Design for Living, Badly

Since the end of the Cold War, the world’s governments have been engaged in a vast collective enterprise under the aegis of the United Nations and with the guidance of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to reduce the rise in global temperature, aka global warming, aka climate change. That reduction has changed over time. Until 2010 the aim was to cut the rise to 2.0 degrees above . . . well, above what?  

The answer is an odd one: the target was to hold the rise to 2.0 degrees above the global temperatures prevailing before the world began to industrialize.  

But as Rupert Darwall points out in his new monograph, The Climate Noose: Business, Net Zero, and the IPCC’s Anti-Capitalism (Global Warming Policy Foundation, London), there didn’t seem to be any solid scientific foundation for choosing that target: early 20th-Century warming between 1910 and 1945 had occurred before anthropogenic carbon emissions could have had a major impact on global temperature. So why choose that starting point? 

Darwall concludes that the 2.0 degree target was prompted by what he calls “the foundational tenet of environmentalist ideology: that the Industrial Revolution constitutes the original sin of modern civilization.” And that suspicion is supported by other oddities that he uncovers during his summary of how global warming policy has developed since 1989.  

For instance, the UN Framework on Climate Change was signed in 1992 with the aim of reducing carbon emissions. In the twenty-two years from then to 2016, carbon emissions (from fossil fuel burning and cement manufacture) actually rose faster than before—namely, by 61 per cent compared to 50 per cent in the period 1970 to 1992.  Was this because the capitalist West was pumping out greenhouse gases? Everyone from the UN Secretary-General to the Pope would like you to think so. But that’s not remotely the case. Darwall is fond of unveiling inconvenient facts and here is one of his best: 

1981 was the last year when the West’s carbon dioxide emissions exceeded those of the rest of the world. By 1989 and the fall of the Berlin Wall, the West’s emissions were 46% of global emissions. Before the pandemic struck, they accounted for around 25%.

Developing countries now emit three times the emissions of the advanced West.  

Sky's the limit.

That shouldn’t surprise us too much because it’s a firm principle of climatist ideology, not to mention a firm policy commitment of Third World governments, that developing countries should not agree to be bound by any limits on their industrial development and use of carbon-based energies. When attempts were made to get the developing world to accept such limits at the 2010 Copenhagen conference, China, India, Brazil and others rebelled and the conference ended in obvious failure.  

The response of the IPCC, the European Union, and the Obama administration was to relaunch the international climate policy process in a way typical of global bodies. They adopted a far tougher target for carbon emissions reduction—namely, one of a 1.5 degree rise in temperature since industrialization—but left the task of meeting the targets to national governments while proposing a raft of  reforms to make it possible. The 2018 IPCC report described these reforms as “very ambitious, internationally cooperative policy environments that transform both supply and demand" or, more succinctly, as “intentional societal transformation.”  

And, of course, they reveal the dirty little secret of UN environmentalism—it's a program for economic redistribution from the West to the developing world almost as much as for climate change mitigation. Since foreign aid has been intellectually discredited in recent years, the climate change process now has to take up the slack. But the economic consequences of imposing these reforms—as coyly hinted at in the dead bureaucratic language of the IPCC reports—are so savage in their impact on the poor that no amount of capital transfers from the West would compensate for them.  

There were some very large and gaping loopholes in this strategy, as there always have been in IPCC reports, to enable governments to evade, postpone, and “forget” the commitments they accept in such agreements. Realistically, such loopholes have to be there—or the entire U.N. Framework would collapse. The developing world has never accepted that the 1.5 percent restraints apply to itself in the first place; the U.S. under Trump has rejected them (while actually achieving larger emissions cuts than any other country because it has permitted fracking); and the EU and most of its member states outside Central Europe have adopted them hypocritically in the knowledge that they can’t possibly be achieved without a global recession worse than any in history (including what might emerge from the coronavirus pandemic.)

Incredibly, some Western governments—notably, U.K. governments under Gordon Brown, David Cameron, Theresa May, and now Boris Johnson—have gone beyond the IPCC recommendations and committed themselves to net-zero emissions by 2050. Barring some amazing technological breakthrough that target cannot be achieved, but it can cause enormous economic damage in the course of failing and being abandoned.  

What then will happen? One of the academic architects of the 1.5 target initially said it was “incompatible with democracy” -- i.e., that the voters would never stand for it. His judgment is confirmed by the fact that whenever the voters in the U.S. or Australia have been given the chance to vote down carbon taxes, they have taken it enthusiastically. The sceptic was persuaded to amend his judgment to say that implementing the target would merely be “very hard” after a discussion with the headmaster, but his first thoughts were correct. Exactly how “hard” it would be to sell the IPCC formula is somewhat speculative because, tellingly, both the IPCC and sympathetic Western governments refuse to conduct cost-benefit analyses of the commitment.  

