Q:What do leading environmentalists, Canadian diplomats, international aid workers, Brazilian Indians, Bob Rae, Jacques Delors, the CIA, Paul Martin Jr., Brian Mulroney, Maurice Strong, Swiss bankers, Chinese spies, the Body Shop, multinational executives, the World Bank, Latin American parliamentarians, NAFTA, the United Nations, Ontario Hydro, the Internet, David Suzuki, and David Suzuki's wife have in common?
A: They are all linked to an international conspiracy to subvert the environmental movement, destroy the nation-state, and usher in a New World and Free Trade Order.
Don't be afraid if you find this hard to believe, Elaine Dewar had a hard time believing it too; that's why she wrote Cloak of Green. But perhaps you shouldn't take my word for it. Thanks to Dewar's book, I discovered I'm part of the conspiracy too.
The infuriating thing about the most outrageous conspiracy theories is that they often contain a grain of truth. They are confidence games played by some independent reptilian part of the brain on the story-teller and listener alike. There's a noise, a real noise, outside the tent. It's only a chipmunk nibbling on your granola but it's transformed into a mountain lion hoping to nibble on you.
In Dewar's case, the noise comes from the absurdities and contradictions of the environmental movement, in particular the less than noble story of attempts to preserve the Amazon rain forest and some bizarre events surrounding the 1992 UN Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.
As a journalist in Brazil during much of the period covered by the book, I too was frustrated by the half-truths, self-serving rhetoric, and naive bumbling that characterized much of the Green movement. Dewar performs an excellent public service at the beginning of Cloak of Green by exposing the twaddle peddled by such self-styled ecological crusaders as David Suzuki, Maurice Strong, and Elizabeth May and groups such as Cultural Survival, the Body Shop, Friends of the Earth, and Greenpeace. The story of how the alliance between international environmental groups and Paulinho Paikan, a chief of the Kaiapo tribe in the Brazilian Amazon, went awry provides a frightening look at the Green movement's poorly defined goals, questionable tactics, misleading claims, and dangerously incompetent meddling.
Dewar also hangs on to her sanity in her dissection of the incestuous links between government and environmental groups. Many putatively hug-worthy "non-governmental organizations" (NGOs) are little more than extensions of government. She calls them Private Government Organizations (PGOs). These quangos are really tax-funded, unaccountable lobby groups that seriously blur the important line between the public and private interest. Her detailed look at Maurice Strong, an expanded version of her Saturday Night exposť, uncovers the former Earth Summit and Ontario Hydro chief's broad and not entirely benign power. Then, however, she transforms him into some all-powerful brain behind a movement to create a "world-governance" agenda.
Here Dewar's initially solid muck-raking goes right off the rails. Leaving no stone unturned, she turns every minute detail into evidence of a huge and sinister conspiracy. Bumbling and incompetence become signs of nefarious plots. Self-serving alliances become evidence of co-ordinated ideological crusades. Tiny personal details, which would give Brian Linehan pause, become fodder for nasty and irrelevant attempts to apply guilt by association. If someone is a present or former American doing work in or for Canada (like me) or a businessperson giving money to an environmental cause, look out. That person is suspect. At worst, they could be CIA. At best, a covert NAFTA plotter. Woe to the environmentalist born in Richard Nixon's home town. Did you know that Maurice Strong had relatives in the United States and that one of them might have been a Communist Chinese spy! With all the conspiracy about, it's almost surprising that Dewar doesn't bring in the Jews.
The environmental movement is not being subverted by a conspiracy, it is being subverted by its own half-baked ideas, ideas that Dewar sometimes skewers but often shares. She is, for instance, outraged that Paikan and other Kaiapo chiefs are selling gold and timber rights. Considering the practical alternative-losing the gold and timber to illegal miners and loggers-what's the big deal? Land rights are the necessary pre-condition to sound environmental stewardship. It is an obvious, but largely ignored, fact that most of the world's great environmental crimes are committed on government land or in territories where title is not clear. By selling their resources, the Kaiapo are solidifying their claims. All the major international environmental fights in the Amazon, including the Chico Mendes rubber-tapper movement, are as much, or even more, about land rights as they are about the "environment".
It's fair for Dewar to say that environmental groups were misleading about this, but to say that helping the Kaiapo is equivalent to helping rape the earth is not. The Amazon is not as healthy as it could be, nor is it as denuded or fragile as many suggest. Even the reviled Trans-Amazon Highway has been eaten away by the forces of nature. People, however, do live there, including Indians. The question is not whether or not to mine or log, but how to do it sensibly.
Dewar seems outraged that the Kaiapo aren't the cute forest elves she wants them to be. She's offended at their airplane-used in part to ferry out people sick with the malaria brought in by illegal miners-and a trade-not-aid program designed by the Body Shop to provide environmentally sustainable income to the tribe. These things have their effects, but they are not part of an international conspiracy to subvert the Kaiapo and make them pliable for stateless multinationals. If there ever was a conspiracy, it has already succeeded. Kaiapo lands were invaded long ago, and the tribe needs the means to deal with an "outside world" that they already live in. One can quibble about the best way to do this, but Dewar ignores the problem altogether.
Nobody but a fool would deny that corporations are often two-faced about the environment, but her leftish distaste for anything to do with markets leads her to more outrageous claims.
Is the Energy Probe Research Foundation (an organization that provides my place in the conspiracy by employing me as an editor at an urban affairs magazine it publishes) really in the pocket of international multinationals because it wants energy markets deregulated? For many environmentalists and would-be ones like Dewar, markets and deregulation are bad-end of discussion. Use such words, and green ceases to be the pure colour of leaves and becomes the dirty colour of money.
One can disagree with EPRF, but its stand is based on the belief that government subsidy through tax breaks, protected markets, and Crown corporations makes it easier to exploit uneconomical and thus unsustainable resource bases, encourages waste, and helps companies make immoral, tax-funded profits. Controversial, perhaps, but hardly proof, as Dewar claims, that EPRF is in the pocket of industry and the world-government conspiracy. If it is, why did Strong's Ontario Hydro nearly bankrupt it when it took Hydro to court over nuclear power, and lost? Why did another Dewar devil, Adam Zimmerman, formerly of Noranda Forests, reject EPRF's forest privatization program out of hand? Why did EPRF's Probe International attack Strong's plans for international environmental funding as "taxation without representation" at the Earth Summit? Upset at her initial gullibility at the hands of Suzuki and Paikan, Dewar considers all environmentalists guilty until proved innocent. She isn't swift enough to realize that such groundless claims play right into the hands of cosy Crown corporations and multinationals that practise tax-subsidized environmental mismanagement.
Instead of getting down to the really tough issues, Dewar constructs (at great and ponderously researched length) the theory that all the world's varied, often confused, and sometimes self-serving environmental groups are acting in concert with business and stateless UN-ocrats to destroy our strong and good central governments and impose some form of NAFTA on the whole planet. Environmentalism is merely a cover, a Cloak of Green, for this sinister plot. So tear off your UN patches, bring back the peacekeepers, head for the hills and join a left-wing, unarmed, ecological militia group. Hey, if people are as gullible as Dewar, perhaps they, I mean we, can really pull it off.
Jeb Blount, a former Washington Post correspondent in Brazil, is an associate editor of The Next City magazine.