RealClearEnergy: We don’t need to be forced to care about the planet

This article was first published on RealClearEnergy.

It’s counterintuitive, but modern left-wing environmentalism has very little to do with climate change. Leftists, as they do with many things these days, merely see climate alarmism as a convenient vehicle to advance their radical anti-capitalist agenda—one of the architects of the Green New Deal admitted as much. In a revealing exchange with the Washington Post last year, Saikat Chakrabarti, chief of staff to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, said that the Green New Deal “wasn’t originally a climate thing at all.”

“Do you guys think of it as a climate thing?” he asked. “Because we really think of it as a how-do-you-change-the-entire-economy thing.”

There you have it. If socialists like Chakrabarti truly cared about saving the planet, they would be looking for where solutions to environmental issues are actually coming from. They would be asking, “Which parts of our society are making the most progress in minimizing mankind’s impact on the planet?” And they’d be surprised where they ended up.

So it goes, the private sector is doing more than the state has ever done to tackle climate change. Just recently, telecommunications giant AT&T set out its plan to make its operations carbon neutral by 2035. Silicon Valley finance company Stripe has begun financing negative emissions purchases — literally removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Similar environmental pledges have been made by the likes of Amazon, Starbucks, Microsoft, Unilever, and JetBlue. Even oil titan BP and London’s Heathrow Airport are getting in on the action.

Crucially, none of these monumental steps forward in the fight against climate change were government-mandated. Private companies are voluntarily shifting towards more environmentally-friendly ways of operating. Fossil fuels are not being eradicated through any centralised government scheme to save the planet. In fact, quite the opposite is true. According to data from the International Monetary Fund, the fossil fuel industry received around $5.2 trillion worth of subsidies in 2017 alone.

This issue ought to unite purist libertarians with even the most progressive climate-obsessed eco-nuts — not to mention all the supporters of sensible, market-based environmental solutions who sit in-between those two extremes. There is no reason whatsoever why governments should be interfering in the market to give fossil fuels an enormous, publicly-funded leg-up.

Governments aren’t neutral in this. They’re using everything they have to tip the scales in fossil fuel’s favor, to the tune of around 6 percent of global GDP. And yet, ingenious efforts toward environmental conscientiousness is still winning in the private sector. Ordinary folk like you and I make that very change happen before our eyes, simply by saying we want it.

That’s only possible, however, because of the way the free markets work. Governments are inherently less efficient. Having a central bureaucratic body arbitrarily pick winners in the marketplace will always lead to a suboptimal outcome. Take, for instance, the left’s neglect of nuclear, despite it being the only viable, scalable alternative to fossil fuels.

Transferring environmental decision-making from the private to the public sector would remove profit as a motive and replace it with an incentive to virtue-signal about how noble your motives are above all else. That’s how you end up with the Green New Deal — a manifesto for eco-socialism which seems designed to stifle economic growth, choke innovators and do everything except promote practicable, realistic solutions to climate change — dominating climate policy discussions.

Whoever holds the reins of power, the machinery of government is incapable of doing what needs to be done to protect the planet. More government is never the answer. When governments try to create change, they hemorrhage taxpayer money and waste years of valuable time on bureaucratic wrangling. No steps forward are taken. In fact, in the case of green energy innovation, governments funnelling money into the failing fossil fuels industry are actually taking steps backwards.

Yet, despite these interventions, the market still comes through. Real progress is delivered in record time because private companies are innovating voluntarily. Those companies are choosing, entirely of their own volition, to transition away from fossil fuels. It’s in their interest to be seen taking action to protect the planet. To misquote free-market economist Adam Smith, it is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect environmental advances and clean growth, but from their regard to their own self-interest.

Governments around the globe are milling about like dazed donkeys in the middle of the road. But they need to get out of the way and allow progress to take place, and the ethic of capitalism allows the private sector to take positive action in confronting this problem by itself. As is the case in so many fields, the state is the problem and private enterprise is the solution — not the other way around.

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