What do the world’s poor want?

For the last two years, the United Nations has been running a worldwide on-line poll asking the people of the world what their priorities are. The poll has more than 8 million answers, the vast majority from the world’s poorest countries. You can see the poll results here.

What do the world’s poor want? Overwhelmingly, they say they:

1)a good education
2)better healthcare
3)better job opportunities
4)an honest and responsive government.

What is last on the list (by far)? “Action taken on climate change.”

And when you start looking at the figures, it turns out that the poorer the country the least likely it is to want action taken on climate change. Even among the richest countries, climate change is only priority number 10 out of 16. Among women from the poorest countries, there is comparatively almost no support for taking action on climate change.

So, we must ask ourselves: why does the Pope and a group of mostly left-wing global elites want to impose policies on the world that the poor do not want? The poor are like most of us, i.e., they want a better life for themselves and their children. Why do so many out of touch know-it-alls think they can tell them what they should want?

As you may or may not know, there have been several climate change summits over the years, and they always end the same way, i.e., with the poorer countries protesting the fact that Europe and the United States want to impose policies on the world that will keep the poor countries poor.

The truth is that fossil fuels have long helped the richest countries become rich. Efficient, portable energy used in a mostly market-based economic system is the engine of the Western world. (You would not be able to read this right now without somebody using fossil fuels someplace). So, the message to Western elites is: “we grew using fossil fuels, but sorry you cannot. You must accept our arbitrary standards of how to run your economies now.”

In effect, climate change alarmism is nothing more than the latest imperialist scheme from rich northern countries that have been exploiting poor countries for centuries now.

There is simply no argument for taking “urgent action on climate change” that involves actually considering the desires of the world’s poorest people. So, all arguments have to come from the position of “we know better than you.” Apparently the northern countries have learned nothing since the 19th century, when imperialism was justified by supposed racial and cultural superiority.

One of the many arguments that alarmists use to push for “urgent action” is the threat of greater and more destructive hurricanes. Let’s leave aside the clear evidence that there have been fewer hurricanes in the last two decades. Let’s point out instead that hurricanes are most damaging to the world’s poor *precisely because they are poor.* Poor countries do not have the infrastructure to avoid devastating hurricanes, and tens of thousands are inevitably killed. When huge hurricanes hit the United States, only a handful of people usually die. So the first solution to saving lives due to hurricanes is: help the poorer countries get richer so they can build their own infrastructure to deal with hurricanes. And, for now, that includes the use of fossil fuels.

If the world’s elites want to continue to push the climate change agenda, they are going to have to begin to actually take into consideration the desires of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people. But there is no evidence that climate change alarmists actually care what other people want. Such is the tyranny of the people who Know Better Than You.

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About Geoff B.

Geoff B graduated from Stanford University (class of 1985) and worked in journalism for several years until about 1992, when he took up his second career in telecommunications sales. He has held many callings in the Church, but his favorite calling is father and husband. Geoff is active in martial arts and loves hiking and skiing. Geoff has five children and lives in Colorado.

21 thoughts on “What do the world’s poor want?

  1. It’s a simple hierarchy of needs thing. It’s hard to give a darn about climate change if you can’t feed and shelter yourself and/or your family first. We are talking about the poor, right?

  2. You say ‘they are going to have to begin to take into consideration the desires of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people.’ No they won’t, and that is why the world is in such danger at this time. People know that the elites are at the best interpretation confused and silly and in the worst scenario they are consumed by evil.
    So-called environmentalists take exception to virtually every method of producing power on a scale that benefits the population instead of private individuals with the wealth to set up their own solar arrays, windmills, or geothermal units. Prince Philip, Queen Elizabeth’s husband, is a well-known spokesman for the idea that the way out of difficulties is to greatly reduce the population. I think he also represents the very ideal of a silly twit.

  3. The power to “stop climate change” would be so vast and all-encompassing, it would essentially involve giving the UN or some other international agency unprecedented, dictatorial powers. That ought to sober folks up who are currently on the fence.

    The desire to help, to do good is almost always the path that leads to terror and horror. Politicians and bureaucrats need to have less power, not more.

  4. Mark N, if the most important needs of the poor are things other than climate change, why are imperialist northerners so concerned about climate change and imposing worldwide regulations on poor people?

  5. I find it interesting that climate change alarmists usually use more fossil fuels than 99 percent of the population.

  6. “So, we must ask ourselves: why does the Pope and a group of mostly left-wing global elites want to impose policies on the world that the poor do not want?”

    Because there is money in them there carbon credits.

  7. Does what we want ever diverge from what we need? Is it possible that we all–poor, rich, and in between–might need some things that we don’t care much about? The fact that we may need some things we don’t spend much time thinking about does not denigrate either the things we do want or the value of the unthought of need.

  8. Steve, of course we need things we don’t seem to care about. For example, I think most people need the Gospel, but most people don’t seem to care. But note the process of helping people begin to care: one on one gentle persuasion that invites the Holy Ghost and conversion. Of course the climate change alarmists are not interested in persuasion — they are interested in ramming down all of our throats through government force an ideologically driven agenda that they deem superior. I think we can agree that the moral way of helping people see what they need should not be conversion by force.

    And of course rich people get to tell poor people what they need. This is extremely problematic on many levels.

  9. Shouldn’t we let the ultra rich tell us all what to do? After all, they are so much smarter than us. You can tell because they are rich.

