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What really threatens our future?

By Willie Soon and Barun Mitra
web posted April 4, 2011

Energy sustainability is not about resource availability and pollution. Capitalism and human ingenuity have already addressed "sustainability" in these regards, if the statistics are to be believed.

The real sustainability challenge and threat concerns government intervention in the name of "sustainability," because it is political and bureaucratic intervention that reduces the availability, reliability and affordability of energy. The real sustainability challenge is also about overcoming the forces of nature, via with ever stronger energy infrastructure around the world. That is a job for capitalism, not central planning.

Consider these worldwide examples....

Japan is grappling with a triple tragedy: earthquake, tsunami and possible nuclear radiation. This has brought rolling blackouts, as authorities strive to meet electricity demands with reduced supplies and crippled transmission lines.

However, power cuts and inadequate power are routine in developing countries like India. For them, going without electricity for hours or even days is the norm, not the exception.

But now, the UK's power grid CEO is warning Brits that their days of reliable electricity are numbered. Because of climate change and renewable energy policies, families, schools, offices, shops, hospitals and factories will just have to "get used to" consuming electricity "when it's available," not necessarily when they want it or need it.

UN IPCC chairman Rajendra Pachauri justifies this absurd situation by sermonizing, "Unless we live in harmony with nature, unless we are able to reduce our dependency on fossil fuels and adopt renewable energy sources, and until we change our lifestyles, the world will increasingly become unfit for human habitation."  

Thus, people in poor countries who never had access to reliable electricity may be denied it even longer, while people in rich countries could soon face new electricity shortages.

Citizens of the world's poor and emerging economies: Beware of claims that the greatest threat we face is from manmade climate change. They are wrong. The real threat is from energy starvation policies implemented in the name of preventing climate change.

Everywhere one looks, people are enjoying modern technologies, improving their lives, realizing their dreams. Other people want the same opportunities for themselves and their children – and they should have them. Every citizen of the world should someday enjoy access to similar levels of energy that people in developed countries enjoy today.

The technologies, trade and transportation networks, the legal, property rights, economic and banking systems have all been developed. If countries and communities take advantage of them, a better future will require only one more thing: energy.

Energy is the Master Resource, the key to everything else. Only our Ultimate Resource – our creative intellect – is more important. People who have abundant, reliable, affordable energy – and the freedom to use it – can turn dreams and ideas into reality.

Those who must rely on human and animal muscle, or open fires, remain poor. Certainly, wind turbines and solar panels are far better than primitive energy. They can bless remote villages with electricity. But they are nothing compared to reliable electricity from hydrocarbon, hydroelectric and nuclear power.

However, policies based on false claims that we can control Earth's climate restrict access to energy and increase its cost. They perpetuate poverty, and prevent people from building better homes, having comfortable lighting and heating, using computers and modern conveniences, preserving food and medicines, and even surviving natural disasters and adapting to climate change.

Using computer models, thousands of scientists say human carbon dioxide emissions are responsible for recent warming. But thousands of other scientists say the sun and other natural forces still control our complex, unpredictable climate.

Earth's climate has changed repeatedly throughout history. Its temperature rose slightly during the last century, as our planet recovered from the Little Ice Age, but not in a straight line. It went up 1900-1940, then cooled until 1975, warmed again until 1995, and has been steady since then – all while global CO2 levels were rising. Flood, drought, hurricane and other weather patterns also change periodically.

Earth's climate is influenced by far more factors: solar, planetary, atmospheric, oceanic and terrestrial. Climate models are useless, even harmful, for setting energy policy.

But even if carbon dioxide does affect climate, China, India and Brazil are building power plants and automobiles at a record pace. Their people are rapidly climbing out of poverty, using coal, oil, natural gas and hydroelectric power to achieve their dreams.

Leaders of these countries are not going to tell their still-poor people that they cannot enjoy the benefits that plentiful, affordable, dependable energy can provide.

Europe, Canada, Australia and the United States became modern economic powerhouses by using fossil fuels. They gave people wondrous technologies, improved their health and living standards, and doubled their life expectancies – using hydroelectric and hydrocarbon power. 

Some people in rich countries talk about ending their fossil fuel use. But they have not done so – and cannot afford to. They talk about switching to wind and solar power. But they can no longer afford massive renewable energy subsidies that destroy two jobs in other sectors of their economy for every "green" job they create.

People in rich countries will not give up their modern living standards, electricity, automobiles, airplanes, hospitals, factories and food. Mr. Pachauri certainly will not. Why, should people in poor countries give up their dreams?

During the Cancun climate summit, rich nations said they would give poor countries $100-billion annually in "climate change reparation and adaptation" money. But these are empty promises, made by nations that can no longer afford such unsustainable spending.

Poor countries that expect this money will end up fighting over table scraps – and whatever funds do flow will end up in the overseas bank accounts of ruling elites. The poor will see little or none of it.

For awhile longer, rich countries will continue supporting global warming research and conferences. Researchers, bureaucrats and politicians will continue issuing dire warnings of imminent catastrophes, while they enjoy the benefits of modern energy, traveling on airplanes, attending talk fests at fancy hotels in exotic locations – all powered by coal and petroleum.

They may continue telling the world's poor how important and admirable it is that we keep living traditional, sustainable, environment-friendly lifestyles; getting by on small amounts of intermittent, unreliable, expensive electricity from wind turbines and solar panels; and giving up our dreams of a better, healthier, more prosperous life.

Ultimately, the climate change debate is really over just two things.

Whether we, the world's poor, must give up our hopes and dreams. And whether we will determine our own futures – or the decisions will be made for us, by politicians who use climate change to justify restricting our access to reliable, affordable energy.

Which should we fear most? Climate change that some say might happen 50 or 100 years from now?  Or an energy-deprived life of continued poverty, misery, disease, and forgotten hopes and dreams?

Our future is in our hands. ESR

Willie Soon, a native of Malaysia, is an astrophysicist and climate scientist. Barun Mitra is director of the Liberty Institute of New Delhi, India.

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