Brian O’Nolan, otherwise known as Flann O Brien, was at his absolute best when his parody was closest to the bone.
In a satirical scene in his best novel (in my opinon), An Béal Bocht (the Poor Mouth), he brings “na Daoine Uasaile” –the educated elite- down from Dublin, to poverty stricken west Kerry, to lecture the locals on how to be proper “Gaels”.
The proper and authentic “Gael”, they tell the gathered people, is one who is dedicated to the Gaeldom of poverty and rural backwardness. Then they depart, back to the foreign influences of Dublin, happy that they have done their part in the preservation of the idyllic Gaelic Ireland.
It’s ludicrous and funny; and rings of truth. It’s an attitude that is reflected in the present eco-fetish for a naturalistic idyll somewhere away from the comfortable cities of the modern elite. Maybe down in Connemara or on the great Congo river. A balm for the harassed urban mind, somewhere out there beyond the city walls. Somewhere to go for a holiday untouched by modernity.
Maybe this idyllic scene should have a few happy peasants too; toiling away at some rustic task. Eternally grateful for their privileged and up-close view of a natural beauty, unspoiled by modern conveniences.
But not too many of those hardy labourers of the soil should be about of course! After all, they spoil the view and the Zen-ness.
The intellectual Dublin set, who lectured the struggling poor from elite positions of comfort, in An Béal Bocht, sound awfully like modern NGOs who dole out crumbs of development aid to the developing world. That aid is also accompanied by lectures on how to be progressive, and what they (the grateful people of the developing world or the struggling Irish farmer) really need.
Which very frequently is very different from what they ask for.
For instance, they (the peasants who need to be patronised) say they want reliable electricity, but international aid loans will only be directed at micro solar generation projects or the likes. So the village doesn’t get electricity through the night so that children can do their homework; instead they get a couple of low power solar panels which only sometimes work during the day.
This is not hyperbole. In October 2019, the European Investment Bank decided it would halt all investments in fossil fuels in poor nations by 2021.
The village of Darnai in India’s Bihar region is a good example of how this policy virtue signalling is heaped on the backs of the world’s poor, who can least afford it. They were the recipients of a Greenpeace proposed microgrid which consisted of solar panels and batteries. However, even though the power was very costly (per kilowatthour), it didn’t get anywhere near supplying demand, and was beset with problems. Within one month of its installation, when a former minister visited the village, he was met with villagers holding placards and chanting “We want real electricity, not fake electricity!” By “real electricity” they meant reliable grid power that comes from coal plants.
Apart from the reliability issues, this Green Peace microgrid electricity cost at least 3 times what grid electricity cost. For well off customers, in places like D4 or San Francisco’ s Pacific Heights, this is like paying penance for your sins. For the poor on places like Bihar or Congo, it means no electricity and no way out of poverty.
Prior to the 1980s the World Bank financed basic infrastructure in developing nations, with money going to large projects like dams, roads, and electricity grids. But under pressure from green NGO’s like the World Wildlife Fund, and Greenpeace, that changed in the late 1980s. By the 1990s only 5% of World Bank financing went to infrastructure. This is what the UN calls sustainable development.
Where to begin with the criticism of this policy!
Michael Shellenberger, in his expose of environmental alarmism and the environmental movement, Apocalypse Never, delved deep into this strange relationship between the Developing World and the Aid consortium of the West. The case studies he details are not of altruistic developmental aid, but of an elitist attitude that the poor of the world must be “managed”.
These agrarian romantics invariably don’t live in the untouched country they yearn for. They may talk about “the disease of the modern industrial civilisation,” but they do so from their keyboards in heated buildings with high-speed broadband and running water.
The motivations for this are multitude, but one common ideal seems to be a romanticised vision of the pristine wilderness. The people living in, or near these “wild paradises” should not expect the luxuries of roads and electric cars (or any other cars) and reliable electricity, and things that the same elite romantics naturally expect in the West. God help us no!
