Mises Wire

Eco-imperialism: The West’s New Kind of Colonialism

Globally, there is a movement to remove the residues of Western imperialism from all quarters of society. Throughout the world, monuments dedicated to Western explorers and statesmen are being toppled. Activists in the developing world and their allies in the West assert that developing countries must be permitted to chart a new course without the cultural interference of the West.

Yet the West continues a form a colonialism in Africa: eco-imperialism. Because the West’s progressives like this kind of imperialism, we rarely hear anything about it. Reasonable people do believe that developing countries have a right to self-determination, yet the eco-imperialist agenda of the West has failed to invite equal venom. In other words, the West has shown it has every intention of meddling in the internal affairs of developing nations in the name of environmentalism.

Western countries, on the other hand, were afforded the luxury of exploiting their resources and energy sources without encountering grim lectures about climate change, and African countries ought to be given the same privilege. African countries, for example, are routinely lectured by the West about the need to cut back emissions and use more expensive, less productive energy sources. This is costly to these countries and it limits local self-determination.

Moreover, contrary to reports, climate change is an old problem and history records our ability to adapt to an unpredictable climate. Neither is there consensus that CO2 is a pollutant. These issues will not be rehashed in this article, because they were thoroughly covered in an earlier piece. Therefore, it is only apt for us to renounce the emotionalism of those who would prefer African countries to risk their financial health based on inconclusive data.

This problem extends beyond climate change issues, of course.

In Kenya, for example, DDT was deployed to curtail the spread of malaria, until the demise of this policy in 1990 at the behest of a government inspired by Western propaganda. Fortunately, for Kenya, the insights of some bureaucrats resulted in the resumption of DDT use in 2010. As the then head of Kenya’s malaria control unit, Willis Akhwale, reported in 2009: “New studies have shown earlier accusations of DDT to be largely incorrect. The pesticide is safe for use in malaria control, if like other chemicals it is used responsibly.”

The truth is that DDT was never given an impartial hearing before the decision to terminate its use. Economist Roger Bates states the issues bluntly: “Despite the fact that many of the fears surrounding DDT were based on inadequate and, unscientific studies, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) banned DDT in 1972…. The EPA administrator William Ruckelshaus overturned scientific reports and evidence from numerous expert witnesses that firmly opposed a ban on DDT.”

In fact, a 2011 study found that the impact of DDT on lakes in Africa was not only moderate, but also that low contamination levels explain the abundance of the lesser flamingo population in these aquatic environments. For political reasons, poor countries are coaxed into implementing expensive programs to caress the egos of affluent environmentalists, whose living standards remain unaffected by their bad ideas. Accordingly, Paul Driessen paints a dreary picture of the consequences of environmental activism on Africa: “Now, even as locusts wipe out staple food crops, rabid NGOs are pressuring Kenya’s parliament to ban over 200 pesticides that have been approved as safe for crops, wildlife and people by Kenya’s authorities and by regulators in the USA, Canada, and other nations.”

As Driessen rightly argues, instead of promoting modern farming techniques for Africa, they advertise the insidious program of agroecology with a fixation on perceived indigenous practices to the exclusion of knowledge, technologies, and equipment that could reduce poverty and other social ills in Africa. It is even more disturbing that the eco-imperialism of the West is insufficiently challenged by African leaders. Fossil fuels power renewables and are responsible for the higher living standards in the developed world by facilitating efficient production, yet as Samuel Ayokunle Oyo notes, policymakers are unwisely considering a ban on fossil fuels: “In Nigeria, for example, proposed policies exploring an outright ban on independent fossil fuel systems could erode the progress in extending electrification across the country…. These fossil fuel systems form part of hybrid renewable energy networks that play a large part in sustainably electrifying under-served communities in Sub-Saharan Africa.”

African leaders are so distracted by the empty rhetoric of environmentalists that they may impoverish their people to signal commonalities with misguided Western elites. Moreover, despite the proclivity of African politicians to decry neocolonialism, it appears that in the arena of environmental management they are willing to make concessions to the West. However, the truth is that though Western civilization is frequently derided, most regions take their cues from the West. So, even if the climate policies of the Western world are dubious, due to the West’s cultural capital, they will be exported elsewhere.

But to truly exercise sovereignty Africans must extricate themselves from the allure of Western leftism. It is illogical to oppose Western imperialism yet accept eco-policies crafted by the West that are antithetical to Africa’s progress. Essentially, adopting the rhetoric of environmentalists may esteem African leaders in the eyes of their Western counterparts, but unfortunately, their constituents will be rewarded with poverty.

Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.
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