The Planet Vs. The Poor?

Chuck Colson | BreakPoint | Wednesday, February 04, 2009

The Planet Vs. The Poor?


February 4, 2009

Yesterday, I told you that the science surrounding man-made global warming was hardly “settled.” I noted the skepticism of respected scientists and said that, given these doubts, we ought to resist being panicked into taking drastic and costly measures.

One such measure is California’s Global Warming Solutions Act. The 2006 act “aims to substantially cut the state’s greenhouse-gas emissions and to promote the use of renewable energy.”

Some of the plans are sensible—like increased energy efficiency in homes and businesses. The problem is that even if every home and business in California maxes out on efficiency—which, given the cost, is unlikely—that still leaves California 85 percent short of its goal.

That 85 percent is supposed to come from reductions in vehicle emissions and a substantial increase in the use of wind and solar power. By 2020, a third of California’s electricity must come from renewables.

Again, these are laudable goals, at least in the abstract. But in the real world, they face enormous technological, economic, and political hurdles. While California certainly has enough sunshine and wind to make a go at solar and wind power, it isn’t that simple.

For instance, the best place for wind turbines is in the high deserts east of Los Angeles. But this means building new transmission lines which—no surprise here—environmentalists oppose. Also, we are decades away from being able to efficiently store the power generated by solar panels and wind turbines. For the foreseeable future, you just pray for continuous sunshine and breeze.

These and other concerns cast doubts on Governor Schwarzenegger’s pledge that California can meet its goals without harming its economy. After all, the PBS special on the plan was called “The Big Energy Gamble.”

And we can’t solve the problem alone. Other nations have to go along with us. You can ask affluent Americans to sacrifice, but it’s quite another thing to expect poor people in other countries to do so. Countries like China and India have no interest in asking their citizens to remain in poverty without basic amenities like electricity that westerners take for granted.

Even Greenpeace founder Patrick Moore says it’s easy for westerners to romanticize living in a hut without reliable electricity. Even the most enthusiastic eco-tourist goes home. But it’s different to ask people living in poverty to cut electricity or do without.

What’s more, as another former Greenpeace member, Bjorn Lomborg has written, money spent on global warming diverts resources from efforts that actually help the poor: fighting malaria, HIV/AIDS treatment, and flood prevention. In the current global recession, money for these efforts will be even scarcer. The price of cutting CO2 emissions might well be measured in actual human lives lost.

None of this is a secret, which raises an obvious but important question: Why don’t global warming activists care about the potential impact of their policies on ordinary people? That’s the subject of tomorrow's commentary. Please tune in.


Chuck Colson’s daily BreakPoint commentary airs each weekday on more than one thousand outlets with an estimated listening audience of one million people. BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today’s news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print. 

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