  10. As a rich (relatively speaking, by comparison to much of the world’s population) American, I tend to take things like easy and instantaneous access to electrical power completely for granted. So I had to do a bit of a re-think when I saw an article at The Atlantic about what the world would be like (not good, greenhouse gas-wise) if everybody in the world was able to use as much electricity per day as Americans do.


  11. Mark N, you appear incapable of understanding why such a position would be incredibly insulting from the perspective of the average person in Africa and Latin America. Americans and Europeans have their wealth and their electricity — but NO, none for the poor people! It might cause a .1 degree C increase in temperature!

    As the article itself notes, the mixture of energy sources is changing rapidly. Many growing economies, like Brazil, for example, get most of their energy from hydroelectric. There is zero evidence that all countries need to use as much fossil fuels as the United States to allow them to grow. But even if they do: why are left-wing elitists so intent on keeping poor people poor — forever! I would be ashamed to adopt such a position, but it seems to be that left-wingers have no shame whatsoever.

  12. Hierarchy of needs (i.e., the reality of trying to survive), externalities (what one person or country does effects everyone else eventually), and irreversible consequences (carbon and other GHGs don’t just “go away”). Those concepts go a long way to explaining the survey’s results. However, as the OP says trying to ram policies down others throats is not a winning strategy.

    The only way to address the on-going world-wide carbon buildup which has even a glimmer of a hope of success is through rapid and significant innovation in the non-polluting energy sphere – the results of which need to be as widely distributed to as many regions of the world as possible. Standards of living need to be raised overall, not lowered. Unfortunately basic economic theory suggests this will the most difficult thing the human race has ever attempted, but the alternative is a dead end path full of extreme conflict as the resources available dwindle and the demands on them grow.

    The issues the OP cites from the survey:
    1) a good education
    2) better healthcare
    3) better job opportunities
    4) an honest and responsive government

    all demonstrate just how difficult the process of improving the lot of the “poor” world wide will be. But doing so (improving their lot) is a critical need which will go a long ways towards ensuring long term hope for our species collectively.

    To the OP actual point/question, I think most of us have moments in our personal lives when we realize we’ve made serious mistakes. We naturally desire to help others avoid the same pitfalls – such feelings are often the motivation many have for desiring to spread the Gospel to their fellow men. Realizing that we’ve grown our economies on a foundation which is not stable is such a moment at a society level. Yes to turn around and insist that other people stay poor while trying to stay rich yourself is very hypocritical (and is rightly condemned by the people who are poor) – but that realization does not change the facts of the matter. Changes to *all* countries’ economic foundations are needed if we desire to remain here as a collective species in something approaching a “normal” status quo. Simply continuing on as we are, burying our collective head in the sand, condemns everyone (rich and poor) to a very bad future – one in which the “poor” will either be dead, displaced, or in much worse condition.

  13. Folks focus on carbon because it is easy to compute, and is so obviously not “sustainable”. However, food decomposition is a much more significiant contributer to greenhouse effects.

    And as I have blogged here, an effect of climatic shifts will be rainfall. The UN’s projections show that dry climates willl become drier, and pleasantly moist climate3s will vacilate between drought and deluge. The GRACE satellites show us that the food baskets of the US, China and the Middle East are draining their aquifers. I project that in a few years lack of food will and high food prices will b3e showing up as even more of a factor.

  14. Apologies for the grammar and typos – I was dictating to someone else who was apparently more sleepy than we realized. But at least that person wasn’t driving (I’m currently at a stop light).

  15. Meg, there is absolutely no reason, based on history and the available evidence, to believe the UN’s projections regarding climate. The UN has been wrong about just about everything on climate. However, there is reason, based on tree rings and other historical data, to believe that those of us who live in the West may face even drier times in the years to come. So, I agree with your point but for different reasons, and I think you are correct that we will face water shortage problems in the years to come.

    However, the historical record also shows that people have done a pretty darned good job over time at producing more crops with less water and on smaller amounts of land. Food prices have come down significantly over time, and I think that trend will continue. So, I disagree with your projection that there will be a lack of food and high food prices. In fact, based on what history has shown us regarding food production, it is nearly a certainty that food prices will come down in the coming years, not up. And when you consider historical data regarding the cost of food as a percentage of total income, food will be much, much cheaper over time as a percentage of the average earnings of the average person.

    I am not sure if you are familiar with Paul Ehrlich’s claims regarding food shortages, but of course he has been claiming higher food prices and massive famine since the 1960s, and he has been spectacularly wrong. Food just keeps on getting cheaper for everybody.

    I would agree with you that more people need to think about water shortages in arid places like the Western United States. That definitely is a problem that needs to be addressed.

  16. Meg, I was responding to your prediction that “in a few years lack of food and high food prices will be showing up as even more of a factor.” My point is that historically the evidence is that food prices actually are going down in the entire world, not just in the United States. Yes, in poorer countries people spend more of their income on food. (This is also true in the United States, btw: poorer people spend more of their income on food). But the issue is: will food prices being going up, yes or no? And the evidence is that food is getting less expensive over time, not more expensive.

  17. Excellent post, Geoff. The world’s poor–and there are fewer and fewer of them–want the same thing everyone else wants. Maybe it’s a good idea to transfer wealth from the richest countries to the poor, but not under the pretext of preventing climate change.
    Climate change alarmism has been around for thousands of years. In just the last 200 years or so, there have been periodic warnings that the earth was warming, then cooling, then warming, etc. Now the Arctic ice is expanding and thickening, and it will continue to do so as part of its cyclical nature. Plus, increased atmospheric CO2 is greening the planet.
    It is the wealthiest nations who do the most to protect the environment. The best solution for environmental problems is economic growth and development.

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