TCS Daily

People Against People

By Alan Oxley - January 28, 2005 12:00 AM

In January, Greenpeace launched coordinated campaigns in Hong Kong and Thailand against power companies for causing global warming by generating electricity from coal. Greenpeace Hong Kong claimed global warming had killed 150,000 people. This is deeply misguided thinking. Nicola Mahncke, from Chung Hom Kok in Hong Kong hit the nail on the head in a letter to the Editor of the Sunday Morning Post, pointing out the money the anti-global warming treaty Kyoto Protocol would waste would be better spent "saving the lives of nearly 1 billion people who do not have access to clean water".

She might have added that electricity generated by coal saved millions in poor countries from early death from respiratory diseases caused by cooking with wood and coal.

Greenpeace formed the "People Against Coal Network" in Thailand to protest an international conference organized in Lampang in Thailand by Egat, Thailand's largest electricity utility. Most of Thailand's electricity is generated by burning lignite or brown coal. It generates more carbon dioxide than black coal and is therefore a favorite target of anti-global warming campaigners. Australia, China and Germany also burn lignite to generate electricity.

New technologies have been developed to reduce pollution from brown coal. Modern power stations generate far less carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide (a much more serious threat to human health). It is the most practicable way to reduce emissions from the electricity industry. The Egat conference was called to examine them.

Greenpeace opposes use of any fossil fuel (coal, oil or gas) to generate power. There are options in Asia. Not solar or wind power which Greenpeace favor -- neither can generate electricity at any where near the cost of coal, oil and gas -- but hydropower and nuclear power.

Hydropower is the ultimate clean, renewable energy. Laos, which neighbors Thailand, has hydropower potential and Egat plans to buy power from a major hydropower project under development there. But Greenpeace and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) oppose dams.

Greenpeace Hong Kong's target was the China Light and Power company which operates coal fired power stations. Hong Kong's contribution to global greenhouse gases is negligible. Greenpeace even conceded that. Its case for Hong Kong to cut emissions is to "make a start" for others to emulate. That won't be China. It needs electricity for development and at the climate change conference in Buenos Aires in December the Chinese representative predicted China would be the world's largest emitter of carbon dioxide in 20 to 30 years. Any cuts Hong Kong makes won't be noticed.

Nuclear power is a substitute and it would be rational for Hong Kong if it decided to stop generating electricity with coal, but Greenpeace also totally opposes that. What is its answer? Consume less power.

A recent study of the impact of the Kyoto Protocol on East Asian economies by the Australian APEC Study Centre at Monash University in Melbourne showed that if East Asian economies switched to the more expensive power options recommended by Greens, growth would slump.

Access to electricity is a fundamental building block to raise living standards in developing countries. China cannot develop without electricity. And it is better for health. In many parts of Laos people do not have access to electricity. Villagers burn wood inside their houses, dramatically lowering life expectancy because of the choking environment created by the smoke. Greenpeace would deny them electricity from hydro or coal.

Beijing is notorious for people using coal stoves for cooking. Cooking with electricity generated by coal would greatly improve the environment. New technologies for combustion of coal greatly reduce pollution for particulates and chemicals and reduce emissions of carbon dioxide.

But improved health and prosperity are not factored into Greenpeace's vision of society in the future. It insists global warming is a bigger threat and that, no matter what, power based on fossil fuel must be phased out.

They have not convinced developing countries. At the climate change conference in Argentina, they supported China, India and the US who saw no point trying to extend beyond 2012 the strategy in the Kyoto Protocol to reduce global emissions of carbon dioxide by increasing the cost of energy.

The US strategy is to develop instead new technologies which reduce emissions, like improved means for burning brown coal to generate electricity, not reduce consumption of power. These are practical, prudent strategies.

Greenpeace and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) insist the Earth is warming at an unsustainable rate. Claude Martin, head of WWF told a conference in Sydney in October that levels of carbon dioxide were approaching a "tipping point": he warned a small increase could trigger major consequences. There is no scientific basis for this. On the contrary, in the last two years, significant new doubts have been raised about the scientific claims used by global warming advocates to argue the Earth is becoming dangerously hot.

In the end, science or economics do not seem to matter to the Greens. They basically believe people should consume less. That will bankrupt wealthy economies in the long run. At least they can afford it for a little while. Poor countries can't afford it at all.

Alan Oxley is host of the Asia Pacific Page of


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