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Does Fighting Global Warming Help or Hurt the Poor?

E. Calvin Beisner, The Patriot Post

Want to “bring nothing but misery to poor people, especially in the developing world”? Simple: Just follow the advice of the international cabal of UN leaders and their organizations calling for drastic action to fight global warming.

The harangue is familiar everywhere by now: Global warming will harm everybody, but it’ll harm the poor most of all. Curbing it will help everybody, but it’ll help the poor most of all.

Is that true?

Not according to Dr. Mikko Paunio, an expert on public health and adjunct professor in general epidemiology at the University of Helsinki in Finland.

In a newly published report from the Global Warming Policy Foundation, Paunio challenges claims by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the World Health Organization, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that “co-benefits” of holding global warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial times will be a boon to humanity.

The more likely result will be up to 200 million excess premature deaths by 2050, according to Paunio.


Because the path to 1.5C is a “highway to hell” — a highway paved with converting over one-fourth of agricultural land worldwide from food production to energy production while failing to provide the abundant, affordable, reliable energy indispensable to population-wide water purification, sewage sanitation, and electrification that are indispensable to lifting and keeping whole societies out of severe poverty and the high rates of disease and premature death that invariably accompany it.

Paunio notes that the claims that the poor will benefit from fighting global warming rest on claims of reduced air pollution as the world shifts from fossil fuels to wind, solar, and biofuels to generate electricity.

The problem, he explains, is that the world’s poor aren’t using fossil fuels for their energy today. They’re using wood, dried dung, and other rough biofuels, burned on open hearths or low-tech stoves often inside their huts, for heating and cooking. (Never mind providing light by which to study at night and gain knowledge that will enable them to work in an increasingly advanced economy.) Says Paunio,

Air pollution, and, in particular, indoor air pollution, is a genuine problem, particularly in poor countries, where wood and dung fires and crude coal-burning stoves are often the main ways of heating and cooking. But the suggestion that action on climate change will reduce the death toll is grossly misleading. The real solution has been understood for decades, and lies in a progressive movement away from solid fuels, firstly to cleaner fossil-fuel alternatives, such as liquified petroleum gas, and eventually to centralised power production and modern electricity grids.

(Paunio developed this theme in an earlier report.)

Centralised power production has, time and again, cleaned ambient air and also reduced indoor air pollution,” Paunio continues. “More importantly, it has enabled a revolution in environmental health practices: electricity grids not only give us clean indoor air but also clean and abundant water supplies — the basis of public health in all advanced economies — and cold-chain food storage, a vital component of effective environmental health practice.”

The trouble with the prescription for curbing global warming is that it rests heavily on “widespread adoption of biofuels and bioenergy, with the carbon dioxide produced when these are burnt being removed from the atmosphere using … afforestation [and] carbon capture and storage,” coupled with “drastic reductions in energy demand, although bioenergy would still be required even in these.”

Yet, as Paunio quotes Drew Shindell, a leading researcher and advocate of the policies, most of the reduction in carbon dioxide emissions would “come from technologies that have not been demonstrated at commercial scales and may not materialize.” For instance, “Biofuel energy with carbon capture and sequestration” (BECCS) “faces biophysical, logistical and social constraints, and if it were to be deployed at the scales envisioned would require a substantial fraction of the world’s arable land and water resources, with potential severe consequences for biodiversity and food security.” (Yes, you read that right: These are the words of an advocate of the policies!)

The devil’s in the details. That “substantial fraction of the world’s arable land” comes to about 13 million square kilometers — about 27% of the world’s current agricultural land. With world population rising, that means “the biofuels route to a 1.5°C future would involve famine and environmental desecration.”

Paunio concludes,

To their shame, those at the top of the WHO have another agenda entirely: an agenda that involves reckless decarbonisation, in the process preventing the world’s poorest from getting access to the energy they so desperately need, and deceiving the rest of the world into thinking that there are ‘co-benefits’ from doing so.”

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