Paris Burns, and Macron Backs Down
Following weeks of rioting, President Macron backed down on his costly carbon taxes. As in other European countries, the French decided that heavy taxation of fossil fuels, putatively designed to slow global warming, just wasn't worth it. Who cares about an uncertain and distant rise in temperatures when one can't afford to heat one's house this winter, or drive one's car or transport food to market?
The French response to carbon taxes was unequivocal, but the left's still not listening, not in France or in the U.S. Some in the Pelosi Congress will almost certainly call for measures similar to California's recently passed bill requiring 100% of electricity to be derived from green fuels by 2045. That's just a carbon tax in disguise, more onerous, actually, than the French measure.
Just last month a federal judge temporarily blocked construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, citing the President's failure to take climate change into account. That judge, Brian Morris, was appointed by President Obama in 2013. His ruling would make it more difficult to transport Canadian oil to market. Forcing Canada to ship oil by rail and truck would also increase emissions, but the left doesn't care about that, either. What it cares about is environmental symbolism and the votes and power that come with it.
Judge Morris's ruling is based on a familiar argument: fossil fuels release CO2 and thus drive climate change. Therefore, any project that aids fossil fuel production must be stopped. There are two major problems with this argument. First, there is no conclusive evidence that carbon emissions markedly affect global temperatures. Second, most other human activities release carbon into the atmosphere, some to a greater extent than fossil fuels. In order to reduce carbon emissions to near zero, as many environmental groups urge, all human economic development would have to be halted. Judge Morris did not go that far, but zero development seems to be the implication of his ruling. Otherwise, why single out oil and gas?
Starting in January, with Pelosi in charge of Congress, we're going to hear a lot more from Obama holdovers and their allies in Congress. And we're going to hear a lot more of the argument that all economic development drives climate change. Leftists want America to be small, passive, and weak, and they see fossil fuel production as the heart of the problem. Without cheap and efficient energy, America's economy cannot thrive, and America's military cannot be supported. The left doesn't want America to thrive, and it doesn't want America to be strong. From their point of view, America is the Great Satan with blood on its hands, and the oil and gas industry is an instrument of evil.
The argument that fossil fuels drive climate change is merely a ruse. The real object of the left's attack is American power. As part of the strategy, public opinion must be turned against fossil fuels so as to support government action that hampers growth.
With their heartrending images of polar bears supposedly floating out to sea and caribou "endangered" by nearby drilling in ANWR, environmentalists engage in shameless forms of emotional extortion. That sort of extortion may be near the end of its effectiveness, as events in Paris demonstrate. Radical environmentalists have been predicting Armageddon for half a century, and it hasn't happened. U.S. hurricane deaths have declined remarkably from pre-1970 levels, rising ocean levels are manageable (3.4 millimeters per year in 2016), crops have not failed (global grain production reached an all-time high in 2017), and human populations have not declined. Just the opposite: conditions have gotten better in every respect. Global GDP has risen from around one trillion dollars in 1960 to nearly $80 trillion today; living conditions have improved in all but a few dysfunctional or war-torn states; life expectancies are rising (72 years in 2016 versus 48 in 1950).
Thoughtful individuals realize that Al Gore's catastrophe simply hasn't come about, and there is no sign of it happening anytime soon. Meanwhile, liberals like Macron think they can impose unlimited taxes in the name of climate change.
In reality, the environment seems to be doing just fine. Polar bear populations in the arctic are rising and stand at the highest in 50 years, while Alaskan caribou numbers, after falling for a decade, are now rising again, and dramatically – this despite or possibly because of oil and gas drilling and increased human population in their range.
Facts like these don't seem to matter to ideologues on the left. The internet is flooded with speculation that polar bears will become extinct by 2050. At least one herd of arctic caribou are deemed "at risk" by a prominent environmental group, a first step toward governmental intervention.
Without facts to support their argument, environmentalists turn to speculation as to what might happen in the distant future. On that basis, they demand an end to fossil fuels, industrial development, and even increased human population. (I leave to your imagination just how they would reduce human population.) The response to every perceived threat is generally the same: shut down human activity even if it means hardship for human populations. The left wants us to think it's an either-or case of endangered species versus economic growth.
In fact, the notion that shifting from fossil fuels to solar panels will alter the climate of the entire Earth seems far-fetched. Certainly, fossil fuels will at some point be supplanted by cheaper and more efficient sources of energy. At that point, market forces will quickly realign demand without the need of government intervention. Until that time, we should rely on the free market to guide our way to the cheapest and most efficient fuels. Government intervention invariably results in Solyndra-style boondoggles, to the detriment of everyone.
Well, almost everyone. It turns out that climate change is big business, and some have done quite well off it. According to E&E News, "several heads of environmental funds made upward of $600,000" as far back as 2012. Among the top 15 nonprofit executive salaries, 11 went to executives at environmental groups (2012 figures). I'm sure many of these are entirely sincere in their support for environmental causes, but those do seem to be large salaries for individuals who urge other Americans to consume less.
The World Wildlife Fund is not unusual in this respect. The WWF's website is plastered with appeals for donations – "Donate to WWF"; "Thank you for your support"; "Give to WWF's global conservation efforts and select three pairs of socks." Only farther down does one get to the stories: how a dam project could drive the hooded grebe to extinction, stopping illegal wildlife trade in China, protecting Sumatran forests.
Environmentalism is big business, but there seems to be little concern for the needs of ordinary human beings. The left believes that it can impose any sort of burden, from Macron's fuel tax to the cap and trade scheme passed under a former Pelosi Congress back in 2009 (the "American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009"), but those paying the taxes have had enough. Just like the French, Americans just want more money in their pockets and greater security, including energy security, for their families. Climate change is near the bottom of the list, as recent polls show.
Despite these facts, the environmental extortion continues. What we must do is ignore the heated rhetoric and get on with our lives. I've not noticed much warming this winter. If anything, there has been one week of record-low temperatures after another. Forget the carbon taxes. Use the savings to buy a warm parka.
Jeffrey Folks is the author of many books and articles on American culture including Heartland of the Imagination (2011).