On Tuesday night Greg Bourne (CEO of WWF Australia) told a crowd at the Brisbane Institute that WWF was a progressive organization essentially because WWF believed in climate change and wanted to do something about it.
I am not sure that I can agree with this definition of ‘progressive’. Take the case of WWF and GM food crops. WWF has actively campaigned against GM. Yet this new innovative technology gives farmers the potential to increase or maintain yields while using less pesticide, less water, less land – a reduced ecological footprint for more food.
For example, the 90 per cent of Australian cotton growers who how plant the latest GM varieties use on average 80-90 per cent less insecticide while maintaining yields. New GM wheat varieties being developed in SA could produce more grain under much drier conditions – an important consideration if we accept some climate change scenarios.
After the lecture, I introduced myself to Bourne. In the course of the conversation he called me a luddite because I am skeptical about some of the ‘science’ underpinning IPCC climate change modeling.
This is interesting because I accept atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are increasing dramatically and something should be done about this.
What I don’t accept is many of their solutions for reducing emissions – I don’t consider them particularly effective, let alone progressive.
For example, Bourne suggested that it is OK for China to keep building old-technology, coal-fired power stations because the priority in China is “pulling people out of poverty, not climate change”.
According to Bourne, Australia is different. We already enjoy a reasonable standard of living therefore “the driver” should be the environment and we should oppose coal fired power stations.
This seems a totally discriminatory approach to a global environmental problem. And in the same breath Bourne suggested that communities can’t enjoy a reasonable standard of living if they don’t also look after their environment.
For some time I have remarked that if environmentalism is to deliver tangible environmental benefits, it will need to change. In my view environmentlism needs to be redefined in accordance with how natural systems actually operate and to embrace, rather than reject, technological innovation.
Much of my work has been dismissed by self proclaimed ‘progressive environmentalists’ on the basis that I work for the IPA and am therefore conservative and wrong. But I consider myself a social (as well as environmental) progressive.
Furthermore the IPA seems to have been one of the few organisations in Australia prepared to promote open discussion by providing a counterpoint on important environmental issues. On Line Opinion was also quick to publish my alternative perspective on the basis there is a need for real debate on these issues.
I hope that through this new blog (that I start with some trepidation) real debate on real environmental issues can be further faciliated. I am interested somewhat by what motivates people, but my real interest is in the facts-of-the-matter and how policies and systems can be put in place that will deliver real environmental protection and benefit both nationally and globally.
I agree with Bourne that change starts with the empowerment of individuals who want to make a difference – who want to be progressive.
But what does it really mean to be a progressive environmentalist?
If you really care about the environment should you buy GM food or organic food? Should we support China to “pull its people out of poverty” even if this means many more old-style, coal-fired power stations – or is there a better way?
Caroline Marohasy says
To everyone who will comment, and read, and who will be left with, if nothing else… a curiosity for the truth and to my mum:
I have just read “A Progressive Environmentalist”… and I too have been left with a curiosity for the truth.
Growing up as your daughter, you have always taught me to live with an open mind, and to seek out facts before I choose a side of the fence whether it be agreeing or disagreeing with your own.
I remember at different times trying to persuade others to do the same. Like when I was in grade 9 and the school had decided to fund raise for WWF. Everyone singing their praises… I decided that perhaps they needed an equal sided view and so I gave a speech to my class and then year level presenting a few drawbacks of the case.
Although I am continuing to learn about organisations such as WWF through my mother and my own research, I have no doubts that there are also positives along with negatives. It was interesting to see however, just how eager to jump over the fence many people are, and often without checking if there are thorns on the other side.
I am just writing in support of one of my closest friend, and mother to say how thankful I am that you support me to seek the truth, and an informed opinion (as I said, be it in agreeance or dissagreeance with your own)and how proud I am (most of the time… perhaps a few less embarrasing stunts with my friends would help), how proud i am, to have you as my mum.
“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path,
and leave a trail”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Jennifer, with all due respect, you have compromised any credibility you may have by selling yourself as a hired gun to the vested interests of the far right. The fact that the IPA and OLO publish you only reninforces this, as they are both forums for the dissemination of neo-conservative ideology.
Morgan, Do you think there is a place for different perspectives, even contrarian views? I know a lot of neoconservatives who are interested in better understanding issues and seeking out the truth. One way of progressing understanding is through open debate with those who hold very different view to your own.
But Morgan, you seem to be saying that my ideas, insights and researched findings are worth nothing simply because I work for the IPA and am published by OLO?
Which are the organizations and publications that you respect? What contribution have they made to ensuring environmentalism is evidence-based. Or is it OK for environment programs and policies to be just about adherence to an ideology.
Michael Duffy says
Jennifer, I agree with the head of WWF that Australia ought to be closing down coal-fired power stations because they pollute the air and there is an economic and safe alternative in nuclear power. Was this mentioned during his speech? I’ve been surprised the environmnetal movement hasn’t spoken out in favour of nuclear power more vigorously, given the tremendous reductions in greenhouse gases it would achieve.
Walter Starck says
Australia is probably better situated for nuclear power than any other nation. We not only have abundant uranium but vast amounts of uninhabited arid country with stable geology and little or no groundwater. Reactors could be built, operated and nuclear waste disposed of with minimal risk to anyone. In a world facing escalating costs, supply uncertainties and adverse environmental consequences associated with fossil fuels it seems incredibly foolish that we are doing nothing to develop the safest,cleanest, most certain alternative we have.
Nuclear energy was not mentioned during the speech, however, it showed on several of the powerpoint graphs as an alternative energy source.
Graham Young makes comment on this at http://ambit-gambit.nationalforum.com.au/archives/000556.html.
I have contacted Greg Bourne hoping for information on WWF’s official position on nuclear energy but he is yet to respond.
Interestingly Indonesia has just commissioned a nuclear power station, see http://www.abc.net.au/news/newsitems/200504/s1347810.htm.
Tim Lambert says
You advocated the spraying of DDT in Sri Lanka after the tsunami even though it would have been completely useless since mosquitoes there developed resistance to DDT in the early 70s. This is the sort of thing that shows that you are not to be taken seriously on enviromental issues.
Hi Tim, In my column in the Land newspaper (January 20, 2005) I made the point that helping Tsunami victims should be more than about provision of money. I suggested that there is a case for the limited use of DDT for spraying homes and hospitals in malaria ravaged areas (see http://www.fightingmalaria.org for more information). DDT was used to eradicated malaria from the USA. Issues of resistance are real, but can be managed. There are also real environmental issues that can be managed.