- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 26, 2004

Among the many luxuries wealth can buy is insulation from reality — the most dangerous luxury of all. Another dangerous luxury is a sense of being one of the wonderfully special people with superior wisdom and virtue. Environmental extremism flourishes among those who can afford both luxuries.

Did you know people in the wealthy San Francisco suburb of Sausalito, across the bay, own 80,000 acres of land in Kenya? What are they doing with it? They are setting it aside as a nature preserve,to keep poor people in Kenya from hunting animals for food on those 80,000 acres.

There are laments from Wildlife Works of Sausalito, the land owners, that poachers are hunting in this sacrosanct wilderness anyway and that 20 percent of the meat sold in Nairobi comes from animals killed in this preserve. According to the San Francisco Chronicle: “With half the population living below the poverty line, the temptation to poach for bush meat is strong.”

What are rich people doing, in the first place, trying to stop poor people on the other side of the world from getting something to eat? They are feeding their own egos by hindering poor Africans from feeding themselves.

It’s not a racial thing. The green zealots would stop anybody from doing anything they don’t approve of. They talk grandly about “protecting” this, “preserving” that, or “saving” something else.

From what? From other people. Nor is this just a matter of buying up things to keep them out of other people’s hands. Far more often, green zealots want the government to deprive other people of the right to use land or resources for their own purposes, rather than for the recreational or other purposes preferred by the green zealots.

They want bans on the building of housing under “open space” laws. They want “historical preservation” laws to prevent tearing down old buildings — even an old racetrack — because that could be a prelude to building homes for other people.

In the United States, those other people have just as much right to the “equal protection of the laws” under the Constitution. But what is the Constitution when the green zealots are on a crusade?

Denying other people the same rights you claim for yourself is the essence of bigotry. People who call themselves environmentalists could more accurately be called green bigots.

Selfishness is never a pretty thing but it is at its ugliest when it masquerades as lofty nobility. That pose not only gets the green bigots good press, it also helps recruit the young and uninformed to their movement — especially the young who have been misinformed on college and university campuses.

There is another selfish aspect of the green bigots the media never seem to discuss: Restrictions on building new housing raises the value of existing housing — and the environmental movement’s leaders usually already have theirs. As Forbes magazine’s David Whelan said: “They preserve their 25 percent annual appreciation by extending everyone else’s commute.”

Every community needs nurses, teachers and policemen. But these jobs seldom pay enough so those who do them can live where they work when local housing prices skyrocket because laws ban home building on most local land. That means living far enough away to have affordable housing.

It is not just the poor who cannot live where affluent environmentalists have political clout. People making a hundred grand a year often cannot afford to live in Palo Alto, adjacent to Stanford University, or in much of Marin or San Mateo Counties, near San Francisco. Especially if they are supporting a family. These are all enclaves “protected” by the green bigots.

People with children are forced out of these places so much that schools are shutting down for lack of students. The black population of these places is also declining, though the total population is rising. But green trumps black.

What “protecting,” “preserving,” and “saving” mean is using the law to impose the will of the green bigots on others.

Thomas Sowell is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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