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One more Malthusian UN sermon on environment

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Opinion Zone,Neil Hrab

“Already the world is running out of cheap and high quality sources of some essential materials such as oil, copper and gold, the supplies of which, in turn, require ever-rising volumes of fossil fuels and freshwater to produce…”

 The Malthusian voice of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) has delivered one more sermon about how the world is going to run out of critical resources, thanks to rising global standards of living and the increasing world population.

The latest sermon is titled “Decoupling: natural resource use and environmental impacts from economic growth.” It runs about 180 pages in length, for those with the patience to read the whole thing. This sermon concludes, as they always do, with demands for governments to nudge citizens to accept the need to live with less.

(The UN is getting better at packaging these reports, and claims that “Decoupling” is really about getting people to “do more with less.”)

Granted, the long-winded title is likely to inspire a yawn – or a cynical remark about how it might be nice to finally “decouple” the UN and its alphabet soup of agencies from the American taxpayers (and taxpayers in other industrialized countries) who have to subsidize that apparatus.

Don’t think for a second that the intended audience for this report includes those taxpayers. Rather, as the back cover page of “Decoupling” says, “[i]t is hoped that policy makers aiming to green their economies will greatly benefit from the contributions that the [UN’s] International Resource Panel is making through its work on decoupling resource consumption from economic growth.”

So, even if it has been released publicly and appears geared for a mass audience, “Decoupling” is really one more UN-endorsed playbook for legislators and bureaucrats to use as they go about reshaping their respective national economies in UN-approved ways.

One UN-approved approach described in the “Decoupling” report is the so-called  “2000 Watt per capita society.” That is, governments around the world should be aiming to cap their national energy usage to the point that each consumer uses up a maximum of 2,000 watts of energy a year. That's all forms of energy usage - gasoline, electricity, etc.

Americans on average use about 12,000 watts of energy a year. Even fans of the 2,000 watt goal admit that achieving such a reduction in energy usage in the US would require imposing severe pain and difficult adjustments on consumers, not just technological quick-fixes.

The UNEP’s “Decoupling” report references work completed by John Holdren, President Obama’s science advisor, long before becoming White House science czar. What might Holdren think of the 2,000 watt goal?

No need to wait for a reporter to ask – we can already guess, based on this Washington Examiner item from 2010. You can read more about the controversy over Holdren's views in this Capital Research Center report.

I could be wrong, but a Malthusian-minded science advisor like Holdren isn’t likely to see much wrong with ideas about energy usage themselves rooted in a Malthusian approach to policy-making. 

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