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Cornwall Alliance / December 9, 2021

Did Anything Good Come From Glasgow?

Joe Biden and Boris Johnson described COP26 as the world’s last, best chance to save the planet. Thank God, we missed it!

By E. Calvin Beisner

Did anything good come from Glasgow?

Well, that depends on how far back you go.

Go back 245 years and you get Adam Smith's An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations in 1776. That was most definitely good — the University of Glasgow professor of moral philosophy solidifying the growing case for free-market economies, arguably indispensable to the Industrial Revolution’s lifting more and more of humanity out of extreme poverty.

Go back another eight years and you get Rev. John Witherspoon leaving his church in Paisley — then a small village outside Glasgow, now well within the Glasgow metro area — to become president of the College of New Jersey, which became Princeton University. That, too, was most definitely good, Witherspoon serving as a member of the Continental Congress, where he made a strong case for separating from Great Britain, and teaching moral philosophy, including politics, to 19 members of the Constitutional Convention, including primary drafter James Madison.

Jump forward to 1865 and you get Joseph Lister starting to develop his insights, based on work by Louis Pasteur, into the role of microscopic germs in causing infection, leading to his development of disinfectants, the practice of sterilizing surgical theaters and devices in hospitals for the first time, and eventually the household application of disinfectants. (One, Listerine, was developed just 14 years later by Joseph Lawrence, a chemist in St. Louis, Missouri.) That was undoubtedly good, preventing, in the century and a half since then, untold millions of deaths from infection.

Since the area was first inhabited several millennia ago because the River Clyde was great for fishing; since its founding as a town in the 6th century by the Christian missionary Saint Mungo; and since the founding of the University of Glasgow in 1451, Glasgow has blessed the world with an impressive number of scholars (including eight Nobel laureates) — historians, philosophers, theologians, lawyers and jurists, natural and medical scientists, and more. The world would be a poorer place without them.

But jump all the way forward to 2021, and the question, “Did anything good come from Glasgow?” could elicit a different answer: not much, maybe nothing. Or, ironically, a lot of good. It all depends on one’s perspective.

Glasgow was where the 26th Conference of Parties (COP26) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC) took place. Government representatives from almost every nation, including 130 heads of state, were joined by UN bureaucrats, leaders and activists from hundreds of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) with admission into the actual business meetings, and around 100,000 people who showed up for marches and protests before and during it.

The first day of The New York Times’s serial coverage of the two-week climate summit started by saying world leaders gathered “to debate how to deliver on the unmet promises of the past.” The same coverage the day the conference ended began:

Diplomats from nearly 200 countries on Saturday struck a major agreement aimed at intensifying global efforts to fight climate change by calling on governments to return next year with stronger plans to curb their planet-warming emissions and urging wealthy nations to “at least double” funding to protect poor nations from the hazards of a hotter planet.

Translated from bureaucratese, that amounts to: Failing to achieve anything substantive, diplomats agreed to try again next year.

To the extent those are an accurate summation of COP26’s main purpose, it’s safe to say it achieved little if anything.

From the standpoint of people scared to death that we’re all going to fry nine years from now (since it was three years ago that Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-NY, declared, “The world is gonna end in 12 years if we don’t address climate change” — or maybe 15 years, or 80, or … whatever the time frame, we’re doomed unless we scotch fossil fuels and replace all their energy with wind, solar, and other “renewables”) — from that standpoint, nothing good came out of Glasgow last month.

But then there are those who think human-induced carbon dioxide emissions do contribute to global warming, a.k.a. climate change, but that the warming

  • is nothing much in the grand scale of things,

  • will likely bring more benefits than harms,

  • even at its worst would only make the average person at the end of this century about 4.34 times rather than 4.5 times wealthier than today (as even the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change admits), and

  • would be accompanied by enormous greening of the planet and reduction of hunger as plants feast on increased atmospheric CO2.

From their standpoint — which is mine — that little to nothing came out of Glasgow is good. When you expect to get hit by a truck and don’t, that’s something good!

Perhaps the worst thing that could have come out of COP26 would have been a major international treaty, or set of treaties, that would have brought to realization what French President Jacques Chirac 21 years ago envisioned with the Kyoto Protocol: “the first step toward global governance.”

The Glasgow summit could have set us on the path sought by FCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres six years ago. Just before the Paris climate summit began, she said, “This is the first time in the history of mankind that we are setting ourselves the task of intentionally, within a defined period of time, to change the economic development model that has been reigning for at least 150 years, since the Industrial Revolution.” That certainly was the hope of most of the marchers and protesters, among whom “System change, not climate change!” was, this year as every year, a common chant.

Writing for the Manhattan Contrarian the day after COP26, Francis Menton summed up the most important potential outcomes:

  1. A “path of strict world socialism” in which “the entire world is forced, through binding international agreements, into an energy straitjacket, mandating reduction and then elimination of the use of fossil fuels within two or three decades at most.”

