How green policies hurt the poor

Cold? Hungry? Short of cash? You can always eat carbon credits...

5 April 2014

9:00 AM

5 April 2014

9:00 AM

Advocates against global warming often frame the issue in terms of helping the poor. ‘You’re right, people dying thanks to climate change is some way off…’ ran one fairly typical advert recently, ‘about 5,000 miles, give or take.’ Indeed, the United Nations agrees that, looking toward the future, climate change ‘harms the poor first and worst’. And the logic stacks up: the poorer you are, the less able you’ll be to afford the resources to adapt to a changing climate. However, climate policies also have a cost, and these predominantly hurt the poor. And if you really want to help the poor, there might be much more efficient ways to help than by cutting emissions.

Britain’s environmentalists proudly announce that households have reduced their electricity consumption by almost 10 per cent since 2005.They seldom mention that this is helped by a 50 per cent increase in electricity prices, in part to pay for Britain increasing its share of renewables from 1.8 per cent to 4.6 per cent. Such a price increase of course hits the poorest hardest. As with many green taxes, it does so because it taxes a basic necessity that makes up a larger proportion of a small budget. Not surprisingly, higher energy prices mean the poor are forced to reduce their electricity consumption far more than the richest, who haven’t reduced their electricity consumption at all.

Over the past five years, heating a home in the UK has become 63 per cent more expensive, while real wages have declined. Unsurprisingly, a greater number of poor households must spend more than 10 per cent of their income on energy, becoming what is known as energy poor. This category now covers some 17 per cent of all British households. Worse, because the elderly are typically poorer, energy poverty affects about a quarter of all households whose inhabitants are over 60. Deprived pensioners are spending their days riding heated buses to keep warm, while a third are leaving part of their homes cold.

Stories of fuel poverty frequently appear in the press. A 75-year-old widow, Rita Young, has been quoted saying: ‘I’ve worked all my life. It doesn’t feel fair. People my age don’t want to put hats and scarves on in their homes, but there’s nothing we can do about it. I sit in a blanket, put on a hat and sometimes go to bed at 7.30 in the evening.’ She joins almost a million other pensioners who are forced to stay in bed longer to keep warm because of rising fuel bills.

But things could be worse. In Germany green subsidies will cost €23.6 billion this year. Real household electricity prices have increased by 80 per cent since 2000, contributing to almost seven million households now living in energy poverty. Wealthy homeowners in Bavaria might feel good about installing inefficient solar panels on their roofs, but their lavish subsidies are essentially financed by poor tenants in the Ruhr paying higher electricity costs.

Climate policies take an even larger toll on people in the developing world. Almost three billion people rely on burning twigs and dung to cook and keep warm. This causes indoor air pollution, at the cost of 4.3 million lives a year, and creates the world’s biggest environmental problem. Access to cheap and plentiful electricity is one of the most effective ways out of poverty — curtailing indoor air pollution and allowing refrigeration to keep food from spoiling (and people from starving). Cheap electricity charges computers that connect the poor to the world. It powers agriculture and businesses that provide jobs and economic growth.

The rich world generates just 0.8 per cent of its energy from solar and wind, far from meeting even minimal demand. In fact, Germany will build ten new coal-fired power plants over the next two years to keep its own lights on.

Africa is the renewable utopia, getting 50 per cent of its energy from renewables — though nobody wants to emulate it. In 1971, China derived 40 per cent of its energy from renewables. Since then, it has powered its incredible growth almost exclusively on heavily polluting coal, lifting a historic 680 million people out of poverty. Today, China gets a trifling 0.23 per cent of its energy from unreliable wind and solar.

Yet most Westerners still want to focus on putting up more inefficient solar panels in the developing world. But this infatuation inflicts a real cost. A recent analysis from the Centre for Global Development shows that $10 billion invested in such renewables would help lift 20 million people in Africa out of poverty. It sounds impressive, until you learn that if this sum was spent on gas electrification it would lift 90 million people out of poverty. So in choosing to spend that $10 billion on renewables, we deliberately end up choosing to leave more than 70 million people in darkness and poverty.

