Blaming poor for environmental woes is poppycock, Tony

Democratic Alliance leader Tony Leon has been at it again. This time he's blaming the poor for the disappearing forests and the abuse of the environment.

Democratic Alliance leader Tony Leon has been at it again. This time he's blaming the poor for the disappearing forests and the abuse of the environment.

Speaking in an Oxford Union debate at the university, Leon said the poor were chopping down trees for firewood, were having too many babies and that feeding so many offspring was a burden on the environment.

He went on to sing the praises of the rich, saying they have fewer children and don't have to kill wild animals to feed them.

When I first heard about Leon's utterances the question that came to mind was: what really motivated Leon to make such simplistic generalisations about such a serious matter?

It cannot be ignorance because my interaction with him has always proved that he is a well-informed person. So well-informed that he would know that the recently released Stern Review has said that developed and rich nations use their natural resources inefficiently and wastefully.

I would bet my bottom dollar that Leon knows it's the rich countries, such as the US, that have the highest volumes of greenhouse gas emissions, the main cause of the degradation of the environment.

Leon would also know that though the rich have fewer children they own more fume-belching cars.

It's also the rich who own freight companies whose oil-burning ships unload cargo at our harbours.

All these environment- destroying activities are done in the name of profit, something the poor have very little access to.

As someone who grew up in a rural area, where firewood was an important source of fuel, I find Leon's blaming of the poor for deforestation simplistic.

Most of the firewood we collected was from trees felled to make way for crops. This raises the question of access to land for agricultural use. Given the history of this country and Africa, the poor, who happen to be black, were victims of colonial machinations, which ensured that they didn't have adequate land.

Blaming the poor amounts to absolving the real culprits when it comes to the unequal distribution of resources, which leads to those with fewer resources overusing them.

As for the poor killing wildlife to feed their broods, the only people who go hunting are the rich, who whet their bloodthirsty appetites at exclusive game reserves. In most cases these reserves are built on land that the poor could be using to sustain themselves.

Leon was playing to the gallery, speaking to people whose class interests are diametrically opposed to those of the poor. Their tendency is to blame the plight of the poor on ignorance and misconduct, as Leon did.

That is why Leon did not mention anything about the rich and the powerful degrading the environment in their pursuit of wealth and leisure.

Leon, like most conservative liberals, is touchy about any racial interpretation of his utterances.

I'm tempted to agree with the minister of tourism and of environmental affairs, Marthinus van Schalkwyk, that Leon's statement is "an ardent form of class stereotyping with an underlying racial tone".