There's an old joke to the effect that Republicans are just Democrats who want their policies implemented slowly. This has certainly been the case throughout most of my life, though I'm starting to wonder if it's still accurate. That is, it increasingly seems to me that Republicans have closed the gap, and desire all sorts of revolutions on the same timeline as Democrats.
You get a sense of this from the outcomes of and reactions to the recent slate of Supreme Court decisions coming out these past few weeks. Not just the fact that the suddenly-reliable-liberal John Roberts pulled a novel constitutional principle out of his hat, namely that an executive order cannot be undone by another executive order ( at least if it deals with illegal immigration) unless he satisfies the Supreme Court that his motives are pure, and that -- under the largely imaginary doctrine of "stare decisis" -- a case that he dissented from just four years ago, established a strong enough precedent that it can never be overturned. Nor just the precedent-setting decision in Bostock authored by Trump's prized Scalia replacement, Neil Gorsuch, which legally redefined the word "sex" to include meanings which would never have occurred to the authors of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. (It isn't for nothing that Justice Alito said, in his dissent, “There is only one word for what the Court has done today: legislation.”)
More than those examples is the relief they seemed to have occasioned among the Republican elites like Senators Lindsey Graham and Chuck Grassley, the latter of whom responded to Bostock by saying "It's the law of the land. And it.... probably negates Congress's necessity for acting." Oh good.
Another counter-example: House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) has announced his support for a new conservative climate plan. Though it claims to be an attempt to move the climate conversation beyond Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's Green New Deal, its proposals read like the GND for squares. It eschews "debilitating taxes or punitive mandates," but calls for investment in new technologies which will reduce carbon emissions, including currently not-super-effective carbon-capture technology. Most notably, it calls for the U.S. to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, putting the GOP leadership on exactly the same timeline as the Democrats.
This is clearly designed to win millennials over to the GOP, but something tells me that even the Harry Potter generation aren't gullible enough to fall for net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 without mandating anyone to do anything. "Bring on the cow-fart bans," they'll say.
So maybe that joke has outlived its usefulness. Then again, the left are currentlytearingdownstatues and ex post facto cancelling people for decades-old politically incorrect statements, which seems to indicate that Democrats desire for change has sped up from "Right Now" to "Yesterday," so perhaps it still stands.
Michael Moore Strikes Back
We here at The Pipeline have been covering Michael Moore and Jeff Gibbs' new film Planet of the Humansfairlyextensivelylately for the simple reason that we believe it to be a very important film, both because it is extremely informative on the topic of the "green energy" fraud, but also because it has blown open a major rift within the environmentalist movement. So much so that those on the other side of that rift are either ignoring the documentary entirely (as far as I can see, neither the BBC, the CBC, nor Australia's ABC have published a word on it -- kind of shocking that the state broadcasters of the English speaking world are ignoring such a big story) or, as Michael Walsh pointed out yesterday, are calling on YouTube to take it down for spreading misinformation (and, presumably, for giving aid and comfort to the enemy).
To rebut those claims, Moore and Gibbs have been on a bit of a media tour, and one stop on that tour was this lengthy interview with The Hill TV:
It is an illuminating interview, and I think it bears out my contention that, far from turning their back on environmentalism, Moore and Gibbs are willing to tear down that movement as it currently exists so that they can rebuild it as something somewhat leaner (in that it will have less cash), but definitely a lot meaner. Creative Destruction, you might call it.
First of all, Moore takes up the question of their motivation. He and Gibbs haven't turned on the movement - "We are lifelong environmentalists!" They've been in since the "first Earth Day!" Their main concern is "this evil economic system that we have [which] is based on greed," and the tendency of certain environmentalists to "[hop] into bed with corporate America." From his perspective, this gives the corporations a kind of moral authority that they shouldn't have, and allows them to treat the movement like a revenue stream:
[Y]ou've seen this happen over the last decade, how they've all gone Green, they all tout the big Green thing, and they saw basically that enough of us believed in Green, because we want this planet to live, and they saw, '[W]ow, there's the supply and demand right there -- the demand is for Green, lets give them Green, and lets make a lot of money off of it.
