In anticipation of this week’s United Nations Climate Summit, tens of thousands of activists stormed Manhattan in what organizers dubbed "The Peoples Climate March."
Organized by environmentalist, labor, and self-styled social justice groups, marchers demanded "climate justice now," even observing a minute of silence to recognize those most affected by climate change.
They should have taken a moment to pray for the world’s poor, too. Because the policies they demand would devastate hundreds of millions of lives worldwide.
That’s the conclusion of a new report published by the Cornwall Alliance, A Call to Truth, and co-signed by 150 evangelical leaders, pastors, economists, scientists, and others, including myself.
We analyzed how environmental legislation and regulations—like the ones called for by President Obama at the U.N.—reduce the standard of living for hundreds of millions of the world’s poorest citizens.
Mandatory reductions in carbon dioxide emissions are among the most common demands of climate activists.
By cutting these emissions across the board, the argument goes, it will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and lower global temperatures. This supposedly will save the earth by healing her atmosphere and calming her seas.
What this argument does not include, however, is the effect such draconian cuts will have on electricity prices.
By effectively prohibiting the cheapest and most abundant sources of energy—i.e., fossil fuels—government-imposed cuts to carbon dioxide emissions necessarily cause electricity bills to skyrocket. Forcing millions of people who can’t even afford food for dinner to pay more for electricity is far from social "justice."
Electricity cost increases also disproportionately harm the poor relative to the wealthy. The poor already spend a larger fraction of their income on energy than the rest of the population.
Raising their electricity prices through government mandates is the economic equivalent to a regressive poverty tax. When electricity prices rise, many people cannot afford to heat their homes, and as a result fall ill, and possibly die, due to cold related illnesses.
In the United Kingdom alone, 2,700 people died from cold exposure due to high energy prices in 2011. Unfortunately that number is rising; 24,000 people died in the 2011-2012 winter, and 31,000 in the 2012-2013 winter in the United Kingdom.
Another common environmental policy is mandating "green" energy sources instead of fossil fuels.
These policies come in many forms, chief among them so-called Renewable Portfolio Standards, which mandate certain percentages of a state or nation’s energy supply come from renewable sources. Here too, though, to have any meaningful effect on global temperatures would necessitate harming the world’s poorest populations.
According to the World Bank, between 25 and 33 percent of the world’s population need access to energy that currently can only be produced from fossil and nuclear fuels.
There’s also the 1.2 billion people—20 percent of the world’s population—who currently lack access to electricity of any kind. Telling those who already can’t afford cheap fossil fuels that they must use expensive green energy is like telling a homeless person he can only eat at Ruth’s Chris.
Many of the world’s population currently without electricity are forced to use "natural"—and toxic—energy sources, e.g., burning human feces and animal dung.
Smoke from these and other dirty energy sources cause millions of illnesses and premature deaths every year, mostly among women and young children. These people are dying, and we are telling them they can’t use the only energy source cheap enough for them to even dream of possessing?
The real injustice being perpetrated today is not against the earth’s climate, as the activists in Manhattan would have people believe.
It’s the one being perpetrated by "climate justice" activists against the world’s poor. Heeding their demands to cut carbon dioxide emissions and mandate the use of renewable energy sources will only further their demise.
Demanding environmental policies that raise costs of living and prohibit affordable energy—like the "climate justice" activists in Manhattan this week—is to demand that the world’s poorest remain impoverished and die.
Let’s hope our world leaders don’t succumb to their demands.
Dr. Shawn Ritenour is an economics professor at Grove City College, Grove City, Pa. He is also an Associated Scholar with The Susquehanna Valley Center.
The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The Susquehanna Valley Center.
Nothing contained here should be considered as an attempt to aid or hinder the passage of any legislation.
(This originally appeared in the September 24, 2014 edition of the Harrisburg Patriot-News.)
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