More than 100 presidents, prime ministers, and other potentates will convene over the next couple of weeks (August 26-September 4) in Johannesburg, South Africa, in a desperate attempt to save the Earth. The occasion is the United Nations' World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), which is aimed at revolutionizing how the world's economy operates. This economic, social and environmental revolution must occur because, it is claimed, humanity is on an unsustainable path that is leading toward global catastrophe. Indeed, all summer, as the WSSD approached, we have been treated to a series of reports and media events concocted to persuade us that the world is about to fall apart.
Alongside the official WSSD events will be a Global Forum organized by activist groups who style themselves as the representatives of global "civil society." The United Nations itself gets to choose which organizations are "legitimate" civil society representatives. Thus it will surprise no one that most such activist groups agitate for a stronger and growing role for the United Nations in governing the world's economy and environment.
The WSSD is a followup to the Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro 10 years ago. At that gathering, world leaders negotiated and adopted the Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC) and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CDB), among other treaties. The fearful truth is that once a UN treaty process or agency has been launched, it continues to grow and mutate, but is always aiming to increase the power of international bureaucracies and national governments at the expense of individuals.
Consequently, under the once voluntary arrangements of the FCCC, we now have the Kyoto Protocol, which is ostensibly aimed at slowing man-made global warming but which is in reality a mandatory plan outlining the energy future of the whole of humanity for the next century. Meanwhile the CDB, a treaty originally aimed at protecting wildlife and wildlands, has given birth to the Biosafety Protocol which is a trade treaty designed to impede international shipments of food made from genetically improved crops. These international agreements have incorporated and legitimized the "Death Star" of all regulatory policy notions, the precautionary principle.
The 100 world leaders at the WSSD are being asked to finalize and approve a Plan of Implementation intended to put humanity on a sustainable path to economic development and environmental protection. First then, what is "sustainable development?" In 1987, a UN Commission on Economic Development report, Our Common Future, defined it as development that "meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." This rather vague concept has since been vastly elaborated, but the hard core, unchanging center of the concept is that, whatever else it means, it means that rich developed capitalist nations are on an unsustainable path. It essentially incorporates the old-fashioned Malthusianism of early 1960s and 70s-style political environmentalism in which the world is becoming overpopulated and running out of resources.
The UN Plan is big on rhetoric in favor of reducing global poverty, increasing access to clean water, sanitation, and education in poor countries. So far, so good. Who could be against such laudable goals? And the Plan does have some very good ideas. For example, it encourages developed countries to eliminate their $300 billion in annual farm subsidies which distort international trade and undermine poor farmers in developing countries. The Plan also favors eliminating energy subsidies and charging farmers the true of cost of their irrigation water. It also encourages rich countries to eliminate trade barriers against the products made in poor countries.
However, the Plan also urges all countries to adopt and implement the pernicious Kyoto and Biosafety Protocols and use the precautionary principle as a guide to regulating the development of new technologies. One of the chief contested areas is Section IX, the section that deals with money. Section IX urges debt relief for improvident and corrupt developing country governments and asks rich countries to up their foreign aid budgets substantially. Certain paragraphs of Section IX, favored by activists, would attempt to subordinate the World Trade Organization to the goals of sustainable development.
The main flaw in the UN Plan is its abiding conviction that sustainable development is only possible with the vigorous intervention of national governments and international bureaucracies. Developed capitalist economies are precisely those economies that "meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." As history has amply shown, technological progress makes possible the economic growth that allows future generations to meet their own needs. There is only one proven way to improve the lot of hundreds of millions of poor people, and that is democratic capitalism. It is in rich democratic capitalist countries that the air and water are becoming cleaner, forests are expanding, food is abundant, education is universal, and women's rights respected. Whatever slows down economic growth also slows down environmental improvement.
In Johannesburg, the future of the world may well be determined. Will human liberty and innovation be allowed to flourish or will humanity succumb to the myth of the "limits to growth?"
I will be covering the Summit with daily dispatches from Johannesburg reporting on the activities of the official delegates and the goings on among the activists. They will be available at Reason Online beginning next week.