So, for Moore:
The failure of the movement has been to address this serious flaw, which is: We are not gonna save the planet or ourselves by allowing Wall Street, hedge funds, corporate America, to be anywhere near us, as we try to fix this.
The film is simply their way of breaking that to the true believers.
To my way of thinking, it's Gibbs who really gives voice to their ambitions:
You know, this is so much bigger than climate change. You know, we've eaten 90% of the fish in the ocean. Half of the wildlife have disappeared in the last 40 years, primarily because of expanding logging and agriculture. Fossil fuels is tragic, but there is a lot more to us damaging the planet than just climate change.... I think [that] looking at ourselves as a single species that's got this addiction to growth, my theory is that infinite growth on a finite planet is called suicide, and that's what we have to address.
I mentioned the Malthusian drift of the documentary in my review, and Gibbs responds to that critique:
We never use the word population control, we're not in favor of population control. We merely point out, there was a UN study that came out one or two years ago, that just points out that the doubling of our human numbers and the quadrupling of our human economy is the prime driver of extinction on this planet. Is the UN favoring population control? No!
Many scientists are pointing out the obvious, but you don't read about that so much in the press anymore, since it's all only focused on climate change.
Funny how, while disclaiming population control, he argues that scientists are merely "pointing out the obvious," but doesn't himself spell out that "obvious" here. When you go to the documentary itself, you find what his scientists are actually "pointing out." Here's one representative sample: "Without seeing some sort of major die off in population, there's no turning back."
Back to the interview, Gibbs mitigates our need to read between the lines further when he says:
[R]ight now we're learning that the three times when climate change and fossil fuel usage went down were during this pandemic, in the days after 9/11, and during the Great Recession. Now, we're just raising the question, we've got to come to terms with this expansion. We don't have the answers in the film, but it is our growth, and especially our growth and consumption, driven by capitalism, that's driving this beast.
Ah yes, those three greatest moments of our civilization. Just as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez did the other day, Gibbs is admitting here that their project is built on human suffering. This is what we call "Making the sub-text, text."
I've been seeing conservatives on Twitter and elsewhere over the past week who are elated about this movie, and in the short term it might work to our benefit. But don't be fooled -- Moore and Gibbs are not on our side. Their vision is very dark, and they themselves are very persuasive.
Michael Moore Learns an Inconvenient Truth
The enemy of my enemy is... well, in the case of Michael Moore, still my enemy. That's because of the destruction he's wrought on the mental processes of so many members of my generation with his Riefenstahl-esque documentaries which convinced them that they'd have been better off growing up in Castro's Cuba than in suburban New York. That said, Moore is a worthy foe. He's extremely sharp, and he doesn't go in for easy short term victories. He's playing the long game.
The most recent example is a documentary he's produced along with his longtime collaborator Jeff Gibbs, who serves as director and narrator. The film is called Planet of the Humans, and was released on YouTube earlier this week just in time for Earth Day. It is not, however, your typical Earth Day fare, alternately happy-clappy and weepy-waily. Planet of the Humans digs deep down into the supposed Green Energy Revolution which promises to liberate us from our present fossil fuel regime. What it definitively demonstrates, however, is that Green Energy is a fraud (and one which has made a lot of people very rich) -- and, worse, that the revolution is never going to come.
Gibbs begins by talking about his long standing tree-hugger bona fides. As a young man, he moved to the woods of Michigan and built a log cabin, which he wired for solar power. But as the years went by, and as he continued to learn about the ins and outs of the green energy industry, he got increasingly skeptical and cynical.
Early on in the documentary Gibbs shows us a solar power fair, which boasts that it's powered entirely by solar panels. A rock band is playing on stage under electric lights, everyone is having a good time, all is well. Until, that is, it begins to rain. Gibbs follows staff members working frantically backstage, and when he asks what they're doing, they explain that they are hooking everything up to a biodiesel generator. When that doesn't produce enough juice, they simply plug in to the regular old local power grid.
