Confessions of a Simpering, Pinko Moron, Enviro-twit: A Note from The-Edge, Environmentalist Laments Introduction of Electricity, CNS Story
September 6, 2002

Confessions of a Simpering, Pinko Moron, Enviro-twit: A Note from The-Edge
By Gar Smith, Roving Editor @ The-Edge

A few days before the opening of the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), a reporter left a phone message at The-Edge requesting some opinions for a "preview" piece on the WSSD. Believing the reporter to be with CNN news, I returned the call and spent 20 minutes chatting about the summit.

Two days later, a reporter from the New York Daily News informed me that I had, in fact, been interviewed by the Cybercast News Service. CNS’s slogan is “The Right News. Right Now.” The repeated use of the word “Right” was not unintended.

After cautioning the CNS reporter that I did not speak for Earth Island Institute and was only expressing my personal opinions, I offered some detailed critiques of George W. Bush's pre-WSSD positions. I mentioned that, while George Senior showed up for the Rio Summit, Junior bowed out because, with his environmental record, he'd be as welcome in Johannesburg as the "skunk at the dinner party."

I referred to the US as the world's reigning Superpower and the world's reigning Superpolluter. I called for replacing dead-end fossil-fuel-based economies of the past with renewable energy economies for the 21st century. I advanced the argument that the planet needed a “regime change” in Washington.

I emphasized that the reason these summits happen in the first place is because millions of individuals and thousands of groups around the world are demanding solutions to the environmental crisis. This was why, I told the reporter, it was important to pay attention to the parallel World Sustainability Hearing being hosted by the world’s NGOs. He confessed that he had not heard of the WOSH and promised to look it up on the Web.

In retrospect, it did seem odd that the reporter kept returning to one particular question. He wanted to know if I agreed that “the free-market is the solution to environmental problems.”

Naturally, I was surprised to see that, instead of using the analysis I offered on the WSSD, CNS chose instead to focus on some tangential comments I made about the impact on electrification on a village in Senegal.

In addition to taking my remarks out of context, the report was framed in a manner that prompted right-wing critics to label me a “racist bigot.” Other sobriquets included “moronic… environmentalist whacko,” and (my personal favorite) “simpering enviro-twit.”

Veteran environmentalists will recognize that my comments on the impact of television on traditional cultures merely repeat observations that were fully documented in Jerry Mander’s classic Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television.

But it was questioning the need for massive electrification programs that really struck a nerve. I anticipate a wider debate on these questions once people have an opportunity to read the articles posted in this edition of The-Edge.

One more thing: To many in the environmental community, it is considered a badge of honor to be attacked by Patrick Moore. I am happy to be included among the targets of this notorious Greenbasher.

Here then, is the piece as it appeared on the Web — followed by my reply to CNS, the reporter’s response, and several reader comments.

Environmentalist Laments Introduction of Electricity
By Marc Morano Senior Staff Writer
August 26, 2002

( — "There is a lot of quality to be had in poverty," and the introduction of electricity is "destroying" the cultures of the world's poor, according to a US environmentalist, who commented on the eve of the United Nations Earth Summit in Johannesburg, South Africa.

But a pioneer of the environmental movement who left it because he viewed it as too radical, called the anti-electricity views an example of the "eco-imperialism" of the white upper-middle class who think it's "neat to have Africans with no electricity."
Gar Smith, editor of the Earth Island Institute's online magazine The Edge, spoke about what he considers the virtues of poverty during an interview with

Earth Island Institute, the San Francisco-based environmental group, once popular with millions of school children for its efforts to save Keiko, the killer whale that starred in the movie Free Willy, sent representatives to this week's Earth Summit.

"The idea that people are poor doesn't mean that they are not living good lives," Smith said.
Smith called the developing world's poverty "relative" and explained "you can't really have poverty unless you have wealthy people on the scene."

Smith decried the introduction of electricity to the poor residents of the developing world.
"I don't think a lot of electricity is a good thing. It is the fuel that powers a lot of multi-national imagery," Smith said.

According to Smith, electricity can wreak havoc on cultures. "I have seen villages in Africa that had vibrant culture and great communities that were disrupted and destroyed by the introduction of electricity," he said.
With the introduction of electricity, the African villagers spent too much time watching television and listening to the radio, allowing their more primitive traditional ways to fade away, according to Smith.

Smith lamented that "people who used to spend their days and evenings in the streets playing music on their own instruments and sewing clothing for their neighbors on foot peddle powered sewing machines" lost their culture with the advent of electricity.
"If there is going to be electricity, I would like it to be decentralized, small, solar-powered," Smith said.

Smith challenged Americans to give up their own modern conveniences. "The real question is what personal conveniences and self indulgences are you willing to give up in order to stop destroying the planet?" he asked rhetorically.

The US is not a model for the rest of the world to follow because "the level at which Americans consume is unsustainable," according to Smith. He projected that if the rest of the world consumed at rates similar to the US, the environmental degradation would require "three extra planets to exploit."

He called the notion that the US needs to export the "American way" of life nothing more than "myth making" and revealed that many of his friends have already voluntarily given up automobiles in favor of bicycles and mass transit.
Smith used the collapse of communism in the former Soviet Union as an example of how to solve ecological problems.

