U.N. threw party, hardly anyone came

Published 11:02 pm Monday, October 27, 2014


There is a saying, “What if you threw a party and nobody came?” I’m not sure how long it has been around, and I don’t know where it originated. I heard it years ago, but it took me a while to understand what it means. Others are starting to understand it now, too.

The United Nations threw a party in September in New York City, and plenty of environmental activists attended and protested in the streets, demanding more efforts to reduce carbon emissions. However, the important people – those you think would have been at the party – didn’t come. China’s President Xi Jinping didn’t show. He was busy monitoring the student uprisings in Hong Kong. India’s new Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, was in New York but skipped the U.N.’s party to attend an event in Central Park focusing on global poverty. Russian President Vladimir Putin didn’t attend. He was probably busy plotting to acquire more Eastern European territory. Japan was not interested with its transition from nuclear electric generation to fossil generation. Australia, with its economy still recovering from a failed carbon tax, didn’t make it, either.

With all the publicity surrounding the EPA’s proposed greenhouse gas rule and the predicted impending disasters associated with climate change, you would expect world leaders to follow our lead in addressing global carbon emissions. However, despite U.S. reductions, global carbon dioxide emissions increased to 35.1 billion tons in 2013 – a new record.

China emitted 358 million tons more carbon in 2013 than 2012 – more than the increase of the rest of the world combined. China is responsible for 25 percent of total worldwide carbon dioxide emissions over the previous five years, and emerging nations contribute another 58 percent.

China and India are unlikely to burden their electrification efforts with costly carbon emission limits when significant portions of their populations still lack basic electric service. Poorer emerging countries also lacking basic electric service will be reluctant to reduce carbon emission levels at a cost to their developing economies.

It falls then to the U.S. and Western Europe to make a difference in the remaining 17 percent of carbon emissions. China, India and the developing nations will cheer us on as long as they don’t have to follow us in reducing their emissions. After all, less for us means more for them – carbon emissions and economic growth.

Reductions in carbon emissions will be more expensive no matter what is said. Replacing low-cost energy sources such as coal and natural gas with higher cost and less reliable renewable energy resources cannot and will not be cheaper. If they were, we would be using them now. China, India and emerging countries know that and will not follow us at higher costs to their economies. We should also be reminded that almost a third of U.S. households qualify for low income energy subsidies, and we plan to add the higher costs of a low carbon future to those households. What will we do for our lower income families?

What do we get for our efforts and the damage to our economy? The EPA estimates its proposed rules to curb carbon dioxide emissions from electric generation will address a total of 0.18 percent of global carbon emissions. White House Budget Director Shaun Donovan says, “…climate denial will cost us billions of dollars as a hotter planet reduces GDP and drives up deficits while natural disasters like coastal superstorms impose relief costs on society.” Will less than a 1 percent reduction in the world’s carbon emissions really make a difference if natural disasters and superstorms are caused by a warming planet?

Before putting our economy at risk, shouldn’t there be an explanation of why global temperatures have not increased in the past 16 to 26 years (depending upon which temperature data set you use), despite a 25 percent increase in global carbon emissions? Those that ask for an explanation are accused of being climate deniers and against progress.

We threw a party. There was plenty of publicity and protestors jamming New York streets. We have offered costly EPA regulation to reduce U.S. carbon emissions. We have offered to follow Germany into a less prosperous future with renewable energy. We have offered urgency, drama and hype. President Obama started the party by declaring, “For all the immediate challenges that we gather to address this week – terrorism, instability, inequality, disease – there’s one issue that will define the contours of this century more dramatically than any other, and that is the urgent and growing threat of a changing climate.”

Yet no one that matters came to our party. Maybe they have higher priorities like poverty, starvation, Ebola epidemics, terrorism and economic recovery. So should we.


Gary Smith is president and CEO of PowerSouth.