That basic set-up starts to become pretty familiar. Gibbs attends a launch event for the Chevy Volt electric car, and gets the enthusiastic employees to explain that, well, yes, actually all of the electricity powering the cars and the plant comes from fossil fuels. He's invited to see the plant's solar panel farm, the size of a football field, only to learn that it gets roughly 8 percent efficiency and generates only enough energy to power about ten homes. He speaks to several green energy enthusiasts who admit that the intermittency of solar and wind requires renewables to be backed up with idling fossil fuel power plants, which (as Federal Energy Regulatory Commissioner Philip Moeller explains on camera) "maybe can be dialed down during the day, and dialed up when demand starts rising." When asked if this effects the efficiency of the plants, Moeller responds "Oh yeah, they don't like to be dialed up and down." Their hope is that we will one day be able to bridge that gap with batteries, but Gibbs points out that not only is that a still-remote possibility, but that the batteries themselves come from mined products degrade in a very few years.
Gibbs also takes us to Lowell Mountain in Vermont, where land is being cleared for an enormous wind farm. He goes hiking with a group of concerned citizens who show him the devastated mountain. One local says:
I'm looking at the ground [here] and thinking 'this is not the legacy I want to leave to my kids.' When I was a kid, we'd go hiking in these woods, we'd be able to drink from the water down the hill here, and now you have to question that.
Aside from intermittent wind energy, what do they get from all of this? Three full-time jobs and about twenty years of use before those turbines need to be replaced. "Has anybody considered that this is mountaintop removal for wind instead of coal?" he asks. Which is to say, so-called renewable energy requires fossil fuels -- often used wastefully -- to exist. Ozzie Zehner, author of the book Green Illusions, sums up this theme of the documentary perfectly when he says
You use more fossil fuels to do this than you're getting a [green] benefit from it. You would've been better off [just] burning the fossil fuels in the first place instead of playing pretend.
In the background roll enthusiastic news clips and interviews featuring environmentalist heroes like Barack Obama, Al Gore, Michael Bloomberg, Jeremy Grantham, Elon Musk, Richard Branson, and Bill McKibben. Every one of them talks about "shovel ready" projects, jobs in all fifty states, "free energy forever," and the potential for prosperity for all -- while also saving the planet. At one point Arnold Schwarzenegger appears on screen introducing the world's largest solar energy plant, and says "There's some people that look out into the desert and see miles and miles of emptiness! I see miles and miles of a gold mine."
Surely these luminaries must know they're wildly overpromising at best, and at worst simply lying. Why do they do it? Gibbs answers that, for the most part, they're in it for the money and the power.
The only reason we've been force fed the story 'Climate change + Renewables = We're Saved' is because billionaires, bankers, and corporations profit from it.
Many environmentalist philanthropists -- including several of those mentioned above like Grantham and Branson -- invest heavily in supposed alternate energy sources like biofuel and biomass, the usage of which allows businesses and universities to claim that they are powered by "100 percent renewable energy." As Mike Schellenberger points out,
In reality, scientists have for over a decade raised the alarm about biomass and biofuels causing rain forest destruction around the world including Brazil and Malaysia, and have documented that when one takes into account their landscape impacts, the fuels produce significantly higher carbon emissions than oil and gas and may produce more than coal.
At the same time, they use the power of celebrity to lobby governments and shame politicians into enacting biofuel mandates and other regulations which just so happen to benefit their stock portfolio.
Gibbs also examines the potential financial incentives for perhaps the most influential environmentalist of the past 20 years, former vice president Al Gore. Gore was the co-founder of an investment firm called Generation Investment Management, which was an early promoter of biomass and biofuels. Gibbs wonders aloud whether Gore's Oscar-winning climate documentary An Inconvenient Truth was "just about climate change, or was it about something else?" That is, was it about promoting his investments.
