“Saving the planet” should be an unbeatable political slogan. Yet consistently the imagined “green wave” mindlessly embraced by most of the media continues to fall short, as evidenced by recent elections in Canada and Australia, as well as across much of Europe.
These results reflect climate scientist Roger Pielke’s 2010 notion of “the iron law of climate policy.” Pielke noted that support for reducing greenhouse emissions is limited by the amount of sacrifice demanded. “People will pay some amount for climate goals,” he noted, “but only so much.” At $80 a year per household, he suggested, polls found most people would support climate measures but raise it to $770 annually and support drops below ten percent.
Like Australians, most Americans want to preserve the environment and many, if not most, are properly concerned about the potential impacts of climate change. But they still rank climate as only their 11th leading concern, behind not just healthcare and the economy but immigration, guns, women’s rights, the Supreme Court, taxes, income and trade.
Greens can only succeed only if they abandon their dystopian scenario for humanity. This trend was epitomized by the 1970s predictions of Paul Ehrlich about an impending “population bomb,” that would lead to mass starvation on a planetary scale. Needless to say this didn’t occur. Over the last thirty years some have predicted the North Pole ice would all but disappear but this apocalypse has not remotely occurred.
Sadly, such gross errors have not led a moment’s hesitation about making ever more far out assertions. It seems that every decade the planet has five or ten years left if draconian measures are not taken. Just this year a writer for the New Yorker predicted the familiar scenario of a “famine, economic collapse, a sun that cooks us,” adding suggestions that to meet this challenge may require displacing our democracy with an enlightened rule from above.
In reality, most events, like California’s wildfires, linked by the climate industry to greenhouse gases, may have more than one cause; in this case, green policies, notably on clearing brush, may have been more responsible than the climate, and also for rising emissions. The reality remains, as the UN Panel on Climate Change admits, “we are dealing with a non-linear chaotic system, and therefore that the long-term prediction of future climate states may not be entirely possible.”
No basis for politically sound policy
Despite the historical record, hysteria provides the pretext for US Representative Alexandria Ocasio- Cortez’s Green New Deal. Predictably, she demands her sweeping trillion-dollar proposals, including the elimination of all fossil fuels by 2030 all in the cause of saving the planet from catastrophe.
Not surprisingly such policies are opposed by people most threatened by these changes, in energy rich places like Australia’s Queensland, Alberta, or Appalachia as well as
manufacturing areas like Ontario, Canada, the U.S. Midwest, the British midlands or large parts of industrial Germany.
But the green program does not just threaten factory hands or ill-riggers. Increasingly it takes aim at virtually everything long associated with improved middle class living standards, such as living in a single-family house, or even eating meat. Some scientists even suggest we will have to shift from hamburgers to such delightful concoctions as “maggot sausages.”
Worse yet, such policies may do little to address the actual climate. California, the hotbed of climate lunacy, has reduced its greenhouse gases since 2007 at a rate 40th per capita among the states. Similar failures can be seen in Germany where much heralded energiewende have led to soaring energy costs but disappointing results in terms of emissions declines.
Of course, such draconian policies still are embraced by those who won’t lose their jobs, or see their living standards decline. The “clean rich” fly in private jets, even to climate oriented events, develop luxury resorts far from population centers and consume prodigiously but they still ask everyone else to curb their far more modest lifestyles.
These worthies often snigger at the materialist orientation of the hoi polloi. In Australia the election results led local celebrities to brand their fellow citizens as unremittingly “dumb,” something that has been echoed by celebrities, university professors and senior bureaucrats throughout the west.
Needed: a positive policy agenda
To succeed, notes long time environmentalist and author Ted Nordhaus, environmentalists must abandon “utopian fantasies” make “peace with modernity and technology.” Green virtue-signaling has led many environmentalists to abandon proven and economically viable methods of reducing greenhouse gases, including expanding hydro-electric, nuclear and, most importantly, natural gas in favor of ruinously expensive renewables.
This tendency is exemplified by the Green New Deal’s pledge to abandon fossil fuels by 2030. Former Obama energy secretary Ernest Moritz admits he “cannot see how we could possibly go to zero carbon in the 10-year timeframe,” adding wisely that such “impractical targets may “ lose a lot of key constituencies who we need to bring along to have a real low-carbon solution”.
To win public support, environmentalists should create a positive agenda placing more emphasis on new technologies, while adjusting to whatever changes the climate may have for us. If catastrophic change is likely, we might spend more on resiliency — coastal walls, dispersed power systems, desalination plants, better storage of water as well as conservation. Promoting home-based work and the dispersal of employment to the periphery, where families can afford to live, is more attractive than frog-marching people into ever smaller, denser places.
The current fundamentalist green approach seems destined for failure, as occurred in Australia. Rejecting any “middle ground,” backers of programs like the Green New Deal may find their constituency limited to brainwashed middle schoolers, the gentry rich, green energy profiteers and the mindless celebrity universe. To succeed, environmentalists need a realistic program offering a better prospect for humanity. If not, their political fortunes will continue to wane.
This article first appeared in The Orange County Register.
Joel Kotkin is the Roger Hobbs Distinguished Fellow in Urban Studies at Chapman University and executive director of the Houston-based Center for Opportunity Urbanism. He authored The Human City: Urbanism for the rest of us, published in 2016 by Agate. He is also author of The New Class Conflict, The City: A Global History, and The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. He is executive director of NewGeography.com and lives in Orange County, CA.