the
heart of Enlightenment thinking. A scientific, rational
understanding of the physical world was a means of changing nature
to serve our needs and desires better. But these Enlightenment ideas
of rationalism and progress have been called into question by
They have led, they say, to the
monstrous creation of modern industrial life, with its factories and
cars, chemicals and fumes.
"People seem to have accepted the
view that they should feel guilty about man's impositions on
nature, about progress and technological improvement," says
Steve Hayward of the Pacific Research Centre. "Even science
today is somewhat suspect in the public mind. I think this is a
result of the pervasive environmental philosophy that there's a
distinction between man and nature, and that what man does is
bad and what nature does is good."
Gregg Easterbrook, author of A
Moment on the Earth, a critique of environmental thinking,
agrees. He argues that the idealization of nature common in the
environmental movement is a modern luxury that has, paradoxically,
been made possible by development.
"Most of our ancestors spent their
lives struggling to grow food, to protect themselves against
disease and the elements," he says. "They found nature did not
know best. Nature was a hostile force for them."
The Power Of The Greens
Environmentalists often depict themselves as folk heroes and rebels,
fighting a mighty anti-Green establishment. But the Green movement
itself has become a powerful political force, which dominates much
of Western thinking.
"It's said they control the Clinton
administration," says Senator Larry Craig.
The environmentalist movement today is
rich and powerful: the top 12 Green organizations in the US alone
have an annual turnover of just under a billion dollars. In the UK,
four million people are members of Green organizations — that's more
than are members of all the other political organizations put
Suspending Disaster - The Myth Of Global Warming
Green groups such as Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace,
the World Wildlife Fund and Earth First are using
their influence to persuade people that an environmental disaster of
historic proportions is just around the corner.
As Barbara Mass of the Pan
African Conservation Group succinctly puts it:
"I think we're going to drown in our
Environmentalist thinking is now widely
accepted in the West. However, many scientists argue that what the
Greens say about global warming and pollution is wrong. Professor
Wilfred Beckerman, a former member of the Royal Commission on
Environmental Pollution, was himself an enthusiastic
environmentalist until he started examining the facts.
He told Against Nature:
"Within a few months of looking at
the statistical data, I realized that most of my concerns about
the environment were based on false information and scare
According to Piers Corbyn,
Director of Weather Action, many scientists do not accept the
idea that pollution is causing global warming. Environmentalists
claim that world temperatures have risen one degree Fahrenheit in
the past century, but Corbyn points out that the period they take as
their starting point — around 1880 — was colder than average. What's
more, the timing of temperature changes does not appear to support
the theory of global warming. Most of the rise came before 1940
—before human-caused emissions of 'greenhouse' gases became
According to the Greens, during the post-war boom global warming
should have pushed temperatures up.
But the opposite happened.
"As a matter of the fact, the
decrease in temperature, which was very noticeable in the 60s
and 70s, led many people to fear that we would be going into
another ice age," remembers Fred Singer, former Chief Scientist
with the US Weather Program.
Even in recent times, the temperature
has not behaved as it should according to global warming theory.
Over the last eight years, temperature in the southern hemisphere
has actually been falling.
Moreover, says Piers Corbyn,
"When proper satellite measurements
are done of world temperatures, they do not show any increase
whatsoever over the last 20 years."
But Greens refuse to accept they could have been proved wrong. Now they say global warming can
involve temperature going both up and down.
"Global warming is above all global
climatic destabilization," says Edward Goldsmith, editor of the
Ecologist, "with extremes of cold and heat when you don't expect
it. You can't predict climate any more. You get terrible
droughts in certain cases; sometimes you get downpours. In
Egypt, I think, they had a rainfall for the first time in
history — they suddenly had an incredible downpour. Water
pouring down in places where it's never rained before. And then
you get droughts in another area. So it's going to be extremely
Scientists also point out that nature
produces far more greenhouse gases than we do. For example, when the
Mount Pinatubo volcano erupted, within just a few hours it had
thrown into the atmosphere 30 million tonnes of sulphur dioxide—
almost twice as much as all the factories, power plants and cars in
the United States do in a whole year. Oceans emit 90 billion tonnes
of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, every year. Decaying
plants throw up another 90 billion tonnes, compared to just six
billion tonnes a year from humans.
What's more, 100 million years ago, there was six times as much
carbon dioxide in the atmosphere as there is now, yet the
temperature then was marginally cooler than it is today. Many
scientists have concluded that carbon dioxide doesn't even affect
Although many environmentalists have been forced to accept much of
the scientific evidence against global warming, they still argue
that it is better to be safe than sorry.
