In 1979’s “California Über Alles,” the Dead Kennedys imagined then-Governor Jerry Brown as a despotic hippie president, a Zen fascist who would deploy the suede-denim secret police to round up citizens who didn’t sufficiently “mellow out.” Jello Biafra may have overestimated Brown’s political prospects, but then, he wasn’t completely off about governor’s worldview.
While attending the United Nations Climate Summit in Paris last week, Brown reportedly argued that the world should never underestimate “the coercive power of the central state” when promoting polices that satisfy the Left’s goals. And, no, he didn’t say it like it was a bad thing. Peppering his talk with pleasant euphemisms (it’s not coercion but “well-designed regulatory objectives that business then follows”), Brown stressed the importance of compelling people to make sound, progressive decisions.
I’m relatively sure Brown wouldn’t approve of correspondingly forceful governance in, say, Texas. But no one has ever accused zealots of being objective.
The Paris climate accord (a non-treaty), was celebrated as one of the most momentous events in history, a “turning point for the world,” Obama said. Slate optimistically claimed it was the “end of the fossil fuel era.” In Esquire, Charles Pierce says we reached a “landmark deal on the most important issue of our time.” Not one of the pieces I read in the liberal media considered whether such an earth-shattering agreement, paid for by the United States, might deserve some buy-in from the American people.
Which got me wondering: what coercive state power do Democrats believe would be a step too far in fighting climate change? I mean, if global warming is truly the most devastating and treacherous threat that mankind has ever faced — indisputably proven by science — wouldn’t it be morally acceptable to ignore the archaic constraints of an 18th century constitution if it meant saving billions of people from their own lethally irresponsible behavior?
Separation of powers? Congress? If you accept that entire nations are mere decades away from being swallowed up by the ocean (as the president does), that severe storms will annihilate millions, that droughts will inflame more terrorism and war, and that global warming will make large swaths of the earth completely uninhabitable, don’t those who hold power have a moral obligation to agree to international deals without concerning yourself with what the majority party in Congress has to say?
The “coercive power of the central state” is available to do all types of things that are technically legal.
Would liberals be willing to regulate the making of certain appliances and electronics if it meant slowing climate change? Would they be willing to ration electricity to each residence to help slow the spewing of carbon into the air? Would they be open to limiting the number of cars the average America family could own? Would they limit how many miles a citizen can fly every year? How about regulating the size of houses?
If not, then why not? The future is at stake? If you accept the histrionically ominous sermons at Slate or The New Republic (“Right now, we’re in a car, hanging on for dear life as we hurtle around a mountain bend. If we don’t hit the brakes soon, we’re going to lose control, crash through the guardrail, and careen into the abyss”), then what choice do you have?
Climate change is a more precarious threat to humanity than terrorism. This has been repeatedly explained to me by the some of the brightest minds of our generation.
So, if developing nations — after we’ve paid them climate reparations — start building coal-powered plants that allow citizens to enjoy modern conveniences like affordable electricity, cars, and air conditioning, and ignore those theoretical strictures on emissions that they signed on to in Paris, shouldn’t the U.S. consider invading? Should we not, at the very least, bomb them into compliance, as we do ISIS? Or perhaps we should sanction them and destroy their economies as we tried to do with Iran and South Africa? If countries that shelter and fund terrorists fear lethal force from world powers, why would climate-change deniers and propagators be immune from retribution if their sins are, in the aggregate, even worse?
Reductio ad absurdum you say? I say at some point your actions have to catch up with the rhetoric. Democrats have turned global warming into an issue that’s without comparison in contemporary American political history. This is literally a fight to save the world. Liberals like to accuse conservatives of selfishly ignoring the plight of the poor and minorities. Now, they can just accuse conservatives of killing everyone.
And because so many Americans are stubborn (they must hate the world, for some reason), the bloodcurdling rhetoric ratchets up. Every day a new calamity emerges. Pierce, who reflects some of the ugliest inclinations of liberals these days, recently argued that: “At this point, if you deny climate change, you are a traitor to your species.”
You’re no longer a science-hating troglodyte. You’re no longer merely unpatriotic. You’re disloyal to all of mankind. Why should we even pay attention to your vote or voice? Maybe the state can prosecute you for thought crimes?
Sometimes I wish alarmists would just find God so they would embrace a more plausible apocalypse than global warming. When the Mayans faced Armageddon, they shut down their society and headed back to the caves. This is basically what liberals would have us do if they were serious about dealing with carbon in a modern world. The difference, of course, is that the Mayans invested in their faith. Americans don’t care. They don’t drive less, they don’t eat less meat, and they don’t make any changes that mitigate the supposed problem. Someone is going to have to force them to do the right thing.
Though Obama’s Paris deal might be useless and without the force of law — though, everyone is acting otherwise — it will probably be difficult to dislodge the unilateral policies of a president, even if Republicans win back the White House. The agreement also plays into the larger precedent-setting unilateralism of Obama, who ignores Congress whenever he finds the legislative body’s position unfavorable. As David Bernstein in The Volokh Conspiracy points out, for Obama, in numerous fronts internationalism has taken precedence over the “parochialism” of the U.S. Constitution:
So what exactly is going on here? Here’s where the tie to climate change comes in: The administration is indulging in a form of liberal internationalism that seeks to subordinate adherence to the American Constitution, its separation of powers, and the laws enacted under it to what its advocates consider the much more important values of international cooperation and humanitarianism, which may be undertaken efficiently and efficaciously only by a strong executive.
We can assume that most of the autocrats attending the climate summit (and the majority of our new world partners are autocrats) would agree with Brown’s ideological perspective. Whether we’re talking about theocrats, old-fashioned dictators, or communists, “the coercive power of the central state” is always the preferred way to streamline policy. The question is how many Democrats agree?