Poverty Pollutes: Lomborg on the Rio+20 Conference

June 4, 2012 at 1:32 pm

The current United Nations response to environmental concerns is doing more harm than good.

A great article by Bjorn Lomborg appeared last week in Newsweek magazine. The author has a different analysis than I do with respect to whether significant global warming is currently being caused by humans – and whether that warming is likely to be a problem decades hence (backup link).

But despite his contrary analysis, Lomborg argues persuasively that the UN-led response to poverty and environmental issues is still fundamentally flawed. His piece examines the Rio+20 conference scheduled for later this month. Between June 20 and 22, a self-selected group of people will discuss – on behalf of all of us and prior to any meaningful consultation with most of the world’s citizenry – “The Future We Want.”

It is a terrible irony that some of the people who express the most concern about the world’s poorest communities are advocating costly, unworkable solutions that will impoverish even more of us. Wealth saves lives. It pays for hospitals, doctors, and medicine. Desperate people with sick children need all of those. The last thing they have time for is well-fed bureaucrats who tell them their poverty equals sustainable living.

Until well-intentioned green activists address these sorts of inconvenient truths, gushers of money will continue to be totally wasted. Here are a few sobering quotes from Lomborg’s piece:

As long as wind turbines and solar panels remain more expensive than fossil fuels while working only intermittently, they will never contribute much to our energy supply. Germany, the world’s largest per capita consumer of solar energy, produces just 0.3 percent of its energy this way. And to achieve this No. 1 status, the country has paid $130 billion for $12 billion worth of energy.

…The truth is that while we mull green initiatives, approximately 900 million people remain malnourished, 1 billion lack clean drinking water, 2.6 billion lack adequate sanitation, and 1.6 billion are living without electricity. Every year roughly 15 million deaths – a quarter of the world’s total – are caused by diseases that are easily and cheaply curable.

…for most of the 1.6 billion people who live without electricity, we should opt for the tested, simple, and cheap solution: hook them up to generators or power plants, which, just like ours, run mostly on fossil fuels. When the sun goes down, it’s literally lights out for those people. What makes us think they should have technologies that are more expensive, less reliable, and much feebler than the ones we rely on?

…If your family is freezing, you will cut down the last tree for fuel; if they are starving, you will strip the land bare to feed them. And if you have no certainty about the future, you will provide for it in the only way possible: by having more children to care for you in your old age…Recent history suggests that when living standards go up, people and societies reduce their pollution…helping people to emerge from poverty is one of the best things we can do for the environment.

Lomborg raises an absolutely critical idea. Is it not bizarre that UN bureaucrats want to toss the world’s current economic system into the dustbin? There’s no question it has flaws and shortcomings. But in recent decades it has nevertheless lifted hundreds of millions out of poverty. No other economic approach has ever achieved these kinds of real-world results. Writes Lomborg:

the U.N. [has] itself declared the world’s current economic model a failure…Let’s pause for a minute and consider the latest figures on global absolute poverty, which came out this year. Contrary to the U.N.’s dire assessment, humanity has never seen a clearer reduction in poverty worldwide. The proportion of people living in absolute poverty has dropped massively, from 52 percent in 1981 to 22 percent today.

With the current economic model, the U.N.’s own climate panel is forecasting an extreme reduction of poverty worldwide over the coming century: per capita income in what we now call the developing world is projected to soar to more than 23 times the 2000 level by the year 2100. So how can the U.N. argue that such economic growth needs to be overturned and replaced…?

The fact that the UN isn’t trumpeting this stunning progress, but is instead advocating that we experiment with totally unproven economic approaches tells us a great deal.

It says this organization is now run by political activists rather than pragmatic problem solvers.

While Rome burns these people are impeding the firefighters. Why? Because UN documents call for them to be organized in ten squadrons rather than five.

Read Lomborg’s entire piece here.

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