Exponents: Saving the world the smart way

This article was first published in Exponents Magazine.

Climate discourse has never been more polarised. Eco-socialist groups like Extinction Rebellion demand that we bring the world order tumbling down. They insist that we abandon economic growth, bringing the world order tumbling down and starting over again. Meanwhile, reactionaries continue to deny that climate change exists, or that we should do anything about it. The vast majority who sit in-between those two extremes borrow rhetoric from the left, crowing about the urgency of the climate crisis, paired with actions from the right, in which constructive policy debate is absent and no meaningful steps forward are taken.

Both extremes are mistaken. Zealous leftist figures like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in the US and Rebecca Long-Bailey in the UK have packaged their world-destroying demands into what has become known as the Green New Deal, a deranged attack on the globalised economy in the name of the environment. They insist on net-zero carbon emissions around the world within the next decade, or even earlier. Such a commitment would come with a wildly unsustainable price tag, despite the fact that a failure to undo centuries of carbon emissions within a few years will not bring about the apocalyptic visions described in much far-left literature.

At the same time, climate denial retains a bafflingly strong foothold. A staggering one in five Americans believe that human activity has no effect on the environment. An intense bout of confirmation bias irreversibly convinces vast swathes of people that the climate change ‘narrative’ is false, nothing more than a vehicle used by their political opposites to realise their scarily progressive agenda. Somehow, despite overwhelming scientific consensus and a plethora of moderate policy proposals from experts around the globe, there is no mainstream consensus on this issue. You either believe that climate change is a Chinese hoax, or that it will cause the world to ignite into an enormous fireball within five years.

Because the externalities of climate change are borderless and monumental, tackling it requires immense international cooperation. But when national governments are stuck in this tug of war between the extremes, no fruitful policy discourse can take place and no progress is made. Those two fanatical perspectives are equally regressive. The only way for governments to overcome their predicament is to hold their noses and denounce them both with equal gusto.

There is no reason why the climate debate should be so stalled and myopic. It is perfectly possible to acknowledge the severity of the problems facing the planet and propose radical but practical solutions to them without sitting in the eco-socialist camp. We do not have to impoverish the world in order to save it.

Those kinds of policies have a proven record. The UK, for example, just went 67 days without burning any coal for the first time since the Industrial Revolution. Carbon taxes are in force in various forms around the world and millions of words have been written on the far-reaching possibilities of using government incentives to nudge electricity producers away from fossil fuels. Nuclear power is in safe use across the world and the proportion of global energy production that comes from renewable sources is increasing exponentially. Lab-grown products like the remarkable Impossible Burger represent an increasingly viable alternative to the environmentally disastrous meat industry.

These ideas exist, and they work, but they are not getting the attention they deserve. The kind of innovative policies that seek to change the way we think about environmental policy have barely made it out of the think tanks, though books like Green Market Revolution, a new, free book from the British Conservation Alliance and the Austrian Economics Center, seek to change that. Mountains of evidence and case studies prove that entrepreneurs and market forces can and will solve environmental issues without gratuitous state intervention—it’s just a matter of giving them a chance.

The world has only recently woken up to the reality of climate change. In 1989, Margaret Thatcher became the first world leader to publicly voice concern on the issue. In the three decades since then, incredible progress has been made in conjuring up solutions, but the glaring disconnect between innovators and the rest of the world remains. Shamefully few of these world-changing ideas have found their way into government policy, or even mainstream political discourse. The clock is ticking. The world might not explode in five years’ time, but we don’t have an eternity either. It is high time we look past the extremes of the debate and implement moderate, market-based solutions to environmental issues.

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