Religion & Liberty Online

Paris and the low-carbon conceit of climate activism

(Photo credit: Associated Press)

Regular readers of this space should consider themselves warned. In the wake of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC, or COP21), so-called “religious” shareholder activists are intent on ruining investments, crashing the economy and doubling down on their efforts to promote energy poverty throughout the world.

But don’t take my word for it. Here’s James Corah, Secretary to the Church Investors Group:

“Collaborative engagement amongst Church investors has driven significant change in corporate behavior in recent years. We look forward to playing our part in the critical 2016-20 period for the low carbon transition.”

And Laura Berry, executive director of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility:

“For nearly three decades ICCR members have pushed companies and policy makers to address climate change. The COP21 talks underscore the urgency of the call to action. Time has run out for modest proposals and limited commitments. Governments, companies and communities around the globe must embrace vigorous action to address climate change. Beyond Paris, we will continue to raise our voices, and strengthen our efforts to reduce demand for fossil fuels while focusing on investments in renewables. We have faith that cleaner energy for future generations is not only necessary, it is entirely possible.”

Oh, and Edward Mason, head of Responsible Investment at the Church Commissioners:

“COP21 has created new momentum and expectations on climate change far beyond the negotiating suites in Paris. It is clear that Church investors can play a key role in the transition to a low-carbon economy through their investment decision-making and by echoing the voice of faith in setting values and driving change. Church investors have real influence in the investment industry, business and beyond.”

I’m afraid Mason is correct. Despite evidence (about which more below) these efforts will negatively impact the world’s economies and disproportionally harm developing countries and poor people, Mason, Corah and Berry formed a circle and joined hands to sing their own version of John Lennon’s “Imagine”:

Faith-consistent investor groups from Europe and the U.S. today welcomed the agreement at COP21. The CIG (Church Investors Group) and ICCR (Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility), which have over 350 members and over $120bn in assets under management between them, are today re-affirming their firm commitment to help speed the transition to a low carbon economy.

COP21 has built huge momentum around the need to act on climate change and to ensure that warming does not exceed two degrees. The role of faith and investors and how they intersect to create impact was clearly seen in Paris. Faith investors are committed to building on this momentum and to redoubling their efforts to promote an energy transition through a comprehensive approach including reducing demand for fossil fuels through corporate engagement, positive investment in the low-carbon economy and promoting more ambitious public policy on climate issues. It is now vital that the emissions reductions pledged by UN member states are implemented and that public policy ever more strongly signals and supports the re-direction of capital to the low carbon economy.

Sigh. I suppose that’s all one way of sussing out the COP21 and shareholder activism climate-change agendas, albeit a very naïve and perhaps underhanded way. But don’t these approaches present very real repercussions, by which I mean nothing conjectural or speculative? As noted in Monday’s Wall Street Journal:

[N]othing coming out of a gaggle of governments and the United Nations will save it. What will help is human invention and the entrepreneurial spirit. To the extent the Paris accord increases political control over human and natural resources, it will make the world poorer and technological progress less likely.

The climate confab’s self-described political success is rooted in a conceit and a bribe. The conceit is that the terms of the agreement will have some tangible impact on global temperatures. The big breakthrough is supposed to be that for the first time developing and developed countries have committed to reducing carbon emissions. But the commitments by these nations are voluntary with no enforcement mechanism.

China (the No. 1 CO2 emitter) and India (No. 3 after the U.S.) have made commitments that they may or may not honor, depending on whether they can meet them without interfering with economic growth. If the choice is lifting millions out of poverty or reducing CO2, poverty reduction will prevail—as it should.

The WSJ editorial staff continues:

As for the bribe, rich countries in Paris bought the cooperation of the developing world by promising to send $100 billion a year in climate aid. So the governments of the West are now going to dun their taxpayers to transfer money to the clean and green governments run by the likes of Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe. We can’t wait to see New York’s Chuck Schumer make the case on the Senate floor for American aid to China so it can become more energy efficient and economically competitive.

Even if a Democratic Congress made these bribes politically possible, they would do little to ease the consequences of climate change. The world’s poor can best cope with climate harm if they are richer, which requires faster economic growth. Yet everything we know about economic development is that foreign aid retards growth when it expands the reach of Third World governments. Poor countries won’t be helped by subsidies for solar cells delivered through the World Bank.

And finally:

Which brings us to the development on the fringes of Paris that might do some good. Bill Gates is hitting up his fellow billionaires to pay for research into energy alternatives to fossil fuels. This is a tacit admission that the technology doesn’t exist to make alternatives cost-effective no matter how many subsidies governments offer. If carbon energy’s efficiency and wealth creation are going to be displaced, the world will need advances in battery storage and nuclear energy, among other things.

The grandiose claims of triumph in Paris represent the self-interest of a political elite that wants more control over the private economy in the U.S. and around the world. These are the last people who will save the planet.

There, in a nutshell, you have it. The far-left, fossil-fuel antagonists of ICCR, CIG and RICC are deluding themselves and their shareholder activist friends if they think COP21 conceits and bribes will result in anything beneficial for shareholders, the economy or the environment.

Bruce Edward Walker

has more than 30 years’ writing and editing experience in a variety of publishing areas, including reference books, newspapers, magazines, media relations and corporate speeches. Much of this material involved research on water rights, land use, alternative-technology vehicles and other environmental issues, but Walker has also written extensively on nonscientific subjects, having produced six titles in Wiley Publishing’s CliffsNotes series, including study guides for "Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland" and "One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest." He has also authored more than 100 critical biographies of authors and musicians for Gale Research's Contemporary Literary Criticism and Contemporary Musicians reference-book series. He was managing editor of The Heartland Institute's InfoTech & Telecom News from 2010-2012. Prior to that, he was manager of communications for the Mackinac Center's Property Rights Network. He also served from 2006-2011 as editor of Michigan Science, a quarterly Mackinac Center publication. Walker has served as an adjunct professor of literature and academic writing at University of Detroit Mercy. For the past five years, he has authored a weekly column for the mid-Michigan Morning Sun newspaper. Walker holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Michigan State University. He is the father of two daughters and currently lives in Flint, Mich., with his wife Katherine.