When you hear the term “environmental justice,” what do you think of?  A pride of lions reclaiming its prized carcass from a pack of hyenas that tried to steal it away? Reckless polluters being forced to pay for the cleanup of their toxic escapades?  Or maybe even the buzzword being advanced to demonize those seeking to construct industrial facilities in certain depressed neighborhoods?


Well whatever comes to mind when you hear that particular term, get it out of your head.  Because there’s a new and far more accurate meaning for “environmental justice” that’s now emerging.  And since it deals with defending the basic human rights and promoting both the environmental and economic prosperity of more than half of the people living in the world today,  it will hopefully soon become the dominant theme whenever the issue of “environmental justice” is raised.


At the center of this concern are the effects of wealthy, Western, Green-oriented environmental policies on poor developing nations around the globe.  As expressed by CFACT senior fellow Paul Driessen during his recent testimony before the House Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources, it is about “correcting prevalent environmental myths and misguided policies that help perpetuate poverty, misery, disease and early death in developing countries.”


Driessen’s new book, appropriately titled, “Eco-Imperialism: Green Power–Black Death,” is a veritable catalogue of such environmental injustice.  


To begin with, the sheer numbers of people affected by these policies is so large as to be mind-numbing:


• Worldwide, some three billion people live on less than $700 per year, and one billion live on less than $200 per year.


• Two billion people in Africa, Asia and Latin America still do not have electricity – and must live without lights, refrigeration, hospitals, sanitation, safe water, or the hope of economic growth and better lives.


• Five hundred thousand children die each year from malnutrition, while millions more die from dysentery and other diseases caused by tainted water and spoiled food.


• Two million Africans die each year from malaria – more than half of whom are infants and children – while the disease so sickens 250 million Africans annually that they cannot work, go to school, care for their families, or cultivate their fields for weeks or months on end.


• Four million infants, children and mothers die every year from lung infections.  According to Barun Mitra, president of the Liberty Institute of Dehli, India, this is largely the result of “young children and women spend[ing] hours each day in the drudgery of collecting firewood, or squatting in mud laced with animal feces and urine, to collect, dry and store manure for use in cooking, heat or light – rather than attending school or engaging in more satisfying or productive economic activity.”


Now all of this would be horrible enough if it was unavoidable.  But largely, it is not.  As Driessen and a growing host of other advocates of genuine “environmental justice” point out, it is often the policies of major environmental groups on issues relating to energy, agriculture and even population that prevent the world’s poor from escaping these terrible afflictions.


For example, by stridently opposing safe and affordable forms of modern energy like hydroelectric, fossil fuels, and nuclear power, First World environmentalists insist that developing countries must rely on wind and solar power, or go without electricity.    Or as stated by actor Ed Begley, Jr., “Everybody in Africa should have electricity where they need it – on their huts.”


By needlessly opposing agricultural biotechnology and other modern forms of food production in developing nations, Green activists are standing in the way of much more bountiful harvests that would reduce malnutrition, replace crops devastated by disease and drought, and even reduce the need to plow under acres of wildlife habitat.


And by standing in the way of developing countries being able to spray tiny amounts of DDT on the inside walls of homes just once or twice a year to repel, incapacitate, and exterminate mosquitoes, millions are being sentenced to an early death from the tragedy of malaria.  Indeed, even The New York Times has observed, “Until [a feasible alternative] is found, wealthy nations should be helping poor countries with all available means – including DDT.”


Patrick Moore was a co-founder of Greenpeace.  Now, because of these environmental injustices, he says, “The movement I helped found has lost its objectivity, morality and humanity.  The pain and suffering it is inflicting on families in developing countries must no longer be tolerated.”


Niger Innis, national spokesman for the Congress of Racial Equality, agrees.  He asserts, “We all want to protect our planet. But we must stop trying to protect it from illusory threats – and doing it on the backs, and the graves, of the world’s most powerless and impoverished people.”


Thankfully, even portions of America’s religious community are beginning to stand up for a sound and principled environmental ethic.  As expressed in “The Cornwall Declaration on Environmental Stewardship” (which has now been signed by more than 1,500 leading Jewish, Catholic and Protestant clergy, theologians and other people of faith):


“Public policies to combat exaggerated risks can dangerously delay or reverse the economic development necessary to improve not only human life but also human stewardship of the environment. The poor, who are most often citizens of developing nations, are often forced to suffer longer in poverty with its attendant high rates of malnutrition, disease, and mortality; as a consequence, they are often the most injured by such misguided, though well-intended, policies.”


Hopefully this is a clarion call that will not go unheeded.