‘Man is the measure of all things’, Greek philosopher Protagoras wrote over 2,500 years ago. Unfortunately, our elites today tend not to see it that way.
In recent years, the overused word ‘sustainability’ has fostered a narrative in which human needs and aspirations have taken a back seat to the green austerity of Net Zero and ‘degrowth’. The ruling classes of a fading West are determined to save the planet by immiserating their fellow citizens. Their agenda is expected to cost the world $6 trillion per year for the next 30 years. Meanwhile, they will get to harvest massive green subsidies and live like Renaissance potentates.
In Enemies of Progress, author Austin Williams suggests that ‘the mantra of sustainability’ starts with the assumption that humanity is ‘the biggest problem of the planet’, rather than the ‘creators of a better future’. Indeed, many climate scientists and green activists see having fewer people on the planet as a key priority. Their programme calls not only for fewer people and fewer families, but also for lower consumption among the masses. They expect us to live in ever smaller dwelling units, to have less mobility, and to endure more costly home heating and air-conditioning. These priorities are reflected in a regulatory bureaucracy that, if it does not claim justification from God, acts as the right hand of Gaia and of sanctified science.
The question we need to ask is: sustainability for whom? US Treasury secretary Janet Yellen recently suggested that her department sees climate change as ‘the greatest economic opportunity of our time’. To be sure, there is lots of gold in green for the same Wall Street investors, tech oligarchs and inheritors who fund the campaigns of climate activists. They increasingly control the media, too. The Rockefellers, heirs to the Standard Oil fortune, and other ultra-wealthy greens are currently funding climate reporters at organs like the Associated Press and National Public Radio.
Under the new sustainability regime, the ultra-rich profit, but the rest of us not so much. The most egregious example may be the forced take-up of electric vehicles (EVs), which has already helped to make Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, the world’s second-richest man. Although improvements are being made to low-emissions vehicles, consumers are essentially being frogmarched into adopting a technology that has clear technical problems, remains far more expensive than the internal-combustion engine and depends primarily on an electric grid already on the brink of blackouts. Green activists, it turns out, do not expect EVs to replace the cars of hoi polloi. No, ordinary people will be dragooned to use public transport, or to walk or bike to get around.
The shift to electric cars is certainly no win for the West’s working and middle classes. But it is an enormous boon to China, which enjoys a huge lead in the production of batteries and rare-earth elements needed to make EVs, and which also figure prominently in wind turbines and solar panels. China’s BYD, which is backed by Warren Buffett, has emerged as the world’s top EV manufacturer, with big export ambitions. Meanwhile, American EV firms struggle with production and supply-chain issues, in part due to green resistance to domestic mining for rare-earth minerals. Even Tesla expects much of its future growth to come from its Chinese factories.
Read the rest of this piece at Spiked.
Joel Kotkin is the author of The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class. He is the Roger Hobbs Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and Executive Director for Urban Reform Institute. Learn more at joelkotkin.com and follow him on Twitter @joelkotkin.