  2. No binding agreements, though “everybody talks a good game about decarbonization but, lacking meaningful binding agreements, most of the countries, with most of the population, continue to pursue whatever energy system is most reliable and cost effective.”

The first would lead to global disaster, not just economically but also politically as governments came to rule more and more of our lives. The second would see “a small number of wealthy, small-population jurisdictions” like “Germany, California, New York, the UK, and perhaps South Australia (aggregating about 2–3% of world population) … push[ing] the limits of decarbonization and intermittent renewable energy sources” as “the guinea pigs for the rest of the world to find out whether a decarbonized energy system can be made to work, and at what cost.”

COP26’s organizers and boosters wanted number 1. They got number 2. And that’s good. As Menton explains:

The key difference between the two scenarios is what happens in the nearly inevitable circumstance where the new “decarbonized” energy system fails to work cost-effectively or reliably, leading to enormously increased prices, shortages, and/or frequent blackouts.

On Path 1, when that happens, the world’s people get forced into universal energy poverty with no obvious way to escape, and the bureaucrats and left wing press undoubtedly find some way to blame oil companies or some other capitalist bogeymen for the disaster.

On Path 2, the 97–98% of the world that has not committed energy suicide can sit back and observe while the guinea pigs self-destruct. Eventually, the people in the guinea pig jurisdictions will catch on that they are being forced to pay a multiple of a reasonable price, and for energy that does not work very well, and they will replace their politicians.

If for some strange reason you enjoy reading globalbureaucratese (yes, I intended that to be all one word; globalbureaucratese is the only language even more detestable than ordinary bureaucratese), you can read the formal document issued by COP26, though it’s nonbinding, only a draft, and presented as a “Proposal by the President” (UK Parliament member Alok Sharma). While you’re at it, you can thank God that its 97 theses will surely do far less to reshape the world than did Martin Luther’s 95 theses half a millennium ago.

The fact is that, as Menton points out, COP26’s 97 theses, which purport to state what the “Conference of Parties” is doing, begin with words like recognizes, welcomesexpresses, recalls, stresses, notes, emphasizes, or urges — nary an agrees or commits or pledges or “anything comparable” among them. In short, nobody made any enforceable agreement to do anything.

Sharma actually fought tears at the end of the conference, saying, “I apologize for the way this has unfolded and I am deeply sorry.” He needn’t have. This failure is an important obstacle to environmentalists’ attempt to stop or reverse the conquest of poverty throughout the developing world — a subject little discussed at Glasgow, as energy journalist Robert Bryce points out.

Glasgow’s failure doesn’t mean advocates of liberty and prosperity can rest on our laurels. As Menton concluded, “At this point, the biggest risk is that Biden and the Democratic Congress together put through enough of a ‘Green New Deal’ to effectively destroy the U.S. energy sector and leave the world with no clear shining example of energy success. It’s getting less and less likely, but could still happen.”

COP26 didn’t even bring any new progress toward the world’s developing countries’ meeting their pledge at 2009’s COP15 in Copenhagen to transfer $100 billion per year to developing countries for climate finance, which they’ve not done. It said it regretted the failure and urged repentance. That’s all. No enforcement mechanism — just like with everything else COP26 did.

One major aim of the COP was to adopt language calling the world to “phase out” coal. The closest they got was “phase down” — with no penalty to meet the (nonexistent) target date and amount. Developing countries like India, China, South Africa, and Iran, which are building coal plants at breakneck speed to lift their billions out of poverty, were never going to embrace that aim anyway.

Historian and former Member of the European Parliament Paul Nuttal called COP26 "a total waste of time, money, and carbon" — the last being a nod toward the 400-some private jets on which negotiators and the glitterati came to and left Glasgow, emitting as much carbon dioxide as 1,600 Scots emit in a year.

Journalist Rupert Darwall, a senior fellow of the RealClearFoundation, called the conference "a strategic defeat for the West, and for Britain in particular.“ But don’t mourn that defeat. Celebrate it. It means the developing world refused to be stuffed into the developed world’s box. It’s insisting on freedom to lift its people out of poverty the way we did — with fossil fuels.

Climate blogger Paul Homewood called COP26 "The end of the road,” adding:

In my view, we have seen the beginning of the end for the UN’s climate agenda. There will no doubt be many more COPs to come. And there will be annual warnings from Prince Charles that we have 12 more months to save the planet. But the writing is now on the wall. Developing countries around the world are standing up and refusing to cut back on fossil fuels, because they know they have no alternative if they want to grow their economies and give their people a better life. They have got off the Climate Train. So should we.

President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson described COP26 as the world’s last, best chance to save the planet. Thank God, we missed it!

Dr. Beisner is founder and national spokesman of The Cornwall Alliance; former Associate Professor of Historical Theology & Social Ethics, at Knox Theological Seminary, and of Interdisciplinary Studies, at Covenant College; and author of “Where Garden Meets Wilderness: Evangelical Entry into the Environmental Debate” and “Prospects for Growth: A Biblical View of Population, Resources, and the Future.”

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