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Concern or catastrophe?


WORLD Radio - Concern or catastrophe?

World leaders at the UN General Assembly talk about combating climate change but ignore some important factors

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres (center) attends the Climate Ambition Summit at the United Nations Headquarters on September 20, 2023 in New York City. Getty Images/Photo by Kena Betancur

PAUL BUTLER, HOST: It’s Thursday the 21st day of September, 2023.

Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Paul Butler.

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: And I’m Myrna Brown.

First up on The World and Everything in It, the climate catastrophe.

MYRNA BROWN: This week in New York, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is calling for UN members to increase action against climate change.

GUTERRES: Humanity has opened the gates of hell. Horrendous heat is having horrendous effects.

BROWN: His comments at the Climate Ambition Summit follow protests in Manhattan earlier in the week where demonstrators called for the end of fossil fuels.

PROTESTERS: What do we want? Climate justice! When do we want it? Now!

BUTLER: Leaders from some member nations are promising to take action. U.S. Secretary of State Tony Blinken says the United States is committed to helping the UN achieve its SDGs or sustainable development goals, and that includes combating climate change.

BLINKEN: The United States remains unwavering in our commitment to achieve the SDGs by 2030. We have invested more than $100 billion in development around the world over the last two years, more than any other country.

BROWN: But others are signaling they might back off commitments.

In the UK, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has indicated his government is going to take a bit of a different approach regarding climate change.

And yesterday morning, British Home Secretary Suella Braverman had this to say:

BRAVERMAN: We also need to adopt an approach of pragmatism and proportionality. And fundamentally, we're not going to save the planet by bankrupting the British people.

BUTLER: It’s notable that Braverman is using the words “pragmatism” and “bankrupt” in her explanation of why they won’t be trying to increase their so-called climate commitments.

So what would a pragmatic sense of climate responsibility look like?

For starters, Calvin Beisner, the President of the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, says that reducing fossil fuels really isn’t all that pragmatic.

BEISNER: Fossil fuels are extremely energy dense compared with wind, solar, biofuels and the like. And that means that it's much less expensive to refine them to usable energy form, which has to be extremely dense.

BROWN: Not only that fossil fuels can be mined with less environmental damage than the earth-moving required to extract minerals to build solar panels and batteries.

Beisner explains that our global economy is now about 85 percent dependent on fossil fuels… and it’s been that way for at least 40 years.

And so for decades, business leaders in the oil and gas industry have argued that switching from fossil fuels to cleaner energy alternatives would burden the U.S. and international economies.

BUTLER: But there is another reason switching from fossil fuels to so-called clean energy might not be pragmatic. Namely, China.

BEISNER: China is building an average of one new coal fired power plant every week. It is the world's biggest emitter of carbon dioxide. And it is getting bigger and bigger.

BUTLER: China’s emissions would easily circumvent any cuts made by other nations. But it doesn’t end there. Beisner also says China will profit off of other nations’ switch to clean energy.

BEISNER: China also controls over 90% of the mining and refining of the lithium and cobalt and other special minerals that are crucial to the wind and solar industries. And they are building most of the batteries, high percentage of the batteries that back these things up.

BUTLER: And that means these minerals are also mined under the rules of Chinese business practices.

BEISNER: Much of the mining and refining of these minerals is done by slave labor. And particularly for cobalt, a great deal of the mining is done by child labor.

BROWN: The moral costs of doing business with China are increasingly clear…and disturbing. But the environmentalist lobby in Europe, Canada and the United States is making the case that the climate situation is urgent enough to justify just about any cost. Even so, Beisner says that the catastrophe narrative the UN relies on may not be wholeheartedly supported.

BEISNER: In the larger scientific community, there are many scientists, climate scientists, who recognize that the catastrophe narrative is extremely exaggerated. But the only way they're going to get published in leading scientific journals, is to shape their research papers so that they are at least consistent with, if not actually promoting of, the catastrophist narrative.

BUTLER: Beisner points to a recent article by Patrick Brown, a climate researcher at Johns Hopkins University. The piece has a long title: “The Not-so-Secret Formula for Publishing a High-Profile Climate Change Research Paper.”

In it, Brown argues that in order to get published, he had to leave out key information that would have pushed back against the theory that the climate is barrelling toward catastrophe.

BROWN: For example, when examining the effects of climate change on wildfires, Brown and his team didn’t address human factors, such as poor forest management, that contributed to an increased number of blazes.

But it isn’t just researchers like Brown whose framing of climate science skews the narrative towards the extreme. Beisner argues that the U-N’s own scientific assessments contradict the catastrophe narrative.

BEISNER: The actual scientific assessment reports, as opposed to the summaries for policymakers, and the public statements of UN spokesmen, the actual assessment reports call for global warming of a very moderate degree. And none of them see it as a great catastrophe.

BUTLER: WORLD breaking news reporter Josh Schumacher contributed to this report.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.


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