Green Shackles

Green Shackles

Op-ed in The Canadian Government Executive
September 12, 2008

Václav Klaus, president of the Czech Republic, chaffed for many years
under the thumb of Soviet totalitarianism. In his new book, Blue Planet in Green Shackles – What Is Endangered: Climate or Freedom?
he argues there is a new mantra menacing the West – that
environmentalism has become a significant threat to human liberty and
progress.

Environmentalism, Klaus warns, is “an anti-human ideology,” which “sees
the fundamental cause of the world’s problems in the very expansion of
homo sapiens.” For radical environmentalists, human prosperity is
undesirable because it alters the Earth’s landscape from its natural
state. So they try to limit and ultimately arrest the engine of
progress – economic freedom – through the regulatory state.

The most dangerous manifestation of environmentalism, notes Klaus, is
global warming alarmism. Global climate changes have occurred without
human intervention. Volcanoes, comets and the sun have changed the
climate drastically over the planet’s history. Only 11,000 years ago a
sheet of ice miles thick covered much of Canada.

But this time humans could be the cause of a gradual warming by burning
fossil fuels to generate energy, and that, apparently, is unacceptable.
So, in order to control the globe’s thermostat, the solution proposed
is to control global energy production.

Former vice-president Al Gore recently launched a multi-million-dollar
campaign to promote a climate policy to have the United States
government usher in a carbon-free electricity sector within ten years.
Take a moment to imagine the scale of government intervention necessary
to accomplish this.

Would the state have to seize all suppliers and providers of
hydrocarbon electricity – coalmines, natural gas drills, pipelines,
coal-fired power plants, gas turbines, and much more?

Gore says that government must ensure that no workers lose their jobs
during the transition to a “greener” energy supply – a policy that
would instantly turn millions of workers in the hydrocarbon sector into
dependents of the state.

This socialization of the electricity sector would cost trillions in
taxpayer money. Government would have to expropriate millions of
hectares of land upon which to build enough solar panels, wind
turbines, and transmission towers to get these new sources of power to
the masses.

If the alarmists get their way, developing countries, too, would be
forced to adopt expensive energy policies. Economists predict an 80
percent increase in global energy demand by 2050 will cause global
greenhouse gas emissions to grow by 70 percent. Almost all the increase
in energy demand and emissions will come from developing countries,
where a quarter of the global population currently lacks access to
electricity.

Forcing energy poverty upon the developing world is bad enough. But
central planning of the energy sector faces another big problem: it
doesn’t work. The alarmists simply aren’t knowledgeable enough to plan
how best to produce and use energy. No one is. That’s why centralized,
command-and-control climate policies are worse for human welfare than
climate change could be.

In his book Cool It, Danish statistician Bjørn Lomborg
applies a cost/benefit analysis to climate change mitigation measures
like the Kyoto Protocol, and finds that they are a tragic waste of
money. According to his research, we could spend a fraction of the cost
of climate policies on immediate problems, like HIV or malaria, and
save millions more lives than global warming could possibly take.

Dr. William Nordhaus of Yale University estimates that unabated global
warming would cost the world $22 trillion this century. Nordhaus
calculates that Al Gore’s package of measures would reduce those
warming costs to $10 trillion, but at a cost of $34 trillion. That’s a
crummy deal.

It’s time to start talking about real problems – and real solutions.
Affordable energy is the lifeblood of prosperity. Environmentalists may
deplore economic growth, but the rest of the world wants it
desperately. If developing nations’ energy use is causing global
warming, then we’re not going to stop rising temperatures.

But humans can adapt to a gradual warming. To do so, mankind must
become resilient, and the best measure of resiliency is wealth. Wealth
creation, in turn, is facilitated by economic freedom.

Global warming alarmists claim that their primary concern is the
well-being of future generations. If that’s really the case, they
should take up Klaus’s challenge, and embrace – not stifle –
prosperity.

William Yeatman is an energy policy analyst at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.