Benjamin Zycher: Earth Day 2020: The Exhaustion of the Climate Left
The following article originally appeared in RealClearMarkets and was written by Benjamin Zycher:
“Climate Action” is the theme of this 50th Earth Day, and it is useful to note that these five decades of apocalyptic warnings truly are amazing in their consistency: Not one actually has come to pass. The juxtaposition of two news stories, respectively from 1988 and from last January, is among the more amusing tidbits from decades of climate fearmongering. The former: “A gradual rise in sea level is threatening to completely cover” the Maldives. The latter: “Maldives to open four new airports in 2020.”
Amusement aside, the theme this year is a clear sign of the intellectual and ideological exhaustion of the environmental left: It has learned nothing and forgotten nothing. What “climate action” do the celebrants of Earth Day recommend? From shooting feral camels in the Australian Outback, to denying billions of people the fruits of hard work and increasing wealth, to the substitution of utterly inefficient and unreliable “clean” (actually, very dirty) wind and solar electricity in place of fossil-fired power, to the imposition of an authoritarian regimentation of which the COVID-19 lockdowns are only a taste: The climate effects of “climate action” would be virtually unmeasurable. The deeply unserious Paris agreement: 0.17°C by 2100. Zero greenhouse gas emissions by the entire Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development: about 0.3°C. A 30 percent cut in GHG emissions by virtually the entire world (stop laughing): about 0.6°C.
The sharp reduction in global economic output attendant upon the COVID-19 pandemic will reduce GHG emissions by 5 percent this year. If maintained for the rest of the century, the temperature reduction in 2100 would be about 0.1°C. Can anyone believe that any such economic downturn is sustainable as a matter of political reality anywhere other than North Korea?
A recent IPCC report argues that the “safe” limit on anthropogenic temperature increases by 2100 is 1.5°C. (It used to be 2°C; the climate industry has moved the goalposts because given current trends it is clear that the 2°C limit will be met without any climate policies at all.) In the context of the massive economic pain caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, yielding a trivial temperature effect by 2100 even if maintained, it is useful to review the taxes advocated by IPCC in that report. Buried in the supporting documentation is a discussion (page 2-78) of the taxes (in year 2010 dollars) on GHG emissions that would be needed to limit warming in this century to 1.5°C:
“Estimates for a Below-1.5˚C pathway range from 135–5500 USD [per] tCO2-eq in 2030, 245–13000 USD [per] tCO2-eq in 2050, 420–17500 USD [per] tCO2-eq in 2070 and 690–27000 USD [per] tCO2-eq in 2100.”
The mid-point of the range for 2030 is $3160 per ton in year 2019 dollars. That works out to a tax per gallon of gasoline of $30. (Combustion of a gallon of gasoline/ethanol 10 percent blend emits about 18.9 pounds of CO2.) Put aside the higher figures among the ranges and the upward shifts as the end of the century approaches. The question posed above is worthy of repetition: Can anyone believe that such taxes on conventional energy are feasible politically anywhere in the world other than North Korea?
Back to the trivial temperature effects of various climate policies: There is no dispute about these numbers. Accordingly, “Climate Action” is nothing more than an ideological attack on fossil fuels as part of a drive to empower elites at the expense of democratic accountability. That is the reality because the climate “movement” for the most part now comprises academics, left-wing foundations, and officials and staffers in governments and international bodies engaged in a perpetual motion machine of “research” grants, conferences, and mass haj-like pilgrimages every year to luxury resorts, five-star restaurants, and cocktail gatherings, financed in substantial part by those foundations and corporate officials eager to bask in the wholly hypocritical applause of the politically correct.
The corporate officials endorsing this movement must believe that such pandering will insulate them from vociferous attacks from the Left and from future political and policy recriminations designed to extract resources from their shareholders. That illustrates little more than their naivete. Their participation in this game represents agreement with the common refrain that there is a climate “crisis” (for which there is no evidence, literally) and an implicit admission that they are guilty of contributing to it, reflecting their utter incompetence at ideological battle in their own defense. After all, successful businessmen and women are skilled at producing things that other people value; there is no reason to believe that they are good at ideological battle.
The environmental left, on the other hand, produces nothing of value but is decidedly expert at little else but ideological battle. Regardless of the degree to which the business sector utters all the right words, it cannot earn a pardon from the Climate Action proponents because their strategy is closely derived from Stalinism. During the heights of Soviet totalitarianism, a late-night knock on the door and a trip to the gulag, or worse, was always a real possibility regardless of how vociferous was one’s applause, how abject was one’s obsequiousness, how faithfully one destroyed others as a display of loyalty. Similarly, opposition to Earth Day dogma guarantees attacks, while capitulation offers a chance of temporary immunity. One would think that after 50 years of insults from the left, the corporate suits would wise up. One would be wrong.
Because of that Stalinist ideological core, the environmental left is happy to accelerate economic and physical suffering among ordinary people so as to further its goals. Witness the happiness about the reduced emissions of GHG and conventional pollutants attendant upon the sharp decline in economic activity worldwide caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead of a central hope that the economic suffering will end, we have instead the central left-wing fear that an economic revival will increase emissions! This celebration of suffering exposes the fundamental anti-human core of the Earth Day movement, which views ordinary people—climate kulaks, as it were—as only mouths to feed wreaking environmental destruction, rather than as individuals with moral value and as the ultimate resource yielding ingenuity and inventiveness driving a dynamic process of finding solutions to problems.
The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed in blinding fashion the wisdom of markets relative to the top-down edicts inflicted by environmentalists and politicians not nearly as smart as they imagine. Bans on plastic bags, mass transit in place of personal transportation, and forcing ever-more people to live in urban centers: Such nostrums now look far less fashionable than the elitists maintained before. (Bear in mind Jerry Brown’s “vision” for the living conditions of masses of ordinary people: “elegant density.”) For the environmental left on this Earth Day and the eternity of Earth Days to come, the actual course of events is irrelevant; only the imperative of apocalypseserves the cause. For them everything old is new again.