Tag Archive for: environment

Powering Down the Developing World

The Covid-19 pandemic has been particularly cruel to the developing world, with Africa, Latin America, and South Asia all epicenters of high fatalities. But something worse may be on the way – this time not from viruses but good intentions, bolstered by often-unrealistic climate projections, which threaten to keep these countries in poverty for the foreseeable future.

Economically strong countries – China, above all – account for most of the world’s greenhouse-gas emissions. But increasingly, western powers, along with the World Bank, investment banks, development funds, and the huge nonprofit sector, are moving to block fossil-fuel projects that could lift large parts of the world out of energy poverty. Emissions and economic progress remain closely linked; in the last two decades, CO2 ­concentrations have been falling in all wealthy nations, though these reductions were offset by the outsourcing of manufacturing jobs to a resurgent China.

The still-developing countries’ misfortune has been to get to the economic table when the climate change movement has gained unprecedented power in the West, placing new roadblocks in their following the East Asian path of manufacturing-led growth. At the same time, concerns over loss of industrial and other fossil-fuel-related jobs have led to growing calls from the likes of Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer and the European Commission to tax the carbon content of imports, threatening the anti-poverty strategies of India and other poorer countries  while also dimming the prospects of struggling middleweights like Russia, Turkey, and Ukraine.

These countries are not likely to agree with U.S. climate representative John Kerry’s notion that “no one is being asked for a sacrifice.” It’s all about which populations get hit hardest under green-ification. We can see previews already in places like California and in Germany, where green energy shortfalls produce higher prices, rising energy poverty, blackouts – and a growing dependency on less-green places, like the Intermountain West or Russia, for energy.

Of course, such comparatively rich places are far better equipped to absorb soaring energy bills. If decarbonizing means the end of growth in the West, including restrictions on air travel, what will it mean for countries that are already poor, energy short, and possessing little in the way of savings? The Rockefeller Foundation estimates that more than half of Sub-Saharan Africa still lives in energy poverty, with deforestation making up the majority of its energy-related needs. The practice of indoor cooking on open fire and stoves alone contributes to almost half of all childhood-pneumonia related deaths worldwide.

Africa needs energy: the continent is set to make up almost 40% of the world’s population by the end of this century, and it is urbanizing at a rapid rate. In some senses, Africa’s problem is not its carbon footprint, but lack of one; the continent accounts for only 3% of the world’s carbon emissions. In Africa’s two largest economies, South Africa and Nigeria, the youth unemployment rate pre-Covid-19 approached 50%, five times that of the U.S. and three times that of the EU.

These social ills can be traced in part to lack of reliable energy and water for developmental needs. South Africa has since 2008 experienced an energy shortfall and simultaneously a water crisis. In 2021, Nigeria experienced a total grid collapse, and blackouts in the country are routine. Comparable situations exist in Iran, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.

There are also massive political risks. Africa’s young population is frustrated and unemployed, and riots over a rise in energy prices have occurred in South Africa, Nigeria, and Senegal. Comparable events occurred in 2019 in Iran, when protestors demonstrated against increasing fuel prices, as well as in Lebanon and Ecuador in 2021 The pandemic has made these places even more unstable, but long-term energy deficits could make such disorder commonplace.

Read the rest of this piece at Real Clear Energy.


Joel Kotkin is the author of The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class. He is the Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and Executive Director for Urban Reform Institute. Learn more at joelkotkin.com and follow him on Twitter @joelkotkin.

Hügo Krüger is a Structural Engineer with working experience in the Nuclear, Concrete and Oil and Gas Industry. He was born in Pretoria South Africa and moved to France in 2015. He holds a Bachelors Degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Pretoria and a Masters degree in Nuclear Structures from the École spéciale des travaux publics, du bâtiment et de l’industrie (ESTP Paris). He frequently contributes to the South African English blog Rational Standard and the Afrikaans Newspaper Rapport. He fluently speaks French, Germany, English and Afrikaans. His interests include politics, economics, public policy, history, languages, Krav Maga and Structural Engineering.

Photo credit: Kate Holt via Flickr under CC 2.0 License.

Climate Policy: COVID on Steroids?

For most people around the world, the Covid-19 pandemic seems a great human tragedy, with deaths, bankruptcies, and fractured mental states. Yet for some, especially among the green Twitterati and in some policy shops, the pandemic presents a grand opportunity to enact permanent lockdowns on economic growth, population growth, and upward mobility.

Pointing to reductions in greenhouse gases due to the lockdowns, some see the pandemic’s wreckage of much of the economy – including the mass destruction of businesses and family budgets – not as a plague of its own, but, as a British Climate Assembly put it, as a “test run for a new climate-driven economy.

