Growing our way to a green planet

By Jack Kemp

Copley News Service

The great free-market economist and polymath Julian Simon coined the term "doomsters" for folks who believe nothing can ever go right in the world and insist that high-minded elites in science, government and academia must "save us from ourselves" by stifling virtually every form of progress to which human beings aspire. We used to call them Malthusians or Luddites, and today's crop remains as oblivious as ever to facts, experience and common sense.

The latest case in point is illustrated by a series of full-page newspaper ads sponsored by the Turning Point Project. This coalition of diverse organizations, including the Humane Society, Organic Consumers and Food First, among others, routinely resists market-opening negotiations that could relieve poverty, hunger and malnutrition in many of the less-developed nations. It's understandable that these radical eco-fanatics in their designer clothes and $100 sneakers can't empathize with folks who have yet to reach the first rung on the economic ladder of success. But their failure to grasp the incredible harm to the ecology their policies would cause is astonishing.

The most recent ad on Feb. 7 in The New York Times claims that modern industry, agriculture and trade are destroying tillable soil, polluting the air and water, robbing us of biological diversity and threatening the public with bio-disaster from genetically engineered food crops. But the fact is, modern farming techniques reduce the rate of soil erosion. The U.S. Department of Agriculture says modern high-yield farming reduces soil erosion a little, farmers say a lot.

Biological diversity - the practice of growing one crop across a large area - vastly increases crop yields. As reported in Earth Report 2000 published by the Competitive Enterprise Institute, "By dramatically increasing the amount of food grown on land already under cultivation, humanity has already managed to save up to 10 million square miles - the total area of North America - of rain forests, wetlands and mountain terrain from being plowed down."

Where biotechnology and so-called genetically engineered foods are concerned, the Turning Point extremists are not just wrong about the ecological impact, they're dangerously indifferent to the fate of the peoples of the world who still live at or near subsistence levels and face the threat of malnutrition and starvation on a daily basis. The new green revolution driven by biotechnology will vastly improve the nutritional value and pest-resistance of basic food crops, such as the new vitamin-A rich "golden rice." Genetically engineered crops mean better yields, less waste, less use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers, and a more healthy diet.

They will help the world's poor most of all, yet the eco-fanatics want to bar the door to progress, and they will use international agreements like the new international Biosafety Protocol to launch an all-out war on foods, crops and products developed through modern genetics.

From the Copernican revolution in astronomy to the invention of movable type, scientific breakthroughs and technological progress have had to overcome the fear and superstition associated with maintaining the status quo. When this latest crop of doomsters alleges that genetic engineering risks "the possibility of a crossover gene creating a global 'suicide plant' pandemic," they're just engineering propaganda and fear-mongering. They need to be held to the standards of sound science and honest assessment of the benefits and risks associated with economic and technological progress.

Doomsters would have the world return to the primitive subsistence agriculture our ancestors practiced. That such ill-conceived ideas should be advocated in the name of "protecting the planet" is tragic and the worst possible thing we could do to the ecology.

It's no accident that advanced economies have the best environmental record. They can afford to care and take the long view about planet Earth. The way to protect the planet is to assist countries in advancing economically to the point that they can afford to care.

Affluent environmentalists would be better advised to assist poor countries to achieve true tax reform that reduces economic friction and promotes productivity, freeing up entrepreneurs and innovators of all types, whether in science, industry or the new Internet economy, to do what they do best. These are the green public policies and attitudes toward which we should all work. To learn more about this issue, visit CEI's Web site at http://www.cei.org.

Jack Kemp is co-director of Empower America and Distinguished Fellow of the Competitive Enterprise Institute.