Think tanks wrap-up

March 5, 2003 at 6:24 PM
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WASHINGTON, March 5 (UPI) -- The UPI think tank wrap-up is a daily digest covering opinion pieces, reactions to recent news events and position statements released by various think tanks. This is the first of three wrap-ups for March 5.

The Reason Foundation

LOS ANGELES -- Real environmental racism: Radical feminist Betsy Hartmann decries the "greening of hate"

By Ronald Bailey

That the world's poor breed environmental destruction is a disturbing, and possibly racist, tenet propounded by many prominent ideological environmentalists. Consider, for example, this passage from the first page of one of the founding texts of modern environmentalism, "The Population Bomb," by Paul Ehrlich:

"I have understood the population explosion intellectually for a long time. I came to understand it emotionally one stinking hot night in Delhi a few years ago. My wife and daughter and I were returning to our hotel in an ancient taxi. The seats were hopping with fleas. The only functional gear was third. As we crawled through the city, we entered a crowded slum area. The temperature was well over 100, and the air was a haze of dust and smoke. The streets seemed alive with people. People eating, people washing, people sleeping. People visiting, arguing, and screaming. People thrusting their hands through the taxi window, begging. People defecating and urinating. People clinging to buses. People herding animals. People, people, people, people. As we moved slowly through the mob, hand horn squawking, the dust, noise, heat and cooking fires gave the scene a hellish aspect. Would we ever get to our hotel? All three of us were, frankly, frightened."

Poor Ehrlich. All those awful, awful people! Indeed, a crisis. Curious that Ehrlich would pick Delhi to illustrate urban crowding. He could just as easily have picked New York City or London. That creepy passage has a lot in common with the yellow peril narratives from the last century.

Of course, the crisis he recognized in the unpleasing masses of Indians demands firm and swift action. Ehrlich also wrote in his magnum opus: "We must have population control at home, hopefully through a system of incentives and penalties, but by compulsion if voluntary methods fail."

He then toyed with the idea of putting sterilants in the water supply and rationing the antidote to produce the optimum population. He discarded that idea, noting that it was not yet technically feasible and besides, "society would probably dissolve before sterilants were added to the water by the government." Amazingly astute political analysis, that last.

Coercive population control has long been an established and widely accepted precept of ideological environmentalism. But in a fascinating interview in New Scientist, Betsy Hartmann, director of the population and development program at Hampshire College, questions that ideology. "Phrases like 'the population bomb' and 'the population explosion' breed racism," Hartmann declares.

Hartmann notes that many prominent ideological environmentalists are members of anti-immigrant organizations in which she detects a racist tinge. For example, Cornell University ecologist David Pimentel is on the board of the Carrying Capacity Network, known as CCN, which favors an immediate moratorium on immigration into the United States on environmental grounds.

Hartmann asserts that the CCN "blame(s) migrants for destroying pristine America." Other CCN advisers include such leading environmentalists as Heinz Center President Thomas Lovejoy, the Rocky Mountain Institute's L. Hunter Lovins, Gund Institute of Ecological Economics Director Robert Costanza, and University of Maryland ecological economist Herman Daly.

Hartmann's interview represents an interesting breakthrough in that this radical feminist scholar with impeccable environmentalist credentials understands that the issue is not that the poor breed too much. The issue is that they are poor. Ehrlich and other would-be population controllers have confused poverty with overpopulation.

Had Ehrlich and his frightened family been riding a carriage through New York or London in 1900, his affluent mid-20th century sensibilities would no doubt have been similarly offended by the stink, the smoke, the noise and the press of people crowding those cities. The difference is that the residents of New York and London are much richer than Delhi residents today, so their urban environments are much more pleasant.

Hartmann clearly explains that there is no contradiction between being pro-choice, in favor of contraception, and against population control. "A lot of people find this hard to understand," she says. "But for me, family planning is about human rights and women's health -- not population control. It is about freeing women to have the number of children they want, not blaming them for a whole host of social problems."

Hartmann surprisingly offers some qualified praise for economist Julian Simon, who spent much of his career debunking the likes of Ehrlich and the anti-immigration crowd.

"Julian Simon had a point when he said that (population growth) provides more brains to think and hands to work as well as mouths to feed," said Hartmann. While retaining an unwarranted skepticism of free markets, she admits, "People like Simon on the libertarian right have often had better positions on population control than the liberal population establishment, who were often afraid to speak out against coercion and sometimes actively supported it."

The best way to prevent harm to nature is to help the poorest people in the world become richer so that they too can afford to cherish it as much or more than do the likes of Ehrlich, Pimentel, and Lovejoy. Ehrlich wrote, "We must all learn to identify with the plight of our less fortunate fellows on Spaceship Earth if we are help both them and ourselves to survive."

