City AM: On palm oil and deforestation, regulators are failing, but so is the market

This article was first published in City AM.

There are products which have become indispensable to our modern way of life, and few more so than palm oil. If its production were to grind to a halt tomorrow, entire supermarket aisles would be left empty. It features in countless everyday products whose availability we take for granted, from chocolate to deodorant. We are using it more than ever before. But we are faced with a problem: palm oil production is extremely bad for the environment, especially in terms of deforestation.

Banning it, as both the private sector and government regulators seem inclined to do, won’t solve the problem. In fact, it will likely make it even worse. Deforestation, like most environmental policy issues, requires long-term planning. The myopia of cracking down on issues’ immediate causes without thinking about what happens next has sadly become typical of short-termist politicians’ thinking. If we want to make a real difference, we must plan further ahead.

Perhaps inevitably, the tide of public opinion has begun to turn against palm oil, as awareness grows of its impact on the planet. Governments and companies have been making publicity pushes about the work they are doing to address the issue. Surveys find that people now see palm oil as much more harmful than similar oil products like soybean, sunflower, rapeseed and olive.

That shift in perception is fuelling knee-jerk responses in both the public and private sectors. Companies, including supermarkets like Ocado, are now going out of their way to help consumers avoid palm oil by introducing new ranges of palm oil-free products.

Meanwhile, state actors are not missing out on the chance for some environmental brownie points. The EU has banned palm oil as a biofuel. Local authorities in Indonesia, which produces much of the world’s palm oil, are also bringing down the hammer. Further crippling new regulations, important restrictions and usage bans around the world look unavoidable.

That’s especially true in the aftermath of COP26. Commitments on climate change were uninspiring – COP26 president Alok Sharma sobbed on stage as the underwhelming nature of the net-zero commitments achieved became apparent. He has since expressed fears that those achievements are becoming “just a bunch of meaningless promises.”

Perhaps the only notable success at COP26 was an agreement on deforestation, which leaders have pledged to bring to a halt by 2030. Palm oil, once again, was in the list of the key drivers of deforestation. But even banning its production overnight would not solve the issue. Unless we are to abandon consumerism, live in mud huts and survive exclusively on organic peace beans, we need oils to make the products we rely on every day.

If it isn’t palm oil, it will be an alternative like soybean or rapeseed, but that would not be an improvement. Palm oil supplies 40 per cent of the world’s vegetable oil on just 6 per cent of the land used for that purpose. Alternatives need 4 to 10 times more land. Moving away from palm oil will cause more deforestation, not less. Despite the unsustainability of palm oil production, buying it still makes sense because the market hasn’t changed – and that’s the problem.

The solution is innovation. New palm oils with lesser environmental impacts are available on the market, but they are shunned by its biggest users, such as food companies. The result is a new litany of expensive products, inaccessible to many, which skirt the now toxic “palm oil” name by using less efficient products which are even worse for the environment. More affordable products, in the meantime, continue using the same cheap, environmentally damaging palm oil as they did before.

Until powerful actors – both in the regulatory and in the private sector – look beyond environmental virtue-signalling and begin to practise what they preach, palm oil will continue to fuel deforestation. The cost of living and saving the planet will creep ever higher. We can’t afford to let that happen.

GB News: Weekday Panel with Nana Akua (in for Dan Wootton)

I appeared on the GB News weekday panel. I was joined by fellow panellists James Woudhuysen and Nichi Hodgson, and host Nana Akua (sitting in for Dan Wootton). This video is a compilation of my contributions to the in-studio panel discussions from throughout the 2-hour programme.

I discussed, among other things, the need for freedom from damaging Covid restrictions and whether electric vehicles are the solution to our environmental problems.

Duluth News Tribune (Minnesota, US): Mining must be ramped up to reach zero carbon emissions

This article was published in the Duluth News Tribune.

This article was co-authored with Kat Dwyer.

As more and more nations pledge to achieve “net-zero economies” soon, the demand for rare earth minerals and other minerals is projected to skyrocket. If the free world wants to accomplish its green ambitions, without finding itself beholden to hostile foreign states, democratic countries need to ramp up their own domestic mining operations.

But that won’t be easy.

Nations around the world have set ambitious goals to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 or sooner, and thus, global demand has skyrocketed for the rare earth minerals used in the production of green technologies like solar panels and electric-vehicle batteries. Unlike emission-free nuclear, those technologies are often impractical and could cause significant political problems as we come to rely on them more and more.

Open-pit mining is the most common method for obtaining most rare earth elements. It disrupts ecosystems and can release contaminants that threaten air and groundwater quality. If global temperatures climb by just two degrees, the World Bank estimates a 300% increase in demand for rare earth minerals. An International Energy Agency report predicts mineral supply for electric vehicles, wind turbines, solar panels, and other green technologies will need to rise sixfold by 2040 in order to reach net-zero emissions globally by 2050.

