So Many Elephants in the Green Room

Man cooling off - Akhtar Soomro, Reuters.jpg

It may be unseemly to critique the escalating hysteria of the climate doom-mongers when they are already face-down on the mat. After a winter so brutal that it finally put the issue of fuel poverty on the map, not even the seasonal litany of extreme-weather alarmism appears to be having the desired propaganda impact. So up goes the ante. "Extreme weather events such as severe storms, unexpected and unpredictable floods, heat waves and unseasonable cold snaps have killed hundreds of thousands of people and injured billions more over the past 20 years," Deutsche Welle reported last week. And by golly, as if the climate maiming of billions is not disheartening enough, just this morning Tesla Model 3 owners in Ontario have awakened to find that they've been cheated out of the $14,000 "incentive" cheque they were expecting from the provincial government. It really isn't easy being green, no indeed.

Yet the climate consensus and its media messengers just keep on keeping on. Thomson Reuters is this morning running a piece entitled "Over a billion people struggle to stay cool as Earth warms," for example, which our national broadcaster has dutifully (and prominently) posted. Again, that's billion with a B. Surely that's a public service announcement serious enough to warrant scrutiny.

Here are the first two paragraphs of the Thomson Reuters article, verbatim:

More than a billion people are at risk from a lack of air conditioning and refrigeration to keep them cool and to preserve food and medicines as global warming brings more high temperatures, a study showed on Monday.

More electricity demand for fridges, fans and other appliances will add to man-made climate change unless power generators shift from fossil fuels to cleaner energies, according to the report by the non-profit Sustainable Energy for All group.

If you're still reading, odds are you're confused—and rightly so. That's because the ostensible crisis announced in the first sentence—"a billion people at risk from a lack of air conditioning and refrigeration"—is not a crisis at all, at least not in the sense that the problem is either insoluble or worsening. The real crisis is that as people in developing countries finally acquire "the fridges, fans and other appliances" that have been standard fare in the industrialized world for generations, they will "add to man-made climate change." The obvious solution to the "billion people at risk" problem, in other words—the reduction of poverty in the developing world via electrification on a mass scale—is antithetical to the decarbonization agenda of the Western climate consensus. "We have to provide cooling in a super-efficient way," Rachel Kyte of Sustainable Energy for All is quoted as saying. And given that Kyte is the only source cited for attribution in the Thomson Reuters piece, you could be forgiven for concluding that all is lost.

All is not lost.

The second biggest elephant in the green room, i.e. after the scourge of fuel poverty, is "carbon imperialism," i.e the wholesale refusal of Western investment banks to fund electrification in the developing world unless it is powered by renewables. Here's how the EU Reporter—hardly a bastion of climate skepticism—has described the travesty (condensed slightly, italics added):

Many African countries, including Mozambique, Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe, are known to have vast reserves of coal. The prospect of using these substantial resources is particularly alluring given that large swaths of these countries remain unelectrified. More than 600 million Africans still don’t have access to electricity, causing them to burn dangerous and polluting biomass and undermining their economic growth. At current rates of growth, Africa won’t achieve full electrification until 2080. Investment in coal-powered plants in these countries could mean the difference for millions of people between being able to turn on the lights at night or living in darkness. 

[The] pressure on developing nations to deploy renewable energy solutions they cannot afford is both political and financial. The UK and international organisations such as the European Investment Bank and the World Bank stopped funding coal plants in developing countries. The consequences of this overly restrictive policy? Developing countries remain in the dark, increasingly frustrated by what India’s chief economic adviser termed the west’s "carbon imperialism." They have started taking matters into their own hands.

They have indeed. A year ago, the president of the African Development Bank (ADB), Akinwumi Adesina, stated in no uncertain terms that he was fed up with the West's stubborn refusal to underwrite African electrification on Africans' own terms:

645 million people in Africa have no access to electricity; 137 years after the invention of the light bulb.  To be very frank and direct, only terrorists prosper in the dark.

Power is the overriding African priority.

