Twenty years denouncing the eco-militants

Article Highlights

  • It is ironic that the US is one of the few countries to have lowered its emissions recently, since it largely rejected the emission strictures agreed in Europe.

    Tweet This

  • Efforts to combat green alarmism are still very much required.

    Tweet This

Twenty years ago I established the Environment Unit at the IEA to present a free-market alternative to the general doom and gloom and socialist militancy of many greens. We pursued projects on the importance of property rights to conservation and exposing junk science in environmental policy. The Unit published a dozen monographs and held many events. It also helped spawn the International Policy Network, founded by myself and Julian Morris, who had become a fellow at the IEA soon after I arrived. Today he is Vice President for research at the Reason Foundation

Julian Morris and I wrote the Unit’s first publication, Global Warming: Apocalypse or Hot Air? Twenty years on, in May of this year, CO2 levels broke the symbolic milestone of 400ppm level for the first time: levels were around 360ppm when we drafted the monograph. Yet, while greenhouse gases continue to accelerate (largely because of rapid development in China and other emerging nations), evidence of climate impact is still hard to prove, and harm even more difficult to establish. As was the case twenty years ago, without better evidence of harm, no political action to significantly lower emissions is going to occur, because of the crippling cost.

It is ironic that the United States is one of the few countries to have lowered its emissions in recent years, since it largely rejected the emission strictures agreed in Europe. The US did not mandate limiting the use of fossil fuels, but its systems switched from dirty coal to cleaner gas. This was done by the expansion of technologies opposed by most environmentalists - fracking.

So greens have failed to get wholesale political change on climate issues, but lots of small scale policies such as energy conservation building codes have been enacted over the years that more reasoned environmentalists can claim credit for.

Greens can also claim credit for some rather dubious policies based on weak science. Food bans based on genetic modification are probably the most egregious, but insecticide bans have probably had the largest impacts. The success of the greens began with prohibition of the insecticide DDT in all rich nations, even though the scientific evidence of harm was scant. DDT did accumulate in the environment and, where overused, did harm some species, but it was safer for use by agricultural workers than alternatives, and its demise also harmed malaria control and prevention of other mosquito-borne diseases.

In 1999 it looked as though greens would succeed in having DDT banned for all uses worldwide by 2007. Today it is still used in many places, notably southern Africa, saving thousands of children every year.

I played a small part in preventing the DDT ban, primarily working in United States and with a group, Africa Fighting Malaria, based in South Africa. We explained the science and economics of DDT. We dwelt on the hypocrisy of westerners pushing for a ban when DDT had eradicated malaria from Europe and America in the 1950s. Independent journalists and academics wrote about the issue fairly, and Southern African governments defended its use. As a result of this success, green groups and some journalists stepped up their maligning of those who defended DDT.

They have employed an interesting tactic as well as a far more familiar one. From climate change to DDT they have claimed that we are doing the bidding of big business, wilfully ignoring that business interests were on the other side: modern insecticide manufacturers do not make DDT and want to sell alternatives and large energy firms like the barriers to entry they can carve out in climate politics. But perhaps more surprising is that green activists have claimed we have been wildly successful in our efforts. One green web magazine article called me a 'free market magician' for almost single-handedly rehabilitating DDT’s reputation.

Their tactics seem to be designed to provide cover for their policy failure, re-energise their funding base to renew their efforts and to demonise their opponents. Such tactics will probably not work on legitimate journalists and policymakers, but they may well succeed with their base, so I suspect such efforts are likely to increase.

In light of this, twenty years on, efforts to combat green alarmism are still very much required.

Also Visit
AEIdeas Blog The American Magazine
About the Author



What's new on AEI

AEI Election Watch 2014: What will happen and why it matters
image A nation divided by marriage
image Teaching reform
image Socialist party pushing $20 minimum wage defends $13-an-hour job listing
AEI on Facebook
Events Calendar
  • 20
  • 21
  • 22
  • 23
  • 24
Monday, October 20, 2014 | 2:00 p.m. – 3:30 p.m.
Warfare beneath the waves: The undersea domain in Asia

We welcome you to join us for a panel discussion of the undersea military competition occurring in Asia and what it means for the United States and its allies.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014 | 8:30 a.m. – 10:00 a.m.
AEI Election Watch 2014: What will happen and why it matters

AEI’s Election Watch is back! Please join us for two sessions of the longest-running election program in Washington, DC. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014 | 1:00 p.m. – 2:30 p.m.
What now for the Common Core?

We welcome you to join us at AEI for a discussion of what’s next for the Common Core.

Event Registration is Closed
Thursday, October 23, 2014 | 10:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.
Brazil’s presidential election: Real challenges, real choices

Please join AEI for a discussion examining each candidate’s platform and prospects for victory and the impact that a possible shift toward free-market policies in Brazil might have on South America as a whole.

Event Registration is Closed
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.