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National View: Climate policy could kill more people than climate change

It's fairly remarkable that in the entire global-warming debate there appears to be little public discussion about the toll in human lives posed by decarbonization. Many climate advocates, including New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, are urging worldwide reductions in natural gas and coal to lower carbon-dioxide emissions on the order of 80 percent.

David RothbardWhat's stunning is that, in addition to hurting the economies of industrialized nations, such massive limitations would forfeit the lives of millions of people in the developing world.

There are quantifiable costs involved in switching from coal and natural gas to wind and solar power. The Obama administration's Clean Power Plan was projected to raise household utility costs by hundreds of dollars per year. The "energiewende," or energy transfer, of Germany already has boosted electricity prices there to three times the U.S. average. And emissions trading in the E.U. increased residential electricity rates by an average of 63 percent between 2005 and 2014.

Under the Paris Climate Agreement, the economies of the United States and the E.U. would suffer significant hardships due to a major transition away from gas and coal. But economic recession pales in comparison to the toll in human lives that would result in the developing world. At present, the World Bank estimates that more than 2.8 billion people burn solid fuels such as yak dung for cooking and heating, and roughly 93 percent of deaths and nonfatal illnesses attributed to air pollution occur in these countries. The problem for climate advocates is that the decarbonization strategies they advocate essentially would consign people in these places to suffering, misery, and even death.

In prosperous countries, a switchover to wind turbines and solar panels would result in more expensive electricity (since both require back-up generation from gas and coal when the wind doesn't blow and the sun doesn't shine). But food delivery to urban areas also would be impacted, since meat and produce require ample trucking and refrigeration. And there would also be a deindustrialization of manufacturing — since mining and steelmaking both require portable, high-intensity electricity.

In the developing world, the toll would be more severe. At present, pneumonia, tuberculosis, and other infectious diseases claim millions of lives each year, primarily because inhabitants lack access to the electricity that produces clean water, sewage treatment, and home heating.

Craig RuckerRather than extend to developing countries the robust, affordable power that enhances human health and safety, the Paris accord simply contemplates further reductions in the global use of gas and coal. But this would permanently eliminate the opportunity to aid the very people who need help the most. The result would be continued suffering and death for many millions of people.

Are such costs worth the price in human lives? Only if climate alarmists can prove that decarbonization will save vastly more lives than would be lost from the current 0.13 degrees Celsius per decade of warming that has been tracked by satellite data since 1979.

To justify such a massive shift in the world economy, climate advocates must be able to demonstrate all of the following: that global warming is specifically caused by manmade activity, that the consequences of this warming will be more negative than positive, that decarbonization will save more lives than it takes, and that decarbonization can be reliably implemented with all countries complying and sharing in the costs.

No one doubts the Earth has warmed over the past century. But putting aside the question of natural vs. manmade causes, there's still a staggering debate to be had on the ethics of deindustrialization.

A mere 200 years ago, human mortality was extremely high. By every conceivable measure, the flourishing of humans has increased exponentially, thanks to affordable, mass-scale electricity generation. Despite such successes, climate alarmists rely on computer-generated predictions of climate change in the year 2100 to justify an ugly assault on human life.

It would be far better to harness gas, coal, and nuclear power to adapt to whatever climate changes may lie ahead.

David Rothbard is president and Craig Rucker is executive director of CFACT, a Washington, D.C.-based public-policy organization founded in 1985. They wrote this for the News Tribune.