Activists, not global warming, a third-world threat

by William Yeatman on October 21, 2004

in Politics, Science

A coalition of environmental activists called this week for rich countries to do more to control global warming and to help poor nations cope with the alleged effects of climate change.

The irony, of course, is their activism, not global warming, is the real threat. The activist groups, including Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, Oxfam and ActionAid, issued a report calling for cuts in greenhouse gas emissions far more stringent than those called for by the international global warming treaty known as the Kyoto protocol.

They also want industrialized countries to subsidize poor countries adaptation to global warming to the tune of $73 billion per year, a sum on par with what industrialized countries now pay in subsidies to their domestic fossil fuel industries, according to the report.

Keep in mind that the Kyoto protocol, rejected by the U.S. Senate, President Bush and even Sen. John Kerry, only called for cuts in greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. of about 7 percent below 1990 levels cuts that the Clinton-administration Department of Energy estimated could raise electricity prices 86 percent and gasoline prices 53 percent.

Greenpeace and company now want greenhouse gas emissions to be cut by 60-80 percent from 1990 levels cuts that would probably be economically devastating to the developed world.

The activists recipe for solving global warming thus appears to be, first, to kill off economic development in the developed world and, then, to have the developed world send what money it has left over to the developing world. Its not clear, though, that an economically crippled developed world would be able or willing to subsidize poor countries, leaving those countries forever impoverished.

While no one knows whether or to what extent humans may or may not be affecting global climate, climate change is a known and natural fact. The advantage that humans have over other species is that we can use our intelligence and wealth to adapt to changes in climate. Air conditioning, irrigation, desalinization are examples of human ingenuity overcoming otherwise inhospitable or uncomfortable climactic conditions. But harnessing technology to overcome climate challenges requires money something that is often in short supply in poor countries.

And, sadly, the environmental activists seem to be doing their best to make sure that poor countries stay poor.

For example, in a Jan. 22 media release, the activist Rainforest Action Network (RAN) declared victory in its campaign to transform the environmental practices of the worlds largest financial institution, Citigroup.

Now Citigroup doesnt have the sort of environmental practices typically associated with manufacturing and chemical industries. But Citigroup does make loans for economic and industrial development. After a four-year-long campaign, the RAN pressured Citigroup to restrict its lending practices in the developing world, including: not lending to projects that might adversely impact natural habitats; banning logging in tropical forests; avoiding investment in fossil fuel energy projects; and reporting greenhouse gas emissions from power projects in its lending portfolio.

Its an extremely regressive lending policy that, in effect, gives environmental activist groups a veto on Citigroup loans for development in poor countries and we all know how much environmental activists approve of development.

The Rainforest Action Network is not stopping with Citigroup. Last summer, RAN kicked off a campaign called Barbecue the Banks with a sidewalk barbecue in front of the San Francisco headquarters of Wells Fargo. Using Citigroup as the precedent, RAN hopes to intimidate Wells Fargo and other banks into agreeing to restrict their lending practices in poor countries.

Should the activists succeed in dictating restrictive bank lending practices in poor countries and I would bet that RAN is not yet done telling Citigroup how it may make loans dont expect too much economic development to occur there. As a result, poor countries will remain poor and will not be able to adapt as easily as wealthy countries to changes in climate.

Global warming may or may not be occurring. Humans may or may not be playing a role in any ongoing climate change. What is certain is that poor countries need economic development and environmental activists are blocking their way. The developing world doesnt need the Kyoto protocol. But it could use some sort of protection from global warming activists.

Steven Milloy is the publisher of, an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute and the author ofJunk Science Judo: Self-Defense Against Health Scares and Scams(Cato Institute, 2001).

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