6 JUNE 1992, Page 12


Robert Whelan claims that the Earth Summit is the fruit of the Green movement's break with reality

IT IS NO secret that environmental lobby- ists hoped to make the United Nations' Earth Summit in Brazil into the Nineties equivalent of Yalta — a chance to carve up the world order and try a new arrange- ment. Specifically, they hoped to get a binding agreement to reduce energy use through the signing of a climate conven- tion. This would have involved targets to reduce energy consumption by a certain date, coupled with energy taxes. When the Americans made it clear they would not come to Rio to sign any such convention it had to be diluted, removing all references to targets. It now means almost nothing, and some Greens are complaining that the greenhouse effect has been replaced by the White House effect.

With the climate convention in ruins, this leaves the convention on biodiversity as the Summit's main hope of implementing the Green agenda. And what, you may ask, is biodiversity?

Biodiversity refers to the fact that we share the planet with many other species of plant and animal life; that these different life forms are connected; and that the loss of one species may affect others. While this all sounds reasonable enough, it has been cranked up by the Greens into an absolutist dogma that not one species should ever be allowed to become extinct, and that man does not have any special claims.

This respect for other members of the 'biotic community' means that any human activity which threatens 'biodiversity' will be challenged and probably stopped. This includes such human intrusions on 'Gala' (the Green's Earth goddess) as the drain- ing of wetlands and the use of chemical sprays to get ride of locusts and mosquitoes.

To impress upon us the urgency for a binding convention respecting biodiversity, the Greens regale us with fantastic horror stories about the rate at which species are becoming extinct. This is supposed to be occurring at the rate of hundreds or even thousands a year, which is then broken down to one an hour, one every half hour, one in the time it takes you to eat a ham- burger, and so on. It is an alarming reflec- tion of the complete lack of respect for scientific accuracy which characterises the Green movement that there is not a shred of evidence to support any of these claims.

First of all we should admit to a large measure of humility in any estimates to do with species extinction, as we do not know how many species there are. The World Wide Fund for Nature puts the figure between 5 million and 100 million — a con- siderable margin for error, which should inspire prudence. However, after admitting in its leaflet Biological Diversity that under 2 million species have actually been record- ed, the WWFN goes on to claim that

...there are probably at least 30 million ... Over a thousand (perhaps 10,000 or more) are being lost each year, most unseen and unrecorded.

This is actually quite a difficult concept to grasp. There are all these millions of species about which we know absolutely nothing except that they are vanishing. If Lewis Carroll were alive today he would be an ideal candidate for office in the WWFN, with his peculiar talent for blending fantasy with mathematics.

One of the earliest estimates of dramatic rates of species extinction came in the book The Sinking Ark, written by that Jeremiah of species, Norman Myers.

Myers claimed that between 1600 and 1900 one species had been disappearing every four years, and that between 1900 and 1980 this had risen to one a year. No sources were given for these estimates, but he then upped the ante by citing a 'guess' made by 'some scientists' that the rate had reached 100 per year by the time of writing (1979), and on the strength of this guess he predicted that 'by the end of the 1980s we could be facing a situation where one species becomes extinct every hour'.

This estimate has proved far too conser- vative for modern Greens, who have cranked it up again. In June 1988 Friends of the Earth ran a series of press advertise- ments seeking new members which claimed that

one species becomes extinct every half hour. Half of the world's plant and animal species is being scraped from the face of the earth. The last of the rainforest hardwoods are being sold off.

I complained to the Advertising Stan- dards Authority that Friends of the Earth were using unscientific scare stories to raise funds, since no date existed to support the claim concerning species extinction; since, even if we knew the rate of extinctions, it would still be impossible to estimate the fraction of species at risk in the absence of any agreement as to the total number of species, and since annual rainforest clear- ance had been reliably estimated by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation to be in the region of only 0.6 per cent of the total forested area, which still comprised hundreds of millions of hectares. To say that the last of these forests were 'being sold off was, to put it mildly, unduly pes- simistic.

It took nine months and several further letters from me to press the ASA into giv- ing its ruling, which found against me on

two points and for me on one. The UNFAO study on tropical forests which I had quoted was dismissed as out of date, given the acceleration of forest clearance. The Advertising Standards Authority in its wisdom took the view that, in the light of recent trends, 'only insignificant relics of the rainforest' would be left by the year 2000. In fact the UNFAO study was then and still remains the best overview of the subject, although it is being updated. Pre- liminary findings suggest the rate of tropi- cal rainforest loss may have risen to just below 1 per cent a year, so there should still be a few million hectares left in 2000.

The ASA delivered itself of the opinion that as a lot of species live in the rain- forests, and as these forests would — they forecast — be virtually wiped out by 2000, the claim that half of all species were being `scraped from the face of the earth' was an `educated guess'.

