World Summit on Sustainable Development

Commentary, Environment, Robert Sopuck

The grandly titled “World Summit on Sustainable Development” is being held in Johannesburg, South Africa. Dubbed, “Rio plus 10,” this gathering of world leaders, bureaucrats, environmental groups plus the assorted gangs of hangers-on (the “usual suspects” in the immortal words from Casablanca) is supposed to assess world progress towards sustainability ten years after the original Earth Summit in Rio de Janiero.

Well, I was at the Rio conference in 1992 as a member of the Canadian delegation and that experience sealed my belief in the value of Western society and culture as the only vehicle to deliver “sustainable” prosperity and freedom in the modern world. Not that Rio extolled Western views. Far from it. In fact I was disgusted with the spectacle of the leaders of industrialized countries trying to outdo themselves in apologizing for the successes of the modern Western world. What was brought home to me in spades was the unrelenting hostility of the United Nations elites to the western way of life. We are blamed for every ill of the so-called undeveloped world and its our fault that people in those countries are poor and lack adequate food and water. What nonsense.

Bad governance and corruption are largely responsible for the plight of the Third World. Where the West can make a difference is to open our markets to the goods and services produced in the undeveloped nations. And to our everlasting shame, we still practise the worst sort of protectionism in those areas where powerful domestic constituencies conspire to “protect” their little corners of the economy.

On the environment, the “litany of environmental apocalypse” in Johannesburg is in full flight. It goes something like this: “Natural resources running out, air and water becoming more polluted and species disappearing.” And of course, we are in the process of heating up the planet with our carbon dioxide emissions so as to render it unlivable.

The truth is somewhat different. Energy and other natural resources have become more abundant, not less. More food is now produced per capita than at any time in the world’s history. Famines are the result of misguided government policies in the Third World. Just look at Zimbabwe. The air and water are cleaner in wealthy industrialized Only about 0.7 percent of species are expected to disappear in the next 50 years, not the 20 percent to 50 percent predicted by some environmentalists. Most forms of environmental pollution look as though they have either been exaggerated or are transient and associated with the early phases of industrialization.

Recently, the United Nations issued a report entitled “North America’s Environment: A Thirty Year State of the Environment and Policy Retrospective” where Canada and the U.S. were criticized for being high-energy users. In a devastating critique of the report, Peter Holle, President of the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, details the environmental, health, and lifestyle improvements that have come about as a result of the economic successes of North America. We may consume 25% of the world’s energy with only 5% of the population but we produce over 25% of the GDP of the world. We are the markets for the goods and services of the developing world and the Third World’s only hope.

No, let’s hope that the Johannesburg conference meets the same fate as Rio and is quickly forgotten. We must support policies that encourage wealth creation, technological improvement, and prosperity. That’s how we achieve environmental sustainability and the just society.