It pays to be skeptical of politicians who claim to be saving the planet.
The moment to be wariest of political enthusiasms is precisely when elite opinion is all lined up on one side. So it is with the weekend agreement out of Paris on climate policy, which President Obama declared with his familiar modesty “can be a turning point for the world” and is “the best chance we have to save the one planet that we’ve got.”
Forgive us for looking through the legacy smoke, but if climate change really does imperil the Earth, and we doubt it does, nothing coming out of a gaggle of governments and the United Nations will save it. What will help is human invention and the entrepreneurial spirit. To the extent the Paris accord increases political control over human and natural resources, it will make the world poorer and technological progress less likely.
The climate confab’s self-described political success is rooted in a conceit and a bribe. The conceit is that the terms of the agreement will have some tangible impact on global temperatures. The big breakthrough is supposed to be that for the first time developing and developed countries have committed to reducing carbon emissions. But the commitments by these nations are voluntary with no enforcement mechanism.
China (the No. 1 CO2 emitter) and India (No. 3 after the U.S.) have made commitments that they may or may not honor, depending on whether they can meet them without interfering with economic growth. If the choice is lifting millions out of poverty or reducing CO2, poverty reduction will prevail—as it should.
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Editorial Page Editor Paul Gigot on the agreement reached at the U.N. climate summit and President Obama’s political calculations. Photo credit: Gett Images.
No less than the supposedly true global-warming believers of Europe are also happy about voluntary commitments because Paris liberates them from the binding targets of the Kyoto Protocol of 1997. Germany’s high energy costs in particular have been driving companies offshore thanks to its renewable energy costs and mandates.
But no one is happier than President Obama, who would have to submit a binding treaty to the Senate for ratification. As we have learned from the Iran nuclear deal and so much else, Mr. Obama is not into winning democratic consent for his policy dreams. Mr. Obama plans to use Paris as a stick to beat Republicans even as he ducks a vote in Congress. We doubt the Paris climate deal would get 40 Senate votes once Democrats in Ohio, Colorado or North Dakota were forced to debate the costs.
Mr. Obama’s U.S. CO2-reduction targets are fanciful in any case, short of a major technological breakthrough. The President promises that the U.S. will reduce carbon emissions by 26% to 28% from 2005 levels by 2025, but the specific means he has proposed to get there would only yield about half that. And that’s assuming none of Mr. Obama’s unilateral regulatory policies are declared illegal by U.S. courts.
As for the bribe, rich countries in Paris bought the cooperation of the developing world by promising to send $100 billion a year in climate aid. So the governments of the West are now going to dun their taxpayers to transfer money to the clean and green governments run by the likes of Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe. We can’t wait to see New York’s Chuck Schumer make the case on the Senate floor for American aid to China so it can become more energy efficient and economically competitive.
Even if a Democratic Congress made these bribes politically possible, they would do little to ease the consequences of climate change. The world’s poor can best cope with climate harm if they are richer, which requires faster economic growth. Yet everything we know about economic development is that foreign aid retards growth when it expands the reach of Third World governments. Poor countries won’t be helped by subsidies for solar cells delivered through the World Bank.
The same lesson goes for the developed world, by the way. We still recall the George W. Bush economic adviser who told us in 2006 that subsidies for cellulosic ethanol were justified because a breakthrough was “just around the corner.” He said the problem was that Congress’s research grants were distorted by political earmarks.
Of course they were. Congress took Mr. Bush’s invitation and force-fed ethanol mandates into law despite the lack of available technology to meet them. A decade later cellulosic ethanol is still around the corner.
Which brings us to the development on the fringes of Paris that might do some good. Bill Gates is hitting up his fellow billionaires to pay for research into energy alternatives to fossil fuels. This is a tacit admission that the technology doesn’t exist to make alternatives cost-effective no matter how many subsidies governments offer. If carbon energy’s efficiency and wealth creation are going to be displaced, the world will need advances in battery storage and nuclear energy, among other things.
The grandiose claims of triumph in Paris represent the self-interest of a political elite that wants more control over the private economy in the U.S. and around the world. These are the last people who will save the planet.
In Paris, it’s easier to battle a climate crisis than confront jihadists on the streets.
