(CNSNews.com) - An environmental group dedicated to "protect[ing] the rainforest" is under attack for recruiting public elementary school students to protest the lending practices of a major U.S. bank in New York City.
The Rainforest Action Network (RAN) organized the group of second grade children on Dec. 16 to protest JP Morgan Chase. A RAN press release stated the elementary school children attended to "hand deliver over 700 colorful handmade posters from children around the world asking William B. Harrison, chief executive officer of JP Morgan Chase, to keep his promise and stop lending money to projects that destroy endangered forests and cause global warming."
But Robert Bidinotto, an editor at the nonprofit watchdog group Capital Research Center, called RAN's efforts a "shameless manipulation" of the children.
"It's difficult to know which is worse: the factual nonsense propagated by RAN, the capitulation to them by major corporations or the political exploitation of innocent children," Bidinotto told the Cybercast News Service. Bidinotto also publishes the website ecoNOT.com, which chronicles the environmental movement.
"I'd have to say it's the shameless manipulation of little kids for propaganda purposes," he added.
The children were recruited with the help of Fairfield County, Conn., second grade teacher Paula Healey. "Children around the world are asking JP Morgan Chase to invest in their future by doing its part to protect the world's last remaining rainforests," Healey was quoted as saying in the RAN press release.
"Earth is on loan to us from future generations, and these students know the value of protecting their natural inheritance," Healey added.
But Bidinotto called the use of the children for "these propaganda campaigns morally disgusting."
"Teachers, schools and parents who allow this are guilty of a form of child abuse. They're hiding their own partisan voices and political agendas behind the innocent faces of little kids, turning them into propaganda tools. Why? Can't these grown-ups speak for themselves?" he asked.
RAN even held a "best poster" contest, and a sixth grade student from Dayton, Ohio, won. The winning poster featured a watercolor of a rainforest scene with a message to JP Morgan Chase.
"Be A Hero ... Save the Rainforest. Save the World. Please protect the rainforest instead of hurting the Earth for oil," the winning poster stated.
Bidinotto said RAN does not have the best interests of children in mind. "Ran has no respect for law, for private property, for human productivity or for free trade," Bidinotto said.
"Operating like a goon squad, they violate the rights of people to freely produce and trade, using intimidation and scare campaigns as a weapon. They're exploiting their tax-exempt status to undermine every pillar of the free enterprise system," he added.
Bidinotto said RAN's main goal is to stop all industrial development.
"RAN's real interest isn't protecting 'old growth forests.' Because they believe nature should be left entirely undisturbed, these radicals want to stop all logging -- everywhere. And shut down all mining. And auto manufacturing. And oil exploration. They represent what has been called 'the anti-industrial revolution'," Bidinotto said.
RAN's attempts to scale back industrial development are going to impact the developing world's poor the most, according to Bidinotto.
"Ending all development of timber, fossil fuel and mineral resources in the Third World will only guarantee that these people remain jobless, backward and impoverished. Is that what they call 'being socially responsible'?" he asked.
"Whatever they are, these environmentalist radicals are no friends of the world's poor -- and no respecters of the innocence of the world's children," he added.
Tracy Solum, director of Rainforests in the Classroom, a program sponsored by the Rainforest Action Network, has a ready response for critics.
"Today, young rainforest heroes from around the world are reminding JP Morgan Chase that its most important stakeholders are future generations," Solum stated on the RAN website. "This is education in action, and these are kids the Earth can count on. These posters represent the wisdom and creativity of a new generation inspired to protect the Earth."
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