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Mazzuca: First, do no harm

Many believe the phrase “First, do no harm” is part of the Hippocratic oath; it’s not, nonetheless it’s considered canon for those involved in medicine and bioethics and is a basic principle taught in health care-providing classes.  The takeaway is that, in certain cases, it’s better to do nothing rather than intervening and potentially causing more harm than good.

The more I learn about the Green New Deal, the more I realize this maxim should be applied to environmental solutions as well. It’s a given that scientists and activists have an obligation to describe environmental problems honestly and accurately; but perhaps it’s even more important that politicians and journalists do the same because with their respective legislative power and media megaphones, they’re the ones who can actually do the most harm.

Much of the GND remains in the realm of, “we don’t know what we don’t know;” yet when listening to its advocates the attitude that comes across is, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.”  

But unlike fossil fuels, where humankind has a wealth of knowledge and experience regarding its availability, suitability and consequences, that’s not the case with GND technologies. And because the Green New Deal is ill defined in terms of cost and scope, unintended consequences should be expected.  And anything that limits or restricts the supply of fossil fuels will eventually cause great hardship for those least equipped to deal with it —the Third World.  

So perhaps instead of damning the torpedoes, the GND advocates should first heed the maxim of doing no harm and open themselves to the notion that the alternative energy may not be suitable for everyone. Perhaps they should ask if the billions of people currently living in nations without reliable energy sources, i.e., nations lacking strong infrastructures, could even afford the wind turbines and solar panels.

Lest we forget, with virtually no infrastructure in many cases much of the energy used in these nations derives from wood and charcoal. And if the primary goal of the GND is to eliminate fossil fuels over time, then as these fuels became scarcer, wouldn’t that increase the cost of energy for the people in places like the South Sudan or the Central African Republic where average annual incomes are less than $800/year?

Fossil fuels supply more than 80% of the energy to the world’s advanced industrial nations; nations that are for the most part educated, wealthy, healthy and long-lived.  In other words, the industrial world has it pretty good.

But as Forbes points out, that’s not so in the developing world where six in every seven humans living nations such as Niger, Congo, Chad, Burundi, Sierra Leone, etc., lack access to reliable and affordable energy. This is no small matter considering that the foundation of modern society is reliable energy at a reasonable cost. Consider, more than half the world does not have access to reliable energy; consequently every day 17,000 children die from preventable causes, most of which can be traced back to the lack of energy.  et this seems to be an afterthought to those who have plenty of it.

To illustrate the conceit of the industrialized world regarding the energy problems developing nations face, I decided to look at six speeches made by six international leaders concerning “economic development in the third world.” Here’s the chronology.

  • May 3, 2014 — John Kerry, 4,762 word speech, two references to electricity or power
  • Aug. 8, 2012 — Hillary Clinton, 4871 word speech, zero references to electricity or power
  • Feb. 2011 — Kofi Annan (former Secretary General of the UN), 3,670 word speech, zero references to electricity or power
  • June 14, 2012 — Barack Obama, 2,759 word speech, zero references to electricity or power
  • Dec. 13, 2008 — Al Gore, 3,313 word speech, zero references to electricity or power
  • May 31, 2007 — Tony Blair (former UK Prime Minister), 3,564 word speech, ero references to electricity or power

For supposedly compassionate people, their collective failure to actually address the energy issues facing developing nations speaks volumes. Everyone should applaud the notion of clean air and reduced emissions, but aside from what will likely be unsustainable costs (a commentary for another day), perhaps the biggest drawback to the GND is that it violates the principle of “Do no harm” for billions in the Third World.

Quote of the day:  “The Constitution is not a document for the government to restrain the people; it is an instrument for the people to restrain government” — Patrick Henry


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