Climate Change and Freedom

Yes, climate change is real, and climate change appears to be caused by human activity. Too bad, so far none of the proposed fixes gets us anywhere. It seems the acknowledged goal is to hold global warming to two degrees or less. Does anyone think we’re making progress? The current solutions all seem to be off-target. Notice the recent rebellion in France against a proposed carbon tax.

The problem with the popular proposals is that each has one or both of these two problems: 1. technically ineffective and 2. politically infeasible. Many of the popular solutions also include big increases in economic regulation, and here’s my point: increasingly the assertion is that to save the planet we have to surrender our freedom and prosperity.

Is it really about the climate?

Notice the synergy between today’s climate change agenda and the traditional liberal economic agenda: increasing regulation, higher taxes, and hostility to extractive industries. There was some surprise when the chief of staff for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez admitted that the Green New Deal is a Trojan Horse for economic reform: “it wasn’t originally a climate thing at all… we really think of it as a how-do-you-change-the-entire-economy thing.”

Recent articles in liberal press organs openly acknowledge this motive behind the climate change agenda. An article in the New York Times in April 2019 titled ‘The Next Reckoning: Capitalism and Climate Change’ posed this question: “whether a capitalistic society is capable of sharply reducing carbon emissions. Will a radical realignment of our economy require a radical realignment of our political system — within the next few years?”

A month earlier The Guardian published an article titled “Ending climate change requires the end of capitalism. Have we got the stomach for it?” Here is a quote from that article:

We will simply have to throw the kitchen sink at this. Policy tweaks such as a carbon tax won’t do it. We need to fundamentally re-evaluate our relationship to ownership, work and capital. The impact of a dramatic reconfiguration of the industrial economy require similarly large changes to the welfare state. Basic incomes, large-scale public works programmes, everything has to be on the table.

Ineffective and unacceptable proposals

Let’s look at three popular proposals. I’m looking for a program that combines political feasibility with actual real world effectiveness at reducing climate change.

Carbon tax
This is an idea that’s been around for a while, but it’s an idea without real traction. Why? First, notice that a carbon tax is highly regressive. People with low incomes and in rural areas will pay a higher percentage of their income for food, energy and transportation. Second, there’s this dilemma: for a carbon tax to be effective, it has to be expensive, which makes it politically infeasible; on the other hand for it to be politically feasible, it must be cheap, which makes it ineffective.
A carbon tax failed twice in Washington State, once as a ballot initiative and a second time in the state legislature. Also, look at the recent experience in France, mentioned earlier.
My conclusion: politically unworkable.

The Green New Deal
There are two problems. First Nancy Pelosi isn’t backing it. Second, it doesn’t deal with incentives for other countries. Are Americans willing to pay more if they feel that China and India are not joining in the climate fight? The Green New Deal will most likely be an issue in the 2020 Presidential campaign. Unless the Democrat candidate wins, and maybe even then, this idea is a dead duck.
My conclusion: Things might change, but for the moment this is a political talking point only.

Paris Accords
This seems to be mostly a case of virtue signaling, with little impact in the real world. Two liberal media outlets have pronounced a death sentence. First, Deutsche Welle:

although countries have had two and a half years to put in place policies on the ground to help get them to their targets, few have done so. A ranking published Monday by the environmental group Climate Action Network shows this is the case even in Europe, the world’s supposed leader in fighting climate change. “While all European Union countries signed up to the Paris Agreement, most are failing to work towards delivering on its objectives,” says CAN director Wendel Trio.

Second, The Guardian:

The Paris accord, signed by 195 countries, commits to holding the average global temperature to “well below 2C” above pre-industrial levels and sets a more aspirational goal to limit warming to 1.5C. This latter target is barely plausible, the new research finds, with just a 1% chance that temperatures will rise by less than 1.5C.

My conclusion: politically unworkable and also technically unrealistic.

What to do

I’m not suggesting we give up. First, we can remove obstacles to nuclear power. Note that France gets 75% of its electrical power from nuclear energy. Further, there are a number of new technologies available, both for mitigating global warming, and for generating energy. Here are four ideas that are being researched today:

Solar geoengineering
Carbon capture
Battery research
Fusion power

For the future, there are two paths available. One path is to maintain and expand our current prosperity so that we can afford to explore and develop new technologies. The other path is to implement ideas like the Green New Deal, actually a form of surrender: shut down the economy, trade away our freedoms, and hope that regulation and self-denial save us.

The Bottom Line

Regulatory socialism as proposed by the Green New Deal will not succeed. The best way to fight global warming is with economic growth and technological innovation. Science and technology can give us the tools to fight climate change.

Sexism and Racism, or Dollars and Cents?

There is a debate these days about impartial and factual presentation of the news. One of the issues in that debate is whether the news is presented to us fairly. I would say that with regard to the the New York Times, sometimes maybe not.

After being away from news for several days I drove into town to stock up on food, and also bought a New York Times. In the July 2 Times I found an article about sex and race bias in the recording industry, focused especially on the issues surrounding media companies’ ownership of master recordings. The article was professional and accurate in its survey of the issues until near the end when it added the “business…has long faced criticism for its treatment of many creators, especially young women and people of color” and then went on to describe contract issues faced by the artists Sky Ferreira, Halsey, Jay-Z and XXXTentacion.

Previously in the article the authors documented a straightforward business decision by Swift to not buy control of her master recordings – not an act of sexism or racism by the recording company. Control of intellectual property is an issue for all creators regardless of gender or ethnicity. Note that the focus of the article, “Taylor Swift, And Artists’ Fight to Own Their Own Work” is a white artist who is probably worth millions; and that this very same issue was probably faced by stars like Hank Williams and Elvis Presley in their time. To make the case that intellectual property is a gender and race issue, a writer must do more than simply point out that the issue also touches minorities and females.

Early in the article the authors used a Marxist lens to analyze the issue – which worked. It seems fairly straightforward to view this as a labor versus capital issue. However, when they tried to apply gender and race bias to the problem they really had nothing to work with beyond the fact that yes, women and minorities also lose control of master recordings. Progressives often cite cases of disproportionality as proof of bias. “If the impact is more severe on females and minorities, it must be discrimination.” Of course I don’t agree, since disproportionality by itself proves nothing. In this case the authors didn’t even claim disproportionality, they just waved the bloody shirt. The facts be damned!

I don’t generally read the New York Times because my perception is they don’t honor the proper separation between news pages and the editorial page, and it just gets depressing.

To Ben Sisario and Joe Coscarelli, the reporters bylined on this story: bless your Marxist hearts. While the story of the master recordings does fit neatly into the labor/capital paradigm, since it afflicts all recording artists equally it is NOT an example of sexism or racism. I agree that sexism and racism are wrong, but crying wolf weakens your case.
To the editors, save the ideological posturing for the opinion page.