Magazine article Review - Institute of Public Affairs

Zealotry in Environmentalism

Magazine article Review - Institute of Public Affairs

Zealotry in Environmentalism

Article excerpt

THE days of more extreme irrational behaviour and rampant emotionalism associated with the environmental movement in Australia appear to have passed. The dangerous practice of spiking trees deliberately to injure forestry workers, for example, is now just an unpleasant memory. Yet there remains within even the more respected wing of environmentalism a petulant intolerance of anything that threatens to contravene their accepted doctrine.

Such bigotry is not, of course, confined to environmentalists. It gained ground in the decade 1985-1995, exacerbated by political pandering to special interest groups, and today remains a lingering impediment to balanced governance. Despite the `one nation' shibboleth of the early 1990s, the government of the day chose to divide the nation on many issues: one side was cultivated and patronized while scorn and vitriol were poured on those who dissented. A distinctly sycophantic media joined in with synthetic moralizing. The result was to place unprecedented power in the hands of pressure groups who, not satisfied with being heard, insisted on and often obtained compliance from government;1 those who disagreed were accused of arrogance and insensitivity to the needs and concerns of the community-such needs and concerns of course being as defined by the pressure group.

In his 1990 prize-winning essay `The Class That Cried Wolf',2 Sev Sternhell asserts that `Greenies use scientific data like lawyers, to make a case; and not like scientists, to discover what is the case'; he decries their dishonesty, exaggeration, distortion and reliance `on the ignorance of their followers, of the public at large, and of elites and politicians'. Hard words, maybe, and perhaps applicable only to fringe activists. Yet the bullying tactics of the early 90s and an associated media campaign affected mainstream environmentalism and resuited in some attitudes being adopted and infringements railed against that were of dubious validity.3 It would be reassuring today to suppose that before causes were endorsed by the likes of the popular Australian Conservation Foundation, their validity would first be critically assessed. But the tendency to selfrighteous obscurantism in many environmental organizations and their characteristic disregard for rational contrary argument makes this an uncomfortable hypothesis.

Recently David Richmond, the Director-General of the Olympic Co-ordination Authority, complained about the negative attitudes and unsubstantiated assertions from green groups who proclaimed that previously unknown and dangerous toxic waste dumps existed on Sydney Olympic sites. He declared that their technique was not to question but always to accuse, to challenge authorities and to assert that conspiracies to cover up mistakes and downright malpractice had occurred. They were quite unrepentant about the damage such fabrications did to Australia's reputation overseas. Both Greenpeace and the government-funded Green Games-watch groups were involved.

Only a week later, Frank Devine, stung by the uncompromising dogmatism in U.S. Vice President Al Gore's recent evangelical statement on environmental diplomacy, cited green zealotry in his column in The Australian newspaper. He noted that for some the adoption of an environmental cause was a means to an end. For Gore that end was political ambition, for an unnamed green spokesperson it was to sabotage development, and for a project officer of the Wilderness Society it seemed to be for the sheer joy of demonstration and protest. Environmentalist ranks have long been swelled by opportunists and dreamers seeking a new world order who capitalize upon and extrapolate genuine concerns.

The modern era of zealotry in environmentalism appears to be characterized by apprehension with which changes associated with any developmental activity are regarded, the fervour with which views are held, and the prediction of a calamitous future-unless some specified action is undertaken. …

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