Environmentalists Call for Drastic Reductions in Greenhouse Emissions

Published January 1, 2005

A coalition of environmental activists made news during October by calling for rich countries to do more to control global warming and to help poor nations cope with the alleged effects of climate change.

The activist groups, including Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, Oxfam, and ActionAid, issued a report calling for cuts in greenhouse gas emissions far more stringent than those called for by the international global warming treaty known as the Kyoto Protocol.

The groups also want industrialized countries to subsidize poor countries’ adaptation to global warming requirements, to the tune of $73 billion per year, a sum on par with what industrialized countries now pay in subsidies to their domestic fossil fuel industries, according to the report.

Much Steeper Cuts Envisioned

The Kyoto Protocol, rejected by the U.S. Senate, President George W. Bush, and Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), called for cuts in greenhouse gas emissions in the United States of about 7 percent below 1990 levels–cuts the Clinton administration Department of Energy estimated could raise electricity prices 86 percent and gasoline prices 53 percent.

Greenpeace and its fellow activist groups now want greenhouse gas emissions in the developed nations to be cut by 60 to 80 percent from 1990 levels–cuts that, based on the Clinton administration projections, would be economically devastating to the developed world.

The activists’ recipe for solving global warming thus appears to be, first, to kill off economic development in the developed world; and then, to have the developed world send what money it has left over to the developing world. It’s not clear, though, that an economically crippled developed world would be able or willing to subsidize poor countries, leaving those countries forever impoverished.

While it is still unclear to what extent humans may be affecting global climate, climate change is a known and natural fact. The advantage humans have over other species is that we can use our intelligence and wealth to adapt to changes in climate. Air conditioning, irrigation, and desalinization are examples of human ingenuity overcoming otherwise inhospitable or uncomfortable climatic conditions. But harnessing technology to overcome climate challenges requires money–something that is often in short supply in poor countries.

“Green” Policies Reinforce Poverty

Ironically, the environmental activists seem to be doing their best to make sure poor countries stay poor.

For example, in a January 22, 2004, media release, the activist Rainforest Action Network (RAN) “declared victory in its campaign to transform the environmental practices of the world’s largest financial institution, Citigroup.”

Citigroup doesn’t have the sort of “environmental practices” typically associated with manufacturing and chemical industries. But Citigroup does make loans for economic and industrial development. After a four-years-long campaign, the RAN pressured Citigroup to restrict its lending practices in the developing world, including: not lending to projects that might adversely impact natural habitats; banning logging in tropical forests; avoiding investment in fossil fuel energy projects; and reporting greenhouse gas emissions from power projects in its lending portfolio.

The result is an extremely regressive lending policy that, in effect, gives environmental activist groups a veto over Citigroup loans for development in poor countries.

RAN is not stopping with Citigroup. Last summer, it kicked off a campaign called “Barbecue the Banks” with a sidewalk barbecue in front of the San Francisco headquarters of Wells Fargo. Using Citigroup as its precedent, RAN hopes to intimidate Wells Fargo and other banks into agreeing to restrict their lending practices in poor countries.

Should the activists succeed in dictating that banks apply restrictive lending practices in poor countries, not much economic development is likely to occur there. As a result, poor countries will remain poor and will not be able to adapt as easily as wealthy countries to changes in climate.

Sterling Burnett, senior fellow at the National Center for Policy Analysis, described the agenda of these environmental groups as “nothing short of colonialism. This is relatively wealthy people who want ‘green’ playgrounds to show off in the Third World. These people, for example, would rather see African people starve than eat genetically enhanced food like Americans do. They want ‘pure’ places to visit and wax poetic about, without giving any thought or care to the untold human misery such policies create.”

Global warming may or may not be occurring, and humans may or may not be playing a role in any ongoing climate change. What is certain is that poor countries need economic development and environmental activists are blocking their way. The developing world doesn’t need the Kyoto Protocol. But it could use some sort of protection from global warming activists.

Steven Milloy ([email protected]) is the publisher of JunkScience.com, an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute, and author of Junk Science Judo: Self-Defense Against Health Scares and Scams (Cato Institute, 2001).