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Bjorn Yesterday: NY Times Runs Op-Ed Asserting Poor People Need More Carbon Pollution

By Joe Romm on December 4, 2013 at 3:15 pm

"Bjorn Yesterday: NY Times Runs Op-Ed Asserting Poor People Need More Carbon Pollution"

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ostrichSo the New York Times shuts down its environment desk and its Green Blog this year — a move widely panned as “a horrible decision.” Then last week, the Times‘ public editor publishes a damning analysis showing that the paper’s climate coverage had dropped sharply.

The paper’s response? Devote some of its scarce op-ed space to the umpteenth rehashed Bjorn Lomborg piece touting more carbon pollution and R&D in place of climate action, “The Poor Need Cheap Fossil Fuels.” If that headline sounds familiar, it’s because Lomborg had pieces in USA Today and National Post making similar arguments.

The notion that more carbon pollution is the best way to help the poor — or that R&D can stop catastrophic climate change — has been widely debunked, most recently here. As I’ve noted, one analysis just of the impact of unabated temperature rise on food security finds “Half of world’s population could face climate-driven food crisis by 2100.” Not exactly a boon to the poor.

In fact, there are no cheap fossil fuels. Apparently even big oil companies know something Lomborg and the Times do not (see “Shell Oil Self-Imposes Carbon Pollution Tax High Enough To Crash Coal, Erase Natural Gas’s Value-Added”).

Lomborg is on an op-ed spree all with the same theme — more, more, more carbon pollution. Heck, the NY Times was beat out by the UK Times, which just a few weeks ago ran Lomborg’s head-in-the-sand-dust-bowl nonsense, “What an increasingly wonderful world.” That piece asserts “global warming has mostly been a net benefit so far” and will be for decades. It’s like the guy who jumped off the hundred-story building and tweeted, “I love the view and the breeze.”

Lomborg’s thesis does not survive the mildest scrutiny. He begins:

There’s a lot of hand-wringing about our warming planet, but billions of people face a more immediate problem: They are desperately poor, and many cook and heat their homes using open fires or leaky stoves that burn dirty fuels like wood, dung, crop waste and coal.

About 3.5 million of them die prematurely each year as a result of breathing the polluted air inside their homes — about 200,000 more than the number who die prematurely each year from breathing polluted air outside….

Even more people — an estimated three billion — still cook and heat their homes using open fires and leaky stoves.

The entire premise of Lomborg’s piece — the hook that seems to make it microscopically different from his gazillion other recent op-eds calling for more carbon pollution — is that the poor are killing themselves with dirty, inefficient stoves and fires. But then Lomborg zips past the obvious solution (“More efficient stoves could help”) to assert “But let’s face it. What those living in energy poverty need are reliable, low-cost fossil fuels.”

The funny thing is, and by funny I mean tragic, the New York Times ran a story on precisely this subject three years ago — but with the exact opposite conclusion, “Developing Nations to Get Clean-Burning Stoves.” It opens:

Nearly three billion people in the developing world cook their meals on primitive indoor stoves fueled by crop waste, wood, coal and dung. Every year, according to the United Nations, smoke from these stoves kills 1.9 million people, mostly women and children, from lung and heart diseases and low birth weight.

The stoves also contribute to global warming as a result of the millions of tons of soot they spew into the atmosphere and the deforestation caused by cutting down trees to fuel them.

On Tuesday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is expected to announce a significant commitment to a group working to address the problem, with a goal of providing 100 million clean-burning stoves to villages in Africa, Asia and South America by 2020

Lomborg twists the facts beyond recognition so he can claim that inefficient stoves that kill poor people running on fuels like coal … are an argument for why the poor need more fossil fuels!

Reality is quite different, as made clear in the 2010 NY Times story that somehow escaped the attention of the NYT’s editors:

Although the toxic smoke from the primitive stoves is one of the leading environmental causes of death and disease, and perhaps the second biggest contributor to global warming, after the industrial use of fossil fuels, it has long been neglected by governments and private aid organizations…

Stoves that are coming on the market for as little as $20 are 50 percent more efficient than current cooking methods, which are often simply open fires or crude clay domes, backers of the project say. A $100 model can capture 95 percent of the harmful emissions while burning far less fuel to produce the same amount of energy.

Yes, we can have less indoor air pollution and less outdoor carbon pollution at the same time — but only if we don’t listen to Lomborg.

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