- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 29, 2002

The World Summit on Sustainable Development doesn't have to end up the way it's likely to end up, with just one thing to be grateful for the fact that most of its recommendations will never be implemented.

If they were, the objectives of lessening poverty and protecting the environment would be kaput, finished, dead things that wacko ideologies had finished off by dint of their perverse refusal to see reality.

Round up the usual suspects. That's the cry of many of the thousands of environmental activists, heads of state, bureaucrats and others at this U.N. conference in Johannesburg, South Africa.

And we know what those usual suspects are, don't we?

Suspect No. 1: The bad, old United States, which consumes more than anybody else by far, needs to step up and do more in the way of foreign aid, we're told. It's shocking that so many other industrialized countries give a higher percentage of their gross domestic products, it's said.

The suspect is innocent. The United States gives more in absolute dollars than any other country, and that's before you count what Americans give privately. Carol Adelman, who once served as an assistant administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development, has written that American citizens, immigrants, nonprofit groups and corporations contribute $34 billion a year 3 times what the government provides while there's no comparable private giving from other countries.

And as we all know, official foreign aid can do more harm than good if it's not properly directed. As one economist once said, it's sometimes nothing more than a means of the poor people of rich countries giving to the rich people of poor countries. Corrupt officials latch onto it and become more corrupt and use the money to maintain themselves in power, defeating important reforms.

The people of the United States, by the way, consume more than the people of other countries because we produce more, and the fact of that astonishing production serves humanity, making it more probable, not less, that the poor will dig their way out of misery.

Suspect No. 2: The bad, old United States won't go along with provisions of the Kyoto accord to quell global warming, therefore condemning the world, and especially poor nations, to a catastrophic fate.

Again, not guilty. The only thing the Kyoto accord will quell will be economic development. Even many of its proponents concede that its effect on climate over the next century would be just barely noticeable. The economic consequences in the meantime would be dreadful, and here is the beginning of wisdom about poor countries and the environment: Until stomachs are full, no one gives a hoot about pollution or does anything about it.

How to help these countries get richer? Bjorn Lomborg, a Danish statistician and environmental idealist turned realist, has written that if you contributed just a portion of Kyoto's cost to cleaning up water in the Third World, you could save millions of lives and boost economies. That's one of the highly defensible uses of foreign aid so long as you could make sure the money went to clean the water and then could ensure that practices were instituted to keep the water clean.

There are, of course, other suspects, mostly fingered by political extremists in Europe or by blame-everyone-but-ourselves politicians in the Third World, and most are as innocent as the first two but not all. The Third World politicians who plead for free trade as their rescue are absolutely on target, and while the United States is scarcely blameless, the European Union is a subsidizer without match.

Other sustainable ideas for sustainable development:

• Institute free-enterprise economic systems in poor countries.

• Keep the societies free and put honest, democratically chosen governments in place. No more rule by whim. There must be rule of law, instead.

• Help the radical environmentalists recover from certain people-killing articles of faith, such as the one saying that the spraying of DDT in Third World homes is a danger. It's not. It can save many thousands of lives by killing malaria-carrying mosquitoes.

Third World conditions are indeed intolerable, but the ultra-controlling, wrongheaded recommendations described in some assessments of a past U.N. convention of this sort can be considered an answer only if you ignore history.

That past convention, it is noted, produced little action. This one probably won't result in much action either, some observers are quoted as saying, and that's good, seeing what is likely to come from it.


Jay Ambrose is director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard Newspapers.


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