by Edward Ring
No reasonable person would deny the importance of protecting the environment. The accomplishments of the environmental movement over the past 50 years are undeniable: cleaner air and water, protected wildernesses, and more efficient use of resources. The list is endless and illustrious. Environmentalist values are an integral part of any responsible public policy agenda. But the pendulum has swung too far.
Environmentalism, which once challenged corporate power, is now its useful puppet. And “climate change,” once a peripheral concern, is now a “climate crisis”—the self-proclaimed unassailable foundation of all environmentalism. Put another way, 60 years ago, environmentalism was a mostly good and courageous movement, but slowly transitioned to the point where today it serves as a front for plutocrats, relying on a big lie to sustain its momentum.
In an illuminating video posted earlier this month, Jordan Peterson interviewed Dr. Richard Lindzen on the topic of climate science. Lindzen, whose credentials are almost ridiculously germane and comprehensive, offered a withering perspective on contemporary environmentalism. He explained that in the 1960s, there was a lot of hunting around for an issue that would give environmentalists power over the energy industry. In the 1960s, environmentalists started tracking atmospheric carbon dioxide and determined it was increasing.
These CO2 measurements, initially begun out of mere scientific curiosity, gave environmentalists the issue they’d been looking for. As Lindzen put it, “If you wanted to control the energy sector, CO2 was the one pollutant that no matter how clean you make it, there will still be CO2. You can’t get rid of that if you burn fossil fuel.”
The essence of environmentalism today is to control and ration the energy supply on which human civilization depends. Since every amenity of civilization uses energy, this control and rationing extends to every human activity. It is a recipe for total control over every individual, every business, and every nation in the world. Which is the point.
It’s easy enough to speculate as to the identity of these ultimate puppeteers who have unleashed this grandiose plot on the world. We were just treated to a host of them flocking to Davos, Switzerland, for the annual conference of the World Economic Forum. It’s even easier to identify the hidden agenda; power and profit. Micromanage the world, and only the biggest or the most anointed players survive. It’s a gigantic trickle-up economic scheme, robbing the poor and giving to the rich.
Regardless of who pulls the strings behind the scenes, however, the marionettes are in plain sight. The entire state legislature in California, where nearly every “representative” is wholly owned by an alliance of public sector unions and tech billionaires, offers a perfect example. With every regulation, another unionized public bureaucracy is created, and another tech company finds new captive consumers.
The result is a soft fascism, a soul-destroying tyranny masquerading as an enlightened green utopia. California, sprawling across 164,000 square miles, has vast resources of farmland, timber, oil and gas, direct access to ocean fisheries, and valuable mineral resources. With barely 40 million people, the state is sparsely populated compared with most developed nations and should be delivering the most affordable cost of living in the world to its residents. The opposite is true.
In the name of protecting the environment and fighting climate change, California has declared war on its own people. The state’s policymakers have neglected a once remarkable water infrastructure and as a result, millions of acres of the most productive farmland on earth are being turned into a dust bowl, driving thousands of farm operations out of business and destroying the livelihoods that sustained millions of people. They have reduced the timber industry to less than one-quarter the size it was as recently as the 1990s. They have declared war on oil and gas, banning most new drilling and tightening restrictions on existing wells.
Critics of California’s authoritarian progressives too often focus on the easily mockable so-called woke agenda while safely refraining from challenging policies that derive from the alleged “climate emergency.” This is understandable, and woke ideology and the policies it spawns are ridiculous, destructive folly that must be crushed. But the highly visible depredations of woke activists become even more dangerous if they distract us from the encroachments green policies are making into every detail of individual private lives. The harmful impacts of the green machine are, in many ways, far more substantial and comprehensive.
The Upside of Green Policies for Big Business
When California, and then the entire nation, bans the production of incandescent light bulbs, that is an obvious intrusion into the market and the quality of life for everyday Californians. But less obvious is the inversion of incentives that drive the push for energy efficiency at the expense of health or affordability. As Californians pay exorbitant prices to bathe themselves in high wavelength light, disrupting their circadian rhythms, and as Californians endure the unhealthy micro-flickers of LEDs hooked to inadequate transformers, manufacturers gain new customers and sell higher-priced goods.
A more subtle green inversion of economic incentives, but just as contrary to the public interest, is when electric utilities convert to “renewables” (i.e., wind farms, solar farms, and battery farms) at staggering cost, while decommissioning fully paid-for nuclear power plants, hydroelectric dams, and natural gas power plants. As the electricity price to the consumer soars, the regulated public utilities earn more profits, since their pricing and hence their profits are based on a percentage markup over their costs. If your profit is limited to 9 percent, you’ll make a lot more money if you’re billing 30 cents per kilowatt-hour than if you’re billing 10 cents per kilowatt-hour. That’s an easy business decision.
It is obvious when dams are removed instead of new ones being built that farmers get less water. But less obvious are the ripple effects. Without a guaranteed water supply, new housing construction can’t get approved, limiting the supply of new homes and driving up the price for all housing. Then again, housing in California is too expensive anyway, thanks to green policies that limit where new homes can get built, absurdly overwritten building codes requiring “energy neutrality,” obscenely expensive costs for building permits, a capricious approval process that—without exaggeration—can take decades to navigate, and the constant threat of litigation by environmentalists to stop any new construction.
