For a growing number of Europeans, their continent's global warming policies have forced them to decide whether to heat their homes or buy food. In short they must choose whether to "Heat or Eat," which was the title of a talk by a British climate policy expert delivered in Calgary Tuesday.
Benny Peiser, director of the non-partisan, not for profit Global Warming Policy Foundation, laid out in graphic terms how Europe's climate policies have "failed."
Peiser, a social anthropologist and a visiting fellow at the University of Buckingham, started his talk by showing a slide of the policy statement that came out of the Lisbon Agenda in 2000: "To make the EU the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world capable of sustainable economic growth with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion by 2010."
Anyone who follows the news knows that the exact opposite has happened. Europe is divided, Europeans struggle to survive, and their countries face bankruptcy. About 27 million Europeans are unemployed, and in Greece, for instance, 65 per cent of youth cannot find work. Part of the reason for this, says Peiser is the European Union's 20-20-20 green energy policy that with 20-20 hindsight has proven to be an economic and social disaster.
The EU intends to reduce CO2 emissions by 20 per cent from 1990 levels by 2020, increase renewable energy use by 20 per cent and improve energy efficiency by 20 per cent.
The green lobby in Europe is so strong that it has pushed EU politicians to oppose virtually every kind of reliable non-renewable energy. The greens oppose nuclear, natural gas and shale gas and only seem to approve of wind and solar power - both of which are not reliable, since the wind doesn't always blow and the sun doesn't always shine - and it certainly isn't "free."
The German environment minister warned that Germany's plan to shut down all of its nuclear plants to shift to renewables will cost citizens one trillion euros.
"This is the biggest wealth transfer in the history of modern Europe - from the poor to the rich," explained Peiser, who spoke to a crowd of 200 at the 10th annual Friends of Science luncheon.
The social implications of this failed policy are enormous, added Peiser. "Ordinary families and small and medium-sized businesses are essentially subsidizing the investments of green do-gooders," who can afford to install solar panels on their homes and their businesses. But what's really starting to cause citizens and policy-makers to question their green energy agenda, is that soaring energy costs are driving energy-intensive industries in Europe to move to the United States where the shale gas revolution has caused natural gas prices to remain low - or about one-third to one-fourth of what they are in Europe, exacerbating the EU's unemployment crisis.
Peiser points out that in April of 2012, U.S. natural gas prices bottomed out at $1.95 to Europe's $11.42 - the widest gap in recent times. More recently, U.S. natural gas prices hover at around $3 while in Europe they remain at around $12.
"European industry is flocking to the U.S. to take advantage of cheaper gas," said Peiser. "They can't compete otherwise."
As industries leave and more people are impoverished, the cap-and-trade scheme, which is the cornerstone of the EU's green energy strategy - is collapsing. The price of to emit one tonne of carbon has plummeted from about 34.90 euros in 2008 to about three euros now.
"The biggest irony is ... that it has now become very, very cheap to burn coal and as a result, there's a new coal boom in Europe, of all places. Germany alone is building 25 coal fired plants," said Peiser.
Swiss banking giant UBS says the carbon emissions trading scheme has cost EU consumers $287 billion for "almost zero impact".
The Washington Post editorial board just last month wrote that Europe "has become the green-energy basket case. Instead of a model for the world to emulate, Europe has become a model of what not to do." The result of these policies on individuals is widespread and grave.
Greek citizens are chopping down their forests in search of wood and British pensioners are buying cheap old hardcover books as uel to heat their homes since coal is more expensive. The Telegraph newspaper reported that half a million pensioners spent Christmas in bed in an effort to keep warm. Worse yet, Peiser says the Office of National Statistics in England and Wales shows that based on past numbers, one million Brits are expected to die from cold in their homes by 2050.
Energy poverty is sweeping Europe. As many as nine million British families pay 10 per cent or more of their household income towards heat and electricity.
Meanwhile, all of the climate models that predicted catastrophic warming of the planet were a gross exaggeration.
Indeed, for the past 16 years, temperatures have not spiked but remained stable. The Earth's temperature has only risen 0.8C in 150 years, explained Peiser.
This "flatlining of global temperatures" along with skyrocketing energy prices "is why the green agenda is crumbling," said Peiser. Even in relatively wealthy Germany, 15 per cent of its citizens face energy poverty.
Meanwhile, the British Geological Survey says that Britain may have enough shale gas to heat every home for 1,500 years. Peiser says "Europe's suicidal shale reluctance must change if Europe's economy is to be transformed from stagnation to growth."
Canadians should be very glad that past schemes for green shifts and the like never materialized and we don't have to choose between eating or heating.
Licia Corbella is a columnist and editorial page editor.
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