Mr. Darwall’s own attempts to construct one from the scattered information in the reports is devastating. Whatever the assumptions, it seems, the costs vastly outweigh the benefits, and the impact on everyone, especially the poor, will be to increase their energy and food costs, to reduce their standard of living overall, and to destroy any prospect of improvement in their lives 

Poor, but Green.

And because governments cannot promise credibly to deliver either the 1.5 or net zero targets if the voters stop them, the UN and Green campaigners have turned to another partner: namely business. Indeed, the recruitment of Wall Street and industry to the cause of promoting a carbon-free economy is the central and the most novel part of his argument. He shows how leading figures in Wall Street and central banks, such as Michael Bloomberg and Mark Carney, have suddenly discovered that capitalist corporations should abandon shareholder sovereignty and profitability as the main engines of their activity and instead seek wider social objectives, above all "saving the planet," in partnership with a wider range of stakeholders. Nor do they merely make this argument, they are designing financial incentives to penalize companies engaged in lawful and socially necessary activities such as mining or oil and gas exploration by obstructing their access to capital investment. And they seek changes in the law to encourage corporate giving to “Green” causes irrespective of its impact on shareholder value. 

I’ve written on this theme myself on The Pipeline here and here. It is becoming a cause for concern more broadly. Andrew Stuttaford, an old friend, recently wrote powerfully on the dangers of this misnamed corporate social responsibility on NRO. In effect, it gives corporate managers the power to tax their shareholders to spend that revenue on political causes of which the shareholders themselves might not approve.  

Taxing is rightly regarded as a government monopoly in democratic regimes, and we call those rulers who divert public money into their own bank accounts “kleptocrats.” We should be very wary of the idea that Michael Bloomberg is gifted with special insight into what the voters want, given that he recently spent half a billion dollars of his own money to get nothing whatever in the Democratic primaries. Who knows what he might not achieve with ours? Kleptocracies are not improved by being private rather than public.  

Unless the spread of corpocrats buying virtue with our cheque books is restrained, the victims will not only be their shareholders and people whose security rests on pensions invested with them. They will include capitalism itself. For, as Darwall argues brilliantly, in seeking to transform capitalist companies into charities that may also make a profit (with luck), the new green capitalists would unconsciously ensure that companies (and entrepreneurs) would no longer be moved by the constant incentive of profitability to innovate and compete. Indeed, it is that very incentive to innovate that the IPCC and the principal ideologists of environmentalism dislike so much. They want a stable, even a declining, world that consumes less and less. Their plans honestly include a series of restraints and obstacles to enterprise, innovation, and growth.

If they were also able to replace the animal spirits of capitalism with the protective mentality of the bureaucrat, they would make companies into agents of economic and social stagnation and in time decay. In short, what the Bloombergs, Carneys, and corporate responsibility hucksters want would lead to a result they almost certainly don’t want. They want capitalism to commit suicide in order to save the world from the growing pains of prosperity.  But we know that the world before capitalism, like the world outside capitalism before 1989, was one of stagnation, decay, poverty, tyrannies, limited horizons, zero net hope.  

The international implications of that I’ll return to next week.  Meanwhile, read on:

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Forget the Coronavirus: the Real Threat is 'Climate Change'

As I like to say on Twitter: they never stop, they never sleep, they never quit. I'm referring to the "progressive" Left, which firmly believes in never letting a good crisis go to waste, and never misses a chance to push its crackpot policy ideas, no matter how far the arc of history has suddenly just shifted. So, even in the midst of a world-wide panic over the coronavirus from Wuhan, China, the progs are somehow still able to find time and space to push their harum-scarum about "climate change." Herewith, a few recent examples:

Climate Point: Climate change has yet to be canceled due to coronavirus

We're in the midst of a pandemic, one that has exposed a continued hesitation to trust science and fault lines of fear that increase racist finger-pointing over the origins of the novel coronavirus. The problems are evident at the highest levels, where officials in the Trump administration have reportedly called the coronavirus the "Kung-Flu" and the "Chinese virus."

What this rhetoric completely misses, however, are the causes of deadly diseases spurred by exotic viruses. "Demand for wood, minerals and resources" clears habitat and disrupts ecological processes, presenting opportunities for pathogens ranging from ebola to coronavirus to pass from wildlife to humans, The Guardian reported this week.

Well, if Britain's notoriously left-wing The Guardian reported it, it must be true! Of course, the Wuhan virus couldn't possibly have anything to do with Chinese standards of hygiene or their culinary preferences, or the complicty of the Communist Party is making such delicacies available to the public. After all, how can eating live frog's innards, snakes, bat soup, pangolin pizza, and fricassee of civet cat possibly harm you? Not to mention boiled-alive dogs. (Where is PETA in all this, one wonders.)

