Well noted by Joel Kotkin in the Orange County Register.
To some, particularly in the green movement, this month’s Paris climate change summit represents something like the great synods of the early Christian era, where truth and policy, for example, on pastoral celibacy, were determined by the princes of the church. Some others, largely marginalized on the fringes of the Right, insist the whole extravaganza is part of a vast left-wing conspiracy to delude people into accepting a world government.
Lost in translation is that the Paris conference is largely a sideshow camouflaging a potentially epic struggle among national, regional and economic interests. This mundane reality is often lost amid the apocalyptic rhetoric, such as employed by Gov. Jerry Brown, that insists draconian action is necessary to avoid the species’ imminent “extinction.”
In the real world, everything boils down to the winners and, arguably, the many more losers from the relentless drive to “decarbonize” the economy. Economist Bjorn Lonborg suggests that, by 2100, climate change policies will cost about a $1 trillion each year. Although scientists, bureaucrats, nonprofits and connected corporatists might actually benefit from decarbonizing quickly, it’s hard to see how most people will benefit from such an upheaval.
Not surprisingly, a growing number of people in key countries have become increasingly less interested in sacrificing their lives for some impending but not-yet-occurring catastrophe. In fact, a recent BBC poll covering some 20 countries found a decreasing interest in the climate agenda in all but three – Russia, Turkey and Spain. In many countries, including the United Kingdom, despite almost incessant media coverage, the public has become more skeptical about paying for far-reaching climate policies.
Given the likelihood of resistance, climate change activists increasingly look to authorities to impose their policies by fiat. A Washington state judge, for example, recently ruled that governments should have no choice but to impose draconian policies in order to protect the futures of young people. Oddly, the judge had no similar concern about their future economic prospects.
In a similar vein, the Atlantic recently rejected relying on markets or technology for solutions in favor of creating a ruling “technocracy.” These worthies then could impose energy austerity that would limit many middle-class pleasures like cheap air travel, cars, freeways, suburbs and single-family housing. Like it or not, we are to be crammed into the dense, urban living favored only by a small, if increasingly influential, section of the population.
This approach requires developing something akin to a wartime mentality, when people are most willing to surrender their interests for the greater good. It also requires demonizing the “enemy” – oil companies, skeptics, suburban developers – who are creating the apocalypse. There is little room for either debate about either means or ends, an intolerance that even extends to distinguished climate scientists whose crime is to differ, in any way, with the alarmist consensus.
Still, we have not yet surrendered to the rule of a single group of credentialed experts. In the United States, and most of the world, politics remain a creation of imperfect people who will decide based largely on self-interest. Below are some of the major political fault lines that will rage after the climate talks and will likely shape how the issue is addressed in coming years.
Rich countries versus developing world
Besides endless proselytizing, the discussions in Paris arguably will revolve around the ransom – $100 billion is one recent estimate – demanded by developing countries for their enacting greenhouse gas reduction policies. After all, the developing countries argue, the rise in carbon emissions began with the Industrial Revolution born in the West. Asking poorer countries to adopt tough climate policies threatens their growth at a time when many of them have made enormous progress in creating wealth and reducing poverty.
Most poorer countries are more interested in getting rich – which generally means they will increase emissions – than pleasing the rich in the developed world. China, by far the world’s leading emissions generator, wants to put off major reforms until 2030. Barely 18 percent of Chinese, according to Pew, consider climate change a major issue. The pope, Al Gore and Jerry Brown may worry endlessly about the fate of the planet, but in China, it’s the fate of the economy, and the Communist Party, that really matters.
Comparatively, China is far better positioned to cut emissions than the many much poorer countries, such as India, where the vast majority live near and below the poverty line, and which are likely to account for most new emissions. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has no intention of abandoning fossil fuels, including coal, which, due to developing country demand, remains the fastest-growing of all major energy sources. Modi recently moved to try to remove Greenpeace from India for trying to mobilize against coal-fired plants.