Are environmentalists abandoning social justice goals for the Third World?

Poverty in Colombia by Luis Perez, Credit:Wikipedia
Poverty in Colombia by Luis Perez, Credit:Wikipedia

Attention Third World nations: climate change means you can’t have what we developed nations have. Social justice will just have to take a hike. We’re sorry.

The environmental left too often advocates a back-to-nature, pastoralist approach to climate change which sandbags the developing world and bolsters the very corporatism they claim to oppose. So says The Breakthrough Institute in one of their provocative articles.

Social justice to be about supporting the right of the poor to get a better life, to have electricity and hot water. Yet environmentalists now, by wanting us to use less power and head back to nature are ignoring social justice for the Third World. We in the West have these wonderful things. But climate change means you can’t have them because it’s better for the planet that way. I’m sure they appreciate our concern.

If climate justice activists truly cared about poverty and climate change, Foreman notes, they would advocate things like better cook stoves and helping poor nations accelerate the transition from dirtier to cleaner fuels. Instead they make demands that range from the preposterous (eg, de-growth) to the picayune (eg, organic farming).

My wife had a cornea transplant last year. It changed her life. She’s about to have the other eye done. Rather than face a future of near blindness, her vision will be 20-40 in both eyes. To do this requires a world-class hospital supported by a stable electrical grid and clean water in abundance. Everyone on the planet should be able to have operations like this. Saying we must give it all up and head back to the farm is defeatism. Back in the 1960’s, Tim Leary said “turn on, tune in, drop out” while Ken Kesey of the Merry Pranksters said the opposite, take the glitter and the cities and create something better. Kesey was right. Pastoralism is just recycled dropout hippyisms. It didn’t work then and it won’t work now. To do it now because of climate change is a deliberate slap in the face against billions of poor people in developing nations.

Now, at the very moment modern energy arrives for global poor — something a prior generation of socialists would have celebrated and, indeed, demanded — today’s leading left-wing leaders advocate a return to energy penury. The loudest advocates of cheap energy for the poor are on the libertarian Right, while The Nation dresses up neo-Malthusianism as revolutionary socialism.

Left-wing politics was once about destabilizing power relations between the West and the Rest. Now, under the sign of climate justice, it’s about sustaining them.

By abandoning social justice for developing countries, environmentalists support the system they say they want to change.

I’m not saying those who want to go back to the farm shouldn’t. A friend left Los Angeles a few years ago and now happily makes cheese in rural Utah. However, I am saying that as a society we can not and should not go backwards.