If it was, it worked out for him. Those investments helped Gore launch CurrentTV, which he ended up selling for 100 million dollars to Al Jazeera, the state broadcaster of Qatar, a nation whose wealth is largely a product of fossil fuels. The documentary gives us several clips of Gore not even being slightly embarrassed by this hypocrisy. “You couldn’t find, for your business, a more sustainable [buyer]?” he's asked by Daily Show host Jon Stewart. “What is not sustainable about it?” Gore replies.
I mentioned at the outset that Michael Moore is playing a long game, and here's what I meant. Moore and Gibbs know that "green energy" is a boondoggle, and that soon enough it is going to fall apart. Planet of the Humans is their attempt to get out in front of inconvenient truth, so that environmentalism won't be entirely discredited when their fantasy world collapses. Though they will probably be raked over the coals by the usual suspects (one imagines that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez isn't going to be happy about this documentary, which implicitly tears the heart out of the Green New Deal), Moore and Gibbs remain climate-change true believers. We are told over and over again in the course of this documentary that humans are destroying the planet. What sets them apart from other environmentalists is that they don't believe that there is a technological solution. "Is it possible for machines made from industrial civilization to save us from industrial civilization?" Gibbs asks.
No, their solution is rather darker. They believe that we need to massively diminish the amount of energy we are using, and that, while personal responsibility has a role in that, the very presence of humanity is the main obstacle to their goal. Planet of the Humans regurgitates discredited Malthusian and Ehrlichian ideas which hold that we are experiencing a population bomb and that ultimately the planet's major underlying problem is, quite simply: us.
That said, I found Planet of the Humans to be an extremely affecting and informative documentary. It isn't difficult to feel Gibbs' pain as he confronts the fact that green energy "wasn't what it seemed." And, very likely, the hard hitting nature of this documentary is going to cost Moore and Gibbs more than a few friends. I found myself feeling both appreciation for their honesty and apprehension for what their suggestions portend. At the same time, as I alluded to above, several of my high school classmates were corrupted by Moore's early 21st century documentaries, such as Bowling for Columbine and Fahrenheit 9/11. I shudder to think what Planet of the Humans -- with its pessimism about both green energy and human life itself -- will do to the next generation of environmentalists.
'You Love to See It': Negative Oil Prices and AOC
If you were following the oil market yesterday, you got to see something historic. West Texas Intermediate oil absolutely collapsed. Never before have oil futures traded in negative values, but yesterday they went all the way down to -$40 per barrel. Which means that, theoretically, the traders who hold the contracts on that oil would pay you $40 to take it off their hands.
The collapse occurred because May contracts expire today and thus cannot be actively traded, but whoever is left holding those contracts has to actually take delivery at the end of the month. This is a problem because commodities traders don't ever actually take delivery of anything. They need crude oil refineries or storage facilities to purchase that oil from them. The problem with that, of course, is two-fold: one part supply, one part demand.
On the supply side, the Saudi/Russia oil war which began in early March and ended in a tentative agreement brokered by President Trump last week (which doesn't actually take effect until May), has led to a glut of oil, filling inventories, depressing prices, and leading refineries to cut production. Meanwhile, the coronavirus lockdowns around the world, by decreasing driving, flying, and other common uses of oil, have destroyed demand. Which is to say, oil prices didn't have far to fall before they went negative, and their passing zero was assured by the fact that a) no one is using oil and, b) we are running out of capacity to store unrefined crude.
What does all of this mean? Well, a lot of things, but one of them is that oil producers are going to start drastically cutting production and, consequently, laying off workers. From the Wall Street Journal's report:
U.S. oil companies including Chevron Corp. and ConocoPhillips have said they would reduce output. But traders say the industry isn’t moving fast enough to alleviate the selloff. This week’s price moves will be a huge wake-up call for complacent oil-company chiefs, said Edward Marshall, a commodities trader at Global Risk Management. “If they do nothing and sit there like rabbits in the headlights waiting to be hit by a car, they’ll be hit,” he said. “I wouldn’t be surprised to see even more capex cuts…even more layoffs, even more jawboning by OPEC."
