Environmentalists have been waxing apocalyptic about global warming for several decades now. What do they have to show for it? America’s president just pulled out of the Paris climate accord, leaving a rudderless and bereft global movement. And even if he hadn’t, the nation has little appetite for meaningful political action on climate change. Why have environmentalists failed so utterly to push their cause forward after all this time?
Because they’ve gone about it all wrong. Instead of treating global warming like a problem that needs to be addressed regardless of what caused it, the green left has been more obsessed with establishing humanity’s culpability and embracing ever more extreme and painful mitigation steps, as if they were more concerned with punishing the perpetrators than solving the problem.
Global warming guru Al Gore in 1992 called for the elimination of the internal combustion engine from the planet in 25 years. But the accursed engine is nowhere close to going away given that auto sales (and not hybrids and electrics) are projected to grow for decades to come. Many environmentalists want to eradicate fossil fuels. This will never happen — or at least won’t happen for a long, long time—especially in emerging economies that need cheap fuel to spur development and deliver decent living standards.
Undeterred, liberals are now saying that we should save the planet by having fewer kids, each of whom creates 58 tons of carbon dioxide each year (more for American parents). This is a ludicrous suggestion that will further drive a wedge between middle-class Americans who live for their families and yuppie, green Americans who live for the environment.
But the further problem with all these remedies is that they suffer from what’s called the collective action problem. Take, for example, forgoing children: If some people forgo but others don’t, the former will suffer a deep personal loss and the planet will be no better off. Hence everyone waits for someone else to go first and the “solution” doesn’t even get off the ground.
If environmentalists want to succeed, they’ll have to begin by transforming their own attitudes, focusing less on asking people to sacrifice to save the planet, and focusing much more on smart technological solutions that solve our climate problem without asking so much from us.
Morally shaming people into voluntary action doesn’t work. And the more attached people are to the things that they are being shamed into giving up, the less effective this strategy.
Environmentalists’ other strategy is government coercion to force polluters to cease and desist. But governments, especially democratic ones, don’t have carte blanche to inflict endless pain on their citizens without being booted out. That’s why Europe’s cap-and-trade scheme—under which each industry got a free carbon quota beyond which it had to buy offsets from less polluting companies with permits to spare—has shown pathetic results.
Countries simply gamed the program to give their industries a reprieve. A global carbon tax, though in theory a less messy solution, has even less chance of ever being embraced for all kinds of reasons, including that poor countries will expect rich countries to impose a higher tax because they caused the problem in the first place, while rich countries will expect poor countries to shoulder more of the burden as they are currently the bigger polluters. (Given that many global warming warriors fancy themselves to be progressives fighting for the underdog, they should bear in mind that in this battle, might will prevail over right and poor countries will have to face the brunt.)
Read more at Reason
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