In his 1989 climate scare book, End of Nature, Green activist Bill McKibben advised that we needed to transfer wealth to poor countries, so they could improve their lives modestly, but not industrialise.
Surprise, surprise! He thought there were too much of us crowding out this little planet and about 6 billion of us we would have to stop existing.
Find another planet so chaps! But as the apocalyptic school strike posters say “There is no planet B.” Population alarmism has now been shown to be nonsense along with much else, and the EU (and Irish pension experts) are now concerned only with shrinking populations and the slow death of Europe.
I mentioned the Congo river earlier.
Some people who live near the Congo river would like to modernise. They think that roads, irrigation, and reliable electricity might improve their lot on this earth. They like the idea of the Inga Dams project, a massive capital infrastructure project that would deliver all of this to the population of the lower Congo basin, leading to a substantial increase in quality of life, and to better economic and social opportunities.
If this project goes ahead, the present 2 GW hydroelectric Inga dams would be replaced by a series of dams with a combined output of 40-70 GW. Whatever environmental concerns can surely be dealt with instead of insisting the people of the region live in poverty.
However over in Berkley, California, a small but very influential NGO named International Rivers, know better.
Environmentalist Michael Shellenberger says that since its founding in 1985 International Rivers “have helped stop 217 dams from being built, mostly in poorer nations.”
Tough luck peasants!
This is all justified with flowery and poetic language. “If we think of forests as the lungs of the planet, then rivers most surely are the arteries of the planet” say International Rivers.
This hyperbole might work wonders with, and bring tears to the eyes of, shielded Western children on their school strike, but for children near the Congo river it means they have to cook over wood fires and have no light to do their homework by. That’s a present of illiteracy and lung disease all rolled into climate activism. Thanks Greta!
International Rivers told journalists that people near the proposed Inga dam objected to its construction. However when Washington Post journalist, Sebastian Mallaby, asked to speak with some of these locals to verify this, his contact in International Rivers became suspiciously reticent. The journalist went to the dam site and started interviewing villagers. He couldn’t find one who was against the dam or unhappy with the deal they had made to relocate. The only unhappy people he could find were ones who lived outside the requisition zone. They wanted a relocation deal also.
When Shellenberger went to the dam locations he found the same. And he found they were “ecstatic at the prospects of getting electricity.”
He also found the exact same story in Rwanda where the Virunga Park dam was being opposed by Western environmentalist movements.
So whose interest are International Rivers and similar NGOs working for?
One of the interests they have allied with is the adventure tourism sector. “The Batoka scheme will flood the gorge and drown the massive rapids that have made Victoria Falls a prime whitewater rafting location” said International Rivers about another project it is trying to prevent.
It’s funny that International Rivers are not trying to remove dams from their own California, where they supply reliable electricity, flood control, and of course water for recreation, drinking, and irrigation.
What seems pretty plain from many of the policies pushed by the western elites is that they think there are too many people in places like Africa. This is because too many children are being born, but according to the anti-human activists there is a solution for this. It’s simply a matter of tying abortion provision to aid in a form of “humanitarian blackmail”.
With the economic bashing that developing countries got from the covid shutdowns, activist in the UN have pushed for abortion requirements in covid aid. According to African pro-life activist, Ekeocha Obianuju, Western activists refused to accept a UN Commission on Population and Development document on “nutrition and population,” that didn’t mention abortion as an essential service.
Ms. Obianuju, calls this neo-colonialism. She explains it all very well in this fascinating discussion on Africa’s Pandemic: A Gateway To Neocolonialism
Leftists would call it rules for radicals, and would feel quite happy with not letting a good crisis go to waste. When people are down after all, that’s the perfect time for humanitarian blackmail. They might not appreciate it, but the elites –the “Daoine Uaisle”- know what’s best for them.
For their part, the people of the developing world should continue being authentically poor, authentically idyllic, and authentically wild, while the donor elites and NGO’s, overcome by this genuine authenticity, send messages of encouragement.