Which is terrible news, considering the massive spike in unemployment since the beginning of this crisis. The men and women who lose their jobs because of this will add to that number, but they will also be significantly less likely to find new employment in the near future. For some, however, this is apparently cause for celebration:
You'd think that a self-described socialist would be slightly ashamed to begin her response saying "You absolutely love to see" an event that will lead to so many people losing their jobs. But then again, socialist solidarity with workers has always been propaganda in the service of power -- which is exactly what this is. For Rep. Ocasio-Cortez, a serious destabilization of the market is just an opportunity to enact her pet legislation, and that would, in point of fact, make sure the oil market never recovers.
AOC eventually deleted the above tweet (presumably someone pointed out to her that she was saying the quiet part out loud), and replaced it with a less jubilant, but no less insane take:
This snapshot is being acknowledged as a turning point in the climate movement.
Fossil fuels are in long-term structural decline. This along w/ low interest rates means it‘s the right time to create millions of jobs transitioning to renewable and clean energy. A key opportunity. https://t.co/UqT8DI5u2I
Blogger Stephen Miller's (not the White House advisor) response to this was exactly right:
“Now that global pandemic has killed thousands and left millions unemployed, we can finally get what we want” is not the genius take she or her instagram stand think it is, which is why you don’t see the Dem nominee jumping into the boat.
As unprecedented as this market instability is, it seems likely that it will be beneficial to oil-producing market economies such as the U.S. and Canada in the long term, and detrimental to those authoritarian nations like Russia, Saudia Arabia, Iran, and Venezuela, who depend on elevated oil prices to survive. Once our economies reopen (as they are already beginning to do), consumers will be able to take advantage of the reduced prices and that, coupled with clever policy proposals on the table (including, for instance, suspending the EPA's ethanol mandate), will begin the process of stabilizing the oil market, whatever AOC and her friends think. (Ironically, their plan would drastically reduce our economic elasticity and make us as vulnerable to market shocks as the above mentioned petrostates).
Once a return to normalcy is in sight, it will be nice to be able to look back at this from a distance and remember the moment when the current face of the American climate movement let her mask slip and cheered real human suffering for the sake of her totalitarian agenda.
'Climate Change,' the Green New Deal, and the Remaking of the American Economy
Back when Americans learned civics, schoolchildren were routinely taught 19th-century German chancellor Otto von Bismarck’s famous aphorism: “The people sleep better when they know neither how laws nor sausages are made.” From this we understood that there was horse-trading, arm-twisting, log rolling, benefiting various factions, which went into any piece of legislation that emerged; just as tasty sausage often contained fat, gristle, and offal.
To be sure, much inefficient policy came into being this way, but politics is not a pure art.
As it turns out, there are far worse ways of making policy than ensuring that competing interests are met: Extrapolating action from pure leftist ideology is the absolute worst. And that is what is happening now with American energy and environmental policy, as we see it unfold during the Democratic presidential primaries. With the partial exception of newly arrived billionaire Michael Bloomberg, the statements provided by all the other candidates in debates, town halls, and on their websites, concerning how they will "combat" climate change, provide a blueprint of policy disasters to come.
On a recent stage all seven remaining candidates embraced the shibboleth of Earth-destroying disaster to come, if we fail to make set of radical changes in how we obtain and use energy; how we produce goods and services; how we travel; how we build, heat and cool our homes; how we dispose of waste; all of it. Naturally, everything that contributes to human comfort and ease must be slashed. Automobiles, which literally shaped the 20th-century landscape, are evil, and must be abolished in favor of bicycles. People need to live stacked on top of each other in dense urban spaces, and eat only vegetables. The fracking and increased oil production that has bolstered our economy, and made locally produced goods more competitive, must end. This agenda is not entirely new, but the vehemence, the absolute, religious conviction, and the overarching scope of policy solutions is new.
