Friday, December 4, 2009

Humorless zealots

An op-ed column from today’s FT by former New Zealand prime minister Mike Moore:

In Berlin, I inadvertently almost reduced a young green to tears of anger when I questioned a green commandment: to buy local food and use “food miles” to determine energy use. She did not think it right that flowers were flown into Europe from Africa. Pointing out that European flowers received unhealthy energy and fertiliser subsidies and Kenyan flowers used less energy, plus that her approach would cost Kenyan workers some of the best jobs in their country, was dismissed.

Trade based on unsubsidised competition is about efficiency, and efficiency is another word for conservation. If their brave new world is to be a world without borders, a new sisterhood of man, why bring back tribal boundaries just for trade?

It is right and proper that politicians and businesspeople face a sceptical media who scrutinise them, hold them to account, and expose their flaws and contradictions. The same should apply to the green agenda, which is all too often accepted at face value because it claims to have the planet’s interests at heart, unlike grubby politicians and greedy businesspeople.

There needs to be scepticism, everywhere, and much more of it. After a long life in public affairs I have a rule of measurement: the sacred law of humour. If someone cannot laugh at the absurdities of life, I get nervous. The enemies of reason throughout history, convinced their way is the only way, usually end up burning books or killing sparrows. Even worse, they do not laugh or blush. Serious environmentalists need to be ready to laugh at their mistakes.
Of course, Moore has a self-interested pro-trade bias: he is the former director-general of the WTO and speaks on behalf of a country that exports agricultural and wood products to pay for essential imports of machinery and energy. But he’s right about totalitarian movements stifling dissent.

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