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Oxfam’s degrowth agenda

Why do so many NGOs pursue a radical green agenda that will hurt the poorest most?

Artillery Row

At the occasion of the UN’s annual climate jamboree, which has landed in Dubai this year, under the name “COP 28”, NGO Oxfam has launched yet another attack against the “super-rich”. This time around, in a new report, the NGO depicts them as “ultra polluters”, arguing in not very moderate language that they would be “plundering and polluting the planet to the point of destruction, leaving humanity choking on extreme heat, floods and drought.”

In this report, Oxfam states that the richest 1 percent of the world’s population “produced as much carbon pollution in 2019 than the five billion people who made up the poorest two-thirds of humanity”. There is one tiny problem with this claim. It is simply factually incorrect. In its calculation, Oxfam does not only take into account the lifestyle of the richest, but also the emissions of the companies in which they are shareholders. Supposedly, depicting the millions of people associated with these companies – from shareholders over staff to ordinary consumers – as  “plunderers and polluters” may not be as juicy.

These suicidal energy policies are not reconcilable with maintaining industrial strength

It’s not the first time this particular NGO bends the facts. Regularly, its publications rail against the wealthy, for example criticizing “the enrichment of billionaires at the expense of the poorest, who are becoming poorer”. In its January 2022 report, it for example portrayed the growth in wealth observed over the preceding two years as an absolute scandal.

If that’s not bad enough, Oxfam thereby also claims that the richest would be monopolising an ever-increasing share of wealth. Taking a closer look at the data, however reveals that the share of global wealth owned by the famous “1%” has actually fallen since 1900 in all European countries, from between 50 and 70% back then to between 20 and 23% in 2017. Only in the United States, and to a lesser extent in Great Britain, a trend towards the reconcentration of wealth is noticeable, but even then, still to a much lower extent than during the years 1900-1950.

Also, globally, global income inequality increased for two centuries, but is now falling. Few would argue that the industrial revolution has ultimately not benefited mankind, so in the first place, the assumption of Oxfam that inequality is always wrong should be rejected. At least when looking at German opinion polls, it is clear how angry voters over there are when witnessing the “degrowth”, in reality. German governing parties are being hammered over deindustrialisation taking place before their eyes, mostly a result of the experimental energy policies whereby perfectly functional nuclear plants but also domestic fossil fuel production were switched off in exchange for a risky and expensive energy import model. These policies were introduced in the name of climate change, but have ended up in Germany becoming more dependent on coal, which does not stop its government from continuing to demand ever more ambitious reductions in CO2 from other countries, at the upcoming COP28 summit in Dubai. In any case, these suicidal energy policies are not reconcilable with maintaining industrial strength, and may ultimately lead to a great increase in poverty.

Even in the face of this evidence, Oxfam is cherishing the ideas of the “degrowth” movement, seemingly unaware of how this would also deprive the NGO of much of the taxpayers money it is dependent upon. In a press release in February, it prominently quotes Clément Sénéchal, climate campaign manager at Greenpeace France, to rail against the “super-rich” who, according to him “pose a continuum of problems for the community: they run companies that are generally climate-killing, thus building their fortune on investments that are harmful to the climate.” Last year, this person made it quite clear what the alternative is for him: “We must urgently change our economic system, to abandon the completely fanatical paradigm of growth”.

Certainly, if inequality would be the result of special privileges awarded to some by governments, it would be right to protest this. Actually, loose monetary policies in the West have over the last fourty years been favoring those with capital, given how the more capital one has, the less risky it becomes to protect oneself against inflation by buying hard assets like real estate, stocks or gold. But that is clearly not what Oxfam is doing. In its communication, it is targeting the bedrock of our current living standards: the capitalist system.

To do that, “climate change” is merely a pretext. If Oxfam genuinely cared about reducing CO2 emissions and combining this with maintaining our living standards, it would go all out promoting nuclear power, given how the other energy sources that do not come with high CO2 emissions, wind and solar energy, are not yet sufficiently reliable. However, in the middle of 2022, despite the impending energy crisis, the director-general of Oxfam France, Cécile Duflot, openly came out against nuclear power, instead favouring “radical solutions”, by which she meant taxes and regulation.

This kind of tax and regulate model to achieve lower CO2 emissions is ultimately unlikely to deliver the aspired benefits, as Germany’s experience shows. On the contrary, a new model is needed, whereby trust is put into entrepreneurs and their innovation in order to solve environmental challenges.

Such a model is being proposed by members of the so-called “Climate & Freedom International Coalition”, a group of think tank scholars and policy makers who wish to explore free market climate policy solutions to the problems of mitigation and adaptation. Some of them have been working out a draft international treaty, starting from the idea is to trust free markets, not central planning, to come up with CO2-neutral solutions. Countries that sign up to such a Treaty, which would be a free market alternative to the collectivist “Paris Agreement”, would enjoy the trade benefits if they pursue climate-friendly free market policies.

One such measure suggested the group is to introduce “demonopolization tax cuts” – whereby the sale of monopoly shares in the energy sector would be exempt from capital gains tax for two years. Other measures are reciprocity for tax exemptions for investment into environmentally-friendly innovation or “clean tax cuts”, specifically focused on two sectors that account for about half of all greenhouse gas emissions – the transport and electricity sectors.

Also “liberalization of markets” would be something signatory governments would be rewarded for. Thereby all conventional energy subsidies would be scrapped and an end would be made at government involvement into energy infrastructure or other economic activity, in order to insert a healthy dose of dynamism needed to generate innovation.

Would Oxfam be open to that? Or would it rather give in to its “degrowth” instincts, preferring “business as usual”, which meant heading to the COP28 climate summit in the company of countless private jet flying celebrities and taxpayer-funded bureaucrats, in order to agree ever more stringent grand top-down CO2 reduction schemes, all while telling ordinary people to travel less and with an angry eye at the entrepreneurs and business people that may actually be able to come up with the innovation required to solve environmental problems?

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