In 1991, just after the Soviet Union collapsed, I attended a conference on environmental economics and policy. Several speakers warned obituaries for socialism were premature, saying that, with socialism discredited on economic grounds, it would now be sold as a panacea for environmental problems.
They were right. The Left is actively campaigning for socialism today, with many arguing socialism offers a cure—the only cure—for climate change.
Socialist Plans Rising
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) latest report calls for governments around the world to take over finance, restructure entire economies, and undertake massive international wealth transfers to equalize incomes around the world. IPCC’s report also suggests we replace individual rights with collectivism.
Similarly, two European economists with the Institute for New Economic Thinking, Enno Schröder and Servass Storm, claim the only solution to climate change is a radical takeover of economies by governments. They argue climate change is an immediate existential threat and only government can impose the rapid radical restructuring required to prevent it.
In the United States, high-profile Democrats in Congress, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), are promoting a Green New Deal (GND) that would, among other things, eliminate all fossil fuels in ten years, create a massive federal public works and jobs program, and establish universal basic income and health care.
These proposals by the UN and U.S. leftists are unabashed, explicit proposals to replace market freedom and limited government with socialism. Governments and international agencies are promoting climate or green socialism, with the younger, more energetic wing of the Democrat Party seemingly committing to it enthusiastically. Leftist think tanks and policy institutes are working to advance it.
Economic Shock, Shrinkage
If the United States adopts the climate socialist agenda, it will eliminate freedom and create economic and political catastrophe, without solving any climate problems. Rapidly transitioning away from fossil fuels would cause a massive negative shock to the economy. Production and incomes would fall, and unemployment and poverty would rise.
Currently, almost two-thirds of U.S. electricity comes from fossil fuel sources, and another 29 percent is from nuclear, hydroelectric, and geothermal. Wind and solar account for a little over 7 percent. Wind and solar are intermittent—energy generation is not under human control but dependent on when the wind blows and the Sun shines. Energy must be available when people need it, not when sun and wind permit, and extreme fluctuations in electricity can shut down electric grids.
In addition, the scale and pace with which solar and wind would have to be deployed to replace fossil fuels is impossible given existing technology. Mandating rapid decarbonization under climate socialism would greatly reduce available electricity and shrink the economy.
Stopped in Our Tracks
Climate socialism would impact transportation also. Quickly replacing the entire automotive fleet with electric vehicles would require massive increases in electrical power, yet that power would decrease under green socialism. For air transportation, there are no reasonable alternatives to petroleum-derived aviation fuels, and no substitutes for fuel oil, diesel, or natural gas for shipping. Transportation would grind to a halt.
Redistribution programs proposed by GND, such as a universal basic income, would further shrink the economy. Recipients become dependent on government as their incentive to work and be self-responsible is reduced. Similarly, finding themselves treated as beasts of burden, taxpayers’ incentives to work is reduced.
Disincentivizing work for recipients and payers results in less being produced and lower income overall. The nation is poorer.
History consistently shows central planning destroys economies.
In a free market, independent decision makers—households and firms, consumers, workers, and asset owners—make decisions coordinated by market prices.
Central planning replaces this with direction by government “experts.” It does not work. Without market prices, government cannot identify the opportunity costs of its actions, and therefore it cannot minimize waste. It is not sustainable.
This has been repeatedly shown—in the USSR, Venezuela, Cuba, and everywhere else real socialism has been tried. Central planners wreck their economies because they lack market prices to determine whether their actions create greater benefits than costs.
Some green socialists such as Ocasio-Cortez dishonestly claim Scandinavian countries show socialism can work. Recently, Danish Prime Minister Lars Rasmussen put that lie to rest, saying, “I know that some people in the U.S. associate the Nordic model with some sort of socialism. Therefore I would like to make one thing clear. Denmark is far from a socialist, planned economy. Denmark is a market economy.”
Also, central planning places enormous power—life-or-death power—in the hands of planners. Everyone is beholden to those who direct the economy, and everyone must follow government’s orders, or else. Green socialists presume people who are just and wise will be in charge (i.e., themselves), but history demonstrates no one should be trusted with such power. That’s why the American federal system was designed to put strict limits on government power.
Socialism Won’t Save Climate
Ironically, if the United States or even the entire developed world imposed climate socialism, it would not prevent climate change.
Most greenhouse gas emissions in the future will come from China and other developing countries that have no intention of restricting their economies with green socialism.
Climate socialism will Venezuela-ize America if we adopt it. It must be utterly, completely rejected and defeated.
Charles Steele, Ph.D. ([email protected]) is the Herman A. and Suzanne S. Dettwiler Chair in Economics at Hillsdale College and a policy advisor to The Heartland Institute.