So they continue to use global warming
as a reason to oppose industrialization and economic growth.
Air - Growth, Technology And Pollution
The industrial First World represents the Greens' worst nightmare.
More economic growth, they say, can only mean more pollution and
But others argue that, on the contrary,
over the past half century the environment in the advanced
industrial world has actually improved.
"Air pollution has been falling in
modern industrialized countries for the last 40 years," says
Steve Hayward. "And it's been falling precisely because of
economic growth and improvements in technology. Even in Los
Angeles, which has the worst smog in the United States, air
pollution levels have fallen by about half in the last 25 years
— and that's at a time when the area's population has doubled
and its economy has tripled."
In the United States as a whole, over
the past quarter of a century, the population has increased by 30
per cent, while the number of cars and the size of the economy has
nearly doubled. And yet, during the same period, emissions of the
six main air pollutants have decreased by 30 per cent.
In addition, says Gregg Easterbrook,
Americans have stopped pumping waste water from cities into lakes
and streams, stopped dumping untreated sewage in the sea and toxic
wastes on land, and eliminated the use of CFCs.
"Lake Erie 30 years ago was
virtually dead," adds Steve Hayward. "Today you can fish in it,
you can swim in it. The statistics on the amount of pollution in
the food chain have shown dramatic improvement in the last 30
Western cities such as London are
cleaner today than they have been for centuries. In the mid 1900s,
before cars were even invented, air and water quality was so poor
that many thousands of people died each year from typhus and
Supporters of economic development don't just argue that the
industrial world is getting cleaner, they also say that industrial
progress has transformed our lives for the better.
"We live longer, we are healthier,
we are better educated, we know ourselves better and we are much
more able to take control over our destiny than any other time
in the past," says Dr Frank Furedi, author of the book
Population and Development. "Yes, industrialization is often
exploitative, often leads to the uprooting of people. But at the
same time it adds to human civilization and means progress for
But the Greens insist we must turn our backs on these 'outdated'
ideas of economic and industrial progress. If we are to avoid an
environmental catastrophe, they say, we must go back to living in
harmony with nature. And to do this we must learn from
pre-industrial tribal societies in the Third World.
40 per cent of the world's population still uses either wood or dung
for fuel instead of electricity. But the indoor pollution from this
is deadly, especially for women and children who spend most time in
the home. According to the World Health Organization, 5
million infants die every year in the Third World from respiratory
diseases caused by breathing indoor smoke and rural smog.
Basic pollution of this kind kills far more people than all First
World environmental problems combined. One and a half billion people
in the Third World suffer air quality that is recognized by the
World Health Organization as 'dangerously unsafe', a level of
pollution almost unknown in the Western world.
Dr Anil Patel is responsible for the health care of more than
200 villages in Gujarat, in north-west India. The vast majority of
medical problems he encounters have been brought on by environmental
But the environmental problems he is
concerned with come not from modern industry but rather from the
lack of modern luxuries such as electricity and clean water.
"Clean water is completely out of
question," says Dr Patel. "The water they get is untreated. Most
of the time it is contaminated with human faeces and cattle
feaces, and the ultimate result is that there are all sorts of
Water-borne diseases in the Third World
have not been caused by modern industry. On the contrary, the only
way to get rid of them is with modern water-cleaning facilities— the
kind we take for granted in the West.
In the Third World, 250 million people are infected each year by
water-borne diseases, mostly dysentery. Patients suffer severe
stomach cramps, chronic diarrhea and various other disorders such as
skin disease, and each year 10 million of them die.
The World Health Organization
estimated that in 1996, 3.9 million children under the age of five
died from diseases communicated by impure drinking water, mostly
"Death from diarrhea has been
unheard of in the Western world in the past two generations,"
says Gregg Easterbrook. "That 3.9 million children dead in the
developing world last year exceeds all deaths at all ages from
all causes in the United States and the European Union combined.
And yet we endlessly speak of water purity in the West as an
The idealization by Greens of life in
the Third World is resented by many people there.
"I see in this a serious problem of
hypocrisy, and if not hypocrisy, a gross insensitivity," says Dr
According to the World Health
Organization, life expectancy for people in the Third World is 20
years less than our own. In the poorest areas they live 35 years
development: the Greens and the Narmada project
People in India are struggling to emerge from the backward condition
in which they find themselves. The Indian government is trying to
build a hydroelectric dam on the Narmada river to provide
clean water and the electricity which is vital for industrial
progress. It will submerge 350 square kilometers of land and provide
enough electricity to supply almost 5,000 villages in north-west
India. It will provide clean drinking water for 30 million people
and it will be an enormous boost for economic and industrial growth.