In the West, we take our supply of electricity for granted. After a century, we’ve forgotten that plentiful, affordable and dependable energy is the lifeblood of modern civilisation and prosperity. Discussions about saving the world seldom acknowledge the 1.3 billion people living without any electricity whatsoever. Their problems seem otherworldly to us — and we neglect the fact that the same sort of access to cheap electricity would substantially improve their lives. When it comes to helping the world’s poor, a topic like climate change seems to interest the West far more than such mundane matters as helping them power their houses.

Dr Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, wrote in the Sunday Telegraph last weekend about how the industrialised economies’ greenhouse emissions have wrecked the world. He urges us to cut fossil fuel-based pollution, to help the world’s poor. Sadly, it does not seem to occur to the well-meaning Dr Williams to ask whether we best help the poor by cutting carbon emissions — or by focusing on the provision of affordable food, medicine or energy. It seems not to occur to him that there is a trade-off.

So yes, climate change is an important problem. But presenting people with a one-sided, ineffective message helps no one. Addressing global warming effectively requires long-term innovation that makes green energy affordable to all. Wealthy western nations must step up investments into research and development in green energy technologies to ensure that cleaner energy eventually becomes so cheap that everyone, including developing countries, will use it. Until then, we need to remember to help the poor where it really matters.

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  • CaediteEos

    The problem is, contrary to what this article says, a certain breed of leftish eco-campaigner very much wants to emulate the basic, low-emission lifestyles seen in parts of Arfica. In possibly the purest form of white-western guilt and self-hatred, these people venerate “natural” and “sustainable” ways of living whilst seeking to pare back what used to be regarded by the west as progress.

    We should be very careful about letting these people influence our public policy.

    • PG_Bill

      You would clearly prefer “unnatural” and “unsustainable” ways of living.
      “Unsustainable” means that you can’t go on that way for long, i.e. living that way is a silly idea.

      Nobody wants to pare back progress, just redirect it to be sustainable, i.e. something we CAN go on doing.

      just basic common sense. What are you going to do when we’ve messed up
      the climate, polluted the seas, rivers and groundwater, run out (partly
      as a result of that) of fresh water, run out of metals and minerals and
      can’t grow enough food to feed everyone? Complain that the government
      should have done something probably.

      • WalterHorsting

        Green Energy’s waste stream of rare earth elements tosses away enough of the super fuel Thorium to power the entire planet each year. The best way forward is the cheapest form of electricity production and potable water, aside from coal, molten salt reactors have best chance of ending emissions inside of the home, by not cooking over wood or dung fires.

        • The Laughing Cavalier

          Let’s hear it for Thorium, cheap, safe, efficient. The only reason governments were not interested in developing it is that you cannot make nuclear bombs from its waste products.

          • Craig King

            Plus it has some formidable technological hurdles to overcome if thorium is to prove a viable option. It certainly works in principle as the Americans showed in the early sixties but the materials necessary to make the reactor last more than a few years don’t exist yet.

            I understand the Chinese are going balls to the wall to develop a viable thorium reactor which is a good thing. I just hope they can find a way to make them long lasting.

            The other issue is one of adjusting output to load in a rapid enough fashion. At the moment gas powered electrical generation can react quickly enough to varying loads. Nuclear will never be able to do that regardless of the heat source.

          • Dodgy Geezer

            …The other issue is one of adjusting output to load in a rapid enough fashion…

            Only true for the current systems which are designed as base-load. Nuclear can be designed to ramp up and down rapidly, if that is a requirement.

    • Hear hear.
      Let’s emulate Germany, and start mining our OWN coal again.
      Let’s have much more nuclear.
      Let’s get fracking.
      The alternative is the aptly named ‘Brown-out’.
      Time to ditch the green cr@p.

      • Terry Field

        You are confused aren’t you?
        Go and see nursie, she will give you a pill and explain everything.
        You might get a spankie for being naughty though!

        • Now now, Tel, don’t assign your predilictions to everyone else, lol!

    • Terry Field

      Yes the lefties and the greens are the most toxic- they have a worse effect than the idiotic deniers since they alienate the prosperous, generally powerful, asset-owners; the latter will die just as surely from the depredations of climate change – they are just too apathetic and trivial to care.
      Most people are like chimps – excited with today’s banana, and disinterested in tomorrow’s nuts.

