Sustainability Is Not Sustainable, Climate Panelists Say

Published April 27, 2017

Presenters at the 12th International Conference on Climate Change’s panel on Sustainability universally condemned the concept of sustainability as a political notion they said was designed as an excuse to restrict economic activity.

Panelist Paul Driessen, a senior fellow with the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow, said sustainable development proponents claim it will prevent the twin disasters of climate change and fossil-fuel depletion, which he described as misguided or false notions.

‘Blocking Economic Growth’

Sustainable development has become the primary justification for “blocking energy and economic growth, rolling back First World living standards, … and preventing all but minimal development in the Third World,” said Driessen.

The push for sustainability is based on the precautionary principle, which Driessen described as “the assertion that no action, policy, or technology should be permitted until its promoters conclusively prove it will not harm society, humanity, or the environment.”

The sustainability movement is the newest great threat to continued human progress, especially to raising billions of people in developing countries out of poverty, Driessen said.

Driessen said sustainability advocates focus all their attention on the potential harms of fossil-fuel use and new innovations while ignoring the tremendous benefits they provide.

‘Unethical, Unsustainable, Genocidal’

Driessen said policies pushed by sustainability advocates place huge costs on people and the environment alike.

“They are not just wrong: They are unethical and unsustainable,” Driessen said. “They insult human dignity, reduce human living standards and lifespans, … are inhumane, eco-imperialistic, and even genocidal,” Driessen said. “True sustainable development improves living standards, instead of paying mere lip service to them, allow[ing] people freedom to use technologies and practices that conserve resources, reduce waste and pollution, and ensure current generations maintain their living standards in industrialized nations and have the energy and resources needed in poor countries to end the poverty, disease, and malnutrition that for too long have made life there nasty, brutish, and short.”

Independent scientist Indur Goklany showed how the development and use of fossil fuels benefits the environment by making humanity’s use of natural resources more sustainable. Goklany said fossil-fuel use has made Earth greener and more productive.

“Global ecosystem productivity has increased at least 14 percent since 1982, due to increased carbon dioxide, nitrogen deposition, and warming, mainly from indirect effects of fossil fuel usage,” Goklany said. “Fossil fuels are responsible for at least 63 percent of global food production.”

Says Fossil Fuels Save Nature

Habitat loss is the greatest threat to wildlife, Goklany said. As a result, because fossil-fuel use has made farming more productive, enabling farmers to produce more crop yields per acre and reducing the overall amount of acreage needed to feed current and future populations, fossil fuels are conserving species. Had the use of fossil fuels in agriculture not become widespread, the amount of habitat needed to feed the current world population would have put an additional 70 percent to 78 percent of all species at risk of extinction, Goklany said. In addition, fossil fuels account for 70 percent of global fiber production for clothing, upholstery, and the like, and they provide plastics and other materials displacing the use of timber and other plant-based materials for construction.

“Fossil fuels have saved much of the rest of nature from humanity,” said Goklany.

Steve Goreham, executive director of the Climate Science Coalition, took listeners through the steps he says are necessary to “Topple the Pillars of Sustainable Development.”

Goreham described in detail sustainable energy policies state and federal governments have enacted to require and subsidize the use of renewable energy and restrict the use of fossil fuels. As a result, electric power users in states that imposed renewable power mandates saw their electricity prices rise much more rapidly than the national average since enacting those sustainable energy policies.

“There are four pillars to be toppled: regulations on greenhouse-gas emissions, vehicle mandates, renewable-energy mandates and subsidies, and rolling back hydrocarbon bans,” said Goreham.

Goreham said President Donald Trump’s proposed budgets and the executive orders he has issued are beginning to knock down those four pillars. Goreham cited Trump’s proposal to cut the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) budget from $8.2 billion to $5.7 billion; his proposal to end   the Department of Energy’s renewable-energy programs; and Trump’s budget, which would end climate programs at NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the State Department.

Endangerment Rule Must Go

Goreham warned, however, it is unlikely former President Barack Obama’s climate initiatives can be fully rolled back unless EPA’s endangerment finding, the agency’s determination greenhouse gases pose a threat to human health, is overturned.

Goreham says Trump needs Congress to step in to end these fossil-fuel restrictions driven by climate alarmists.

“Attempting to rescind the endangerment rule would put EPA in a legal minefield,” said Goreham. “It would require EPA to go through a new public comment period, and a likely multiyear court battle against states and nongovernment organizations that support the rule.”

The administration would risk a court defeat ruling EPA’s decision to rescind the rule is “arbitrary” or “against scientific opinion,” Goreham said.

“Congressional action to exclude greenhouse gases from the Clean Air Act could be based on the fact scientific uncertainty does not support [assuming] greenhouse gases as endanger[ing] public health and welfare,” said Goreham. “This would remove the legal basis for greenhouse-gas restrictions but would face a possible Senate filibuster.”

H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. ([email protected]) is a research fellow at The Heartland Institute.