But back to "global warming."

Just because our attention is on the coronavirus, that doesn't mean the elephant in the room — climate change — is going anywhere. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found that this winter was the second-hottest on record, USA Today reports. Those logs extend all the way back to 1880. The most extreme cases of winter warming come from Russia, where temperatures were 12 degrees above average in some places.

Only somebody literally born yesterday could think that 1880 is "all the way back" to much of anything. Over the history of the planet -- some 4.5 billion years -- our available data accounts for an infinitesimal slice of planetary history. It would be like extrapolating the entire history of baseball statistics from a single spring-training pitch in (as it happens) 1870. And as for Russia, well... in case anybody hasn't noticed, Russia is a mighty big land mass.

One thing that provides solace to the otherwise disconsolate nutters, however, is the damage the virus is doing to the energy industry. Domestic fracking has made the U.S. energy independent, but now --

Goodbye, U.S. frackers? What the coronavirus has done, however, is to combine with an international oil price war and flawed domestic business practices to tank the U.S. fracking industry. Grist is out with a helpful explainer on how these factors are merging to expose small fossil fuel companies that are on shaky financial footing and likely to go under as prices remain in flux. The Wall Street Journal found that Texas has begun considering capping production in response.

Meanwhile...

Climate activism marches on. "Climate activists are retooling their strategy for an online existence during the coronavirus pandemic," Zack Colman with Politico reports. Instead of mass gatherings, groups led by youth activists are turning to social media and other digital tools to continue their fight.

And indeed it does. In the forefront is the United Nations, an organization originally created by the victors in World War II that has long since been hijacked by the losers, Third World thugocracies and failed states around the globe. And it's here to tell us that the planet is "way off track" in dealing with the imaginary challenge of "man-made climate change."

The planet is "way off track" in dealing with climate change, a new United Nations report says, and experts declared that climate change is a far greater threat than the coronavirus. "It is important that all the attention that needs to be given to fight this disease does not distract us from the need to defeat climate change," U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Tuesday, according to Agence France Presse.

Although emissions have been reduced with travel curtailed because of the virus, Guterres noted that "we will not fight climate change with a virus. Whilst the disease is expected to be temporary, climate change has been a phenomenon for many years, and and will remain with us for decades and require constant action. We count the cost in human lives and livelihoods as droughts, wildfires, floods and extreme storms take their deadly toll,” Guterres said.

The report confirmed that 2019 was the second-warmest year on record and the past decade the hottest in human history.

That last line, of course, is a lie: "human history" did not begin in 1880. But the leeches, bed-watters, and rent-seekers who have glommed onto the "anthropogenic global warming" scam in the interest of frightening the horses and lining their pockets are desperate to keep the rubes coming into the circus tent in order to be fleeced as they're shepherded toward the legendary and elusive Egress.

The Eighth Wonder of the World!

Professor Brian Hoskins of Imperial College London told the Guardian that "the report is a catalogue of weather in 2019 made more extreme by climate change, and the human misery that went with it. It points to a threat that is greater to our species than any known virus – we must not be diverted from the urgency of tackling it by reducing our greenhouse gas emissions to zero as soon as possible."

Well, that's what all used-car salesman say -- this offer expires the minute you head for the Egress! But still, the beat goes on. One last one:

Today, all attention is on the virus. But we cannot afford to ignore another deadly threat that is upon us: the climate crisis. Time is of the essence with the climate, just as with the pandemic. Every day that we delay in taking bold action increases the seriousness of the suffering that will result. Why have nations risen to the challenge of the coronavirus so quickly, while the far more dangerous threat of climate change has failed to inspire the bold response it demands?

Possibly because rational people understand that all the hugger-mugger is bunkum, while the threat from the virus is real.

Already we face spiraling dangers from catastrophic fires, droughts, floods, storms, excessive heat, sea level rise, and huge economic losses.

Here we might note that natural disasters have always been with us -- just ask the residents of Pompeii!

There will be unprecedented mass migrations and violent conflicts following global climate disruptions.

Assuming for the moment that there are "climate disruptions," a fact not in evidence nor even defined --

On our current trajectory, our world will be terribly changed: scarred and diminished and made far less habitable. And, unlike the effects of the virus, which should lessen before too many months pass, the effects of climate change will be with us for centuries, likely growing worse with time. Even now, millions die annually just from pollution caused by burning fossil fuels, utterly dwarfing even worst-case projections of deaths from the virus.

Why haven’t we taken bold action on the climate, changing course before it is too late? Our brains simply are not wired to engage with a danger that is not acutely present. 

With that honest statement, this is as good a place to stop reading as any.