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What the World Needs Now is a Lot Less Poverty

Kintisch, E. 2014. In new report, IPCC gets more specific about warming risks. Science 344: 21.
In a News & Analysis item recently published in Science, Kintisch (2014) discusses the most recent IPCC report, noting it "is meant to be a practical guide to action," especially in regard to what the report identifies as eight major climate risks: coastal flooding, inland flooding, extreme weather, extreme heat, food insecurity, water shortages, loss of marine ecosystems and loss of terrestrial and inland water ecosystems. Interestingly, however, all eight of these threats already occur at various times and places throughout the world; and trying to prevent the harm they cause by mandating policies designed to reduce anthropogenic CO2 emissions is the height of folly, as spending the trillions of dollars that would be needed to only maybe make an impact on these weather phenomena is far, far worse than doing nothing at all. And why is that?

A hint is provided when Kintisch rhetorically inquires just what is "the biggest single barrier to improving societal resilience to the vagaries of climate." In response to himself, he writes the most recent IPCC report says it is "poverty." And in this case, the IPCC is absolutely correct; for the spending of ungodly sums of money to try to alter the planet's climate will only lessen the well-being of the great bulk of humanity, which is to say it will drive us even further into poverty.

Consider, for example, the recent words of Peabody Energy's Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Gregory H. Boyce, who in a recent Wall Street Journal ECO:nomics Interview ( was quoted as reminding us that "energy inequality is the blight of energy poverty, limiting access to basic needs like food, water and medicine; stunting education and cutting lives short." In addition, he notes "every one of the U.N. Millennium Development goals depends on adequate energy, yet today one out of every two citizens lacks adequate energy and over 4 million lives are lost yearly due to the impacts of this scourge."

Boyce also noted at the 2014 ECO:nomics conference that was recently held in Santa Barbara, California, that fully 3.5 billion people currently lack proper access to energy, and "more energy is needed to create energy access for billions, to sustain growth for a new global middle class and improve access to low-cost electricity," while reminding us "too many families in developed nations face the tough choice of paying for food or energy."

And thus Boyce concludes, "the greatest environmental crisis we confront today is not a crisis predicted by computer models but a human crisis fully within our power to solve," which can be accomplished via the means of low-cost power that can readily be provided by today's advanced coal technologies that (1) have the scale to meet these needs, and (2) are employed in today's high-efficiency supercritical coal plants that have state-of-the-art controls and ultra-low emission rates, which facts allow him to state that "every large, advanced coal plant brings the equivalent carbon benefit of removing 1 million cars from the road."

And the marketplace would appear to agree, for Boyce notes coal has been the fastest-growing major fuel of the past decade and is set to surpass oil as the world's largest fuel in coming years. Indeed, he says coal's market share for U.S. electricity generation has increased by fully one-third over the past two years, and that it now has twice the market share of natural gas.

Perhaps these several observations suggest there may be a potential for both the IPCC and the NIPCC to agree on the core aspect of reducing poverty, as each moves forward in attempting to determine what is best for the biosphere - and humanity - as time marches on.

Archived 20 May 2014