What will happen next with the coronavirus epidemic is unknown, but it seems certain to claim one very high-profile victim: the so-called Green New Deal.
The current crisis in the U.S. economy is, in miniature but concentrated form, precisely what the Left has in mind in response to climate change: shutting down large sectors of the domestic and global economies through official writ, social pressure, and indirect means, in response to a crisis with potentially devastating and wide-ranging consequences for human life and human flourishing.
What is under way right now in response to the epidemic is in substance much like the Green New Deal and lesser versions of the same climate-change agenda: massive new government spending, political control of critical industries, emergency protocols modeled on wartime practice, etc.
But the characters of the two crises are basically different.
Set aside, for the moment, any reservations you might have about the coronavirus-emergency regime, and set aside your views on climate change, too, whatever they may be. Instead, ask yourself this: If Americans are this resistant to paying a large economic price to enable measures meant to prevent a public-health catastrophe in the here and now — one that threatens the lives of people they know and love — then how much less likely are they to bear not weeks or months but decades of disruption and economic dislocation and a permanently diminished standard of living in order to prevent possibly severe consequences to people in Bangladesh or Indonesia 80 or 100 years from now?
For years, we’ve been hearing, “This is climate change” and “That is climate change,” every time there’s a flood or a storm. If that’s the fact, then climate change is, relatively speaking, manageable. There is no way Americans—or people around the world—are going to agree to endure anything like the current economic downturn in order to prevent problems of that nature.
Without failing to appreciate the severe immediate economic consequences being felt by Americans in this episode, asking retail and service-industry workers to forfeit their incomes for a few months until their establishments can reopen is a relatively manageable thing even if we are (as I believe we should be) very liberal in doing what we can to protect them financially in the meantime. Telling everybody who works in coal, oil, natural gas, petrochemicals, plastics, and refineries — and a great many people who work in automobiles, aviation, shipping, utilities, construction, agriculture, manufacturing, food processing, utilities, and dozens of other fields — that their companies and their jobs are going away forever is a much larger thing. Telling everybody who does business with those people that they’ll have to consult Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for solvents and industrial polymers — and, you know, lights — would send waves of chaos rippling around the world hard and so fast that you’d need Tom Araya to properly give voice to them.
“Oh, but we’ll find them jobs in the new green economy!” comes the response. “It’ll be a net positive!” As though petroleum engineers were lumps of labor that could be reshaped at will by a committee of lawyers in Washington, if only we gave them the power. Nobody is buying that. Not many people are that stupid.
As I wrote at the beginning of this outbreak, Americans are hard to quarantine. We may yet end up paying a very heavy price for that — in some circumstances, a non-compliance rate of 20 percent (i.e., if every fifth person is a knucklehead) will have effects quite similar to a non-compliance rate of 95 percent. A 51 percent majority works in a city-council election, but an effective social-distancing regimen requires much more.
Those spring-break clowns down in Florida and the “coronavirus party” doofuses in Kentucky are We the People, too, and if they are not willing to spend a couple of weeks watching Netflix to save grandma’s life — or their own lives — then do you really think they’re going to take an economic bullet over the prospect of losing 3 percent of world economic output a century from now to global-warming-mitigation costs?
What we are seeing right now is what it looks like when Washington tries to steer the economy. There are times when that is necessary, and this is one of those times. But emergencies do not last forever, and emergency measures should be, by nature, temporary. The attraction of the climate-change crusade is that it creates a permanent state of emergency. The Left wants very much to convince Americans that climate change presents an emergency of the same kind requiring the same “moral equivalent of war” worldwide mobilization.
One suspects that the people who are missing their paychecks right now, and the ones who worry that they may be missing them soon, are going to need some convincing. The adverse effects of climate change are likely to be significant and may prove severe — as noted, many of our progressive friends insist that they already are. But we have a new point of comparison, and those challenges feel relatively manageable if the alternative is an extended version of the coronavirus shutdown — and no amount of marketing will change the fact that that is precisely what is being advocated.
A couple of months of this is going to be very hard to take. Nobody is signing up for a lifetime of it.