Several democrats who want to be president appeared on a seven hour CNN program last week and explained how they would deal with climate change. The only thing more likely to bore an audience to stupefaction might be one of Wagner’s operas, and they come in at under six hours and include a few catchy tunes. The CNN production was all words.
In a strictly technical way, the words were coherent. They were assembled into thoughts and you could make a kind of sense of them. They outlined a vision of renewable energy, electric vehicles, efficient buildings, reduced consumption of red meat, fewer babies and so on.
And these measures would rescue the planet from … well, from us.
That, when you get right down to it, is the nub of the thing. Oil and gas don’t just extract themselves from the ground. Don’t just spontaneously combust and spew carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. They must be set on fire by people for the purpose of heating or cooling their homes, their offices, and the places where they to go buy things. Those things will have most likely been produced by methods that also require the burning of oil and gas for, among other things, the generation of electricity. And, then, there is aviation. The vehicles that move people and goods around. And that make modern farming possible.
The way we live is what you might call “energy intensive.” And certainly energy dependent. Whole Foods, Amazon, Fed Ex … so many components of the affluent way of living to which we have become accustomed are dependent upon carbon.
Assuming that the climate change hypothesis is accurate, to avoid planetary disaster we must give up this way of life – no more flying off to some remote beach for a little vacation, no more air-conditioned offices and homes, no more conspicuous consumption of … well just about anything. We might even have to turn out the lights in Las Vegas. Play football games in the daytime. Might even have to give up plastic drinking straws.
Austerity is, however, a hard sell. People are not inclined to give up their comforts. When told they must, their most likely response would be “you first.” When celebrities and those who like to think they belong so some “elite” class of people take private jets to conferences where they discuss “solutions” to the challenges of climate change … well, ordinary people will resist when told they must give up that big, gas-guzzling pickup, eat fewer burgers, and vacation at home this year.
“You first,” they will say. And vote accordingly.
So how to get the masses of people to buy into a plan to cope with climate change?
The answer, it seems, is to propose a “plan” costing several trillion dollars that will somehow end the release of all that carbon into the atmosphere without imposing austerity on the voters.
Going carbon free, according to these various plans, would actually create jobs. Green jobs. All those wind turbines and solar panels will have to be built. Buildings retrofitted. Electric cars manufactured.
The candidates at the CNN event made the whole thing sound like a tremendous opportunity. We just needed to elect one of them and stand back while he or she changed the way we do … well, everything.
The unreality of it is nearly transcendent. So much so that you almost find yourself persuaded. After all, we created something called the “Manhattan Project” that took the atom bomb from theory to awful reality in less than five years. John F. Kennedy said we would put a man on the moon in less than ten years and it happened.
But then you return to reality. Have any of these people ever tried to get a building permit, farm on property that includes wetlands, or erect a turbine on their own land?
None of the great objectives of what some like to call the “Green New Deal” will be accomplished without resistance. There will be lawsuits and injunctions and all the things that keep highway projects tied up for years. Even decades.
Donald Tump promised to build a well if elected. A puny project when compared to the vision of candidates who held forth for CNN and the handful of people who tuned in. President Trump encountered resistance and the wall remains unbuilt. There was once a proposal to build a wind farm offshore in a location where it would have been visible from a seaside mansion owned by Senator Edward Kennedy.
And how did that turn out?
No candidate participating in the CNN forum was honest enough to say, “If you want a Green New Deal,” you must first make me dictator with the power to shoot anyone who resists.”
Geoffrey Norman is a former editor of Esquire magazine and is a regular contributor to the Wall Street Journal, Weekly Standard and National Review. He has authored more than 15 books and remains active shaping public policy discussions. He lives in Vermont.