Tuesday, October 26, 2004


The war against poverty is threatened by friendly fire. A swarm of media-savvy Western activists has descended upon aid agencies, staging protests to block projects that allegedly exploit the developing world. The protests serve professional agitators by keeping their pet causes in the headlines. But they do not always serve the millions of people who live without clean water or electricity.

Last year, I visited Uganda. I wanted to understand how a showcase of African hopelessness turned around, cutting the number of people living below the national poverty line by almost 40 percent during the 1990s. But I wanted to get to the bottom of another issue, too. The World Bank was promoting a dam near the source of the river Nile, at a beautiful spot called Bujagali. Western nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) were in revolt:

The International Rivers Network, based in Berkeley, California, maintained that the Ugandan environmental movement was outraged at the likely damage to waterfalls at the site, and that the poor who lived there would be uprooted from their land for the sake of electricity they couldn't afford. It was surely a clash that went to the heart of the globalization struggle. Was the NGO movement acting as a civilized check on industrialization, standing up for millions of poor people whose views the World Bank ignored? Or was it retarding the battle against poverty by withholding electricity that would fuel economic growth, ultimately benefiting poor citizens?

I called the Berkeley activists and asked for some advice. Who ran this Ugandan environmental movement they claimed was so outraged? Where were the villagers who would be cruelly dislocated by the dam project? NGOs such as the International Rivers Network usually love helping Western journalists, and because these journalists are generally far from the scene of the disputed development project, they sometimes simply report what they are told. But now that I was in Uganda, a few hours' drive from the proposed dam, I got a warier response. Lori Pottinger, the International Rivers activist who led the Bujagali campaign, explained that her Ugandan counterparts were preoccupied just then, and that snooping around the villages at the Bujagali site would get me into trouble with the authorities.

Not wanting to give up right away, I tracked down Pottinger's Ugandan counterparts by other means and telephoned their office. A friendly voice invited me to come over straightaway. When I arrived, the group's young director sat me down and plied me with leaflets and reports that gratefully acknowledged the sponsorship of a group called the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation. After half an hour of conversation, I asked the question that really concerned me: What kind of organization was this?

"This is a membership organization," I was told. "How many members?" I asked. My host kindly stood up and rummaged about in his desk, returning with a blue notebook. "Here is the list," he said triumphantly. Uganda's National Association of Professional Environmentalists had all of 25 members-not exactly a broad platform from which to oppose electricity for millions.

My next move was to visit Bujagali. I met up with a Ugandan sociologist who knew the region well and promised to translate for me. She stopped at a cluster of buildings on the edge of the dam site to check in with the local government representative who, far from threatening to call the cops, greeted us cheerfully. For the next three hours, we interviewed villager after villager and found the same story: The "dam people" had come and promised generous financial terms, and the villagers were happy to accept them and relocate. My sociologist companion said we might have sample bias because we were interviewing men, who might value cash more than the land that women tended. So we interviewed some women, who offered the same pro-project line. The only people who objected to the dam were those living just outside its perimeter. They were angry because the project would not affect them, meaning no generous payout.

This story is a tragedy for Uganda. Clinics and factories are being deprived of electricity by Californians whose idea of an electricity crisis is a handful of summer blackouts. But it is also a tragedy for the fight against poverty worldwide, because projects in dozens of countries are similarly held up for fear of activist resistance. Time after time, feisty Internet-enabled groups make scary claims about the iniquities of development projects. Time after time, Western publics raised on stories of World Bank white elephants believe them. Lawmakers in European parliaments and the U.S. Congress accept NGO arguments at face value, and the government officials who sit on the World Bank's board respond by blocking funding for deserving projects.

The consequences can be preposterously ironic. NGOs claim to campaign on behalf of poor people, yet many of their campaigns harm the poor. They claim to protect the environment, but by forcing the World Bank to pull out of sensitive projects, they cause these schemes to go ahead without the environmental safeguards that the bank would have imposed on them. Likewise, NGOs purport to hold the World Bank accountable, yet the bank is answerable to the governments who are its shareholders; it is the NGOs' accountability that is murky. Furthermore, the offensives mounted by activist groups sometimes have no basis in fact whatsoever.

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They HATE tourists!

"The current British hysteria over global warming, which has seen party leaders Tony Blair, Michael Howard, and Charles Kennedy all vying to see which one could sign up to the most of Greenpeace's economy-destroying agenda, has stalled in one important area. The UK's Department for Transport (where I used to work when it was simply a Department of Transport) has decided that if it is supposed to be for transport, it cannot, in all good conscience, urge people not to fly.

That would be the result if one of the more foolish ideas of the green lobby were to be adopted. Aviation accounts for some 3 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions worldwide and is therefore a major contributor to concerns over global warming. However, with aviation increasingly important to the worldwide economy, and to Britain's economy in particular (according to the DfT, one fifth of all air passengers worldwide are going to or from a British airport), reducing the number of flights is an undesirable step to take......

There is another scheme that might suppress aviation use even more effectively than a tax. The UK's Hadley Centre, a scientific organization, has proposed that everyone should have, in essence, a ration of carbon use, and people who need more will be able to buy the excess they need from people who don't need it. In practice, this will mean working families buying allowances from students, a nice little earner for the greens' biggest constituency, but it will also impact foreign travel considerably. For instance, the average Briton contributes about 11 tonnes of CO2 to the atmosphere every year from her lifestyle. One trip to Australia to see the grandkids would take up almost 4 tons-about a third of the allowance. Even a trip from Birmingham to Cyprus for the Summer holiday would use up three quarters of a tonne, one fifteenth of all the carbon the typical Briton contributes each year. The individual carbon allowance would simply destroy the foreign holiday industry."

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Many people would like to be kind to others so Leftists exploit that with their nonsense about equality. Most people want a clean, green environment so Greenies exploit that by inventing all sorts of far-fetched threats to the environment. But for both, the real motive is to promote themselves as wiser and better than everyone else, truth regardless.

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