Defend Truth


Money fights must not obscure the critical importance of saving the humanity on our planet


Natale Labia writes on the economy and finance. Partner and chief economist of a global investment firm, he writes in his personal capacity. MBA from Università Bocconi. Supports Juventus.

How much is humanity willing to spend to prevent climate change? This may seem like a rhetorical question, given the commonly accepted reality that we risk the destruction of all of us on this planet should we not limit the effects of climate change.

Surely, no price is high enough to save the humanity?

Outside a cabal of climate change denialists, we are all in agreement that something needs to be done. But where there is clearly less agreement is about how much it will cost to enact this change and who will cover these bills.

As governments all over the world shift from the easier task of talking about climate change and setting targets of achieving net zero, and begin the far trickier part of actually enacting legislation to achieve this, the costs are starting to mount. Many voters, it would seem, are far from willing to cover the increases to living expenses that preventing the worst effects of climate change entail.

The unfortunate reality is that politicians have embraced a kind of half-truth about climate change as a way of answering this question. They have convinced voters that not only is the journey to net zero good for the planet, but it will also be good for the economy. The jobs of the future, so we are told, will be green jobs.

This could, in some respects, be true. Let us all hope that the future is full of green jobs. However, it obscures some rather less palatable complexities and realities. The transitional costs away from fossil fuels will be expensive. The taxpayer will eventually have to pick up the tab. As this reality kicks in, resistance from people who want to hang on to their gas boiler or diesel vehicle will build.

The academic and climate activist Matt Goodwin has predicted that resistance to climate change will be the seeds of the next populist revolt, once leaders and voters tire of moaning about immigrants. As he points out, the British public overwhelmingly supports net zero aspirations. But this drops to only 16% when the transition involves an increase in household expenses.

U-turn on environmental policies

It is therefore unsurprising to see politicians start to subtly backtrack on environmental goals and legislation. Much has been made of UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s recent U-turn on environmental policies. However, the pressures he bowed to are similarly affecting leaders across the planet.

Examples abound across the developed world. The “yellow vest” protests in France were kicked off by an increase in fuel duties as part of President Emmanuel Macron’s green agenda, which led to his eventually relenting and cutting them. Germany, once seen as a poster child for the energy transition, has backtracked on policies to outlaw gas boilers after a popular backlash and surge in support from the climate denialist far-right party Alternative für Deutschland.

And if these are the debates in the developed world, the discussions in emerging markets will be even more pronounced.

Until now, the stance of South Africa and many across the developing world has been simple. It is inarguable that the majority of the carbon stock which has been emitted by humanity until now is from the developed world. Why then should the developing world have to cover the costs of the consequences of someone else’s growth, when surely it is its turn to achieve the same level of progress?

President Cyril Ramaphosa has been adamant on this point, extending the begging bowl and chastising the rich world in numerous speeches, most recently at the UN.

However compelling and convenient this argument might be, it obscures the reality that if the rich world is having trouble funding its own energy transition, it is unrealistic to expect it to fund everyone else’s too.

Environment Minister Barbara Creecy is clearly more pragmatic on this point, saying in an interview that developing nations should stop “harping on” about money that has been pledged by the developed world and make plans for the future. Kenyan President William Ruto has caught on to this, telling the UN General Assembly that “we as Africa have come to the world not to ask for alms, charity or handouts”.

It is not difficult to understand why the two African presidents have such different views on the matter. Kenya already generates 87% of its power from renewables, whereas coal-rich South Africa has the third-highest per capita carbon emissions in the world.

Regardless of who funds it, solutions must be found. The battle to ensure that society will indeed make the sacrifices needed to avoid the worst effects of climate change must continue to be fought. It will be increasingly tough to make the case to all voters as the costs and effects on livelihoods rise, in both the developed and developing worlds.

But that should not give us reason to pause or reconsider the drive to achieve planetary net zero. The eventual cost of not achieving this – certain destruction – is simply too disastrous even to contemplate. DM

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.

Front page P1 07 October 2023


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  • Ben Harper says:

    This is what they want you to believe so they can empty your pockets. Every single climate hoax in the last 50 years had resulted in only one thing – higher taxes. If you think this one is any different you’ve fallen for it hook, line and sinker

  • Craig King says:

    What form will this destruction take? So far there has been no evidence that any such destruction is approaching beyond the speculative mathematical models which embody the prejudices of the modellers. Pointing at “extreme weather events” is pointless because neither their frequency or intensity are showing any tendency outside of normal variation and the fact that deaths from weather events in particular have fallen by 95% over the last century shows that these will not provide the much feared destruction.

    On the other hand denying people access to cheap, ubiquitous and easy to use energy will certainly result in misery and great adversity for much of the planet’s peoples. Of course the individuals calling out for this cruelty live in large, well lit, homes and swan around the globe with great ease while consuming large quantities of our resources because they are important and expect us to sacrifice so they can feel better about themselves. They sell us fantasies about “renewables” but hide reality from us. The reality that hydrocarbons drive every benefit modern humans enjoy; from food, to health, education, travel, recreation and security. Without hydrocarbons we would still be killing whales and shivering in the dark, cold winters living on a meagre diet without medicine and dying young.

    Humans are adaptable and smart enough to deal with problems as they arise. We are extremely bad at predicting the future and have historically wasted blood and treasure to mitigate disasters that never arise. What we need is more, not less energy, because it frees us to be the best version of us we can be. Without ubiquitous, cheap and facile energy we will revert to being simple beasts at the mercy of nature, particularly the weather.

    Stop advocating for misery for everyone. If you like it for yourself then do away with your own use of hydrocarbons. We will put them to work to propel us to even more effective energy sources because without hydrocarbons we cannot progress.

    • Jill Tyson Tyson says:

      Global warming denialists don’t know the difference between a decade and a millennium. Natural changes historically took millenia.

      • Ben Harper says:

        More-so the alarmists. Not one climate crisis in the past 50 years has happened – not one, we haven’t had an ice age, the low lying islands haven’t disappeared beneath the waves, crops and forests have been destroyed by acid rain or the hole in the ozone layer and global warming was so far off the mark they had to rename it climate change to trot out the same claptrap. The only thing that did arise out of all of these climate catastrophes was that additional taxes were imposed on Joe Public every single time

      • Ben Harper says:

        And as Natale had rightly said – the ones pushing this green agenda are the politicians, and why are they doing this? To raise more taxes so they can get richer.

        Green technology is a farce, none of it has the potential to carry the load capacity needed for even a modest sized city let alone the whole world. The environmental effects the mining of the rare-earth minerals needed for this “new green technology” is far more devastating than Oil & Gas has ever been – have you ever seen an open cast mine???

        There’s an energy crisis – brought about by the green technology lobbyists to move away from O&G, at the same time they cry wolf at the “massive profits the O&G companies are making and, wrongly. claim they are profiteering – NO. You force companies to stop new projects and from enhancing production on existing installations, the money that was destined for these new projects and developments now goes unspent and becomes…. surprise surprise… PROFITS.

        Enough with the alarmist narrative – it’s a smoke screen to levy even more taxes on me and you

      • Craig King says:

        What changes are you seeing? Why do you think they are unnatural?

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