And that is surely true. But we must correctly identify what the problem is before we can effectively work to solve it. Environmentalist Hartmann has made a good first diagnosis. Poverty is the problem, not population. (She's wrong about economic growth and consumption, but that's another discussion.)

Let's hope for the sake of humanity and a thriving natural world that other environmentalists will heed her and turn away from the false, coercive, and possibly racist, population control nostrums still being offered by so many ideological environmentalists.

(Ronald Bailey is Reason magazine's science correspondent.)

The Cato Institute

WASHINGTON -- Why Saddam will not give weapons of mass destruction to al Qaida

By Gene Healy

Of all the reasons the administration has offered for war with Iraq, keeping chemical and biological weapons out of the hands of al Qaida resonates most strongly with the American people. President Bush used that frightening prospect to dramatic effect in his State of the Union speech: "Imagine those 19 hijackers with other weapons and other plans -- this time armed by Saddam Hussein. It would take one vial, one canister, one crate slipped into this country to bring a day of horror like none we have ever known."

But the administration's strongest sound bite on Iraq is also its weakest argument for war. The idea that Saddam Hussein would trust al Qaida enough to give al Qaida operatives chemical or biological weapons -- and trust them to keep quiet about it -- is simply not plausible.

Osama bin Laden, who views the rigid Saudi theocracy as insufficiently Islamic, has long considered Saddam Hussein an infidel enemy. Before Saddam invaded Kuwait in 1990, bin Laden warned publicly that the Iraqi dictator had designs on conquering Saudi Arabia. When Iraq invaded Kuwait, bin Laden offered to assemble his mujahedin to battle Saddam and protect the Arabian peninsula.

Last summer, when CNN acquired a cache of internal al Qaida training videotapes, they discovered a Qaida documentary that was highly critical of Saddam. Peter Bergen, the CNN terrorism expert who interviewed bin Laden in 1998, noted that bin Laden indicted Saddam as "a bad Muslim."

That theme continues in the latest "bin Laden" audiotape, released to Al Jazeera. In it, bin Laden (or someone claiming to be him) urges Muslims to fight the American "crusaders" bent on invading Iraq. But even while urging assistance to Saddam's "socialist" regime, "bin Laden" can't resist condemning that regime: "The jurisdiction of the socialists and those rulers has fallen a long time ago ... Socialists are infidels wherever they are, whether they are in Baghdad or Aden."

Of course, cooperation is possible; sworn enemies often collude when their interests coincide -- most famously in the Nazi-Soviet nonagression pact of 1939. But Saddam, as a student and admirer of Stalin, knows how that turned out -- with the Russian dictator double-crossed and almost destroyed by his Nazi ally.

No doubt al Qaida would accept chemical or biological weapons from Saddam. If he handed them over, the theory goes, he might be able to harm the United States without suffering massive retaliation because the strike would come via terrorist intermediaries. But the theory depends entirely on al Qaida keeping quiet about how they acquired the weapons.

Why would they? Al Qaida wants the Saddam regime overthrown. There's also good reason to believe they want to incite a U.S. invasion of Iraq to draw new recruits into the al Qaida campaign against a so-called "Crusader"-Israeli alliance aimed at conquering the Middle East. Provoking a crackdown by the enemy has been a key terrorist strategy for as long as there have been terrorists.

Getting Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, or WMD, would allow al Qaida to kill two birds with one stone. They'd get to kill more Americans, and then, by revealing that Saddam gave them the weapons (perhaps on a satellite phone they know American intelligence is monitoring) they'd get a war that would finish Saddam's "infidel" regime and bring "the jurisdiction of the socialists" to an end. A war that promises to bring new Jihadis into the fold.

And all that would be necessary for al Qaida to achieve these goals is to convince the Iraqi dictator to hand over the goods. Ask yourself: Did Saddam Hussein rise to the top of a totalitarian dictatorship by being quite so ... trusting?

The idea that Saddam views a WMD strike via terrorist intermediaries as a viable strategy is rank speculation, contradicted by his past behavior. Saddam's hostility toward Israel predates his struggle with the United States. He's had longstanding ties with anti-Israeli terror groups and he's had chemical weapons for over 20 years. Yet there has never been a nerve gas attack in Israel. Why? Because Israel has nuclear weapons and conventional superiority, and Saddam wants to live.

If he's ever considered passing off chemical weapons to Palestinian terrorists, he decided that he wouldn't get away with it. He has even less reason to trust al Qaida with a potentially regime-ending secret.

Of course, if regime change is coming anyway by force of American arms, Saddam Hussein "probably would become much less constrained in adopting terrorist action." That's what CIA Director George Tenet told the House and Senate intelligence committees last October, to the embarrassment of the Bush administration.

Is Tenet right? We're about to find out.

(Gene Healy is a senior editor at the Cato Institute.)

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