However, the ASA was unable to defend the claim that species were becoming extinct every half-hour and advised:

Given the considerable degree of uncertain- ty... which attended attempts to estimate overall rates of extinction... it had been unwise for it to be expressed with such preci- sion.

Unfortunately this ruling from the ASA did nothing to cool the enthusiasm for throwing imaginary species into mass graves, and the World Wide Fund for Nature still puts extinctions at 50 a day in its press advertising. However, even this is an under-estimate by some standards. In 1990, the Rotary Club of Great Britain entered an unlikely partnership with Marie Stopes International, whereby Rotary clubs would raise funds for the MSI's international population control pro- grammes. In a leaflet produced to promote the link-up entitled Can Rotarians help save this fragile earth? it was claimed that 'over- population is responsible for the destruc- tion of the environment, which leads to the loss of at least 5,000 species each year'. A project sheet sent to Rotarians with the leaflet embroidered upon this horrid theme: 'There is a ... loss of natural species at a rate in 1990 of 500 per day.' Astute readers will note that the second estimate is 36 times larger than the first.

When a Rotarian, who was concerned at the involvement of the organisation with such a contentious cause, challenged Rotary to substantiate these claims he was referred to MSI, who had supplied the information. He therefore asked MSI to provide a list of the thousands of species which must have become extinct in recent years, on these estimates.

MSI had to admit there was no such list. They could only produce a list of species which had become extinct in the 1980s, which amounted to a tree snail in Moorea and a glebe in Guatemala. This does not exactly suggest the end of the natural order. There had also been some difficulty in finding living specimens of a giant ear- wig in St Helena, a macaw in Brazil and a boa constrictor in the Indian Ocean, but it is well known that many species which have been written off as extinct have turned up later in other habitats. For example, the Noisy Shout Bird of Western Australia had been 'extinct' for years before it was discov- ered living a few miles outside Perth.

The tendency of the Greens to inflate statistics and to mix up data with propagan- da should make the world leaders and their environment ministers in Rio extremely wary of signing anything at all. We know from past experience that the Greens will use any weapon to hand to prevent devel- opment which 'encroaches' on `Gaia'. In practice, for a lot of Greens this means any development at all.

A legally binding convention on biodiver- sity could be used in all sorts of interesting ways. Almost any new road or housing development could be held up for years and possibly thwarted by putting forward the interests of the creatures — including the plants — which currently occupy the site. Whilst walking along the backs in Cambridge last week it occurred to me that this beautiful and celebrated landscape

'Tell me. Is it really my drinking that concerns you, or is it that another non-returnable bottle is about to pollute the environment?'

would not have been created if anyone had thought about preserving biodiversity in the 18th century. The area behind the Cambridge colleges was then marshy and unhealthy, hence the attraction of draining it and embanking the Cam. The insects and creepy-crawly things had no advocate in those far-off days to stop this desecration of 'wetlands'.

There is no doubt that the implementa- tion of the Green agenda would have and indeed has already had in some parts of the world — a damaging effect on the welfare of human beings. Some would say that we will have to accept this if we wish to keep the planet habitable. However, we do have the right to demand that any pub- lic policies which reduce our standard of living should at least be based on facts, and not on the peculiar blend of millenarian doomsaying, mystical star-gazing and pres- sure group politics which constitute Green `science'.

Fortunately for all of us, it seems that the Green movement may have been skewered by its own 'biodiversity' at Rio. It is well known that the Green lobby comprises a wide variety of pressure-group causes which used to function independently, such as the anti-nuclear and anti-fur activists, the Marxists and the vegetarians. In their eagerness to put something for everyone into the binding conventions to be signed at Rio, the organisers have gone too far: even politicians who would like to pick up the Green vote will hesitate before com- mitting themselves to everything that has been brought under the heading of biodi- versity.

Only the first part of the convention is about conserving species. The rest concerns the watering down or abolition of intellec- tual property rights, in order to make Western patent and copyright technologies freely available to third world governments, together with a commitment to massive wealth transfers with no strings attached. The figures being bandied about are in the region of $125 billion a year in financial assistance to the third world for an envi- ronmental clean-up. As very few countries currently make foreign aid allocations to the UN's recommended level of 0.7 per cent of GNP, it seems extremely unlikely that politicians will be prepared to commit themselves to financial imprudence on this scale, even for the pleasure of being pho- tographed with the pen in their hands.

President Bush has already said that the US government will not sign the conven- tion on biodiversity, and even the British government is having second thoughts. It seems that good old self-interest will save us in the end from the Greens' attempted new world order, in spite of the blitz of media propaganda. The wallet has reasons of its own.

Robert Whelan is the director of the Commit- tee on Population & the Economy and the author of Mounting Greenery.