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INNIS: Seeing red over green activism

Protectionists hurt low-income consumers by favoring expensive paper products

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Pity the poor American consumer. If he is even fortunate enough to have a job in this weak economy, his purchasing power is eroded by steadily rising food and health care prices. Wages are stagnant, and at the same time, policymakers in Washington are taking a breather from the long-term budget fight that is doing little to help American consumers.

As if that situation weren't bad enough, a cadre of wealthy professional environmental activists continues to pursue campaigns that raise the prices of consumer goods. These goods include staple products such as paper towels, toilet paper, grocery bags, schoolbooks and other school supplies.

Consider the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), a group established by radical green organizations such as the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace a little less than two decades ago. The group, which receives government money from the United States, including the U.S. Agency for International Development, and the European Union, raises bogus concerns over deforestation resulting from the global trade in paper goods.

The FSC claims it monitors "responsible" forest management. It hands out its version of the Good Housekeeping Seal of approval for those paper-product producers and merchants it favors.

The certification seal of approval is a classic activist pressure tactic employed to distort trade. It is designed to force the market to rely on certain producers and suppliers at the expense of others. It's a protectionist wolf in green sheep's clothing.

So it's not surprising that it turns out that most of these approved producers and suppliers are found only in the wealthy West. Given that the governments of the United States and Europe fund the group in part to help their domestic producers, would you expect anything else? The process is rigged from the start.

Low-cost countries where these goods can be produced cheaply and efficiently are locked out of the market.

The upshot is that this distortion in trade significantly raises the prices of basic goods for all consumers. The hardest hit are those in low-income and poor communities, including minorities, who must devote a larger percentage of their budgets to basic goods and products.

This would be troubling under any economic circumstances, but given the persistently weak economy plaguing the now long-suffering American consumer, such activities are risible.

If that weren't bad enough, a new report released recently from my organization reveals something even more troubling about the FSC. While the group claims to act on behalf of ecological health, its activities are actually generating environmental harm.

We document for the first time that FSC-certified products contain tropical forest species such as red lauan. This is a species listed as critically endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

How is it that an ostensibly pro-environment organization could concoct a scheme that ends up doing explicit environmental harm?

It's not surprising when you understand the group's myriad conflicts of interest, such as its funding from the EU and the pressure EU businesses put on their government officials to block international trade.

In addition, the FSC is marred by a total lack of transparency. The group created its own nongovernmental-organization-influenced certification system without regard for national forest management standards or international standards bodies.

As a result of this structure, FSC lacks the critical know-how about forest management needed to avoid gross ecological errors.

It also lacks that arm's-length separation and independence enshrined in more reputable certification systems, such as the Sustainable Forestry Initiative or the Program for the Endorsement of Forest Certification.

Of course, green groups and their deep-pocketed benefactors don't care much about the plight of the American consumer, as their campaigns against affordable energy and food make abundantly clear.

But because their campaigns clearly are harming the environment they claim they want to save, maybe it's time to stop calling them "environmental" groups. In fact, it would be more appropriate if they would adopt names such as Foes of the Earth and Greenwar and World Wildlife Fraud instead.

Niger Innis is the national spokesman for the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and the author of a new report, "Stop the War on the Poor - FSC and NGOs: Environmental Mythology."

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