Maurice Strong is another former U.N. figure — and another former oil man — positioned to gain from the energy taxes he advocates. As the founding director of the U.N. Environment Program, Strong midwifed the 1997 Kyoto Treaty but stepped down from his post in 2005 after investigations implicated him in the Iraq Oil-for-Food bribery scandal. (Strong maintains that he did nothing wrong and that he resigned for personal reasons.) After leaving the United Nations, Strong relocated to China and helped set up a carbon-permit exchange. China stands to benefit from the implementation of cap-and-trade in the United States, because its dirty power plants and factories offer a plentiful and cheap source of offsets to U.S. businesses willing to pay for upgrading them. A portion of the proceeds generated from cap-and-trade would flow to climate entrepreneurs such as Strong, who also holds a seat on the board of the Chicago Climate Exchange.
In the corporate world, many large businesses are trying at least to hedge their exposure to new energy taxes and regulations — and some are going all-in for cap-and-trade. Among the latter group, General Electric stands out. As Timothy P. Carney of the Washington Examiner has noted, GE has expanded aggressively into wind turbines, coal gasification, solar power, and high-efficiency gas turbines, all of which Congress would heavily subsidize under Waxman-Markey. Not only does GE engage in lobbying for legislation that would tax most of the economy while benefiting its shareholders, its television networks — NBC, MSNBC, and their cousins — participate in a blatantly advertorial “Green Week” each year to promote policies from which GE stands to gain.
Government funding enacted under Democratic auspices usually comes with strings attached to benefit organized labor, so it is no surprise that groups such as Change to Win, a coalition of labor unions, support robust subsidies for so-called green jobs. And here as elsewhere, one finds advocates of carbon caps moving into the profitable world of offsets. Chris Chafe, the executive director of Change to Win, has announced that his next move will be to form an enterprise that aims “to create a more integrated job-creating, climate-capturing, return-generating process that brings all of the incumbent assets from labor, business, and environmental leaders into a common planning process, so we can capture jobs and capture climate goals.” Which is to say, he’s going to make a killing in the climate-subsidy racket.
All these opportunities for private-sector profit stand in addition to the billions in research money at stake for universities and nonprofits — many of them closely tied to profit-seeking green ventures. The University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit — the epicenter of the scandal involving leaked e-mails that showed the world’s leading climate scientists to be fudging data and bullying skeptics — hauled in around $20 million in research grants under former director Phil Jones, who stepped down over the embarrassing revelations. And President Obama has made sure that federal agencies are now entitled to a larger and more explicit share of the global-warming pie: The stimulus included $450 million for NASA “climate-research missions” and $600 million for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to study climate change.
This is not to suggest that Al Gore or his allies have spent years warning of a climate catastrophe merely for the promise of a big payoff at the end. Gore either sincerely believes his alarmist theories or performs an utterly convincing imitation of someone who does. As for the investments, he says he’s simply putting his money where his mouth is, and he pledges to donate his gains to his nonprofit foundations — which will use them to campaign for even more green subsidies and global-warming regulations, of course. But Gore’s involvement in these ventures shines a light on the fact that private actors have bet a considerable amount of money on Washington’s willingness to continue transferring wealth from taxpayers to politically connected green-tech companies that probably would not survive, let alone thrive, without government support. Those business interests will keep exerting considerable pressure to keep the cash flowing.
And in the long run, these green politics are potentially disastrous. Consider Spain’s “solar bubble.” In the years before the financial crisis, the Spanish government quadrupled subsidies for solar power, thinking it had found a winner on the environment, the economy, and jobs. But when the crisis forced a reordering of budgetary priorities, the Spanish government cut back on the handouts, and the solar bubble burst. The sector proceeded to shed thousands of jobs, contributing to Spain’s current 19 percent unemployment rate. The green lobby may talk about alternative energy and green jobs as though they were cost-free propositions, but there is no greenwashing such an example.