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.
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.
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:
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.