State Department Goes Green

Thursday, October 30, 1997

When Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, Americans were overwhelmingly convinced that their national interests were at stake in the Middle East. But how would they feel about their country sending U.S. troops overseas to enforce limits on carbon dioxide emissions? How would the rest of the world feel about Washington launching cruise missiles against a dam in Asia because of its negative environmental impact?

That may seem surreal, but it's just the sort of scenario foreshadowed in Environmental Diplomacy, a slick ten-thousand-word document released by the U.S. State Department last spring. With forewords by Vice President Al Gore and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, its message is that today "environmental issues are part of the mainstream of American foreign policy" because "environmental problems are often at the heart of the political and economic challenges we face around the world." In other words, it's not tyrannical governments, not state-sponsored genocide or terrorism, not poverty or disease, but environmental problems that define America's foreign policy challenges.

Greenpeace Manifesto

Environmental Diplomacy reads like a Greenpeace manifesto and, not coincidentally, like Al Gore's Earth in the Balance. It claims that the World Bank must factor "environmental implications into its lending decisions," echoing Mr. Gore's claim that "classical economics defines productivity narrowly and encourages us to equate gains in productivity with economic progress. But the Holy Grail of progress is so alluring that economists tend to overlook the bad side effects that often accompany improvements."

The remedy proposed by Mr. Gore--and now by the State Department--is to redefine the relevant measures of economic activity. The purpose of this is clear: to enable governments to obscure the costs of environmental protection by calling them "benefits" and to force businesses to list wealth-creating activities as societal "costs." But the effects will be profound. Companies around the world will see their regulatory expenses skyrocket and their markets shrink. Consumers will pay inflated prices for fewer products and higher taxes to support bloated bureaucracies.

Mr. Gore's ideology has already infiltrated the workings of the U.S. government. Since 1994, the Commerce Department's Bureau of Economic Analysis has used its so-called economic-environmental accounting framework to calculate the country's "green GDP." Just as a conventional accounting ledger includes an entry for depreciation of plant and equipment, the bureau's system attempts to record the "degradation of natural assets." According to this Orwellian theory of account-ing, grants from the World Bank to radical environmental groups could be counted among the bank's income, whereas the value of electricity from a new dam financed by the organization could be counted among the bank's expenditures.

According to the new scheme of eco-accounting, grants from the World Bank to radical environmental groups could be counted as income, whereas the value of electricity from a new dam financed by the bank could be counted as expenditure.

Environmental Diplomacy expresses concern about "the rapid conversion of land to human uses, increased pollution, and the spread of exotic species to non-native habitats." These developments reduce biodiversity, it observes accurately, which can in turn cause us to forgo breakthroughs in agriculture such as "a strain of disease-free wheat." Yet the State Department's brand of environmentalism encourages United Nations' policies that actually block advances in agriculture and the development of environment-friendly products that would protect diversity. Half a dozen U.N. programs or agencies have targeted biotechnology--the use of precise, state-of-the-art techniques for genetically improving plants, animals, and microorganisms--with a sweeping variety of unnecessary and burdensome new regulations.

Agricultural biology is particularly vulnerable to such interference because, although its potential for innovation is high, profit margins are low and products often have limited lifetimes. The new regulations' vastly increased paperwork and other costs for field-testing are roadblocks to the kinds of research and development that could produce particularly environment-friendly results--crops with greater yields requiring fewer agricultural chemicals, biological alternatives to chemical pesticides, and various biological methods to clean up toxic wastes.

Gospel According to Gore

According to Environmental Diplomacy, "the State Department will focus its regional and bilateral environmental diplomacy" on several key areas, one of which is "land use." Critical issues include such decisions as foreign countries' "local and national leaders weigh[ing] the competing goals of protecting a forest against providing additional croplands." Foreign governments' sovereign actions, we are told, "have social, environmental, and economic implications, which in turn affect our foreign policy." Mr. Gore and Ms. Albright apparently think U.S. foreign policy should turn on other countries' purely domestic economic decisions--whether, for example, the Indonesian government harvests an old-growth forest or Bangkok decides to build additional highways instead of a subway system.

If you think that's extreme, you ought to read Earth in the Balance to understand its rationale. The apocalyptic central thesis of Mr. Gore's book is that we need to take "bold and unequivocal action . . . [to] make the rescue of the environment the central organizing principle for creation." Throughout the book, he uses the metaphor that those who believe in technological progress are as sinister, and polluters are as evil, as the perpetrators of the Holocaust.

The Clinton administration is already implementing the State Department's environmental initiatives in a number of ways: in negotiations of treaties and other agreements; in bilateral and regional diplomacy; in foreign aid from the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development; in the CIA's commitment to "environmental intelligence"; and in new "regional environmental hubs" within certain U.S. embassies, which will preach the gospel according to Mr. Gore.

Thanks to this co-opting of U.S. foreign policy, Mr. Gore's eco battiness will metastasize not only domestically but around the world--courtesy of the official U.S. diplomatic apparatus and the American taxpayer. We need to end this unhappy marriage of pseudoenvironmentalism and diplomacy before it's too late.