Very little of this was part of the Democratic agenda in 20012 or 2016. How did we get here?
Fourteen months ago, the supremely mediagenic, ridiculously inexperienced bartender, 27 year old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was sworn in as the U.S. Representative from an undistinguished stretch of Queens and the Bronx. She had been selected, during literal auditions, by the radical George Soros-backed “Justice Democrats,” to primary an incumbent centrist Democrat, in a solidly Democratic district. With their backing and money, she won.
Since AOC gets attention, the radical ideas she spouts with great dramatic conviction, get attention. The pièce de résistance of these policies, announced Feb. 7, 2019, was the Green New Deal (GND). The actual piece of legislation submitted came out of the "wishful thinking" bin at a radical environmental activist operation in California. It had been kicking around since at least 2007. The bill as written is light on science, or any significant quantification of environmental impact of current policies, but full of "end of the planet/human misery" rhetoric.
It is worth noting that AOC’s puppet master and then chief of staff, Saikat Chakrabati, who pushed the bill, had previously been a staffer for socialist Bernie Sanders, during his 2016 campaign. Indeed, the bill is socialism on steroids.
In a nutshell, the GND calls for wholesale ‘decarbonization’ of everything, immediately. (Candidates vary as to their target dates, but 2050 is the furthest out.) To do this requires: upgrading all existing buildings in the country for energy efficiency; working with farmers to eliminate pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, supporting family farms and promoting universal access to healthy food; reducing emissions by expanding electric cars, building charging stations everywhere, and adding enough high speed rail to end air travel. The legislation also mandates: a guaranteed job "with a family-sustaining wage, adequate family and medical leave, paid vacations and retirement security" for every American; and "high-quality health care" for all Americans. It isn’t called the “…New Deal” for nothing.
Within days, progressives in Congress had all signed on, though House speaker Nancy Pelosi rejected the GND on grounds of cost. A year later she no longer criticizes it.
As the Trump economy has boomed, bringing long-delayed wage increases to the working and lower middle classes, the dire prose about suffering workers has lost much of its impact. Yet, by early 2020, the GND had become the baseline policy for all of the Democratic presidential contenders –including so called ‘moderates,’ like former South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg, Minnesota senator Amy Klobuchar, and former vice president Joe Biden. Billionaire businessman Tom Steyer has made it the centerpiece of his campaign – and has a plan to spend $2 trillion on it up front. Senator Elizabeth Warren pledges $3 trillion. And leading Democrat contender, the 78 year-old, Soviet-style communist, Bernie Sanders, promises $16.3 trillion in spending. Yes – the equivalent of the entire U.S. debt!
Mandating retrofitting of all the nation’s buildings is an employment program for contractors, lumber yards, plumbers, carpenters, etc., though they are plenty busy right now. It’s intended to bring the working class back to the Democrat party. At a recent voter meeting, Harvard grad Buttigieg, 38, explained, ‘Hey, there’ll be lots of jobs for plumbers, carpenters and glaziers.” He repeated “glaziers, you know, glass?”--“windows?” to clarify.
So, in one year we have seen a socialist/activist wish list that posits blanket control of the most sectors of the economy, plus all energy production, sales and use, become a policy centerpiece for a major American political party. It is now within the realm of "normal," which is a major ideological triumph. There is zero willingness to submit the energy and environmental claims to any kind of rational analysis. Questioning it makes you “anti-science.” Bernie Sanders wins, even if he loses.
The great irony is that, last summer, Chakrabarti, the America-hating socialist who put the GND in play, deliberately revealed his game. Shortly before being pushed out of office last summer, in an interview with the Washington Post:
“The interesting thing about the Green New Deal,” he said, “is it wasn’t originally a climate thing at all... Do you guys think of it as a climate thing?” Chakrabarti continued. “Because we really think of it as a how-do-you-change-the-entire-economy thing.”
