The most eco-ignorant quotation of the week (and in the death-throes of the Bush Administration we should expect more than a few to come our way) comes courtesy of the agency in charge of over-seeing the immoral and short-sighted destruction of what was perhaps the most-important wetland in the whole of the Yellow Sea – Saemangeum, a huge area of intertidal mudflats and lagoons used by vast numbers of staging shorebirds until 40,100 ha of it was shut off from the sea by a 33km long sea-wall two years ago.
Park Hyoungbae, an official with the Saemangeum development authority is quoted in an article on Planet Ark as saying:
“This project is not about protecting the environment. It is about economic development. And we will do that in an environmentally sound way.”
Just let that statement sink in. The reclamation of Saemangeum, according to Mr Park (who like most Koreans will be a highly-educated and intelligent man who chooses his words very carefully), is “not about protecting the environment”, but is “about economic development” that will be done in “an environmentally sound way”.
A huge area of internationally important wetland – the devestation of which has almost single-handedly resulted in the charismatic and highly-adapted Spoon-billed Sandpiper being recently classified by Birdlife International as Critically Endangered – is ruined in “an environmentally sound way”? By what magic will this be done, a reasonable person might ask?
What Mr Park is talking about is planting a few trees where no trees ever grew (ie in the middle of what was a huge mudflat), throttling off the tidal flow of a might estuarine habitat but generously providing a couple of freshwater lakes (which every expert who’s looked at the plans says will become heavily polluted by agricultural run-off within a few years), and building an expensive information center so that future generations of tourists can come and admire the vision of developers and our power to irreversibly screw up the environment that those same future generations depend on for clean air, fresh water, and peace of mind.
It is a shameful and incredibly arrogant demonstration of “greenwashing” – made even worse by the fact that Mr Park (who, I repeat, will be a highly-educated and intelligent man) almost certainly believes (at least to a measurable extent) that what he says is true and that everyone else ought to believe it too.
It’s incredible how quickly industry has subverted the meaning of “environment” and “environmentally friendly”. I’m sure many of us reading this will remember the ‘good old days’ when talking about the “environment” was dismissed as something only ‘hippies’ and ‘treehuggers’ did, when the “environment” was something we lived in not something carefully dropped into a conversation to prove how caring Big Business has become? When exactly in the recent past did “economic development” – which invariably means altering the environment to suit OUR needs at the expense of virtually every other life-form – somehow become enmeshed with contradictory statements explaining how much care is being taken to not damage “the environment” with hardly anyone batting an eye? Least of all the humourless ‘eco-friendly’ developers who place these deliberate, carefully-scripted phrases into their everyday conversations.
I’m not sure when these changes happened, when the ‘environment’ was stolen to be given back to us in slices, but like some form of insidious virus they’ve infected the words dribbled by every greedy, self-serving politician and every morally-bankrupt developer on this tiny, embattled planet of ours. And so much of it is linked in to keeping our profligate lifestyles exactly as they are now: huge swathes of forest are cut down to plant oil palms so that we can develop “environmentally-friendly” fuels; off-shore oil drilling – which will inevitably destroy huge areas of marine habitat – can now apparently be done in an “environmentally-friendly” way; Donald Trump can buy up acres of Scottish sand-dunes to build a golf-course and blithely tell us that he will in fact “improve the local environment”; we “open up” areas, “improve” grasslands, make coasts more “accessible for recreation”, put roads through fragile habitats so that we “can enjoy them more”. Important and increasingly scarce habitats all over the world are taken, altered, changed, or plain destroyed every day, but in an “environmentally-friendly” way. And now a Korean politician can be part of a group that condemns a unique bird to extinction, but says that he’s doing it in “an environmentally sound way”.
It’s bullsh*t. It’s lying. It’s powerful people, lobby groups, and industrial organisations stealing our future and wrapping a reassuring, avuncular arm around our shoulders while they do it. And let’s never forget it, because sooner or later every acre of this wonderful speck that we call home will have been developed in “an environmentally-sound” or “environmentally-friendly” way and we’ll look out over an unrecognisable Earth that’s been developed “with the environment in mind” and weep.