Africa must develop its energy sector with what it has. Endowed with many different energy sources—both renewable and conventional—Africa needs a balanced energy mix. This must include renewable and conventional sources of power for lighting and heating homes, for cooking, for schools and hospitals, and for powering offices, manufacturing plants and factories.

Carbon imperialism, in short, provides the crucial—but virtually invisible—context for sensational headlines like "Over a billion people struggle to stay cool as Earth warms." As Akinwumi Adesina noted so poignantly, the world's poorest billion won't be suffering for long if privileged Westerners agree to supplant the fantasy goal of breakneck decarbonization with the eminently achievable goal of breakneck electrification.

NATO's Free Riders

Trudeau NATO.jpg

True to form, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has again ventured to Europe to inscribe his progressive values on yet another global forum, this time in a speech to Canada's NATO allies. "People around the world who are receiving the impacts of NATO don't just benefit from the security elements of it, but benefit from this story we are telling—that democracies matter and that our values and principles matter," Trudeau averred. Just for good measure, he took an easy swipe at U.S. President Donald Trump, whose ostensibly radical and rude remarks have made him, once again, the bête noire of our genteel European allies. "You can try and be a bean-counter and look at exactly how-much-this and how-much-money-that," Trudeau scolded. "The fundamental question is: Is what you're doing actually making a difference?"

He's right. That is the fundamental question.

Let's assume, just hypothetically, that NATO is a military alliance. Let's go even further and allow that its raison d'être is collective security, in accordance with Article 5 of the NATO treaty, which states that "the Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all." Let's assume as well that Canada—a vast country with a massive border and a tiny population—has no hope of defending its territory from external military threats and thus is even more dependent on the American military umbrella for its security and prosperity than the parsimonious Europeans. And let's agree that the one person who understands this continental reality at least as well as the Canadian prime minister is the U.S. president, who once called America's NATO allies "free riders." (If you're wondering, those are President Obama's words, not Trump's.)

Until just recently, we've had to dig deeply among the fruits of our national media to find anything resembling an honest conversation about Canada's contribution to its own national security, which currently stands at a paltry 1.23 percent of GDP. This is because we in Canada have been luxuriating for so long in our fireproof house that we now consider open debate about military expenditure and procurement to be, well, uncivilized—a relic from the Cold War era, when the Soviet threat made us all, by necessity, hard-headed realists. For as long as virtually any living Canadian can remember—i.e. since JFK scolded PM Diefenbaker in the early 1960s for being a laggard on continental defence—Canadian realpolitik about military preparedness has given way almost uniformly to Canadian rationalization. (That only five of NATO's 29 member states today contribute to NATO at the agreed-upon level of 2 percent of GDP provides us with political cover, it is true, but it does not change the fact that we are "ratting on the agreement," as an editorial in Britain's Spectator put it.)

We saw this gift for rationalization at work yesterday, as Canada's Trump-obsessed op-ed writers tumbled into line. CBC's man in Brussels, Murray Brewster, stated that Trudeau's speech about NATO's values marked a triumphant coup de grâce over Trump's "jaw-dropping inaccuracies." Veteran Globe and Mail columnist Lawrence Martin reasoned that because NATO already spends twelve times what Russia does on its military, it is actually Trump's "enough is never enough" obsession with defence spending that is out of line. Toronto Star columnist Rick Salutin invoked an old peacenik trope, arguing that "the U.S. doesn’t spend that money to defend others too cheap to protect themselves. Military spending, or spending justified in military terms, has under-girded the U.S. economy since the Cold War."

President Trump's belligerent diplomatic style makes it well-nigh impossible for America's NATO allies to fall in behind his leadership as they did with his predecessors or, more to the point, to accede to his blunt demands without losing face to a degree that would be politically suicidal. That, among other things, was demonstrated in Brussels last week. But claims that Trump is out to destroy the alliance are, as usual, overblown; and the evidence that he is correct about how dysfunctional NATO has become in recent years is all too real.

Canadians are no more likely than the Germans or the French to ask President Trump "How high?" when he tells them to jump. Fair enough. But this should not preclude us from taking this timely opportunity to follow our European allies and embark upon a serious debate about collective security and military spending—something even our most agreeable American protectors have been urging upon us for decades.