Not everyone is keen, however.
Lisa Jordan is a director of
The Bank Information Centre, an environmentalist group which
tries to stop the World Bank from funding large-scale development
projects in the Third World that are deemed environmentally
She is keen to preserve traditional
"This is genocide of tribal people
who have lived in the forests that are being drowned for
centuries. They're one of the oldest living populations on this
earth that have been documented. These are the cultures that pay
because of a large dam being developed to pipe water to a larger
agriculture system, to provide electricity, to provide the
But locals are not so keen on preserving
things as they are.
"Instead of saying that we want this
particular life to be encased like a museum, we must say that we
want progress," one woman told Against Nature. "We want
development of a particular kind and therefore we need larger
Environmentalists are worried about the
damage the dam will do to wildlife in the area, but supporters of
the dam are equally appalled that the environmentalists are so
concerned with preserving bio-diversity at the expense of human
"What exactly is the value of all
this bio-diversity?" asks Wilfred Beckerman. "This idea that you
have to preserve every scrap of nature, even though destroying
it might confer enormous benefits on people whose standard of
living and quality of life is so low as to be unimaginable for
the vast majority of people in the Western world, I think is
scandalous. I just get very angry when I hear this sort of
thing. Whose side are these people on?"
As it happens, no pristine forest will
be destroyed by the Narmada dam and the only endangered
species to be affected is a colony of sloth bears, for which the
Indian government is building a wildlife reserve nearby.
But the Greens say they aren't just concerned about the natural
destruction of the dam. They point to the number of tribal people
who will have to be resettled elsewhere. Brent Blackwelder,
chairman of Friends of the Earth US, says more than 100,000 people
will be uprooted from their homes. But according to the Indian
government and the World Bank, the project will displace 70,000
people, who will be given farmland elsewhere with the benefits of
roads, schools, electricity and clean water.
Critics of the Greens say environmentalists themselves are prepared
to push tribal people off their land to make way for wild animals.
Nature reserves founded in India by the World Wildlife Fund have
displaced at least 25,000 people simply to make way for tigers.
Five years ago Dr Patel welcomed environmentalists' concern about
tribal people and was even persuaded by the Greens to campaign
against the dam. Today, he believes the real concern of
environmentalists is to block progress. He is now a fervent
supporter of the dam and accuses the Greens of seeming to care more
about animals than people.
Many environmentalists argue that if people in the Third World want
electricity, they should use solar power or wind power. But not only
would solar and wind power fail to meet the need for clean water,
environmentalists themselves admit that they would be fantastically
more expensive. To produce the same amount of electricity as the
Narmada dam using wind power would cost at least six times as much.
Using solar power would cost more than seven times as much— and even
then it is doubtful that it could be done. The Narmada dam will
produce 400 times as much electricity as the largest solar panel
installation currently in existence.
Local Indians such as Dr Patel dismiss all the Green arguments
against the dam, saying that the dam will change things, but there
can be no development without change.
Green pressure on the World Bank has led to funding for the Narmada
dam being withdrawn. Consequently, work on the dam, which began in
the early 60s, has all but stopped. Most environmentalists believe
it will never be completed.
In addition, leading environmentalists have estimated that they have
effectively blocked around 300 hydro-electric dams in the Third
World, denying many millions of poor people the benefits of
electricity and clean water.
Tom Blinkhorn of the World Bank thinks many people in the
West who contribute to environmental organizations don't realize the
"What they don't see is the
tremendous poverty that exists in other parts of the world, and
that if we are going to help people address that poverty, we
need to do it through large dams and activities that many
organizations in the Green movement are opposed to. I think a
lot of the constituency for Green groups simply do not know
about the problems in the Third World."
There have been many attempts in the past to block social and
economic progress. But few have been as successful as today's
environmentalist movement, which uses the threat of a global
ecological crisis to override the wishes of those people who most
need the benefits of progress.
And it's not only dams that the Greens
"Western environmentalist sentiment
has been successful ...in blocking a whole range of industrial
facilities," says Gregg Easterbrook. "Factories, roads, logging—
even well-regulated logging— have been vehemently opposed."
Steve Hayward argues that it's
immoral for rich environmentalists to impose their ideology on Third
World countries, where people are poor and disease is rampant.