Predictably, this slap at fellow Democrats for falling in love with Marxism all over again, was not widely reported in mainstream media.
Ever since the one-two punch of 2016 (I speak of course of the outcome of the UK's Brexit referendum and the election of Donald Trump the following fall), the media has been scrambling to explain the rise of populism throughout the western world, a phenomenon which they had hardly noticed before.
Populism has proved a perplexing topic for our enlightened commentariat, unused as they are to taking seriously the views of anyone who doesn't already agree with them. And so many (though not all) have decided that, instead of trying to understand the concerns of people who didn't major in Grievance Studies at Brown, it is just easier to assume that all of those Americans who voted for Donald Trump, all of those Brits who voted for independence, all the Frenchmen in their yellow vests, the Albertans talking about secession, and the Italians, Poles, and Hungarians who are making Angela Merkel sad are just, you know, bigots.
Which is unfortunate, because, really, while populism has many facets, it isn't that difficult a topic to understand. It is simply the result of a lot of regular people throughout the western world coming to accept, at long last, that the ruling class doesn't have their interests at heart. They were working away, just like their parents and grandparents before them, trying to make a better life for their children, and then they woke up one day and realized that the people with real power in their countries don't care a fig for them or their children, and think nothing of making their lives harder if it will get them some notice from the Davos set or an invite to a conference on Our Sustainable Future.
To take just one not-entirely-random example, the Gilets Jaunes, or Yellow Vest Protesters in France. Those protests have died down recently, but here is the French conservative commentator Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry writing about them in early 2019:
[T]he Yellow Vests... are protests by the people who don’t protest. The Yellow Vests are drawn from France’s lower middle class, people who don’t protest because they have unglamorous jobs they must go to, unlike the welfare recipients, students, civil servants, and unionized workers who typically take to the streets.
In part, they fit the stereotype of the recently much-scrutinized Trump and Brexit voters—the losers of globalization and technological change, whose wages have stagnated for decades, who live on the cliff-edge of economic insecurity, who fear that their children will have it worse than they do. But in part, they are a product of the French system: people who make just enough money to fail to qualify for most social programs, but not enough to live comfortably, even as the country’s elite keeps doing better.
Little surprise, then, that gasoline taxes should have been the spark that set off the powder keg. In the city centers and banlieues, public transport is cheap, available, and high-quality. In the French exurbs, as in America, driving is simply a necessary part of life and work. But there is another layer to this: What set off the Yellow Vests protests specifically was taxes on diesel. For as long as I can remember, the French government has had a deliberate policy of encouraging the purchase of more-expensive, more-efficient diesel cars by keeping taxes on diesel fuel comparatively low. Far more than dissatisfaction with green-friendly policies, this dual aspect of the tax increase—raiding the pocketbooks of people who can scarcely afford it while betraying public trust—is what accounts for why dissatisfaction turned to rage.
So for decades the French government pressured regular people to buy diesel cars for environmental reasons, until Emmanuel Macron became President and decided that to really shake things up he would jack up taxes on diesel as well. No wonder thousands took to the streets, and in the vests they are required by law to keep in their cars.
I've been thinking of the Yellow Vests particularly today as I've been reading a report by the Institute for Energy Research which argues that if the Green New Deal - Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ed Markey's package of environmentalist legislation endorsed to some degree or other by every major Democratic candidate for the Presidency -- is enacted, gasoline prices in the U.S. would reach as high as $13 per gallon, once the new taxes were factored in. (For context, the national average gasoline price in the United States is $2.448 according to AAA).
Now, it seems unlikely that, barring some national emergency, we would see $13 per gallon gas any time soon, even if AOC herself were elected President in November. But the fact that America's elite are flying around the world touting proposals they only half understand which, in practice, would mean my paying $273 every time I fill up the tank of my minivan -- not to mention the immediate end of countless jobs. That should give you a sense of what they really think about you. Which is to say: Not Much.
So, where did all of this populism come from? Such a mystery.