Getting Off the Road to Climate Serfdom

Published March 12, 2020

The political world is increasingly saying “no” to policies that make energy less available, more expensive, less reliable, and more intrusive in our lives.

Fossil Fuels Booming

Compared to 1988, when global warming first became a political issue, U.S. fossil-fuel consumption has grown by 13 percent despite generous government subsidies to ethanol, solar, and wind power.

In fact, growth in carbon-based energies in the last 30 years almost matches the total production of these three subsidized renewables, reports the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Overall, the market share of carbon-based energy is a robust 80 percent in the United States and 85 percent globally.

Anti-Capitalists, Anti-Democracy

Rather than try and understand why fossil fuels are thriving, climate activists find themselves arguing against capitalism, democracy, free speech, and the revealed preferences of everyday people.

“Capitalism is destroying the Earth,” a columnist for The Guardian states. “Ending climate change requires the end of capitalism,” another Guardian piece exclaims.

Edward Luce, U.S. national editor of the Financial Times, opines, “Democracies are ill-suited to deal with climate change.” Harvard University’s Naomi Oreskes recently recommended a media blackout of industry views in favor of those of climate activists, saying, “The fossil-fuel industry exploited the journalistic ideals of fairness, objectivity, and particularly the idea of balance to manipulate journalists into presenting what was essentially propaganda.”

Oreskes argues for censorship. The fact that all previous electronic media—radio, telephone, television—have been regulated means there’s absolutely no reason why the newest form, the internet, should not be regulated as well, Oreskes says.

Watching the Watchdogs

Echoing Socrates and the Roman poet Juvenal, the question arises, who will guard the guardians, or in this instance, who would regulate the regulators? Imagine all the lobbying shops in Washington, D.C. determining what can be said about climate physics, climate models, and climate economics—and what makes for good energy and climate policy.

In addition to censorship, fooling the public seems to be part of the climate playbook. In a series of tweets on May 9, 2019, climatologist/activist Andrew Dessler wrote, “Economists love transparency. Rational actors want to know exactly how much everything is costing them so they can make optimal decisions about allocating resources. In politics, though, transparency is a negative. If you open your electricity bill and it says, ‘Carbon tax: $20,’ it’s hard to argue that it’s not costing you $20.”

“A politician can then come along and say, “This $20 tax is killing our economy and costing us jobs—we need to repeal it” and a lot of people will agree. That makes it hard to enact and sustain such a policy,” Dessler wrote in another tweet.

“From a political standpoint, a more opaque policy is actually superior [because] … you have no idea how much it costs. Politicians can argue that it’s costing a lot, but other people can argue the opposite … who’s right?” Dessler tweeted.

Evidently, climate alarmists believe a successful political candidate or party cannot be honest and open, given the high costs of and limited gains from regulating carbon-dioxide emissions.

Dangerous Worldview

The above-described goose-steps down the climate road to serfdom are not new.

In 1954, ecologist Harrison Brown said, “It seems clear that the first major penalty man will have to pay for his rapid consumption of the earth’s nonrenewable resources will be that of having to live in a world where his thoughts and actions are ever more strongly limited, where social organization has become all pervasive, complex, and inflexible, and where the state completely dominates the actions of the individual.”

Malthusians have predicted doom for humankind because of the alleged limits of nature for centuries, and they have been continually proven wrong.

Wealthier Is Healthier

History demonstrates people in wealthier societies are on average better-fed, healthier, and live longer. In addition, wealthier societies are better able to anticipate and adapt to changing climate conditions.

Perhaps the most critical factor in determining a society’s relative level of wealth is whether its economy is open and market-oriented or is controlled by government. The freer an economy is, in general, the healthier and more prosperous its people. There is no reason this fact shouldn’t hold true in the face of climate change as well.

Julian Simon noted “human creation is greater than human destruction, in the sense that our environment is becoming progressively more hospitable to humankind,” a point reinforced by Alex Epstein in his 2014 book The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels.

“The popular climate discussion has the issue backward,” Epstein writes. “It looks at man as a destructive force for climate livability, one who makes the climate dangerous because we use fossil fuels. In fact, the truth is the exact opposite; we don’t take a safe climate and make it dangerous; we take a dangerous climate and make it safe. High-energy civilization, not climate, is the driver of climate livability.”

‘Better, Not Worse’

Statistics indicate the world is getting better, not worse, for the great majority of people. The number of climate-related deaths fell dramatically in the last century, a time when atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations increased by nearly one-third.

It is high time to exit the road to climate serfdom. Democrat presidential contender Bernie Sanders might be ready to nationalize the energy industry, while climate campaigners lobby to restrict free speech, but for civil libertarians, economic conservatives, and classical liberals, exposure, education, and denunciation should be the order of the day.

Robert L. Bradley Jr., Ph.D. ([email protected]) is CEO and founder of the Institute for Energy Research.