The current rare earth market is dominated by foreign powers hostile to the free world and the United States in particular. The U.S. controls less than one-tenth of the global market for capacity across all major battery components, according to Politico. China mines most of the world’s lithium, a key component of batteries for electrical vehicles, storage, and much more, controlling more than three-quarters of the world’s lithium production.

Other vital products are hard to come by, too. China is home to over 80% of Earth’s deposits of neodymium, a mineral used in wind turbines and electric car motors, while 70% of the world’s cobalt, which is used in battery production, is in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Even when the U.S. mines for itself, it often ships the material to China for processing.

As a result, the U.S. is dependent on foreign imports for various essential ingredients in its net-zero plan. To make matters worse, mining operations in countries like China and the Democratic Republic of Congo are inextricably linked with human-rights abuses. From forced labor to toxic waste, from polluted groundwater to the suppression of local communities who speak out against working conditions, the humanitarian and environmental concerns around the sourcing of these materials are profound. Solar panel supply chains have even been linked to the ongoing Uyghur genocide in Xinjiang, China, as the New York Times reported.

If the U.S. no longer wants to be beholden to abusive regimes overseas, it must increase domestic mining operations. But several factors stand in the way; not the least is local opposition. A lithium mine in northern Nevada stalled because of objections from local ranchers, a Native American tribe, and environmentalists concerned about the project’s infringement on wildlife habitat, its use of scarce water, and the fear of potential contamination. A federal judge denied the request, allowing the project to move forward, but the episode is not an isolated incident. Litigation stemming from local and environmental concerns haunt new domestic mining operations, as Northeastern Minnesota well knows.

The Biden administration’s approach to this issue is well-intentioned but half-hearted. It proposes ramping up domestic production and creating “good-paying union jobs.” The White House has instructed the Interior Department to lead a task force to identify mining opportunities for rare earths like lithium.

That report urges close cooperation with Native American tribes, labor unions, industry, and environmental-justice leaders. But it doesn’t offer solutions to the various obstacles that stand in the administration’s way, from local opposition to costly environmental regulation. Not to mention ramping up domestic mining requires heavy subsidization, raising questions about how sustainable the strategy is long-term.

Inescapably, the Biden administration faces serious trade-offs in its pursuit of net-zero carbon emissions. Insisting on pursuing so-called “green” technology like solar and wind increasingly appears to be an uphill battle the U.S. might not be able to win — at least not without doing so at the expense of taxpayers, local communities, and wildlife habitats. To dominate the rare-earth market and quench domestic demand for “clean” technologies, Americans will be forced to make some difficult choices.

Mirror: Climate alarmism undermines fight against climate change and alienates young people

This article was first published in the Daily Mirror.

Code red for humanity.”

That’s the headline accompanying the latest report from the intergovernmental panel on climate change (IPCC), an arm of the UN, assuring us that climate change catastrophe is just around the corner, and that if we don’t all abandon our beef burgers and put on our peace sandals straight away, the Earth will be engulfed in a ball of fire by the end of next week.

On the face of it, this is a very worrying thing for a UN body to say and we should all pay a great deal of attention to it.

In reality, no one does. It will dominate the news cycle for a day or two and then we will all move onto something else.

Why is that? Is it because nobody cares about the planet and we’re all fine with seeing humanity melted into a burning pool of effluent?

Of course not. It’s because we have heard it all before.

Reports like this one have lost all credibility with the public – and especially with young people like me.

We have been told so many times that the end of the world is imminent and that we only have 12 years, 10 years, five years to turn the tide on climate change that it now sounds like a broken record.

The problem is this kind of dramatism isn’t founded in science. Bodies like the IPCC consistently conflate things we are very sure of, like the fact that humans are warming the planet, with other things where the science is muddied and there is plenty of uncertainty, like the idea that there will be a two-metre rise in sea level by 2034.

The result is that it is hard to take these reports seriously, but this kind of alarmism isn’t neutral. We can’t all laugh it off and move on.

It is actively harmful because it undermines genuine efforts to combat climate change and it plays into destructive narratives which reduce the poor’s quality of life and fuel inequality.

The people pushing the alarmism know full well that it will hit the poor harder than anyone else. It’s all very well shaming people for eating meat, but vegan products like tofu and almond milk are still expensive and inaccessible and we’re a very long way away from lab-grown meat being an affordable meat replacement.

In a select committee appearance on climate change , Sir David Attenborough said boldly that the prices of flights should go up to deter air travel. But won’t that hit poorer families hardest, while wealthy people like Attenborough himself can continue jetting around the world to their heart’s content?

“I’m afraid that is the case,” replied Sir David.

Feeling that you are doing your bit to save the planet is a luxury not everyone can afford, and headline-chasing climate alarmism shouting about how ‘the end is nigh’ only entrenches and exacerbates inequalities, not to mention ruining climate policy discourse.

It’s time for the UN to step back and allow for a more level-headed approach to climate change.