For every fundamental necessity, gasoline, natural gas, water, electricity, and housing, California’s green policies have created artificial scarcity. Everything costs more. The poor have lost all hope of achieving private financial independence, the middle class shrinks, and the rich get richer. A frustrated lobbyist in Sacramento recently summed it up: “Most environmentalists don’t care about people,” he said, “the old Democratic Party wanted to use government to make people’s lives better, but today their solution is to use government to make life harder then hook them to make them dependent on government. They want to use government to destroy the incentive to be productive. But if you kill off all the productive people, eventually society collapses.”
What’s Happening in California Is Happening Everywhere
It’s one thing to impose green scarcity on California, a state that can coast a while longer on the infrastructure investments of 50 years ago and rely on tapping the stupefying accumulation of wealth concentrated in its high-tech industry. But the marionettes that are implementing the green assault on civilization are everywhere.
One of the most recent fronts in their widening war on prosperity is the farming sector, from Canada and Spain to the Netherlands and Sri Lanka and elsewhere. Based on the contention that farm fertilizer is a factor in causing climate change, policymakers have decided to shut down huge sectors of commercial agriculture. The new regulations that will permit continued operations, of course, will be far too expensive for all but the largest global agribusiness concerns.
It’s not hard to see what’s happening here. There is no economic activity, anywhere, that doesn’t create greenhouse gas. Make it impossible for all but the wealthiest corporations to comply with the new edicts, and you roll up the world.
Unfortunately, when a rare thunderstorm delivers atomic-sounding sonic blasts to uninitiated Californians whose only previous experiences with sound that kinetic were the occasional punk driving by with his subwoofer turned up, they’re ready to believe the storm porn that pours out of every establishment news source. “Bomb cyclone.” “Polar vortex.” “Atmospheric River.” “Supercell.” “Snowpocalypse.” It’s all part of the “new normal,” as we allegedly encounter more and more “extreme weather events.”
Old-timers can remember the 1960s, when storms pulverized California, causing floods and freezes, but back then we didn’t listen to climate agenda-driven news. Storms were “storms.” And there weren’t ubiquitous high-resolution satellite images and video editing tools to allow every local weatherman to splash terrifying images onto our screens of cloud formations covering half the Pacific Ocean. But that doesn’t mean such cloud formations didn’t exist.
Around the world, the same game is played. Pakistan’s recent floods, despite the doomsday spin from PBS, were not abnormal because of “climate change.” They were an abnormal catastrophe because in just 60 years, the population of that nation has grown from 45 million to 240 million people. They’ve channelized their rivers, built dense new settlements onto what were once floodplains and other marginal land, they’ve denuded their forestswhich took away the capacity to absorb runoff, and they’ve paved thousands of square miles creating impervious surfaces where water can’t percolate. Of course a big storm made a mess. The weather didn’t change. The landscape changed.
The disaster story repeats everywhere. And contrary to the narrative, the primary cause is not “climate change.” Bigger tsunamis? Maybe it’s because coastal aquifers were overdrafted which caused land subsidence, or because previously uninhabited tidelands were settled because the population quintupled in less than two generations, and because coastal mangrove forests were destroyed which used to attenuate big waves. What about deforestation? Perhaps because these nations have been denied the ability to develop natural gas and hydroelectric power, they’re stripping away the forests for fuel to cook their food. In some cases, they’re burning their forests to make room for biofuel plantations, in a towering display of irony and corruption.
The Biggest Big Lie in the World
And behind it all is a big lie: the “climate emergency.” It’s not true.
Anyone hoping to stop the environmentalist assault on civilization must realize that it isn’t enough to challenge the individual policies that are supposedly designed to save the climate. It isn’t even enough to expose the preposterous, nihilistic, catastrophic, civilization-destroying absurdity of them—as if it is possible to transition to nothing but biofuel, wind, and solar energy and still deliver prosperity to 8 billion people within a decade or two.
What could work, however, would be to challenge the core premise of the climate alarmist movement. Learn the facts, evaluate the arguments of contrarian experts, and make up your own mind. If you no longer believe we actually face a climate emergency, say so, without reservations, in every venue and to every person and institution you can possibly influence.
Doing this may be deemed antisocial, and it may be suppressed, but it is a healthy expression of sanity. It used to be that when someone ran about claiming the world is about to end, that person was considered a lunatic. Let’s go back to those days. Human civilization could be entering a golden age of progress and prosperity, but it cannot get there without producing carbon dioxide.
With prosperity, we can adapt as we always have. With tyranny and poverty, we can do nothing. Climate alarmism is tyranny with green wrapping, delivered with terror.
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Edward Ring is a senior fellow of the Center for American Greatness. He is also is a contributing editor and senior fellow with the California Policy Center, which he co-founded in 2013 and served as its first president. Ring is the author of Fixing California: Abundance, Pragmatism, Optimism (2021) and The Abundance Choice: Our Fight for More Water in California (2022).