"The best thing that could happen to
those countries is to industrialize rapidly ... so they have the
resources not only to be healthier but also to protect their
environment. To stand in the way of that is wrong and dangerous
in my mind."
After all, adds Gregg Easterbrook,
we became affluent through industrialization and exploiting our
Greens are often portrayed as left-wing radicals, battling against a
backward-looking establishment. But they are in fact part of a long
tradition of conservatism that idealizes nature and the past.
These conservative instincts motivated
19th-century figures such as Nietzsche and Wagner, and movements
such as the Romantics, who were horrified by England's 'dark satanic
mills' (as William Blake described them) and dreamt of returning to
a mythical past of medieval knights and maidens, and even the Boy
Scout movement, which in its origins combined a mystical affinity
with nature, Right-wing nationalism and a hatred of degenerate
"What we today call
'environmentalism' is ... based on a fear of change," says Frank
Furedi. "It's based upon a fear of the outcome of human action.
And therefore it's not surprising that when you look at the more
xenophobic right-wing movements in Europe in the 19th century,
including German fascism, it quite often had a very strong
environmentalist dynamic to it."
animal rights and human rights
The most notorious environmentalists in history were the German
Nazis. The Nazis ordered soldiers to plant more trees. They were the
first Europeans to establish nature reserves and order the
protection of hedgerows and other wildlife habitats. And they were
horrified at the idea of hydroelectric dams on the Rhine.
Adolf Hitler and other leading Nazis
were vegetarian and they passed numerous laws on animal rights.
"They had essentially a biological
view of society," Dr Furedi continues. "They regarded society as
an organism to which you were rooted through blood ties ... and
felt much more comfortable with what they perceived to be
natural than what were the products of human creativity. I think
that's one of the reasons why [Hitler] had this celebration of
the animal kingdom, the celebration of wildlife."
The historian Dr Mark Almond, of
Oriel College, Oxford, goes further.
"Goering made ferocious blood
curdling speeches saying that people who were cruel to animals,
including scientists who did research on them, would be put in
concentration camps," he says. "This was perversely part of the
logic which could at the same time put people into concentration
camps, on whom they experimented."
Frank Furedi agrees.
"History shows us is that whenever
people begin to treat animals like human beings, it's only a
smell step away from treating human beings like animals. And
that seems to me the logical outcome of this nostalgic,
sentimental approach towards animal rights."
Environmentalists today have been accused of effectively imposing
their views on the Third World, and causing immense suffering in the
"The new focus on environmental
issues too often has the consequence of turning societies into
theme parks," argues Frank Furedi. "They are very attractive for
the voyeuristic Western imagination, but actually doom people in
those societies to a life of poverty."
"And it seems to me that there is no
accountability here. It's not the people of Africa and Asia or
Latin America that have demanded environmental policies; these
are policies that are being pushed by everybody in the West,
from the World Bank to Green organizations. Who gave them the
authority? By what moral right do they dictate the terms of how
these societies can develop and realize their potential for the
Gregg Easterbrook emphasizes the
hypocrisy of attitudes in the West:
"It's still possible in affluent
circles in the United States or Europe to see people sitting in
an air-conditioned room eating free-range chicken and sipping
Chablis, talking amongst themselves about how farmers in Africa
shouldn't have tractors, because it might disrupt the soil, or
how peasants in India shouldn't be allowed to have hydroelectric
power, because it's not appropriate to their culture.... What
would really be immoral is if we insisted on keeping material
affluence for ourselves and try to deny it to the billions of
others in the world who want and deserve exactly the same
Our attitude to the Third World, as
Frank Furedi puts it, is that,
"... your societies are doomed to be
poor-houses for the rest of the world. It purports to be ever so
radical and ever so sensitive, but what it does is it sets a
Western agenda on the rest of the world. It's as intrusive today
as imperialism was in the 19th century."
"The problem isn't that we have so
much that we're squandering resources, the real problem is that
most people do not have access to even the most basic needs of
everyday life. The real problem is that they're denied good
education and good health. Therefore, the answer does not lie in
going backwards and trying to be anti-technological, close down
factories and not build roads.... Only through the appliance of
science and technology can people's aspirations be realized even
at the most elementary level."
People today face many difficulties in
the First World as well as the Third: poverty and squalor, ignorance
and disease. But the battle against these evils cannot be won by
returning to nature or some mythical past.
Instead, we must go forwards to a better
future with confidence in our ability to understand and change the