Environmental campaigners make much of the potentially catastrophic outcomes of increased atmospheric CO2 levels, often exaggerating their claims in order to gain public support for policies designed to tackle anthropogenic climate change. If challenged they often fall back on the precautionary principle: doing something has no negative outcome, whereas doing nothing might.
But what if doing something does have a negative outcome? In a new paper for the Global Warming Policy Foundation, Andrew Montford, author of the Bishop Hill blog on climate change, has identified quite a number of negative outcomes of environmentalist-driven climate change policies – or what William Happer, Professor of Physics at Princeton University, terms in the foreword “the jihad against atmospheric carbon dioxide”.
They range from the economic: market fixing and transfers of wealth from the poor to the rich; to the environmental: slaughter of wildlife and clearing of rainforests; to the human cost: hunger and starvation, and other human rights abuses.
Here’s a round-up. Consider it a sort of anti eco-bore crib sheet.
1 Market Fixing. In 2008, Britain introduced the Climate Change Act, committing the UK to an extraordinary 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Montford describes the legislation as “best characterised as a return to 1940s central planning”.
He notes: “The government could have adopted a number of different approaches to achieving its target, but chose to do so through a series of heavy-handed attempts to fix energy markets, by encouraging renewables and penalising fossil fuels.”
Thanks to the various taxes piled on them, some oil and gas fields suffer a marginal tax rate of 81 percent. The predictable outcome has been higher prices on everything involving fossil fuels, from household fuel bills to airfares and petrol prices.
2 Fuel Poverty In 2000, the British government introduced a legal obligation to eliminate fuel poverty by 2016. “This target has, however, been cast aside in the wake of the panic over climate change”, Montford says. Instead, price-fixing renewables and high taxes on fossil fuels has been allowed to drive up fuel prices, tipping more and more people into fuel poverty.
This is not only a matter of discomfort – some 25,000 ‘excess deaths’ are registered in England and Wales alone each year, of which, conservative estimates attribute 10 percent to fuel poverty. “These two or three thousand individuals are direct victims of climate change policy and their number is only expected to increase.”
3 Wealth Inequality In the UK, the ‘haves’ – wealthy landowners and middle class households, have been able to take advantage of feed-in tariffs and subsidies by erecting solar panels and turbines on their property. Meanwhile the ‘have nots’, those living in housing estates or high rise blocks have been unable to take advantage of such schemes.
“The have-nots are left with the fallout – higher bills for fuel and everything else – and forced to watch the landowners and newly minted renewables millionaires become ever wealthier at their expense, products of the ‘orgy of rent-seeking’ that has been launched by the political classes.”
On a larger scale, the EU emissions trading scheme handed large companies vast numbers of permits to emit greenhouse gasses, which they sold on at a profit. Meanwhile, the taxpayers picked up the bill in higher fuel bills.
4 Hunger Biofuels have long been hailed as a clean, green, renewable alternative to fossil fuels, tailor made for the transport sector. Although the USA has promoted biofuels since the 1970s, things really took off in the new millennium when US policy mandated adding biofuels to conventional fuels. Montford notes “By 2012… some estimates suggest that 40 percent of the US corn crop was being used for ethanol production.”
Diverting crops away from the food market inevitably drove up food prices; both the World Trade Organisation and the US Development Agency have linked high food prices to biofuel mandates. “One study has estimated that biofuels could be causing as many as 192,000 excess deaths per year”, Montford says. The UN’s special rapporteur on the right to food called biofuels a “crime against humanity”.
5 Human Rights Abuses Biofuels require vast areas of land if demand, driven by targets put in place by governments in Brussels, London and Washington, amongst others, are to be met. Much of this land has been secured by agro-industrial enterprises from subsistence farmers. As many as half of all land transfers from subsistence farmers to agro-businesses are driven by biofuels. “The struggle to control the biofuels business is reported to have been a contributory factor in political violence that swept parts of Kenya at the end of 2012,” Montford notes.
But ironically, given #6 on our list, the biggest human rights abuses have come from those claiming to be preserving the rainforests as a way to sequester carbon. In 2005 a scheme known as REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) was set up to fund developing countries to create forest reserves.
The result around the world has been the persecution of indigenous people, most of whom have lived in and worked in the forests for generations. Natives from across the world have told the same story: fences have gone up and rangers, armed with guns have been brought in. Any attempt to continue living in the forests as their ancestors did has been met with violence, including murder. “They don’t want human beings in the forest. The land isn’t even theirs, it’s ours,” one local man testified.
