The Biden administration’s morally and intellectually confused climate and energy agenda reached a new low last week when President Biden put American taxpayers on the hook for providing climate reparations to developing countries. At COP 27, Biden said the U.S. would join other nations in creating a “loss and damage” fund to compensate poorer countries who are struggling with the effects of climate change (i.e. storms, droughts and rising sea levels). Details of the fund are being worked out, but previous estimates put the amount at $100 billion.
Instead of advancing solutions to climate change, Biden’s move risks a generational setback. It should be condemned from all quarters. Let’s look at three layers of Biden’s folly.
First, it’s “anti-science” and intellectually dishonest to only consider the negative consequences of fossil fuel use. As the graph below illustrates, wealth and prosperity took off with the fossil fuel-powered Industrial Revolution. So, yes, the developed world is responsible for more CO2 emissions, but the free world led by the U.S. also lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty.
The indispensable role of fossil fuels may be clearest in food production where fossil fuel-engineered nitrogen fertilizer revolutionized agriculture in the 20th century.
As Vaclav Smil writes in How the World Really Works, “Rising food production reduced the malnutrition rate from about 2 in 3 in 1950 to 1 in 11 in 2019 … The steep reduction in global undernutrition means that in 1950 the world was able to supply adequate food to about 890 million people, but by 2019 that had risen to just over 7 billion: a nearly eight-fold increase in absolute terms!”
Smil continues, “What explains this impressive achievement? … The first, and most obvious, is the Sun. But we also need the now indispensable input of fossil fuels, and the electricity produced and generated by humans … For now, and for the foreseeable future, we cannot feed the world without relying on fossil fuels.”
The economy or the climate? Why not both?
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The next time you hear a speech condemning fossil fuels remember that 50 percent of the world’s population would starve to death if we ended our reliance on fossil fuels overnight. And the first people to die would be in the developing world.
Second, even though storms and natural disasters are occurring more frequently they are becoming less deadly because of adaptation, and rich countries have an easier time adapting than poorer countries. Flooding in Pakistan killed ten times more people than Hurricane Ian in Florida because of “poor governance, poverty, and inequity,” according to Ilan Kelman, a professor of disasters and health at University College London.
Nick Loris, Vice President of Public Policy at C3 Solutions, has written extensively about the Kuznets curve, which illustrates that countries that reach a higher level of wealth are far more adept and developing cleaner forms of energy and adapting to climate change. Loris also notes that free economies are twice as clean as less free economies around the world. The answer to the world’s complex climate and energy challenges is not a sanctimonious and punitive reparations fund but smart public policies that increase wealth and prosperity. Making rich countries poorer won’t make poor countries richer.
Third, Biden’s move is a new and reprehensible form of apartheid for Africa and the developing world. In South Africa, the term apartheid meant to be set apart and segregated. The climate reparations movement wants to do the same based on class. John Kerry’s call for the end of the “unabated” use of fossil fuels when the world isn’t ready for an energy transition will condemn hundreds of millions of people to poverty. Denying people freedom, liberty, and the opportunity to experience upward mobility is anti-American and a violation of human rights.
As Magatte Wade, Senegalese entrepreneur and director of the Africa Center for Prosperity at the Atlas Network, writes, “Africans know they are vulnerable to the effects of climate change and will be among the first to suffer. But none of the bold ambitions of climate activists will be achieved without lifting Africans out of poverty first. We Africans are willing to do our share to help fight climate change. We don’t want to pay with our lives.”
The better approach is for American policymakers to commit themselves to ending energy poverty at home and abroad through smart trade, sound treaties and an “all of the above” energy strategy that creates energy abundance that lower prices, reduces inflation, stimulates growth, and leads to the clean energy and adaptation breakthroughs the world needs. Americans are incredibly generous and have proven themselves capable of sustaining policies based on enlightened self-interest that recognizes that caring about the fate of people in far-off lands makes our country, and the world, more prosperous and secure. Our country did this through the Marshall Plan and more recently through the bipartisan U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) program that saved 21 million lives, some of which may develop tomorrow’s breakthroughs.
When it comes to climate reparations, Biden and Kerry are pushing a plan that is neither enlightened nor wise. They are on the wrong side of history. Global development isn’t the problem; it’s the solution.