Rock Stars’ Activism Could Be Put to Better Use, by Steven J. Milloy

Bob Geldof’s Live 8 (search) concerts scheduled for July 2 will spotlight the problem of global poverty ahead of the July 6-8 G8 summit (search) in Scotland.

But like Geldof’s 1985 Live Aid concert, Live 8 it is a noble idea that, unfortunately, isn’t likely to make any significant or lasting progress toward reducing poverty in Africa.

What Africa needs is genuine economic development that can be sustained over time, a goal that has been continually thwarted by the environmental policies forced upon developing nations by groups such as Greenpeace (search)—an organization publicly supported by many of the Live 8 performers.

One necessary step toward economic growth in Africa, for example, is eradicating the continent’s crippling famine and perpetual epidemics of disease. Yet, Greenpeace’s successful campaign against the use of pesticides such as DDT has resulted in millions of deaths from diseases like malaria that pesticides could have prevented.

If Geldof and the other Live 8 performers really wanted to help Africans, they would rock-and-rail at their Greenpeace friends rather than at the G8 leaders.

Live 8 consists of rock concerts in London, Paris, Berlin, Rome, Toronto and Philadelphia and features dozens of mega-stars including U2, Elton John, Sting, Paul McCartney, and Madonna.

Geldof’s vision is that the Live 8 shows will enable “ordinary people” to “show [the G8] that enough is enough” and to “demand from the 8 world leaders at G8 an end to poverty.”

“The G8 leaders have it within their power to alter history,” says the Live 8 Web site. “By doubling aid, fully canceling debt, and delivering trade justice for Africa, the G8 could change the future for millions of men, women and children,” it states.

Despite the rhetoric, it’s not at all clear how staging pop concerts to pressure G8 leaders on policy options of debatable merit will solve Africa’s problems.

But many Live 8 performers—including Geldof, U2’s Bono, Sting and Elton John, to name a few, have long and close associations with Greenpeace, from participating in protests to providing much-needed financial support. Greenpeace often uses rock stars and other celebrities in an effort to mainstream its anti-development, anti-technology—and, consequently, anti-Africa—agenda.

Millions of lives could be saved and economic development could be helped along if the Live 8’s rock stars pressured Greenpeace to end its senseless campaigns against the insecticide DDT and biotechnology.

Although the Environmental Protection Agency banned DDT use in the U.S. in 1972, the ban and its tenuous rationale was never intended to be applied outside the U.S. Environmental groups, including Greenpeace, nevertheless exported the ban, making control of malaria-bearing mosquitoes in poor countries essentially impossible. Every year, the ban helps cause hundreds of millions of cases of malaria and tens of millions of resulting deaths in Africa and other parts of the developing world.

Greenpeace is now trying to formalize a worldwide ban of DDT by pressing for the United Nations’ treaty on so-called “persistent organic pollutants” (POPs). Although the treaty is careful not to ban DDT outright, it makes DDT more difficult to use and so operates as a practical ban.

“The POPs treaty could virtually eliminate the use of DDT, perhaps the most affordable and effective pesticide and repellant in existence,” said Richard Tren of Africa Fighting Malaria, a nonprofit health advocacy group.

The World Health Organization estimates that the deaths and illness caused each year by malaria cuts the gross domestic product (GDP) of African nations by 1.3 percent and costs them $12 billion in economic losses. The Greenpeace-supported POPs treaty will only guarantee that such health and economic devastation continues.

While discussing the African malaria problem at the World Economic Forum held in Davos, Switzerland, in January, U2’s Bono said that “no one should die from a mosquito bite.” Indeed. And now it’s time for Bono to put his influence with Greenpeace where his microphone is.

Greenpeace also campaigns against the use of agricultural biotechnology, including “Golden Rice,” which could help with the severe Vitamin A deficiency that afflicts hundreds of millions in Africa and Asia—including 500,000 children who lose their eyesight each year.

Scientists developed Golden Rice using the gene that makes daffodils yellow. The gene makes the rice rich in beta-carotene, a precursor to vitamin A.

But as pointed out by Greenpeace co-founder and former President Patrick Moore, now a vociferous critic of the activist group: “Greenpeace activists threaten to rip the biotech rice out of the fields if farmers dare to plant it. They have done everything they can to discredit the scientists and the technology.

“A commercial variety is now available for planting, but it will be at least five years before Golden Rice will be able to work its way through the Byzantine regulatory system that has been set up as a result of the activists’ campaign of misinformation and speculation, ” Moore said. “So the risk of not allowing farmers in Africa and Asia to grow Golden Rice is that another 2.5 million children will probably go blind.”

Twenty years ago, Geldof’s Live Aid concert raised $100 million for Africa, but he acknowledges on the Live 8 Web site that “poverty, famine and disease are still major problems in Africa.” That result isn’t surprising. Although the $100 million raised by Live Aid sounds like a lot of money, given the scope of the problem in Africa, it was a futile drop in the bucket.

Perhaps Geldof, Bono, Sting and other celebrities could make a dent in that problem by pressuring Greenpeace to stop its mindless campaign against DDT and agricultural biotech.