Ronald Bailey, Reason's science correspondent, is the editor of Global Warming and Other Eco Myths (Prima Publishing) and Earth Report 2000: Revisiting the True State of the Planet(McGraw-Hill).
The enviro-nutz have hoped for decades to grab control of darn near everything - literally. They knew that sooner or later the bad science would become apparent to those who were not their self-appointed "experts".
There's nothing the global marxists would like better than to redistribute anything they can of America. The political façade of mis-used science has a life span & the clock is ticking....
This is so scary that it is unreal. It is not the fact that they cannot be taken seriously, but the fact that they take themselves so seriously.
These people seriously think that they know better what is best for us, then we do ourselves.
Nothing is worse, then despots with "good" intentions.
Here's an earlier Ronald Bailey article from Forbes:
Bill and Al's global warming circus
Forbes, November 3, 1997
H.L. MENCKEN WOULD have gotten quite a kick out of Bill Clinton's global warming shindig called the White House Conference on Climate Change and convened on Oct. 6 at Georgetown University. This is what the cantankerous Sage of Baltimore had to say about such circuses: "The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary."
Global warming, for instance.
At the White House Conference, Clinton put on his sincerest face, saying: "I have been completely persuaded that global warming is real."
Business groups had run ads warning against precipitate action against a threat that was by no means clear. Al Gore denounced those ads as "bordering on the immoral." Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt called them "un-American in the most basic sense."
All this is just part of a mighty blitzkrieg designed to scare the bejesus out of the American people and persuade them to hand more power to those kindly, concerned folk in Washington. The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy has been drafted in the cause and has trotted out scientists to warn that the human race faces fairly imminent disaster from global warming. Most of the scientists, it turns out, either have government climate change grants or are on the federal payroll.
Of course, environmental activists are in on the crusade. On Sept. 15, Clinton and Gore met with the heads of America's largest environmentalist groups, including John Adams of the Natural Resources Defense Fund, Kathryn Fuller of the World Wildlife Fund, Carl Pope of the Sierra Club, Howard Ris of the Union of Concerned Scientists, Gene Karpinski of the Naderite U.S. Public Interest Research Group and Fred Krupp of the Environmental Defense Fund.
Participating in the propaganda offensive, Greenpeace launched a massive campaign to oppose any further petroleum exploration, claiming that oil executives "can change the weather." The Natural Resources Defense Council ran ads featuring a house being washed away by a flood with a headline: "Tomorrow's Weather: Brought to you by Big Business." Then, of course, there was the clever move to convert TV weathermen into pitchmen for the global warming cause.
Given this well-organized propaganda campaign, chances are that nearly everything you have heard or read will have persuaded you that we need Al and Bill and Hillary to rescue us from the horrors of global warming.
In short, you may have bought yourself a hobgoblin.
It is true that greenhouse gases, chiefly carbon dioxide produced by the burning of fossil fuels, are increasing in the atmosphere. After that, uncertainty reigns. In the 1980s, early computer climate models predicted that the earth's temperature might rise by between 5 and 9 degrees Fahrenheit over the next century.
Actual readings indicate that the earth's average temperature has increased by a little less than 1 degree Fahrenheit over the past century. Why? No one knows for sure, but the prime suspect seems to be natural fluctuations in the climate, as most of the warming occurred before greenhouse gases had accumulated in the atmo-sphere. Another suspect: An increase in the sun's radiance, as Richard Willson suggested in an article published in Science magazine in September.
What about those floods, droughts and hurricanes that advocates of the global warming theory predict? Any sign of them? Rainstorms that drop more than two inches in 24 hours have increased modestly since 1910; there is now one additional heavy rain every two years. The frequency of intense hurricanes and their maximum windspeed have declined significantly over the past half century. As for temperatures in the U. S.--there is no significant increase in the percent of the U.S. experiencing much-above-normal temperatures.
"Satellite and balloon data show that catastrophic warming is not now occurring," says Dr. John Christy.