Little children have imaginary friends. Modern liberalism has imaginary enemies.
Hunger in America is an imaginary enemy. Liberal advocacy groups routinely claim that one in seven Americans is hungry—in a country where the poorest counties have the highest rates of obesity. The statistic is a preposterous extrapolation from a dubious Agriculture Department measure of “food insecurity.” But the line gives those advocacy groups a reason to exist while feeding the liberal narrative of America as a savage society of haves and have nots.
The campus-rape epidemic—in which one in five female college students is said to be the victim of sexual assault—is an imaginary enemy. Never mind the debunked rape scandals at Duke and the University of Virginia, or the soon-to-be-debunked case at the heart of “The Hunting Ground,” a documentary about an alleged sexual assault at Harvard Law School. The real question is: If modern campuses were really zones of mass predation—Congo on the quad—why would intelligent young women even think of attending a coeducational school? They do because there is no epidemic. But the campus-rape narrative sustains liberal fictions of a never-ending war on women.
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Editorial Page Editor Paul Gigot on what to expect as global leaders meet to talk climate change. Photo credit: Getty Images.
Institutionalized racism is an imaginary enemy. Somehow we’re supposed to believe that the same college administrators who have made a religion of diversity are really the second coming of Strom Thurmond. Somehow we’re supposed to believe that twice electing a black president is evidence of our racial incorrigibility. We’re supposed to believe this anyway because the future of liberal racialism—from affirmative action to diversity quotas to slavery reparations—requires periodic sightings of the ghosts of a racist past.
I mention these examples by way of preface to the climate-change summit that began this week in Paris. But first notice a pattern.
Dramatic crises—for which evidence tends to be anecdotal, subjective, invisible, tendentious and sometimes fabricated—are trumpeted on the basis of incompetently designed studies, poorly understood statistics, or semantic legerdemain. Food insecurity is not remotely the same as hunger. An abusive cop does not equal a bigoted police department. An unwanted kiss or touch is not the same as sexual assault, at least if the word assault is to mean anything.
Yet bogus studies and statistics survive because the cottage industries of compassion need them to be believed, and because mindless repetition has a way of making things nearly true, and because dramatic crises require drastic and all-encompassing solutions. Besides, the thinking goes, falsehood and exaggeration can serve a purpose if it induces virtuous behavior. The more afraid we are of the shadow of racism, the more conscious we might become of our own unsuspected biases.
And so to Paris.
I’m not the first to notice the incongruity of this huge gathering of world leaders meeting to combat a notional enemy in the same place where a real enemy just inflicted so much mortal damage.
Then again, it’s also appropriate, since reality-substitution is how modern liberalism conducts political business. What is the central liberal project of the 21st century, if not to persuade people that climate change represents an infinitely greater threat to human civilization than the barbarians—sorry, violent extremists—of Mosul and Molenbeek? Why overreact to a few hundred deaths today when hundreds of thousands will be dead in a century or two if we fail to act now?
Here again the same dishonest pattern is at work. The semantic trick in the phrase “climate change”—allowing every climate anomaly to serve as further proof of the overall theory. The hysteria generated by an imperceptible temperature rise of 1.7 degrees Fahrenheit since 1880—as if the trend is bound to continue forever, or is not a product of natural variation, or cannot be mitigated except by drastic policy interventions. The hyping of flimsy studies—melting Himalayan glaciers; vanishing polar ice—to press the political point. The job security and air of self-importance this provides the tens of thousands of people—EPA bureaucrats, wind-turbine manufacturers, litigious climate scientists, NGO gnomes—whose livelihoods depend on a climate crisis. The belief that even if the crisis isn’t quite what it’s cracked up to be, it does us all good to be more mindful about the environment.
And, of course, the chance to switch the subject. If your enemy is global jihad, then to defeat it you need military wherewithal, martial talents and political will. If your enemy is the structure of an energy-intensive global economy, then you need a compelling justification to change it. Climate dystopia can work wonders, provided the jihadists don’t interrupt too often.
Here’s a climate prediction for the year 2115: Liberals will still be organizing campaigns against yet another mooted social or environmental crisis. Temperatures will be about the same.