6 Destruction of the Rainforest The sins of biofuels are many, for not only are people being driven off farmland, but vast quantities of rainforests are being cleared to grow palm oil for biofuels. Indonesia alone has cleared an area approximately twice the size of Wales to make way for palm trees, and Malaysia has followed similar policies.
But what makes it all the more pitiable is that the release of carbon from the forest cancels out that saved by growing biofuels. “The biofuels researcher Timothy Searchinger has calculated that once the massive release of greenhouse gases cause by converting grassland and rainforest into cropland is taken into account, introduction of biofuels produces increases in greenhouse emissions, the size of the rise being as much as a doubling for corn ethanol production,” Montford tells us.
7 Pollution Solar panels, so beloved by environmentalists, contain highly toxic and teratogenic (that is, they cause birth defects) elements and compounds, including tellurium, cadmium, selenium, silicon tetrachloride and sulfur hexafluoride, which is ironically a potent greenhouse gas.
“Although some manufacturers have instituted such recycling schemes, it is unclear at present whether this will ever be an economic proposition, and it may be that as governments’ willingness to support solar PV projects wanes, the toxic cells will simply be abandoned,” says Montford.
They’re not the only toxic ‘green’ technology. The European Union banned incandescent light bulbs by 2012, forcing a switch-over to compact fluorescents (CFLs). Not only do CFL’s contain mercury, Montford says, they have also been found to “emit known carcinogens such as phenol, naphthalene and styrene when the are switched on”.
8 Desecration of Landscapes ‘But what of wind farms?’, you cry. Well, “Wind turbines are extraordinarily inefficient in terms of their use of land, requiring hundreds of times more space per megawatt of output than conventional power stations,” Montford says. “The construction of a wind farm can therefore have a devastating effect on landscapes.”
It’s not just the turbines themselves, sometimes situated in areas of previous outstanding natural beauty that are the problem – access roads also blight the view, whilst miles of forests have been cleared to give the turbines better access to high winds, and pylons must be erected connecting the turbines to the grid.
9 Carnage within the Animal Kingdom And yet the fallout from turbines doesn’t stop there. Not only are they a blot on the landscape, but their blades also wreak carnage upon flying animals. Raptors are the usual focus, although Montford concedes that “some studies have found that mortality rates are insufficient to bring about an overall population decline”.
At greater risk is the bat population – which are protected species in the UK. “Researchers have found that the passing of a turbine blade causes a sudden pressure drop that is of such a magnitude athat it can cause bats’ lungs to explode”, Montford says. A 2007 survey in America found that mortality rates may be high enough to affect populations.
“Remarkably, one solution proposed has been to switch off the turbines when the bats are most at risk, a proposal that would make a grossly inefficient technology even more inefficient.”
10 Increased Emissions So the CO2 jihad is responsible for widespread death, and devastation of the natural world. But does it succeed in its number one aim: that of cutting emissions? To put it bluntly, no.
As we’ve seen, biofuels could actually be putting more carbon in the atmosphere through forest clearance. Closer to home, the variability of wind power means that fossil fuel stations have to power up and down to fill the gaps, which is less efficient than running full time, leading to greater emissions.
“Although it is probable that introduction of wind power onto the grid produces a net reduction in carbon dioxide emissions, it is possible, or even likely, that a grid based entirely on gas turbines would actually produce carbon emissions that were lower still.”
But CO2 is not the most potent of greenhouse gasses. Far more potent by 11,000 times is a gas known as HFC23, a by-product of the manufacture of refrigerants. One of the measures agreed under the Kyoto Protocol was the Clean Development Mechanism, which allowed western countries to offset their emissions by buying emission reduction credits (CERS) from the developing world.
Suddenly refrigerant manufacturers in the developing world found that, by destroying a single ton of HFC23, they could claim 11,000 CERS. It proved most lucrative – one estimate suggests a typical factory could earn between $20 and $40 million a year from destroying HFC23. Not surprisingly, it was quickly transformed from a by-product to the main product of the factories, with the refrigerants manufactured almost as an afterthought.
However, by 2012 the price of CERS had collapsed leaving Asian manufacturers with worthless factories on their hands. “At the time of writing, the factory owners are poised to rid themselves of this problem by venting this powerful greenhouse gas production directly into the atmosphere, a consequence that was surely not intended by the framers of the legislation.”