      • Fergus Pickering

        I think it will be nice if the winters round here get a bit warmer.

        • Terry Field

          I agree there Fergus.
          I must say, even though I am of the view that AGW will kill billions of us,” frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn!”
          Most venal humans deserve what they get – and if they deny, and are suprised by the catastrophe when it overtakes them, all the better.
          Moore’s article is a joke.
          Spleen; nothing more.

    • Carbonicus

      if you’re using the term “whilst”, I’m afraid that you’re living in a part of the world where it’s way too late to say that you should be careful about letting these people influence your public policy.
      They’ve already wrecked your country, silly.

    • Lewis Sullivan

      I don’t think anyone wants that. We have the technology now to live comfortably without exploitation and devastation of the world’s finite resources. Its quite simple.

      And as far as ‘what used to be regarded as progress’ – well, lots of things used to be regarded as good, and then we evolved, culturally and scientifically, to have a better understanding and got rid of the bad bits.

      Create a silly straw man if you must, but it simply isn’t true and it makes you look a bit of a fool.

  • brossen99
  • El Pastor P.L.P.

    SOCIALISM and ENVIRONMENTALISM have one fundamental premise in common: MISANTHROPY. They both hate human nature and want to change it at gun point.

    • Lewis Sullivan

      Don’t be so silly: both their core definitions are built around providing for people. You’re misunderstanding misanthropy for a dislike of those who selfishly exploit and destroy so they can be a bit more comfortable or a bit more powerful. They are both built from a love of all people, and a fight against those who would take advantage of them.

  • dado_trunking

    So what? Then make it affordable.
    The Green Deal, or the ECO, or the massive subsidies paid to land rich and asset poor aristocrats for wind energy generation as a nice little pension top up – all these and much more measures here in the UK are not *designed* to do that, implicitly so.

    So why is being hopelessly inefficient with power and money an excuse for doing nothing? Only in Britain with its rigged markets and Magna Carta socialists dividing up the proceeds of local energy sources amongst themselves would a blindfolded plebiscite fall for that. Time to take control.

  • A_Siegel

    As is so often the case with Bjorn, extremely well written half-truths which foster generalized truthiness. (see: http://getenergysmartnow.com/2010/04/21/energy-bookshelf-the-lomborg-deception-leads-to-a-question-does-the-washington-post-have-any-honor-left/)

    Some examples of questions to answer:

    * If UK energy prices are up, what share of that increase is due to support for clean energy / energy efficiency? Hint — isn’t the percentage that Bjorn implies.

    * What are the costs of burning fossil fuels that aren’t accounted in the market price but which impact people — including poor people — and thus are very significant subsidies for burning dirty fuel? Hint — quite high. (On the U.S., see National Academies of Science: http://www8.nationalacademies.org/onpinews/newsitem.aspx?RecordID=12794

    * Is research, research, research a viable path for dramatically reducing the cost of renewable energy or is it deploy, deploy, deploy, research? Hint … learning curves and economies of scale are quite important for driving down costs especially in arenas with decently mature technologies (solar, wind).

    Eloquently written, as is typical, and misleading on fundamental points as well …

  • Raymond Del Colle

    “America has the natural resources to meet its energy demand with clean, renewable energy. It’s time to harness that full potential.” http://clmtr.lt/c/Fkz0fz0cMJ

    • WalterHorsting

      We can power the entire planet off the waste stream of green Energy’s use of rare earth elements without any additional mining, just extract Thorium from the waste tailing ponds of REE processing sites. Energyfromthorium.com

  • Robert Cheshire

    I don’t believe in AGW [man-made global warming] for several scientific reasons that in short, add up to making no cohesive sense of AGW as a scientific theory – from a molten ball of magma, to a tectonically structured Earth of lesser magma over a few billion years to see Co2 gas become pubic enemy number one in the 21st century is almost farcical. But I am happy to let that remain as my humble opinion….Whereas the “Greens”……………..