At the global level, very accurate measurements made by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration satellites show virtually no increase in the earth's average temperature over the past 18 years. Yet the original climate computer models used by the global warming crowd predicted that the earth should have warmed by an easily detectable 0.3 to 0.4 degrees centigrade over that period .
"The satellite and balloon data show that catastrophic warming is not now occurring," says Dr. John Christy, a professor in the Department of Atmospheric Science at the University of Alabama in Huntsville.
At the White House-summoned global warming summit, Hillary Clinton declared that "health problems are going to get worse unless we do something about climate change." Tropical diseases like malaria would move into formerly temperate areas as the earth warms.
Dr. Sidney Shindell, professor emeritus at the Medical College of Wisconsin's Department of Preventive Medicine and an expert on malaria, points out that malaria and dengue fever are not confined to warm areas. And malaria was eliminated not because the climate changed, but because malaria-carrying mosquitoes were controlled by public health measures such as draining swamps--oops! I mean wetlands--the widespread use of DDT, and putting screens in windows.
Studies do show that, globally, winter nighttime temperatures are getting slightly warmer. There is no evidence that summer daytime temperatures in the U.S. have increased at all. Higher winter nighttime temperatures are not a disaster. That would mean longer growing seasons, for one thing.
Why, then, are we being urged to "do something" about global warming? H.L. Mencken has given us one reason. Another reason is that anti-business elements, no longer able to advocate government control as a path to social justice, have wrapped themselves in a green, leafy banner.
"The green movement," says Jerry Taylor, director of Natural Resource Studies at the Cato Institute, "is genetically hard-wired to find confirmation of their fears in nearly any theory or hypothesis that claims that industrialized society is living on borrowed environmental time. Global warming is just the latest and biggest of these scares."
Even scientists who take the threat somewhat seriously shy from advocating drastic action now. "I think it's too early to start action now," says Gerald North, head of the Department of Meteorology at Texas A&M. "I believe we have a decade or so in which we can collect data and refine our models before we have to act."
So even if the alarmist climate models turn out to be right, technological innovations and judicious capital investment will make it possible to reduce carbon emissions more cheaply in the future than now.
Scientists like North realize that the action advocated by the global warming crowd will be both expensive and economically disruptive. Clinton/Gore propagandists have tried to disarm that argument by claiming that economic stimulus from adopting energy-efficient technologies will more than offset the costs of reducing carbon emissions to a U.N.-proposed 1990 level by 2010.
At the White House Conference, the Administration rounded up a group of businesspeople who allegedly support Administration plans to cut hydrocarbon use. Nearly all of them were from small companies that would benefit directly.
"They [the global warming crowd and Gore] are essentially claiming that there are $20 bills laying on the ground that nobody's picking up," harrumphed economist David Montgomery, who has been very involved in working on the economic impacts of climate change at the consulting firm Charles River Associates. Adds Paul Portney, head of Resources for the Future, an independent Washington-based think tank. "If there truly are these big energy savings out there now, why aren't companies and consumers already taking advantage of them?"
In the next couple of decades, emissions of developing countries will rise to 60% of the total.
Officially the Clinton Administration claims that hydrocarbon consumption can be cut to levels to be negotiated at the United Nations meeting in Kyoto, Japan next month at a cost to the U.S. of just a 0.1% reduction in GDP.
Interestingly, the Administration's allies in the AFL-CIO are sitting this one out. Union economists think the costs will be much higher than the Administration's rosy guesses. They also worry that job losses could range from 1.2 million to 1.8 million (see Cutting carbon dioxide could clobber the economy).
In October, the economic modeling group WEFA concluded that reducing CO2 emissions to 1990 levels by 2010 would force consumers to pay 55% more in real dollars for heating oil; 50% more for natural gas; 48% more for electricity; and 36% more for gasoline. DRI/McGraw-Hill concluded in September that holding emissions to the 1990 level would raise gasoline prices to $1.73 per gallon.
If the developing countries don't agree to limits, then many U.S. industries will simply move to countries where energy prices are lower. A study by the Argonne National Laboratory concluded that increased energy costs "will devastate the U.S. steel industry," and "production will simply be shifted to developing countries."
