Law & Principles
Environmental extremism harms the poor, speaker warns
February 11, 2020
Because his father worked for the U.S. State Department, Calvin Beisner spent part of his childhood in Calcutta, India. Walking down Calcutta streets as a child gave him a close look at true poverty, and the experience continues to shape his view of many environmental debates today.
“Along the way, I would step over the bodies of the people who had died overnight of starvation and disease,” Beisner recalled. “Those picture memories are indelible in my mind. I’ve seen true poverty and its impacts. That’s why I am so upset with the Western, elite environmentalists who want to impose policies on the developing world that will trap their people in that kind of poverty for generations to come.”
Today, Beisner is founder and national spokesman for the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, and advocates for what he quips is “trying to save the planet from the people who are trying to save the planet.” During a recent appearance in Oklahoma City, Beisner argued that many environmental policies, particularly those touted as a solution to manmade climate change/global warming, will do little to improve the environment but much to harm the quality of life and even life expectancy of the world’s poorest people.
Beisner said there are five indispensable social institutions required to lift people out of poverty, and not just “for isolated individuals or families to rise and stay out of poverty, but the whole society”: private property rights, entrepreneurship, free trade, limited government, and the rule of law.
“Without those, no society has ever climbed out of poverty, and no society ever will,” Beisner said. “And if they climb out of poverty with those, and then abandon those, they will—like Venezuela and like many other countries that have tried moving from capitalism to socialism—fall right back into poverty.”
Another key requirement for a society to rise from poverty is “access to abundant, affordable, reliant energy, especially in the form of electricity, which gets that energy to your home, to your office place, to your factory, to whatever it is that you are doing,” Beisner said. “That is indispensable. Why? Because it takes energy to produce everything that we depend on. It takes energy to produce and process and transport food. It takes energy to produce and transport clothing. It takes energy to produce shelter. Everything! Medical care: Think of the vast amounts of energy that go into operating all of the machinery at a hospital.”
Because the law of demand in economics is that the higher the price, the lower the consumption, Beisner said policymakers should seek to keep the price of energy “as low cost as possible” in order to increase broad access to food, health care, shelter, and more.
“And yet, for the sake of supposedly fighting global warming, much of the world’s environmental establishment says, ‘We need to push up the cost of energy by pushing the world away from the fossil fuels that currently provide roughly 85 percent of all higher-energy consumed in the world today toward far more expensive and less reliable wind, solar, and other so-called renewable fuels,’” Beisner said.
In many instances, Beisner said the scientific foundation for those environmental policies is weak, at best.
“All of the fears of dangerous man-made global warming rest on computer climate models, computer models of how the global climate responds to added carbon dioxide in the atmosphere,” Beisner said. “There is no other basis for any of those fears. Well, the dirty secret is those climate models predict, on average, two to four times much warming as actually observed.”
When officials have reviewed global average temperature records from 1979 to the present and compared them to the temperatures predicted by computer models, Beisner said the actual warming was 0.13 degree Celsius per decade when computer models indicated the increase should be three-tenths of a degree Celsius per decade.
“And the computer models assume all of that warming comes only from CO2, but we know from the simple fact that the world has warmed and cooled, warmed and cooled, over and over again, cyclically, for all of geologic history, that some of it is probably from other sources,” Beisner said.
In their insistence on defending computer modeling that has proven faulty, Beisner said environmentalists are “living in virtual reality.”
That leads climate-change activists to tout policies that will produce little environmental benefit at massive societal cost. Beisner noted the Paris climate accord, which involved various nations pledging to either reduce carbon dioxide emissions or slow the growth of those emissions, was widely hailed by environmental activists. But even if it worked exactly as proponents argued, the plan was projected to reduce global temperatures by just three-tenths of one degree Fahrenheit by the year 2100, Beisner said.
“You can’t even feel that in this room,” Beisner said. “It has no impact whatsoever on any ecosystem anywhere. It has no impact on human well-being. Three-tenths of one degree Fahrenheit. Indeed, it falls within the margin of error of our calculations, our measurements, of world average temperature.”
Yet that insignificant reduction in temperature would have been achieved at an annual cost of $1 trillion to $2 trillion per year from 2030 to 2100. Unlike the promised temperature reduction, Beisner noted those costs would have impacted lives across the globe—negatively.
(The Trump administration has withdrawn the U.S. from the Paris agreement, reversing the stance of the Obama administration.)
In the developing world, where fossil-fuel use is less common, many residents still rely on fire generated from burning wood or dung to heat their homes and cook their food, Beisner noted. Those “natural” sources are far worse for health than supposedly “dirty” fossil fuels.
“The World Health Organization estimates the fact that the smoke from that stuff kills 2 to 4 million people a year, mostly women and young children,” Beisner said.
For such communities, fossil fuel use would improve the environment and increase quality of life.
“They would be far better off if they had the world’s dirtiest coal-fired plant right next door,” Beisner said, “because their air would be cleaner and they’d have far more energy, and they would rise up out of poverty faster.”
Contrary to the claims of some climate activists, Beisner believes the progress that can occur thanks to use of low-cost energy sources, including fossil fuels, will provide far more societal benefit than downside.
“The world will be cleaner, healthier, wealthier, by the end of this century than it is now,” Beisner said.