In 1907, the twenty-sixth president of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt, famously said that, “The conservation of our natural resources and their proper use constitute the fundamental problem which underlies almost every other problem of our national life.”
Today, this problem has morphed into a philosophical battle between those who, like Roosevelt, have a wish us to use natural resources and others who try to apply the power of government to prevent them from being used. This ideological conflict over the use and control of productive resources is not some modern nicety fought out in tea rooms, but rather can be traced back to the writings of Karl Marx. Environmentalists want to limit the use of our natural resources and they want to impose their beliefs and values on the rest of us.
In true Malthusian tradition, current economic development is rejected as unsustainable. Resources - specifically those related to energy, food production and land use – are judged to be more scarce, more vulnerable and more polluting than we had thought, while the global population, growing in size and wealth, apparently cannot be sustained by a fragile earth.
Liberal environmental campaign groups have been using international organizations to further their anti-development aims ever since the International Whaling Commission (IWC) was hijacked by Greenpeace and other animal rights activists in the early 1980s. The group paid membership dues for small island states to join the IWC and then voted to establish a moratorium on commercial whaling irrespective of the abundance of the various species.
Today, this technique has ballooned into a vast network of well-paid lobbyists who monitor and influence the global governance institutions that regulate what nations must and must not do when it comes to environmental issues like climate change, biodiversity and trade in endangered species. The message and the medicine is the same in each case: the planet, climate, oceans, animals, etc. can only be saved if we stop the offending activity.
Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) cannot make formal proposals to United Nations bodies like CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, so they lobby governments to adopt their anti-use positions and then use access granted by their observer status to support and cajole from the sidelines as these countries do their bidding.
Part of the beauty of this approach is that multinational lobby groups like the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Greenpeace are not geographically aligned to any one single country, and can therefore present themselves as a domestic constituency to many powerful governments simultaneously – the United States, European Union, Australia, etc. And because they present themselves as objective, ethical and without party affiliation, rather than ideological, they can appear neutral to politicians who really should know better.
Externally, they can set up nations against each other on different issues, while internally they can lobby to get their policies adopted by opposition parties who will eventually win power. The Obama administration in America and the Rudd government in Australia both came to power accepting the notion of man-made global warming, in marked contrast to their Bush and Howard predecessors.
European governments are particularly susceptible to lobbying by environmentalist NGOs because the European Union imposes common positions at international meetings, potentially giving the campaigners a huge bloc vote if they can secure the backing of a few of the bigger countries like Germany, France and the United Kingdom. With industry groups, like fishermen and ivory artisans, fragmented and not resourced to undertake major lobbying campaigns, and others like the energy producers wary of antagonizing regulators, the field is left mostly clear for the anti-development agenda to be pushed forward.
So, like puppet masters, western NGOs are able to create the perception of environmental crises – man-made climate change, empty oceans, potential species extinctions – and then secure restrictive proposals from willing government bureaucracies, which are submitted to the relevant intragovernmental institutions.
Journalists at these international meetings rely on the same NGO lobbyists for comment and evaluation, casting them as concerned and objective experts with an independent worldview. A quote from an environmentalist lobbyist for the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) holds greater news value than the supposedly narrow perspective of a spokesman for a specific country. Needless to say, their modus operandi is to cast aspersions against the evil motives of those countries that do not share their objectives. And the NGOs diligently feed the press rooms with new controversies to keep the circus moving.
In this way, the world was misled in March into believing that the Atlantic Bluefin Tuna will shortly go extinct, after a proposal to prohibit its trade was rejected by member states of CITES. The proposal was drafted by WWF and, in true liberal intellectual tradition, submitted by the wealthy European principality of Monaco. The species has been over-fished but it is not endangered and actions taken by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) offer the best option for increasing stocks. Nevertheless, after the defeat of its proposal, WWF called the decision scandalous and arrogantly urged “restaurants, retailers, chefs and consumers around the world to stop selling, serving, buying and eating this endangered species.”
But it doesn’t stop there. Now unsuspecting taxpayers around the world are even being co-opted into backing the campaigns of international environmentalist groups, as governments have become their proxies. Several years ago the Irish government took on the cause of four of its nationals when it went to the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea to stop the operation of a nuclear fuel manufacturing plant in England. The bid failed and cost Irish taxpayers millions.
Australia’s government has now succumbed to the lobbying of animal rights groups and filed suit at the International Court of Justice to stop Japan from undertaking research whaling. The research is a treaty right that is not precluded by the commercial whaling moratorium and it can only be challenged by a sovereign nation. The International Fund for Animal Welfare, an American animal rights NGO, organized legal panels in Australia that recommended the action. The costs and legal footwork will be paid for by Australian taxpayers.
Policy by policy, expediency or ideology has been embraced by various governments, and development has been sacrificed. As a result, citizens have to pay higher costs for energy, food and housing. Some taxpayers are also directly subsidizing the campaigns themselves. Like it or not, we are all liberal environmental activists now.