‘Is it ethical to give money to African charities?’

Ask Ethan: Our columnist Ethan Greenhart offers more advice on how to live the green and ethical life.

Ethan Greenhart

Topics Politics

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Dear Ethan,

Whenever I see starving Africans on TV I want to cry, and then to help them. I find that I cannot enjoy a fresh pasta dish or a walk on the Heath without feeling guilty about their wretched lives and how little they have compared to our greed and gluttony. I feel even worse about it at this time of year – 20 years after BandAid, they probably still don’t even know it’s (nearly) Christmas! But I have a dilemma. Is it right for us to give money to charities that help to sustain African communities in these conditions? After all, one of the greatest problems facing the planet today is overpopulation, especially in Africa. Does charity just encourage them to have more babies? Please advise!

Poppy Makepeace
Primrose Hill, London

Dear Poppy,

If I could save the planet from 1g of carbon for every dinner party of mine that has been ruined by this very question, the planet would be a richer place!

Having thought about it perhaps even more carefully than Bob Geldof, my considered view is that it is unethical to give money to Third World charities. The end result of your compassionate gift will be more people on this overstretched planet, which will degrade the environment. More people means more carbon, more global warming, more floods and earthquakes, more destruction. Your tenner for a starving African today could contribute to killing millions among future generations!

My partner and I used to sponsor a girl in an African village. We called her Chloe (her birth name – Abeiuwa Bombata Obakhavbaye – wouldn’t fit on the wristband). Our £5 a month sustained both Chloe and her donkey. Then Chloe left school at age 14, set up mudhut with a non-fair trade cocoa farmer, and started having babies. Regrettably, we had to cancel our direct debit. I hear Chloe is now selling shoelaces on the roadside, so hopefully she has learned a harsh but important lesson.

That lesson is: THERE ARE TOO MANY PEOPLE. A colleague says we shouldn’t worry about African babies. Using his solar-powered carbon calculator he calculates that the average British child emits around five tonnes of carbon a year. (Which means that if, like me, you have two children you MUST plant 32 trees per year to offset their carbon – they don’t tell ignorant parents THAT on Supernanny, do they?) By contrast the average African child emits only half a ton a year: one of the benefits of not having Playstations, or iPods, or sometimes shoes.

But I believe he is missing the point. I am afraid that African children cause direct destruction to the eco-system. Their parents cut down trees to grow food, and build mudhuts to house them, which has a serious adverse impact on the soil and the ozone layer and many species of wildlife. Giving them more money can only encourage them to have more children, thus increasing the carbon footprint left by the patter of tiny black feet.

Should one ‘do a Madonna’, and adopt a poor African baby out of poverty? It might seem an ethical alternative to getting pregnant and giving birth (which involve car journeys to antenatal classes, hospital machinery run on electricity, and the use of latex gloves which are then discarded). But then again, think how much more pollution the baby will produce ‘over here’. Adding up the carbon produced by flights to and from Malawi, the 4×4 journey from Heathrow, the paparazzo’s digital cameras, and the paper used by the media to tell David’s story, I estimate that Madonna’s adoptee has already helped to emit 10,000 tonnes of carbon, equal to that produced by 20,000 ordinary African kids in a year! Do we really want to turn African babies into carbon cluster bombs?

You may be tempted to donate to the charities that promote population control in Africa. Giving them contraceptives must be better than giving them cash. But ethical choices are rarely that simple. These charities fly millions of condoms to Africa; think of the ‘condom miles’, and all that non-biodegradable spermicide and lubricant. Female condoms (popular among charities seeking to empower African women) are made of polyurethane, which is a plastic – and I know I don’t need to tell you about the evils of plastic, girlfriend!

Poppy, I know you care about Africa, and so do I. We just need to educate Africans to think more like we do. So I’m pleased to tell you that a friend of mine is setting up a charity you can donate to with a clear conscience. It is called Africans for a Sterile Society (ASS), and the aim is to help African men become more aware of self-castration as an ethical lifestyle choice. There has been some resistance to my friend’s creative idea of using traditional machetes made from stones and other locally sourced materials to self-castrate, so she is looking into the possibility of injecting the men with an organic compound. In return for sterilisation, the man’s wife would be enabled to set herself up in a gender-friendly, micro-economic craft trade, perhaps selling 2p pats of her goat’s milk butter, or, say, caring for the children of aid workers. Thus man and wife can live in simple contentment, knowing that they are not adding to carbon chaos or overpopulation! Email me for more info about this brave charity.

Ethan Greenhart is here to answer all your questions about green and ethical living in the twenty-first century. Email him at {encode=”” title=””}.

Read on:

Last week, Ethan advised on the most ethical way to commit suicide – read it here.

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Topics Politics


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