by Rupert Darwall
Sin, punishment, redemption: as an ideology, environmentalism shares many features with organized religion. Falling after Easter this year, Earth Day, which was celebrated April 22, focuses on the sin-and-punishment parts of the trilogy. Redemption comes later, toward the end of each year, at the annual U.N. climate conferences that will save the planet.
On Earth Day this year, however, a loud dissenting voice was heard. Speaking at a Heritage Foundation event in Florida, Donald Trump attacked climate-change catastrophizing.
“One of the most urgent tasks, not only for our movement but for our country, is to decisively defeat the climate hysteria hoax,” Trump declared. Fearmongering about the climate is destroying America’s economy, weakening our society, and eviscerating the middle class, Trump argued. “It’s helping fuel runaway inflation.”
Some right-of-center politicians criticize the policy effects of climate catastrophism, such as the Green New Deal, and pivot to advocating what they see as smarter—that is, less damaging—climate policies. This is a loser’s strategy, however. If a planetary catastrophe is in the cards, it justifies the most extreme measures to avoid it. Those who question those measures are demonized for holding the planet’s survival to ransom.
Where Trump breaks new ground is grasping the political necessity of calling out climate hysteria for what it is. As the French philosopher Pascal Bruckner wrote in The Fanaticism of the Apocalypse, under climate alarmism, the future, as it had been under communism, once again becomes “the great category of blackmail.”
Trump understands this. “The radical Left is advancing hysterical predictions . . . and catastrophic power plays to control our entire society.” Indeed, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)—notionally a scientific body but now acting as the supreme fount of green ideology—says that net-zero climate policies provide the opportunity for “intentional societal transformation.” Limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celcius above pre-industrial levels—a purely arbitrary target lacking any scientific or economic justification—requires “rapid and far-reaching transitions in energy, land, urban and infrastructure . . . and industrial systems,” the IPCC says. “There is no documented historic precedent for their scale.”
Released in March, the IPCC’s latest report pushing its favored solutions to climate change highlights “the importance of fundamental changes in society.” Whatever this is, it isn’t science.
Voters won’t give up the benefits of fossil fuels for a pinprick. Societal transformation, therefore, demands that climate change be represented as an existential threat.
The practice of catastrophizing climate change goes back more than three decades to the launch of global warming on the world stage. The closing statement of the 1988 Toronto climate conference declared: “Humanity is conducting an unintended, uncontrolled, globally pervasive experiment, whose ultimate consequences are second only to global nuclear war.”
The comparison with global nuclear war was baloney then, and 34 years on, it’s still baloney.
Trump was onto this two years ago in his speech at the Davos World Economic Forum, the one CNN slammed for Trump’s snubbing of “the Davos vision” in favor of American energy independence.
“With an abundance of American natural gas now available, our European allies no longer have to be vulnerable to unfriendly energy suppliers,” Trump said. “We urge our friends in Europe to use America’s vast supply and achieve true energy security”—advice that, in light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, European nations were extraordinarily unwise to have spurned.
Trump condemned the foundational tenet of environmentalism, one that has become an article of faith for the Davos set. “We must reject the perennial prophets of doom and their predictions of the apocalypse. They are the heirs of yesterday’s foolish fortune-tellers.” Indeed, they predicted an overpopulation crisis in the 1960s; mass starvation in the 1970s; and an “end of oil” in the 1990s.
“These alarmists always demand the same thing: absolute power to dominate, transform, and control every aspect of our lives,” Trump said.
A 2021 paper by Carnegie Mellon University researchers David Rode and Paul Fischbeck analyzes 79 predictions of climate-caused apocalypse going back to the first Earth Day in 1970. Across half a century of such forecasts, little has changed: the apocalypse is always about 20 years out. Thanks to the passage of time, 61 percent of the predictions of climate catastrophe have already expired and been definitively falsified.
Nonetheless, predictive failure has not dissuaded climate activists and scientists from making more of them. The researchers note that Stanford biologist Paul Ehrlich and Prince Charles are both serial failures as forecasters, repeatedly expressing certitude about apocalyptic climate events that didn’t happen.
If environmentalism were grounded in science and rationality, these persistent failures would lead to climate alarmism being dialed down—instead, the opposite has happened. But environmentalism isn’t about reason and evidence. It is a powerful ideology opposed to freedom and capitalism for its success in bringing hitherto undreamt levels of prosperity to the masses.
“Conservative leaders, think tanks, and intellectuals must be fearless in calling out the lunacy of what you’re seeing,” Trump told the Heritage audience. The former president is right. If conservative leaders don’t take that advice, climate alarmism will win—and America will be the loser.
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Rupert Darwall is a senior fellow of the RealClear Foundation. He is the author of Green Tyranny and The Age of Global Warming: A History.