Whenever the United States fails to adopt climate-change policy favored by the Left, advocates like to point to polls that allegedly illustrate how a vast majority of Americans support “fighting climate change” or “reducing carbon emissions” or “believe in global warming.” These vague, feel-good moral declarations are equivalent to voters saying they are in favor “reducing poverty” or “helping children.” The more useful question is what are you willing to do? Give up one of your cars? Pay more for energy, food, housing, and everything else? Do you want to empower government to run the economy to help fix the problem?
When it comes to perfunctorily treating global warming as an evil, Democrats have won. The importance of “greening” everything has saturated society. Everyone gets it. When it comes to policy that supposedly mitigates climate change, though, they lose. Mostly, because they’ve hijacked “science” in pursuit of ideologically driven economic policies.
The Paris Agreement is substantively a joke. The widespread rage about President’s Trump’s withdrawal is, as many people have already noted, a case of mass virtue signaling. But the episode does reflect a larger problem for the Left.
The cycle goes something like this: Americans are marginally (or what some of us believe, appropriately) concerned about carbon emissions. For Malthusian progressives, and increasingly the rest of the Democratic Party, this won’t do. So they ratchet up the apocalyptic rhetoric in an effort to scare those people into embracing a slate of economic policies. The problem, of course, is that many people don’t like progressive economic policies. So liberals ratchet up the doom and gloom, to the point where they’re talking about this as an extinction-level event. Lots of people ignore these hysterics. Progressives then go from scaring to attempting to humiliate and bully those who won’t accept that progressive economic policies are tantamount to “science.” Half the country goes from being increasingly immune to becoming increasingly angry.
Many people comprehend – either intuitively or in stark terms—what tradeoffs mean. On one hand, liberals claim that our massive overindulgences have created a catastrophic future, and on the other, they act like it can be fixed with minimal pain or change. Those two positions do not align.
When people who hop on planes every other day lecture people about living more prudently, they react accordingly. Like human beings. Take this typical fare from New York Times columnist David Leonhardt, who writes that “Climate change, clearly, is real. It’s already doing damage in our country and abroad.” The statement is factually true, but woefully incomplete. For whatever harm they accept global warming is doing – which by now means any weather-related event – they plug in the massive benefits of fossil fuels.
I often hear pundits claim that science-denying voters either don’t understand the long-term consequences of global warming, or are selfishly ignoring the future. Maybe they see the future as a choice between a thriving free economy or an economy that runs through a centralized worldwide climate-change agreement? Maybe they choose the former for their grandkids? I do.
Moreover, many voters don’t see Democrats acting like people who believe we’re facing an extinction level event. For instance, why aren’t we talking about adding hundreds of new nuclear power plants to our energy portfolio? Such an effort would do far more to mitigate carbon emissions than any unreliable solar or windmill boondoggle –certainly more than any non-binding international agreement. Maybe there are tradeoffs, who knows.
Or take prospective presidential hopeful Andrew Cuomo. Setting intentions aside, in all practical ways, he’s been worse for the environment than Trump. Cuomo claims he “is committed to meeting the standards set forth in the Paris Accord regardless of Washington’s irresponsible actions.” Yet as governor, he’s blocked natural gas pipelines and banned fracking, which has proven to be one of the most effective ways to mitigate carbon emissions. U.S. energy-related carbon emissions have fallen almost 14 percent since they peaked in 2007 according to the OECD – this, without any fabricated carbon market schemes. The driving reason is the shift to natural gas. Why do liberals hate science? Why do they condemn our grandchildren to a fiery end?
Fact is, Obama—as was his wont—tried to shift American policy with his pen rather than by building consensus (which was also an assault on proper norms of American governance, but the “Trump is destroying the Constitution!” crowd is conveniently flexible on this issue.) It’s not a feasible or lasting way to govern, unless the system collapses. It is also transparently ideological.
This, I suspect, is one major reason climate change isn’t really a salient politic issue. No amount of hysteria is going to reverse this dynamic. Because, in the end, Malthusianism is no better than denialism – it is denialism, in fact. It is a belief that ignores history, human nature, and most importantly tradeoffs. Lots of people seem to understand this, either in stark political terms or intuitively. Sure, they say the things expected of them, but their actions betray a trust in human adaptability and technology more than in guesstimates. Many of them have lived through the eco-scaremongering of the 70s and 80s, and yet, they now see innovation spreading in a cleaner world where poverty has dramatically fallen and, by almost every quantifiable measure, human existence is improving.