Beware of those who would prolong the world’s misery

John Kane-Berman on climate change and the question of economic recovery post-Covid-19

Last week Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland and now leader of a lobby calling itself “The Elders”, called for action to prioritise “clean” energy and ensure that 2019 was the peak year for greenhouse gas emissions. She wants the international community to be pressurized to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

These attitudes are not new. The crusade against greenhouse gases, and carbon dioxide (CO2) in particular, goes back at least as far as the launch of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 1988. What is new is that those who espouse these attitudes will not allow the tragedy of economic collapse that has this year befallen mankind to cause them to re-think their crusade to replace cheap and reliable energy with expensive and unreliable renewable energy.

Some climate lobbyists have expressed disappointment at the postponement of the UN’s climate conference due to be held in Glasgow later this year. The global health crisis caused by Covid-19, they say, should not be allowed to overshadow the climate crisis: global warming, they claim, will become irreversible if leaders fail to act to keep down global temperatures.

They further express the fear that when the Covid-19 crisis is over, the world will be back on “an unsustainable trajectory of socio-environmental destruction”. To prevent this, “radical action against climate change should already be under way”.

What “action” means, of course, is intensification of the war against hydrocarbons/fossil fuels, the inevitable result of which will be loss of base-load supply to national grids and higher energy prices. This at a time when the health crisis has already sent the global economy into depression, destroying livelihoods and consigning millions of people back into poverty and even starvation.

Trillions of dollars of both private and public investment will be needed to get growth going again. If Ms Robinson and others like her have their way, economic recovery across the globe will be retarded by the vastly more expensive “green” energy they wish to make mandatory. The result will be a colossal waste of investment capital at a time when the global economy can least afford it.  

A trajectory of slower economic recovery will mean slower reductions in poverty and unemployment, while it will take longer for businesses of all kinds to get back on their feet. Had the greens had their way even twenty years ago, many of the billions of people in India and China and elsewhere who have been pulled out of poverty by rapid economic growth on the back of fossil fuels would still be languishing in destitution.

We are told that the world requires a “just transition” from fossil fuels – coal, gas, and oil - to wind and solar energy. There is, however, nothing “just” when lobbyists from rich countries seek to prevent poor countries from getting rich by making use of the same sources of energy as enabled the rich countries to get where they are today. It is no different from climbing a ladder and then pulling it up behind you.

The industrial revolution was powered by inexpensive coal-fired plants. To require of poor countries that they replace coal with forms of energy which are both more expensive and less reliable is tantamount to telling them that they must forgo the enormous benefits that the industrial revolution brought to Europe, North America, and Japan.    

Nor is there anything “just” about the gamble that Ms Robinson and Al Gore, along with green activists and climate warriors at the IPCC, wish to inflict upon mankind. They operate on the assumption that curbing the emission of CO2 in the use of hydrocarbons will somehow cause “global warming” to slow down. But there little evidence to support the hypothesis that emissions of CO2 have a material impact on temperatures, let alone a dangerous impact on the climate. On the other hand, there is plenty of evidence that a warming world is preferable to a cooling one. And there is also plenty of evidence of the benefits that higher levels of CO2 bestow upon the planet.

Their gamble is in fact twofold. They are gambling that they can successfully regulate the global climate. They are also gambling that they can thus do more good than harm. And make no mistake: what they are gambling with is lives and livelihoods.    

If the term “just” is misleading, so is the notion that “green” energy is somehow “clean”. Solar panels, windmills, and batteries are all manufactured and installed using fossil fuels. Solar and wind require back-up energy from fossil fuels, hydro, or nuclear for when the sun does not shine and the wind does not blow. Disposal of decommissioned “renewables” poses environmental hazards.  

The greens, of course, never let you in on their dirty secrets.

* John Kane-Berman is a policy fellow at the IRR, a think-tank that promotes political and economic freedom. Readers are invited to take a stand with the IRR by clicking here or sending an SMS with your name to 32823. Each SMS costs R1. Ts and Cs apply.