Environmental exaggeration harms emerging economies
Alarmist and false claims are counterproductive to environmental protection
by Ivo Vegter
Feb 01, 2014
Ivo Vegter is a South African columnist writing on economics, politics, law and the environment. He is the author of “Extreme Environment”, a book on how environmental exaggeration harms emerging economies. In 2011, he was a finalist for the prestigious international Bastiat Prize for Journalism, which recognises work that promotes a free society.
Most professions demand formal qualifications of their practitioners. Often, the law prescribes these, but even if not, few customers would do business with unqualified accountants, engineers or lawyers.
In today’s world, there are three notable exceptions: activists, journalists and politicians. While some in these lines of work do have relevant qualifications, many do not, and justify their lay status by invoking the rights afforded people in free democracies. This however makes them uniquely susceptible to making wrong risk assessments, seeking out sensational stories, and basing public policy on the strength of lobby group advocacy rather than expert knowledge.
Marketing a cause often relies on exaggerated claims to counter competing causes. Scary stories sell newspapers. Public policy makers are inexpert at cost-benefit determinations. This toxic combination leads to systematic exaggeration about environmental threats, which harms, rather than helps. This affects countries with weak economies the most.