If you could divide Europe’s nations and regions into “red” and “blue” states on the American model, very few would be colored “red” — Poland, some other East European countries, rural regions across the continent, etc. Most nations would be cheerfully “blue.” But all Europe would be ‘‘green.’’
Green is the universal sign of conspicuous virtue, of concern for planet, of a new paganism that worships the goddess Gaia and treats the Earth as itself a single living organism.
Anyone who questions this newly fashionable faith is regarded as a dangerous heretic to be cast into the outer darkness. A minister in the British government suggested to the BBC that it should not allow air time to any scientists who doubted ‘‘global warming’’ (a minority of scientists but a distinguished group). Other high priests of the creed have called for “Nuremberg trials” of “climate change deniers.”
In this overbearing moral atmosphere politicians are likely to salute any green flag that the environmentalists run up. And, sure enough, in 10 days there has been in succession:
1. A “summit” of European Union leaders that pledged to cut Europe’s carbon emissions by 20 percent from their 1990 levels and, if other countries (especially America) follow their example, by 30 percent.
2. The publication in Britain of a Climate Change Bill, supported by all major parties, that would set legally binding targets to cut Britain’s carbon emissions by 60 percent by 2050.
3. A proposal by the supposedly free-market Conservative Party to “allow” every citizen one untaxed air flight a year but then to levy heavy taxes on additional flights in order to discourage air travel.
4. Leaks from Whitehall that Finance Minister Gordon Brown will double fuel taxes in Wednesday’s budget as another green measure.
All this is likely to be applauded by the voters — who are swept up in this green tornado quite as much as the media and politicians — but will they applaud its effects, large and small, when they pinch?
Take small effects first. Under the EU summit agreement, the familiar light bulb is to be outlawed in the next few years in favor of a more carbon-neutral one. Unfortunately, the new bulb is several times more expensive than the existing one and it sheds much less light. Those who can afford the (considerable) expense will use more bulbs to illuminate the same space. Poorer people will develop eye problems and push up health costs. Such are the unintended consequences of thoughtless legislation.
What of large matters? The idea underlying the EU proposals and the British climate change bill is that governments will both impose binding limits on the carbon emissions that industries emit and instruct them to use low-carbon fuels such as wind and solar power. In other words, the EU and Britain are embracing a new form of central planning based on energy-use quotas rather than output quotas. But central planning is a synonym for economic inefficiency and waste.
These things happen when green daydreams encounter realities or what Al Gore calls inconvenient truths. Here are a few more of them:
Almost all the European countries have already failed to meet much lower carbon emission targets under Kyoto than the new targets they adopted 10 days ago.
When Brown increased fuel taxes six years ago in Britain, nationwide blockades by truck drivers almost brought down the government.
The British economy accounts for only 2 percent of global carbon emissions. If it were to close down entirely, it would have little or no impact on the world’s total carbon output — and even less impact on the willingness of the Indian and Chinese governments to cut back on building power stations that they consider essential to their nation’s prosperity but that are now the main drivers of increased carbon usage.
Britain and Europe’s governments are committing themselves to systems of carbon rationing bound to run up against strong consumer and voter resistance within a few years for very little practical gain. Why?
Europe’s green establishment believes that global warming is caused by carbon usage and thus can be solved only by its massive reduction. But global warming has several possible causes, some of which, such as the activity of the sun, are unrelated to humans.
While we are seeking to understand global warming scientifically, we should adapt to it — shoring up coasts against erosion, changing the use of agricultural land to suit the changing climate, building dams, developing new technologies. Adaptation would include measures to encourage the use of cleaner fuels, notably nuclear energy. It would be a practical solution to the effects of warming, whatever science eventually established definitively as its cause.
To be sure, adaptation would be expensive. Not nearly so expensive, however, as trying to close down the free market in Europe and to reverse the Industrial Revolution in Asia. But Gaia is a jealous goddess and does not consider costs.
– This first appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times and is reprinted with permission.