Oil, energy, social management and well-being
Written by David Newman
Recently in a rather heated exchange with an old Australian pal (old in age and because I have know him for 30 years) he contended that the climate change theory was a hoax. "Green house gasses may be increasing" he said "but CO2 is not a pollutant and the difference between 300 and 415 parts per million was so insignificant it could never be the cause of global warming".
Many Australians buy into the theory that climate change is nonsense. It clearly has a lot to do with the need to support their huge extractive industries, coal being one of the largest. In the same way Americans from the coal and oil producing states, Canadians and Brazilians, Saudi Arabians and Russians, all express their doubts about their fossil fuels being the cause of warming.
One of the arguments used by these people is that climate changers are in effect people who want to change our style of life. They want us to consume less, eat less meat, walk rather than drive, and use renewable energy. They accuse some of the 'greens' as being in effect the vanguard of a socialist conspiracy to take over the world, destroy capitalism and install communist control over society. In this they identify Christiana Figueras, the former General Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, as the perfect example to back their theory. A former Costa Rican socialist parliamentarian and minister, she personifies this desire to wipe capitalism off the face of the earth and change the economy of our Planet. Costa Rica infuriates many because it has no army, a country that can live happily without vast financial resources being spent on the military is a red rag to the bulls of the right wing.
Well, this got me thinking. I mean, am I a closet commie? Would Jeremy Corbyn call me comrade? Do I want the destruction of our economy and society and the return to a Soviet style world?
Er, no. I do think we have too much inequality and that wealth is distributed unfairly, laws favour the rich, the corporations and the tax evaders, but that is about adjusting our tax system rather than hanging the rich. That’s why I support the EU, they have the power to stand up to the multinationals which single countries often do not.
I thought further (I can think too). If all those countries fighting against climate change and declaring themselves on a mission to zero emissions met the criteria of my old pal in Australia, they would all be Soviet style infernos, places where people lived under the yoke of centralised socialism. By this theory, their populations should be unhappy, having to pay more for their renewable energy than cheap coal or oil powered electricity and heat, and having to invest in subsidies to support that transition. Conversely, those with the cheapest energy should be happier. So which countries are they?
Let’s look at the countries which are greenest according to the World Economic Forum, ie who have moved away from fossil fuels https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2015/08/which-countries-generate-most-power-from-renewables/
If we also look at the countries with the biggest subsidies to the consumption of fossil fuels according to the Institute for Energy Research https://www.instituteforenergyresearch.org/uncategorized/fossil-fuel-consumption-subsidies-decline-still-pervasive-developing-world/
And finally, let’s look at the world’s happiness index from 2016 https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/11/the-worlds-happiest-countries-in-2016/
Well, you’re an intelligent person so I guess you understand where I am heading here.
Not one of the countries among those subsidising and producing fossil fuel use is anywhere near the top of the World Happiness Index; yet all those countries with more renewable energy are. Of economies producing vast quantities of petrol only 3 are on this list – the USA, Canada, Norway. These are countries that do not however subsidise the price of petrol, leaving the price up to the market. The others do not produce petrol and indeed are increasingly dependent upon renewable energies.
Another graph, too large to show here but available on this link, http://digg.com/2019/happiest-countries-world-ranked, illustrates where the countries that have the lowest petroleum prices stand. Saudi Arabia, swimming in cheap oil and gas, comes in at number 28. Venezuela, with the largest oil reserves in the world, is doing a great job in making its citizens very unhappy at number 108. Iranians are so delighted with their lives they poll in at 118 and yet they, the Saudis and Venezuelans have the biggest subsidies on fossil fuels anywhere.
Whilst Finland is the happiest country in the world yet produces 37% of its energy from renewables. Norway is the third happiest yet has 67% of its energy from renewables (yes I know they export oil and gas in shedloads too). And look at Costa Rica, without fossil fuel energy, a poor central American economy, it ranks number 14. Higher than my own country the UK, with its North Sea oil and gas.
Is there therefore a direct correlation between happiness, well-being and oil? As an academic would say “we need more research” but the message seems quite clear to me. Cheap oil does not buy happiness. Conversely more expensive renewables seem too.
And not one of those countries leading in renewable energy has exactly become a Soviet gulag.
Ms Figueras is innocent!