Unsustainable Earth summits

spiked editor Mick Hume in The Times (London).

Mick Hume

Mick Hume
Columnist

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Stop global warming? We could start by reducing the record levels of hot air that will soon be produced by 65,000 delegates at the Earth Summit in Johannesburg.

The row over who should make up the UK delegation could easily be resolved by sending nobody at all. We would thus set an example to others in countering the unsustainable increase in doom-mongering summits, which threaten to leave much of our planet living in terminal depression.

Green groups were up in arms when it was reported that No 10 had dropped Michael Meacher, the Environment Minister, from the delegation to what is officially called the World Summit on Sustainable Development. They have also complained that senior British businessmen invited to join the delegation will ‘hijack’ a summit intended to aid the world’s poor.

Campaigners argue that this shows the Government is in thrall to unrepresentative special interests. New Labour does, indeed, seem to be dancing to the tune of unaccountable interest groups -such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, whose protests quickly got Meacher reinstated at the head of the delegation. No doubt we will all sleep more easily knowing that Mr Meacher is off to save the planet from pestilent humanity. He certainly appears to see himself, if not as the environmental messiah, then at least as a green John the Baptist. ‘One is like a lone voice in the wilderness,’ he told The Sunday Times, complaining that ‘very few people’ understand how ‘the world is going very fast into the buffers’ (unlike the railways he is supposed to champion).

Perhaps Meacher, who rails against Western consumerism while owning nine houses, is a suitably ridiculous figure to lead our delegation into the three-ring circus in Johannesburg. But whether he is there or not will not alter the outcome. Even the muchcriticised absence of President Bush will be pretty irrelevant. These summits are not about making a difference in the world. They are ends in themselves, festivals for professional summit animals.

The real beneficiaries of the summit will not be the poor of places such as Johannesburg, but Meacher’s newfound friends in the environmental NGOs and eco-lobby groups. These groups are political parasites. They leech off the people of the developing world to win global influence. And they feed off public apathy in the West to pose as unelected representatives of ‘the people’, easily swaying governments such as Mr Blair’s desperate to connect with popular opinion.

No doubt many critics will denounce the summit’s final communique as worthless. In fact it will be worse than worthless. As Meacher is already making clear, by presenting worst-case scenarios as if they were scientific facts, the summit’s message will be that we all need to rein in our ambitions -restraining consumption in the West, and lowering aspirations for growth in the developing world.

Sustainable development sounds like a worthy goal -who could be in favour of unsustainable development? But in practice it means far too little development to meet the needs of the poor. Similarly, we will hear a lot about the need for applying ‘appropriate’ (ie, low) technology in Africa, but little about the fact that the most appropriate technology for dragging poorest nations up fast might well be nuclear power.

Meanwhile, back home, Meacher protests that his Government is not doing enough to make us all give up cars and move to Sunderland. Other leading greens want us to stop flying around the world (one thinks it the moral equivalent of child abuse), although obviously they make an exception for their own planet-saving jaunt to the Johannesburg jamboree.

The market system that has helped to create problems such as uneven development and Third World debt certainly does not offer any magic solutions. But what is on offer from Meacher and Co is worse, demanding restraints on the most positive aspect of the market system -the dynamic search for global growth.

Meacher says that, unless things change, we will soon need two planets to sustain humanity. In fact there already are two planets. There is the real Planet Earth, where serious problems remain but health and wealth have dramatically improved even in the poorest continents. And there is the fantasy planet he appears to inhabit, where the end of the world is nigh unless we do something to sacrifice our living standards.

Meacher may have won his campaign to go to Johannesburg. But it would be better for all of us if he remained alone, crying in his ‘wilderness’, preferably along with the parasitical wing of the green movement. It just seems a pity that they have effectively banned the life-saving, parasite-blitzing chemical DDT.

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