  • Terry Field

    If global warming is a fantasy, then mine coal and burn it – we are an island of coal.
    If it is not, then do what the world does, and do not try to teach it how to behave.
    Destroying our industry and killing british poor now is fatuous if the rest of the world fails to deal with the massive carbon outputs – there will be time enough for our children and grandchildren to starve to death and die of heatstroke over the next century.

  • Carbonicus

    Sorry, Bjorn, you’re too damn factual and draw out a tradeoff for the world’s poor that eco-parasites would rather you not expose to sunlight.
    The misanthropes need sheeple to believe their misanthropy is key to saving the very sheeple that allow the world’s poor to stay in energy poverty because of the eco-parasites misanthropy.
    But you, Bjorn, should go down in history as among those of us who tried to put a stop to it. And for that I salute you.

  • Dimitri Rastoropov

    This is nonsense. Prices are so high because of the existence of the energy company cartels, not because of renewables. And unfortunately climate change is more important than poverty. If climate change predictions come true, the amount of people living in porverty will at the very least double.

    • itdoesntaddup

      The cartel is no more that a few PFI subcontractors to a state run industry. They must invest in uneconomic sources of power, in accordance with state rules. They must buy uneconomic power at uneconomic prices if they don’t produce it, again in accordance with state rules. It’s government policy that sets the price – quite literally in Ed Davey’s Expensive Energy Bill that sets out the prices that are to be paid.

      • SilentHunter

        Which “uneconomic sources of power” do you mean?


        The graph is from an independent source and shows the subsidies the American Government give to the various energy sources -0 the UK follows this weighting closely.

  • Dimitri Rastoropov

    Oh and let me remind you, that one of the cheapest electricty companies in the UK is Ecotricity that generates all its electricity from its own windfarms. Helping the poor means destroing energy cartels of major companies like Scottish Power.

    • Lewis Sullivan

      Correct! I’m on them now and its cheaper than edf which we changed from.

  • SilentHunter

    More rubbish from Lom Borg.

    It’s demand for PROFIT by greedy shareholders and Directors of Energy Firms that pushes prices up.

    • Jack Wing

      No sorry, for the most part the rising prices are immense taxation and regulations promoting the climate swindle, thus it’s the government.

      It is form a rationing energy, by superficially making it so expensive that one can only afford bare necessities.

      But the government profits on the high taxation and because people are paying more for less energy and the government also does not have to
      invest as much in infrastructure amounting to a win win for the government.

      Yes, the energy companies are willing participants, but they don’t make the rules, the government does.

  • Jack Wing

    It’s also bad in Germany, people freezing at home, can’t afford basic electricity or hot water.
    In the state of Bremen in Germany near all public buildings and schools have their hot water turned since a couple of years already. The cleaning staff is also forbidden to use the remaining hot water in the buildings where upper level bureaucrats and politicians reside.

    But the Germans are taught to not talk about things like that especially not to foreigners, thus there is very little public discussion .
    If it were not for the British English speaking media, this may not be known outside of Europe at all.

  • Roberta Crichton

    It’s up to each of us to help secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0094KY878

  • 0rangeman

    Alex Salmond is a windbag sorry bird slicing windmill fan. Now what they did was slash & burn acres of pristine irreplacable ancient forests and erect acres of the industrial sized bird destroyers.

    Then they decided that to make the thing more egalitarian that they would encourage Jock public to erect domestic sized ones in their allotments etc.

    To encourage this the premium tarriff (READ BRIBE) was made higher. When Alexes big boys discovered they were not to get the higher tarriffs they came up with a super wheeze.

    They deliberately slowed the speed of their forest killing giants to a 1/4 of their potential output so they could pocket the higher tarriffs.

    So Salmonds happy the wiundmill owners are ecstatic the only grumpy sod are the taxpayers who are being royally fleeced by the whole scam but who gives a fig for those whingers anyway.

    UKIP thats who, we never liked windbags or windmills anyway!

  • Raz Matazz

    Ultimately, it is knowledge that is power: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0094KY878

  • Matt D.

    The story of man-made global-warming has been conjured up to exploit the sympathies of the gullible and the ignorant.