Challenging Environmentalists

Below is a preview of the September 30th Portland luncheon topic to be addressed by Czech President Václav Klaus:


Challenging environmentalists
by William Yeatman

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.

Meet Czech Republic President Václav Klaus
in Portland on September 30th.

Steve Buckstein is Senior Policy Analyst and founder of Cascade Policy Institute, a Portland-based think tank.