People will rebel against green policies | Inquirer Opinion
Commentary

People will rebel against green policies

/ 04:15 AM September 19, 2022

The disconnect between the global elite and the real world is growing by the day. Most people are worn down by the pandemic, food and energy price hikes and general inflation, and worried about recession. Yet, the chattering classes are jetting into conferences at Davos or Aspen to declare that our biggest, immediate threats are climate change, environmental disasters, and biodiversity loss.

This ignores most of our urgent crises. Almost a billion people are at risk of starvation this year, exacerbated by climate-concerned opposition to fertilizers made with fossil fuels. More than a billion schoolchildren have missed out on an average of nine months of learning because of lockdowns, which will cost their generation $1.6 trillion every year by 2040. Millions among the rich will unnecessarily die from undiagnosed cancer and heart disease ignored during the pandemic, while millions more among the poor will die unnecessarily from malaria and tuberculosis, just like they always do.

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If you’re a wealthy, climate-concerned jet-setter with private health insurance and a recession-safe job, you don’t need to worry about malaria, recession, waiting in line for cancer tests, or about your children falling behind when schools close again. Nor are these issues that will get you attention or airtime.

Solving the real world’s big problems is messy, and progress is slow and unspectacular. It is far more exhilarating to make grand promises to save the entire world by going net zero or abandoning synthetic fertilizers.

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Climate change is a real, man-made problem that deserves attention. It is also wildly overblown in the media, with every weather “event” turned into a telegenic catastrophe. Last year, newspapers overflowed with stories of devastating hurricanes though satellites showed that 2021 had the fewest hurricanes globally. Hundreds of deaths from heat waves top the news, when data shows that many more people — 4.5 million globally — die from the cold because of a lack of heating worsened by high energy prices.

For decades, we have been told that ending fossil fuels is cost-free or even beneficial. Now, we are starting to see the immense economic and security costs of such untethered promises.

Early pushback came in France with the “yellow vest” protests. The Netherlands has also been roiled by protests since the government introduced policies that would decimate the agricultural industry in the name of the environment. Such policies threaten the food production right when global hunger is rising, yet the government is unable to change course because environmentalists use legal action to lock in the lopsided policies.

It is even worse in Sri Lanka. Egged on by elite campaigners and the World Economic Forum to go organic, the government banned synthetic fertilizers in April 2021. Predictably, food production collapsed, and the currency defaulted.

Solving many of these problems is not rocket science. The rich should stop making food more expensive by insisting on organics. They should stop making energy more expensive by dictating intermittent renewables. Instead, we should increase research and development into better seeds to deliver more food with a lower carbon footprint. We should drive green energy breakthroughs that could make drastic CO2 reductions cheap and feasible. And we should include the many other urgent crises that have simple and effective solutions — for instance tuberculosis and securing learning in school with computer-assisted teaching at the right level.

Unfortunately, the elite chooses to double down on climate and environment, despite the case of the Netherlands and Sri Lanka being warnings of what will come. Net zero will be the costliest policy that the world has embarked upon, with the price tag for paying for renewable assets and infrastructure costing more than $5 trillion every year for the next three decades, according to McKinsey. Every year the European Union (EU) has to pay 69 billion euros in subsidies to support its renewables.

As in the Netherlands, governments are going to find themselves increasingly caught between environmentalists, who push costly virtue-signaling initiatives, and working families who cannot cope with rising prices.

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The wild increases in energy prices in Europe, although partly caused by poorly designed climate policies, are mostly due to Russia’s indefensible war. But the cost of energy could increase even more, every year, and for everyone across the globe, if politicians double down on net zero.

Even under today’s policies, EU vice president and long-time climate action advocate Frans Timmermans admits that many millions of Europeans might not be able to heat their homes this winter, leading to “very, very strong conflict and strife.”

He’s right. When people are cold, hungry, and broke, they rebel. If the elite continues pushing incredibly expensive policies disconnected from the urgent challenges facing most people, we need to brace for more global chaos.

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Bjorn Lomborg is president of the Copenhagen Consensus and visiting fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. His latest book is “False Alarm: How Climate Change Panic Costs Us Trillions, Hurts the Poor, and Fails to Fix the Planet.”

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