A look behind the ethical veil of environmentalist NGOs

(WWF: scare-monger campaign in India on saving tigers)

January 2003 Jayant Bhandari


Until not very long ago, politicians and bureaucrats were assumed, without a doubt, to be working for the people, ethically and professionally.  The only bad people were the businessmen.  NGOs still continue to be held in highest esteem without much social accountability resulting in some of them being irresponsible in their conduct.  But, society is what they work for.  Their intentions have got to be pure.  So says traditional wisdom.  But, that was what was believed for government at one point of time as well. 


Fast-forward to the early 90s and the people in politics and bureaucracy were started to be seen to be thoroughly corrupt.  Businessmen started to be more respected and social awareness of their contribution brought more liberal laws towards them.  Government and bureaucracy could no longer hide behind a supposed public good to carry on doing whatever they wanted.  (Neither could corrupt businessmen carry on polluting the environment with impunity.)  The fact is that none of our work in public domain should be above scrutiny.


There are unfortunately ever-new institutions, and fields of activities that are seen with similar over-respect as government, and bureaucracy once were.  They are so much under the garb of nice sounding words that its almost impossible to say anything against them without a reaction from the society.  The gloomy aspect is that most of such reaction comes from really nice people.  Most of the right-thinking individuals among us feel indignant about anything to do with the state of animals, and environment.  If you say anything against NGOs or strict environmental policies, you are immediately assumed to be selfish, uncaring.    


No one should cut trees.  Most of us can find general agreement to this.  But, isnt it extremism to leave trees in positions of obstruction on the roads?  This should actually result in more pollution, by hampering the traffic and as a consequence increasing consumption of fuel.  Leaving such trees uncut result in deaths of innocent drivers who crash into them unknowingly during nighttime. 


A current lazily concocted series of WWFs save-tiger campaign being run on Discovery Channel shows: in one scenario, that if tigers go extinct in India, there will be no agriculture left.  In another, there will be no electricity any more.  While there is no doubt, and if a full and proper analysis is done, it is possible to predict that even a flutter of a fly can trigger an onset of a tornado, any such conclusion based on mere over-emotionalism is corrupt and manipulative.  When called to enquire about the analysis of how WWF arrived at such doomsday scenarios, in which our future, and everything that it entails, depended on the tiger, they had none.

A well-known environmental scientist of international fame, a scare-monger, says: "To capture the public imagination, we have to offer up some scary scenarios, make simplified dramatic statements and little mention of any doubts one might have. Each of us has to decide the right balance between being effective, and being honest."  Self-appointed saviours of the world and their relative ethics!  The fact is over-exaggeration leads to a lopsided understanding of the reality.  The result is misallocation of efforts and funds, and increase in overall costs to the environment, which outweigh the superficial benefits.  The loss of trust is immeasurable, however.


If a company over-exaggerates the quality of its products and hence if it makes a higher profit, which for a lot of them is the primary motive, its considered unethical, manipulative, corrupt.  Why then should a scientist/environmentalist trying to over-exaggerate the importance of his or her topic and hence trying to get a name for himself or herself, which is his primary motive, not be considered similarly corrupt?


Over-exaggeration leads to lack of faith, wrong education.  At best those NGOs who run such campaigns think that people are stupid.  All work is respectable, whether it is running a business or governance or cleaning or environmentalism only so far as it is conducted ethically, unless in our neo-caste system where working in NGOs, as it was earlier with government and military, is a neo-higher-class work to do, and above accountability.



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