Did you know that a billionaire is responsible for a million times more carbon dioxide emissions than the average person?
That’s the conclusion of a new report from Oxfam, an 80-year-old movement with 21 independent charitable organizations around the world that supposedly focus on alleviating global poverty. But Oxfam’s fixation on climate change suggests that it suffers from mission creep – mission creep that undermines its stated purpose.
A “briefing note” at the start of Oxfam’s new report begins:
The world’s richest people emit huge and unsustainable amounts of carbon and, unlike ordinary people, 50% to 70% of their emissions result from their investments. New analysis of the investments of 125 of the world’s richest billionaires shows that on average they are emitting 3 million tonnes a year, more than a million times the average for someone in the bottom 90% of humanity.
Before I go further, let me point out three important problems with Oxfam’s report.
First, there’s the sleight of hand in the use of the word “carbon” instead of “carbon dioxide.” The worry is that these emissions are causing catastrophic global warming because carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, absorbing heat on its way from Earth’s surface to space and sending some of it back down to Earth’s surface. But “carbon dioxide” doesn’t generate the automatic negative response that “carbon” does. When we hear of “carbon” emissions, we think of airborne black soot that can clog our lungs. But carbon dioxide is an odorless, colorless gas that’s nontoxic at 20 times the concentration we breathe. Not only that, it’s also essential to all life. So when Oxfam bemoans billionaires’ “carbon” emissions, it chooses a term that misleads.
Second, there’s the unsubstantiated claim that these emissions are “unsustainable.” But they’re not. In fact, they’re actually good for all life on Earth. Geological evidence shows clearly that the periods in Earth’s history that have had the most plant growth – and hence the most food for animals and humans – have been the times when there’s been the most carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and when global average temperature has been much warmer than today.
Third, there’s the fact – assuming it is a fact – that “50% to 70% of their emissions result from investments.” Somehow or other that’s supposed to upset us. How dare those billionaires invest money in corporations that emit carbon dioxide!
I’ll expand on that in a moment. First, here’s the rest of Oxfam’s “briefing note”:
The study also finds billionaire investments in polluting industries such as fossil fuels and cement are double the average for the Standard & Poor 500 group of companies. Billionaires hold extensive stakes in many of the world’s largest and most powerful corporations, which gives them the power to influence the way these companies act. Governments must hold them to account, legislating to compel corporates and investors to reduce carbon emissions, enforcing more stringent reporting requirements and imposing new taxation on wealth and investments in polluting industries.
So, Oxfam says governments must punish these billionaires for the “carbon” emissions that come from the various companies in which they invest. For the sake of argument, let’s accept that for the moment. But these folks have one heck-of-a blind spot.
If governments need to “hold them to account,” to “compel [them] to reduce carbon emissions,” what should they do with regard to all the goods and services their investments enable all these corporations to produce? After all, if their investments make them responsible for a million times more carbon dioxide emissions than the average person, they also make them responsible for a million times more of everything else the businesses in which they invest produce. Food, clothing, shelter, electricity for your refrigerator and home heating and air conditioning and lighting and your cellphone and the worldwide cellular system that connects you with friends. And what about your car or truck and the gas or diesel or electricity that powers it to get you to work or school or the hospital or the grocery store? If governments should punish these billionaires for their “carbon emissions,” why shouldn’t they reward them for financing the production of all these things?
I’ll tell you what’s at the root of Oxfam’s silly new report: envy, a hatred of those who have built great wealth by wise investments in productive enterprises that serve the needs of billions of people all over the world – people willing to pay for their products and services.
And did you notice the great irony about Oxfam’s complaint? Remember what Oxfam’s supposed to be dedicated to: alleviating global poverty.
Adequate food supply is the first rung on the ladder out of poverty, and the “carbon emissions” Oxfam so dreads are an important contribution to adequate food supply. Greenhouse operators know this. That’s why they intentionally pump more CO2 into their greenhouses.
Every doubling of carbon dioxide concentration in the air in which plants grow brings an average 35% increase in plant growth efficiency. Plants grow better with more CO2 in the air than with less whether the temperature is warmer or cooler, and whether the soil is wetter or drier. They use water and soil nutrients more efficiently. They resist diseases and pests better. Consequently, they can grow in places where, with less carbon dioxide, they couldn’t – expanding their coverage of Earth’s land and hence making more land habitable for creatures that depend on them, reducing risks to biodiversity. In addition, they improve their fruit-to-fiber ratio.
The result of all this is more food for everything that eats plants, whether directly or indirectly. Who benefits the most? The world’s poorest people – the very people Oxfam says it wants to help.
Instead, Oxfam has climbed aboard the climate change alarmist bandwagon. It has lost track of its true mission. And that, my friend, is something to mourn.
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