“We have an “incredible responsibility” to “actually converge the solutions – at least the financial solutions – to coronavirus to the financial solutions for climate,” hyperbolized former UN Climate Chief and UN Paris pact architect Christiana Figueres, “because what we cannot afford to do is to jump out of the frying pan of Covid and into the raging fire of climate change.”

President Donald Trump may have been responsible for the vaccine success of Operation Warp Speed, but now his fast-track approach, ironically, is being adopted by climate campaigners in a drive to change our entire economy in short order. After all, they argue, the lockdowns demonstrated that governments can impose without constitutional constraint virtually any restrictions to address a perceived crisis. And the pandemic, by killing much of the economy – particularly travel – temporarily succeeded in reducing greenhouse gases by as much as 7 percent worldwide and 12 percent in the U.S.

The pandemic has also generated a social crisis, with its effects being felt disproportionately by the poor and working class in virtually all countries. It has depressed further the already historically low fertility rate throughout much of the world, including in the two remaining superpowers, China and the U.S. Covid, suggests a recent study by Brookings, has accounted for a half million fewer births in America alone.

Death to people – one way or another

In a sense, the call for semi-permanent lockdowns reflects deep-seated ambitions long nurtured in the green movement. The idea of limiting family life has been central to the environmental movement for a generation, at least since the days of Paul Ehrlich’s Population Bomb (1968) , which suggested, among other proposals, adding sterilant into the water supply. This approach was amplified four years later by the corporate-sponsored Club of Rome report, which sought to reduce consumption, economic expansion, and population growth to stave off mass starvation and social chaos.

Creating a sense of imminent crisis – just as in the justification for lockdowns – has long been critical to the propagation of environmental gospel, as longtime green campaigner Michael Shellenberger amply demonstrates in his new book, Apocalypse Never. Many of the predictions made by Ehrlich and the Club of Rome proved to be at best exaggerations, as resources did not wear out as predicted and mass starvation has been reduced dramatically since the 1960s.

Perhaps the one thing some greens may not like about the pandemic is that it was not lethal enough. The late Jacques Cousteau, for example, believed that curing viruses presented “enormous problems.” No longer, he complained, could epidemics compensate for excess births over deaths. Admitting that it was “terrible to have to say this,” he suggested stabilizing world population by eliminating 350,000 people per day. “This is so horrible to contemplate that we shouldn’t even say it” – but Cousteau said it. These are not the views of a lunatic fringe. Former National Park Service biologist David M. Graber deemed humans “a plague upon ourselves” that needs to be culled.

The political dilemma

The big problem, of course, lies with selling the agenda of permanent lockdowns, as well as advocating against human existence. The pandemic represented arguably a clear and present danger, though there is room for debate on how best to deal with it. In contrast, the climate “crisis” has been warned about for years, often in hyperbolic terms; however serious the problem, it certainly does not possess anything like the immediacy of the pandemic, or, for that matter, the economic and social devastation left in the pandemic’s wake.

Read the rest of this piece at Real Clear Politics.

Joel Kotkin is the author of The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class. He is the Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and Executive Director for Urban Reform Institute. Learn more at joelkotkin.com and follow him on Twitter @joelkotkin.

Homepage photo credit: COPPARIS2015 via Flickr under Public Domain.

Can We Save the Planet, Live Comfortably, and Have Children Too?

The Covid-19 pandemic has brought about what Zillow calls “the great re-shuffling,” as more people head out of major metropolitan areas to work, often remotely, in less dense, even rural areas. The recent surges in urban crime and disorder, in once-placid London and Paris, and once-triumphant New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, are likely to make things even tougher for the urban core.

As technology shifts, particularly for white-collar workers, the economic logic behind urban densification and expanded mass transit weakens. Today, nearly 45 percent of the 155 million-strong U.S. labor force is working from home full-time during the pandemic, up from below 6 percent in 2019. When the pandemic ends, this portion will no doubt drop, but experts like Stanford economist Nicholas Bloom suggest that it will remain at least 20 percent of the workforce.

Some 60 percent of U.S. teleworkers, according to Gallup, wish to keep doing so, at least for now. Globally, some 80 percent of workers expressed a desire to work from home at least some of the time. Equally important, many executives believe that this shift will continue, disproportionately affecting our largest, most celebrated business hubs. Both executives and employees have been impressed by surprising gains, and now many companies, banks, and leading tech firms – including Facebook, Salesforce, and Twitter – expect a large proportion of their workforce to continue to do their jobs remotely after the pandemic.

The coming conflict between reality and the green urban agenda

These preferences counter the narrative, so popular with planners and pundits, of the need for greater density and smaller living units in metropolitan areas, amid the expansion of mass transit.

