Few things in life are as predictable as the rhetoric of climate change summits like this coming week’s in Glasgow. Over the next week, you will hear again and again that the planet is dying and that climate change will cause mass dislocations and starvation. The end is nigh, the UN has told us, and only green house gas reducing penance can save us.
We have been hearing this now for decades, with each global confab upping the ante, insisting that with the inevitable denouement, “not enough” is being done and what we need is to get more militant. And this despite whatever progress has been made.
The climate industrial complex, as economist Bjorn Lonborg has aptly called the climate doomsday crowd, has persuaded the media to indulge consistent exaggeration and predictions that link virtually any weather event— droughts, floods , hurricanes or heavy rains—directly to human caused climate change. As President Obama’s undersecretary of energy for science, physicist Steve Koonin, pointed out, the most widely reported projections reflect only highly improbable worse case scenarios based on such things as ever growing coal usage and no significant technological improvement.
Increasingly, even climate scientists are noting that the constant, and often poorly supported doomsaying threaten the credibility of the movement itself. And there have been quiet reversals; the more extreme predictions have been abandoned or walked back, even by the UN itself. And yet, in the U.S., the vast majority of young Americans continue to believe that we face imminent environmental catastrophe. And Canadian psychologists have found elevated levels of anxiety among young people, some of whom see climate as justifying the decision to not have offspring—not surprising given that they are constantly told that their world will be coming to a catastrophic end.
Of course, some climate change is real and deserving of our attention; it needs to be addressed. But what we need to combat it is not despair, but rather, a willingness to face future climate changes of any kind, including those that may be induced by human activities, with positive effort. The environmental movement needs to give up “utopian fantasies,” writes Ted Nordhaus, a longtime California environmentalist, and “make its peace with modernity and technology.”
A mix of diverse options from nuclear power and hydroelectric generation to replacing coal with abundant, cleaner natural gas and geothermal, as well as entirely new innovations could reduce emissions over time without catastrophic economic and social consequences. This is particularly true in the developing world that remains critically short of reliable, affordable energy.
After all, this is not the first time humanity has confronted ecological problems. Rome, as Kyle Harper writes in his brilliant book, The Fate of Rome, experienced wide-scale climate change and a lack of water, but kept itself alive longer by inspired engineering efforts to bring water to big cities and construct roads that allowed for the movement of food into the imperial center. California, my adopted home state, dealt with its historic aridity by engineering enormous water works that led to the creation of America’s technological and cultural hub, as well as the country’s leading agriculture producers.
Perhaps the best model can be found in the example of the Netherlands, where catastrophic flooding in the sixteenth century prompted an extensive and successful expansion of coastal berms to prevent future floods. Meanwhile, a failure to anticipate climate changes doomed civilizations from Mesoamerica, the Indus Valley, and Cambodia. More recently, New Orleans suffered greatly from hurricanes due to lack of adequate preparations, and today California, in tow from the green left, suffers serious droughts more often not due to not only climate change but a persistent unwillingness to expand a system designed for half its current population.
Moreover, the West’s attempts to reduce emissions quickly will mean little if developing countries—notably China—keep spewing out more greenhouse gases. Since 2010, China has increased its emissions by 25 percent while the U.S. has reduced GHG emissions by more than any other larger country. China now emits more than the entire developed world put together. Yet as China builds new coal plants to keep their factories humming, regulations in Europe and America serve to drive more production to China, with its notoriously high carbon supply chains and polluted cities; according to one study, China is home to 23 of 25 largest cities in terms of GHG emissions
By speeding up western de-industrialization, the climate movement has made things much worse. China’s dominance in producing solar panels and the essential metals needed to produce “clean” electricity and electric cars are ironically being produced in much less environmental conditions than they would have been here in the U.S.
In contrast to the elites in the West, China’s strategy is shaped by self-interest, not guilt. As energy supplies have tightened recently, threatening China’s industrial ascendancy, China loosened its climate policy and start building “back better” by adding over a 1,000 coal plants which will produce even more coal. Both Xi Xinping and his wingman, Vladimir Putin, pay lip service to concern about the climate but clearly prioritize improving the general economy over winning the plaudits of the academic and media clerisy. Control over communications on climate is not quite yet total here , but rest assured: Google and the other oligarchs, encouraged by progressives, are working to control the debate much like the state does in China.
Unlike China or Russia, another beneficiary of western abandonment of fossil fuels, people in democracies and “open societies” still read contrarian accounts, and sometimes fight back against their governments. Rising energy prices have sparked rebellions in France, Alberta and Ontario, as well as many states, including left-leaning Washington and Colorado, where voters rejected such things as carbon taxes and bans on oil drilling. Overall, most Americans are indifferent or hostile to many fundamental aspects of the Green New Deal, and would be loath to spend much more than a pittance to support its proposals.
For some greens, the current energy shortages plaguing the U.S., China and Europe reflect progress towards a glorious net-zero emissions era. Climate activists see in the draconian pandemic lockdowns a “test run”for future social control, and the middle and working class have reason to fear the policies adopted by this elite. The “great reset” adopted by the Davos crowd identified squashing social mobility and limiting prosperity as perquisites for environmental salvation. We have seen the first flushes of poverty linked to climate policy—what one socialist neatly labeled “eco-Thatcherism”—with clear evidence in California, the U.K. and Germany. In large part due to climate policies, many middle and working class families will face fuel bills that could increase 50 percent this winter.
Such policies barely impact the upper classes who proudly attend events like Glasgow. After all, the uber wealthy—British royals, Hollywood celebrities, super-models, Michael Bloomberg, Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos—have learned to embrace the climate “emergency” even as they continue to build new estates, hold $2 million weddings, fly their private jets and even take a joyride in space. All this while asking hoi polloi , and the impoverished developing countries, to live ever smaller.
The lure of potential profits from green policies also makes this a good business prospect for venture Capitalists, tech firms and Wall Street interests seeking to capitalize on the disruption of what had been a usually reliable energy sector.
But at some point, people will start to push back against this gross misuse of science and fear mongering. Medieval-like immiseration justified by apocalyptic theology should not define humanity’s inevitable trajectory.
Joel Kotkin is the Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and executive director of the Urban Reform Institute. His new book, The Coming of Neo-Feudalism, is now out from Encounter. You can follow him on Twitter: @joelkotkin.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own.