"There is a solution to climate change and pollution. We saw it happen to Russia when their economy collapsed. Their industrial plants closed down, the skies got clear. Their air is a lot cleaner now," Smith said.

'Eco-Imperialism at its Worst'
Patrick Moore, head of the environmental advocacy group Greenspirit, and a former founding member of Greenpeace, called Smith's views "eco-imperialism at its worst."
Moore left Greenpeace in the 1980s after becoming disillusioned with what he considered the group's radical approach to environmental concerns.

"It's that kind of arrogance that is coming from a movement that is basically white upper-middle class and is saying that it's neat to have Africans with no electricity," Moore told

"It is the same tendency that has caused Europeans to conquer the whole planet in the first place," explained Moore.
Moore said Smith's views represent a "naive vision of returning to some kind of Garden of Eden, which was actually not that great because the average life span was 35."

"What a terrible thing to say. It's just so obviously stupid — this romanticization of poverty, where people can't afford to fix their teeth, can't afford decent nutrition, can't afford proper health care, can't afford education," stated Moore.

"What does he think — that some illiterate with her teeth falling out in the mountains is a good thing?" asked Moore.

The dire poverty that exists in the developing countries, especially in Africa and Latin America are a "kind of poverty that no one would wish on anyone," according to Moore.
But Moore said many of the poverty stricken residents of the developing world do seem optimistic despite their conditions.

"It is amazing that hope springs eternal and people with their teeth falling out who are dying of malnutrition, still laugh during the day. But that doesn't mean it's good," Moore said.
Moore now views the environmental movement as having lost its original mission of ecological protection and is now occupied with encouraging class envy and anti-capitalist rhetoric.

"The environmentalists try to inject guilt into people for consuming, as if consuming by itself causes destruction to the environment. There is no truth to that. You have the wealthiest countries on earth with the best looked after environment" he explained.

Poverty, not wealth, is one of the biggest threats to the Earth's ecological health, according to Moore. "Look at the environmental destruction caused by poverty. They have no money left to reforest, they have no money left to prevent soil erosion, there is no money to clean their water after they make it dirty," he said.

Moore does not have much regard for the environmentalists attending the Earth Summit.
"They are mainly political activists with not very much actual science background who are using the rhetoric of environmentalism to push agendas that are more political than they are ecological," Moore said.

The-Edge Responds to CNS
Date: Mon, 26 Aug 2002 19:20:53 –0700

Hi Marc,

I'm used to being quoted out of context but this story was a corker! Rather than deal with the out-of-context problems, let me note a few other problems.

I have to take particular exception to the line that says watching TV was "allowing their more primitive traditional ways to fade away, according to Smith." I never would have used the phrase "primitive, traditional ways." Those were your words, not mine. I don't think that traditional culture is "primitive." That word has elitist and even racist undertones.

When I cited the collapse of Russia's industrial plants, I emphasized that I was talking about the elimination of "smokestack industries." It is possible to have sustainable industries that do not pollute. There are many studies that predict a shift to an economy based on renewable energy — solar, wind, hydro, geothermal — would not only improve the environment but would create more jobs, a more robust economy and a better quality of life.

Patrick Moore correctly notes that people deserve good teeth, decent nutrition, proper health care and education. The problem is, he says, that "they can't afford" these things. Unfortunately, these problems won't be solved by building a coal-fired power plant and stringing 600 miles of electric lines.

I hope Mr. Moore is helping to solve the problem of poverty abroad by regularly sending some of his wealth overseas through the many global organizations working to address the problems of malnutrition, disease, homelessness, unemployment and social injustice.

For a Sustainable Earth,
Gar Smith

CNS Reporter Marc Morano Replies

Mr. Smith,
Thanks for writing to me. We posted your comments to me on our website today in the interests of fairness.

I really did intend to write an overview article on the summit, but your comments intrigued me about electricity. You are correct, the use of the word "primitive" was mine. I should have just used the phrase "traditional."

Some Initial Feedback to the CNS Story:

As a citizen of a poor country (India), I am appalled by this joker’s statements. I’m surprised that this guy can get anyone to listen to his racist rantings. Yes, racist…. [W]hat else am I supposed to call this — “all those poor brown and black people — we know what’s best for them — look at the nobility of their poverty — now, if only we could get them to stop breeding so much.” Using a foot-pedal sewing machine to mend clothing is not culture, it’s poverty. Now, listen up you pinko morons — we’re going to the mall to buy the latest Earth-destroying, electricity-hogging do-hickey — and God help those who get in our way.
— Girish Maiya

Damn those villagers for wanting to enjoy their leisure time relaxing in front of the TV!…. As for the rest of us, including these villagers you condemn for wanting to bring some tiny modicum of modernity into their wretched existence, we’re going to build coal-fired and hydro and nuclear powerplants. Lots of them. And don’t come knocking on our door when it’s 105 in the shade…. A little pollution seems a small price to pay to keep people well-fed, happy and employed.
— Benjamin Kepple

I just visited the village in the Philippines in which my wife grew up. It is just now getting electricity; one can hear the metallic sound of televisions coming from the bamboo houses as one walks along the dirt paths. Anyone who thinks this is contributing to better teeth and health among the children in particular, has never been there.
— JR

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