If the densification agenda was weak before, it is almost delusional now. Even before Covid, the largest core-city populations have been stagnant or declining, including fabled American cities like New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago. Nationwide since 2010, 90 percent of major metropolitan-area growth took place in the suburbs and exurbs. Jobs followed this pattern as well before Covid started undermining the economic rationale for high-rise office towers and massive new transit investment.

To be sure, some industries may choose to concentrate in the core by preference or tradition, and certain groups, largely the childless and the super-affluent, may remain in the urban playground for reasons of culture, social contacts, or easy access to international airports. But with the rise of remote work, most are likely to labor at home or nearby. They will travel less; upward of 33 percent of all business travel, critical to the health of many inner-city economies, could be permanently lost, as people opt for remote meetings and training sessions.

Read the rest of this piece at Real Clear Energy.


Joel Kotkin is the author of The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class. He is the Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and Executive Director for Urban Reform Institute. Learn more at joelkotkin.com and follow him on Twitter @joelkotkin.

Wendell Cox is principal of Demographia, an international public policy firm located in the St. Louis metropolitan area. He is a founding senior fellow at the Urban Reform Institute, Houston and a member of the Advisory Board of the Center for Demographics and Policy at Chapman University in Orange, California. He has served as a visiting professor at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers in Paris. His principal interests are economics, poverty alleviation, demographics, urban policy and transport. He is co-author of the annual Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey and author of Demographia World Urban Areas.

Photo credit: Frantik via Wikimedia under CC 3.0 License.

The End Game

With the election of Joe Biden, the environmental movement has now established suzerainty over global economics. Gone not only is the troublesome Donald Trump but also the Canadian skeptic Steven Harper. Outside of those dismissed as far right, there is virtually no serious debate about how to address climate change in the U.S. or Western Europe outside the parameters suggested by mainstream green groups.

In reality, though, few electorates anywhere are ready for extreme policies such as the Green New Deal, which, as its widely acknowledged architect, Saikat Chakrabarti, has acknowledged, is really a redder, more openly anti-capitalist version of the Great Depression-era original.

Yet getting hysterical about the likes of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is a waste of emotional energy. The real power of the environmental movement derives from those who occupy “the commanding heights” of our society – at the corporate, media, and academic realms. Though arguably not holding views as economically ludicrous as AOC’s, mainstream corporate greens are far more likely to successfully impose their version of environmental justice on the rest of us.

A finer shade of green

The modern environmental movement was launched from the top of the economic food chain. The Rockefeller Brothers, for example, funded some of the earliest environmental work, notably on population control. Today, these depositories of old money built on fossil fuels, including not just the Rockefellers but also the Fords, have become leading advocates of radical climate policies.

In 1972, the influential book Limits to Growth was published with backing from major corporate interests, led by Aurelio Peccei of Fiat. The book’s authors suggested that the earth was running out of natural resources at a rapid pace and called for establishing “global equilibrium” through restrictions on growth and “a carefully controlled balance” of population and capital. These conclusions, mostly accepted in top media, academic, and political circles, turned out to be almost comically off target, as production of food, energy, and raw materials accompanied not the predicted mass starvation but arguably the greatest rise of global living standards in history.

Yet despite this record, a growing and powerful faction of the corporate aristocracy still embraces the ideals of the Club of Rome, seeking to cut human consumption and limit economic progress. Like religious prelates in the Middle Ages, today’s environmentalists – who The Nation’s Alexander Cockburn has aptly named “greenhouse fearmongers” – see no contradiction between imposing austerity on the masses and excusing the excesses of their ultra-rich supporters. Like sinful aristocrats and merchant princes in medieval times, our “green rich” can even buy a modern version of indulgences through carbon credits and other virtue-signaling devices. This allows them to save the planet in style. In 2019, an estimated 1,500 GHG-spewing private jets were flown to Davos carrying attendees to a conference to discuss the environmental crisis. Few high-profile climate activists, including celebrities, seem willing to give up their multiple houses, yachts, or plethora of cars.

Read the rest of this piece at Real Clear Energy.

Joel Kotkin is the author of the recently released book The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class. He is the Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and Executive Director for Urban Reform Institute — formerly the Center for Opportunity Urbanism. Learn more at joelkotkin.com and follow him on Twitter @joelkotkin

Photo credit: Coordenação-Geral de Observação da Terra/INPE via Flickr under CC 2.0 License.

Blackouts and Fires: California’s Summer Attractions

In the soft warmth of spring the swallows famously return to Capistrano, but in recent years they are followed by what seems inevitable summer power outages and fires. This is not as pleasant an experience for Californians as the return of our favored feathered companions.

Every summer, usually around this time of year, we get our inevitable heat waves. In the past, we used to endure them without fearing our lights — and computers — would be shut down, and our houses left in ruins. Read more