This article originally appeared in the Washington Times on June 15, 2012.
Thousands of politicians, bureaucrats and environmental activists have gathered in Rio de Janeiro for the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, which runs through Friday. This time, 20 years after the original 1992 Rio Earth Summit, delegates are minimizing references to “dangerous man-made climate change” to avoid repeating the acrimony and failures that came from the United Nations‘ recent climate conferences in Copenhagen; Cancun, Mexico; and Durban, South Africa.
Instead, Rio+20 seeks to shift international focus to “biodiversity” and supposed threats to plant and animal species as the new “greatest threat” facing planet Earth. This rebranding is “by design,” according to conference organizers, who have been uncharacteristically candid in describing sustainable development and biodiversity as an “easier sell” than climate change. It’s a simpler path to advance the same radical goals.
Those goals include expanded powers and budgets for the United Nations, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and other government agencies and their allied “green” pressure groups; new taxes on international financial transactions (to ensure perpetual independent funding for the U.N.) and more mandates and money for “clean, green, renewable” energy.
The long wish list also includes myriad opportunities to delay, prevent and control energy and economic development; hydrocarbon use; logging; farming; family size; and the right of individual countries, states, communities and families to make and regulate their own development and economic decisions.
Aside from not giving increased power to unelected and unaccountable bureaucrats and activists, there are two major reasons for stopping this attempted biodiversity-based power grab.
First, there is no scientific basis for claims that hundreds or even thousands of species are at risk. Up to half of all species could go extinct by 2100, insists global-warming alarmist James Hansen, because of climate change, “unsustainable” hydrocarbon use, human population growth and economic development. Fortunately, there is no factual basis for such hysterical claims.
Of 191 bird and mammal species recorded as having gone extinct since 1500, 95 percent were on islands, where humans and human-introduced predators and diseases wrought the destruction, notes ecology consultant Craig Loehle. On continents, just six bird and three mammal species were driven to extinction, and no bird or mammal species in recorded history is known to have gone extinct because of climate change.
The massive species losses claimed by Mr. Hansen, Greenpeace, World Wildlife Fund and others are based on extrapolations from the island extinction rates – fed into virtual-reality computer models that assume rising carbon-dioxide levels will raise planetary temperatures so high that plants and animals will be exterminated. That is nonsense.
Second, the greatest threats to species are the very policies and programs being advocated in Rio. Those policies would ban fossil fuels; greatly increase renewable energy use; reduce jobs and living standards in rich nations; and perpetuate poverty, disease, death and desperation in poor countries.
Today, more than 1.5 billion people still do not have electricity, or have it just a few hours each day or week. Almost 2.5 billion people live on less than $2 a day. Millions die every year from diseases that largely would be eradicated by access to reliable, affordable electricity for refrigerators, clinics and hospitals, clean water, sanitation, and industries that generate jobs, prosperity and health.
Opposition to conventional electricity generation forces people to rely on open fires for cooking and heating – perpetuating lung diseases and premature death from breathing smoke and pollutants. It also destroys the habitats for gorillas and other wildlife as people cut trees and brush for fires and charcoal.
Wind turbines slice up birds and collapse bat lungs. Turbine and solar arrays cover millions of acres of farmland and wildlife habitat to provide expensive, intermittent power for urban areas. They require backup generators and long transmission lines, and they consume millions of tons of concrete, steel, copper, fiberglass, polymers and rare earth minerals – extracted from the earth, mostly in countries that lack modern pollution-control regulations and technologies.
Corn-based ethanol requires tens of millions of acres, billions of gallons of water, millions of tons of fertilizer and insecticides, and enormous quantities of hydrocarbon fuels.
Yet President Obama has said poor, electricity-deprived, malnourished Africans should rely on biofuel, wind and solar power – and not build gas-fired power plants.
Hunting, subsistence living and poverty are among the greatest risks to human beings and other species. Denying poor families access to reliable, affordable electricity is a crime against humanity.
The Rio+20 biodiversity and sustainability agenda means artificially reduced energy and economic development. It means rationed resources; sustained poverty and disease; and unsustainable inequality, resentment, conflict and pressure on wildlife and its habitats.
Our Creator has endowed us with a world rich in resources and even richer in intelligent, hardworking, creative people who yearn to improve their lives and be better stewards of our lands, resources and wildlife. The primary obstacles to achieving those dreams are the false ideologies, anti-development agendas and suffocating regulations being promoted at the Rio+20 Summit.
If we can eliminate those obstacles, the world can enjoy a rebirth of freedom and opportunity; stable populations; and vastly improved health, welfare and justice for billions of people. We also will bring far greater security to Earth’s wondrous multitudes of wild and scenic areas and its bounty of plant and animal species.
That would be a huge gain for our planet and people.
David Rothbard is president of the Washington-based Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT.org) and Paul Driessen serves as CFACT’s senior policy adviser.