Lawrence Solomon: Now that the global warming era is nearing an end, the Third World can breathe easier

(March 23, 2017) Treating the Third World as a global warming guinea pig damaged it along with the West.

This article first appeared in the National Post

To the left’s dismay, the Trump administration has announced its intention to stop funding all global warming programs. To its further dismay, the countries of the G20 in Germany last weekend dropped from their communique — a joint statement all 20 countries must agree to — any requirement to fund action on global warming. Countries representing more than 80 per cent of the world economy thus failed to do what they have done routinely in the past at their five-star hotel gatherings — pay lip-service to a concerted commitment to stopping global warming.

Global warming as a feel-good cause is going down. The masses never felt good spending money on it — this was the cause of the political elites, their fealty to it expressed through toasts at their international gatherings and line items in their national budgets. Without the peer pressure that accompanies the toasts, the elites won’t feel all that generous spending their taxpayers’ money on it, either.

Instead of committing to global warming policies, the G20 communique will undertake a sensible but ironic alternative: “We reaffirm our commitment to rationalize and phase out, over the medium term, inefficient fossil fuel subsidies that encourage wasteful consumption, recognizing the need to support the poor.”

This revised commitment is sensible because free market reforms such as eliminating fossil fuel subsidies, where they might exist, by definition help economies. The revised commitment is ironic because the previous commitments — spending money stopping global warming — have been the single-biggest contributor to harming the poor.

In rich countries, policies that discriminate against low-cost fossil fuels and in favour of unaffordable renewables have made fuel poverty a household term. The European Parliament estimates that between 50 and 125 million people in the EU are at risk of energy poverty, defined as being unable to keep their homes warm or pay their bills. In Germany, seven million households representing 17 per cent of the population are already in fuel poverty.  In the U.K., over four million now live in fuel poverty.

But global warming policies have also harmed poor countries by skewing their economies off the fossil fuels that encourage sound development. As leverage to coerce poor countries into going off oil, the West has used its foreign aid budgets — according to the OECD, one quarter of all foreign aid has been dedicated to renewable energy and other schemes designed to leap-frog the Third World over the fossil fuel era into one powered by sustainable energy.

Treating the Third World as a global warming guinea pig damaged it along with the West. “Hundreds of millions of British aid ‘wasted’ on overseas climate change projects,” states an investigative report released last week by The Telegraph, which documents the immense scale of waste to which U.K. development funds have been put. “One scheme, costing £260m of UK taxpayers’ money, has produced only enough renewable electricity to power the equivalent of just 100 British households — about the size of a typical street.”

In describing a £630-million program called Scaling Up Renewable Energy Project (SREP), The Telegraph reports that “at the halfway point of the project to provide renewable energy and improve energy access in 28 of the world’s poorest countries, including Haiti, Ethiopia and Bangladesh, little appears to have been achieved by way of effective results.… Its target by 2023 is to produce 2,600 GWh — meaning it is currently producing just 0.01 per cent of the electricity expected in six years’ time.”

Policies that discriminate against low-cost fossil fuels  have made fuel poverty a household term

The Third World’s landscape is now littered with failed wind projects and discarded photovoltaic cells, akin to the broken down steel mills and other development projects funded in past decades through foreign aid.

With Trump and other Western countries shutting the door on more climate funding, and with the public fatigued by decades of prophesies of doom, the global warming era is coming to a close. The left’s Media Matters reported yesterday that media coverage of climate change plummeted by 66 per cent in 2016 over 2015, a drop that can only continue with the drying up of public funds perpetuating the climate myths.

The left will be okay, though, by reverting to its traditional, bread and butter themes. In the international sphere, it will tout more foreign aid funding for newly favoured schemes to save the Third World; domestically, it can resume its lament of income inequality and it now has Donald Trump to trash. With consolations like these, global warming — though long a signature issue — will soon fade gently into the sunset.

Lawrence Solomon is executive director of Energy Probe, a Toronto-based environmental group. Email: LawrenceSolomon@nextcity.com.

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About Lawrence Solomon

Lawrence Solomon is one of Canada's leading environmentalists. His book, The Conserver Solution (Doubleday) popularized the Conserver Society concept in the late 1970s and became the manual for those interested in incorporating environmental factors into economic life. An advisor to President Jimmy Carter's Task Force on the Global Environment (the Global 2000 Report) in the late 1970's, he has since been at the forefront of movements to reform foreign aid, stop nuclear power expansion and adopt toll roads. Mr. Solomon is a founder and managing director of Energy Probe Research Foundation and the executive director of its Energy Probe and Urban Renaissance Institute divisions. He has been a columnist for The Globe and Mail, a contributor to the Wall Street Journal, the editor and publisher of the award-winning The Next City magazine, and the author or co-author of seven books, most recently The Deniers, a #1 environmental best-seller in both Canada and the U.S. .
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