At the White House conference, Bill Clinton made a statement he would never dare make on the campaign trail: "We need to raise the price of carbon-based products." Jessica Mathews, president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, agreed, saying: "Energy is just too cheap."
Next month's U.N. meeting in Kyoto is the result of a process that began when President George Bush signed the U.N.'s Framework Convention on Climate Change at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. The nations of the world agreed to take voluntary steps to reduce our emissions of greenhouse gases to 1990 levels by the year 2000. But they later exempted 130 developing countries, including China, India, Brazil, Mexico and Indonesia from having to reduce their emissions. Right now, developing countries account for 40% of the emissions that humanity puts into the atmosphere, but in the next couple of decades their emissions will rise to 60% of the total, swamping any reductions that the OECD countries do make. In fact, by 2015, China will be the world's largest emitter of carbon dioxide.
"We have a decade or so in which we can collect data and refine our models before we have to act."
Bill Clinton now says: "We will ask all nations, developed and developing, to join us to meet the challenge." To which the developing countries have responded with a great big raspberry. They argue that they should not be required to reduce their emissions since they are not the ones who put the extra CO2 in the atmosphere in the first place.
In July, the U.S. Senate passed the Byrd-Hagel Resolution 95 to 0. The resolution declares that the Senate will not ratify any treaty which would require the U.S. to observe legally binding restrictions on greenhouse gases while exempting as many as 130 developing countries. A treaty that would cause significant economic harm to the U.S. would also not be ratified.
Look for some grandstanding, however, by the European countries. The European Union has offered to cut CO2 emissions by 15% below the 1990 level. Big deal. They will count as reductions the steep cuts that Germany has already made as a result of shutting down the former East Germany's extremely dirty industries, and the fact that Great Britain has shut down its coal mines and switched to North Sea natural gas to generate electricity. Thus, the Europeans would be able to meet their targets in an economically painless way, while putting severe restraints on their international competitors, namely, the U.S., Japan and Australia.
Old H.L. Mencken would have gotten a real kick out of that bit of political fakery. He would have seen it for what the whole thing really is: a desperate effort by big-government boys to grab themselves a nice chunk of power and patronage.
Ronald Bailey is a freelance television producer and writer in Washington, D.C.
I appreciate the fact that we are wasting resources. I hope that changes can be made without giving up freedom. Unfortunately, these idiots believe that our biggest problem is the environment. Actually, the biggest problem is terrorism. Hussein once burned the oil wells. With nuclear and other weapons, he is prepared to unleash unimaginable damage on this planet. Let's keep our eye on the ball and every waking moment remember that we are in a war to save Western Civilization.
I disagree with one of the posters who said, " Nothing is worse, then despots with "good" intentions."
Nothing about it has "good intentions." It's about world power and a one world government slowly seeping into the sovereignty of all nations. Welcome to the NWO.
"Sustainable Development" is nothing less than a broadside against capitalism and private property rights. It's a blank check for environazis, socialists and fans of one-world government to implement their world view.
It claims that our system today (capitalism) is using resources and damaging the earth at such a rate that policies have to be mandated in order to save it and us. It will do so through central planning at the UN level back to the USSR? I cant think of anything worse!!
The point missed by these idiots is that capitalism is the ideal sustainable system. The premise of these mental midgets is that if consumption (of whatever) keeps increasing at the current rate we will eventually run out of "it" and the world will end.
They don't bother to think beyond their noses and ask the question: in a capitalistic system what happens when anything starts becoming scarce? The price goes up, thus automatically reducing the demand on the item that is becoming scarce problem solved. Invariably, a different (cheaper) substance will be found to replace the more expensive material or the substance will be used more judiciously. In either case, the capitalistic system automatically solves the problem without any centralized production and allocation system ala soviet union. It is exactly the top-down system that they want to adopt that will cause shortages and is unsustainable.
The capitalistic west has shown time and time again how resourceful and powerful man's imagination can be when it is given free rein to pursue its happiness.
These people are unimaginative pessimists who have no faith in mans ability to solve problems. Making fun of them is not enough - we have to stop them!!!