Wielding the carbon club

Lawrence Solomon
National Post
September 30, 2008

‘Cut back on carbon emissions,” the Third World is lectured. “It’s for the good of the planet and it’s for your own good, too. Don’t point fingers at the West’s carbon emissions. Don’t protest that you’d like your share of automobiles and air conditioners. Don’t tell us that you know what’s in your own self-interest. Just do as your told, or we’ll punish you.”

These threats are sometimes implicit, sometimes explicit, always arrogant. Carbon has become a club with which to discipline the Third World.

The Globe and Mail took up the carbon club in a weekend editorial that praised Prime Minister Stephen Harper for vowing to prohibit bitumen sales from the tar sands to countries that misbehave on global warming, and chastised misbehavers China and India, now the world’s number one and number three carbon emitters. The Globe asserted that, “the emerging economic powers are not entitled to catch up to the emissions levels of the nations that industrialized in the 19th century,” adding that these restrictions are for the Third World’s own good: “East Asia and South Asia will not benefit if Shanghai and Bangladesh are below sea level.”

Likewise, the chairman of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change claimed last year that it would be “suicide” for Third World countries to base their progress on fossil fuels, as Western countries have: “If China and India were to follow the same pattern of development you are going to have serious conflict. Where are all the resources going to come from?”

In truth, the West has selfish motives, and not just because carbon cutbacks by Third World nations would leave more oil and other resources for the West — Western industry and Western jobs also hang in the balance. In a recent declaration, 27 EU leaders warned that “appropriate measures can be taken” against exports from Third World countries to protect European jobs, and French President Nicolas Sarkozy insisted on “a mechanism that would allow us to strike against the imports of countries that don’t play by the rules of the game on environmental protection.” The protectionist U. S. Senate is also looking for a trade mechanism “to penalize countries such as China and India if they didn’t also limit emissions,” reported the Wall Street Journal in an article that referred to such measures as “China bashing.”

Should Third World countries do as they’re told? Or should they think for themselves and come to their own conclusions? The Indian government’s National Action Plan on Climate Change looked for evidence of harm to India from global warming. Its scientists found none. It also looked for man-made causes. Still no evidence. “No firm link between the changes [to India’s environment] and warming due to anthropogenic climate change has yet been established,” it concluded. Not surprisingly, India opposes curbing its economic growth in aid of science it considers suspect, to aid Western trade interests it considers hypocritical. China and others also balk at curbing their fossil fuel use — and economic growth — to suit western demands.

Should Third World countries doubt claims that dramatic carbon curbs would aid their economies? Yes, claim two of the world’s most distinguished academics, Freeman Dyson of Princeton, perhaps America’s most famous scientist, and William Nordhaus of Yale, the world’s pre-eminent climate change economist and author of the new book, A Question of Balance: Weighing the Options on Global Warming Policies.

Their unequivocal conclusion emerged from a widely discussed exchange in the pages of the New York Review of Books between Dyson, a climate-change skeptic who reviewed Nordhaus’s book, and Nordhaus, who believes that man-made global warming must be tackled. These academics were united on the dangers to the developing world of steep curbs on carbon, such as those promoted by the U.K. government’s Stern Review, the chief authority of those who advocate severe carbon cutbacks.

“The practical consequence of the Stern policy would be to slow down the economic growth of China now in order to reduce damage from climate change a hundred years later,” Dyson explains, with Nordhaus’s blessing. “Several generations of Chinese citizens would be impoverished to make their descendants only slightly richer. … the slowing-down of growth would in the end be far more costly to China than the climatic damage.”

Count on the West to use the carbon club to beat the Third World into submission. Pray that when it does, it at least has the grace to avoid adding insult to injury by insisting it is acting for the Third World’s own good.

Lawrence Solomon is executive director of Energy Probe and Urban Renaissance Institute, and author of The Deniers: The world-renowned scientists who stood up against global warming hysteria, political persecution, and fraud.

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