The next generation is watching, Barack Obama told the Paris climate conference this week: ‘Our grandchildren, when they look back and see what we did in Paris, they can take pride in what we did.’ And that, surely, is the trouble with the entire climate-change agenda: putting the interests of rich people’s grandchildren ahead of those of poor people today.
Unfair? Not really, when you look at the policies enacted in the name of mitigating climate change. We’ve diverted 40 per cent of America’s maize crop to feeding cars instead of people, thus driving up the price of food worldwide, a move which according to one study killed about 192,000 poor people in 2010 alone, and continues to affect nutrition worldwide. We’ve restricted aid funding for fossil-fuelled power stations in developing countries, leaving many people who would otherwise have had access to electricity mired in darkness and cooking over wood-fires — the biggest environmental cause of ill health, responsible for more than three million deaths every year.
Closer to home, by pushing up energy prices with climate policies, we’ve contributed to the loss of jobs of steelworkers in Redcar and Scunthorpe, and of aluminium workers in Northumberland (where I live and where coal from under my land has supplied the now-closed Lynemouth smelter — whose power station announced this week that it will reopen as a ‘biomass’ plant, that is to say burning wood from American forests, producing more carbon dioxide per unit of energy and at twice the price of coal). We’ve also worsened fuel poverty among the poor and elderly and we’ve damaged air quality in cities. These human costs are not imaginary or theoretical: they are real.
But ends can be used to justify means, and omelettes cannot be made without breaking eggs. We justify the painful impact of policy by saying over and over that it helps to avert a far greater threat that faces ‘our grandchildren’. So exactly how great is that threat?