Earth Day 2022: Investing in Poverty, Suffering, and Human Degradation
It is Earth Day 2022 — always falling on Lenin’s birthday, amusingly enough — the official theme of which this year is Invest In Our Planet™. As with every previous Earth Day, we will be bombarded with innumerable web sites both infantile and mendacious, crude propaganda exercises, myriad pleas for networking, virtue signaling as a central dynamic, mindless recommendations for localism and other useless, wasteful, and environmentally destructive silliness. And — of course — there will be the usual shameless groveling by a long queue of spineless corporate officials and public relations gasbags desperate to advertise their environmental bona fides so that the green alligators might eat them last.
Above all, there will be vociferous exhortations for actions both collective and individual: There are “52 ways to Invest In Our Planet™,” almost all of which involve deeply dubious changes in diets, and the sacrifice of modern products, services, conveniences, and other consumption and lifestyle practices the central effects of which are lives longer, healthier, and more enjoyable, and a vastly cleaner environment to boot. (There also are dark proposals to kill large numbers of wildlife, on the basis of dishonest assertions about the effects of methane emissions.) What will be conspicuous by its absence is honesty about the upheavals and other adverse implications of Invest In Our Planet™. To wit: “This is the moment to change it all — the business climate, the political climate, and how we take action on climate.”
Got that? We must “change it all.” “It’s going to take all of us. All in. Businesses, governments, and citizens — everyone accounted for, and everyone accountable. A partnership for the planet.”
In the context of Earth Day 2022, that word “partnership” is vastly more mendacious than the proponents of Invest In Our Planet™ might care to concede. Say whatever you choose about the eternal human condition, that is, the myriad routes that individuals, families, communities, economic sectors, population groups, geographic regions, national economies, and nations viewed as cultures with historical commonalities have arrived at their respective current positions. An effort to “change it all” even in theory must create massive numbers of losers; that is why Congress has never been able to enact formal policies reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The same observation applies to the endless processes yielding such preposterous and irrelevant outcomes as the Paris agreement, an “achievement” that would engender only adverse environmental outcomes combined with the vociferous self-applause by and full employment for the international climate bureaucracy writ large, enjoying flights on private jets to endless conferences, meetings, and soirees at five-star resorts and restaurants financed by taxpayers and leftist foundations, not to mention thunderous ovations from editorial boards and attendees at all the right cocktail parties.
And about making “everyone accountable.” To whom, precisely? Obviously, it is the Earth Day cheerleaders — the environmental leftists — who will sit in judgment of the rest of us, and who will determine the consequences to be meted out as an adjunct of such accountability. Will we imprison energy executives? What about the consumers of conventional energy? Will they be denied food, shelter, and other necessities? Only a child could fail to perceive the blatant totalitarian implications of “everyone accountable,” and the same is true for “chang[ing] it all,” a fundamental totalitarian imperative, in that one set of coercive edicts creates deep perversities and resistance that must be addressed with more coercion, and then more, in a process that leads inexorably toward a gulag-type system. No, that is not an exaggeration.
In short, no amount of blathering about “partnerships” and “all of us” and the climate existential threat — the eternal proclamation of apocalypse for which there is no evidence — can obscure the harsh reality that the pursuit of green utopia results automatically in the massive coercion that is the fundamental implication of “change it all” and “everyone accountable.” The central implication of efforts to reduce GHG emissions is a shift toward energy sources and complementary capital substitution massively expensive and unreliable, a harsh reality that the UK and Germany and many others have come to experience. In the Earth Day world of Invest[ing] In Our Planet™, unreliable and expensive energy can lead to only one possible outcome: rationing and favoritism based upon political criteria, foremost among them loyalty to the climate taskmasters.
For the U.S., the simple correlation between (percent changes in) energy consumption and economic growth is 0.71. Between energy consumption and employment: 0.59. Between energy consumption and several measures of the poverty rate: around 0.4, a correlation that is striking in that poverty is the result of numerous parameters, such as poor-quality education, policies that reduce employment opportunity, childbearing out of wedlock, and other sociological factors. Increases in incomes are strongly correlated with increases in energy consumption; for the lowest and highest income quintiles the respective correlations are 0.55 and 0.92. It is difficult to believe that the analogous calculations for other advanced economies would differ by very much.
Yes, correlation is not causation, but can anyone argue that these relationships are spurious? Accordingly, if the consumption of conventional energy is destroying the planet, then investments in human capital — education and training, health care, environmental protection, sanitation, etc. — also contribute to that purported outcome, as increases in human capital increase the demand for energy. That is why economic growth and expanded employment opportunity are a matter of indifference at best — anathema is the more likely stance — for the environmental left. It is therefore no exaggeration to observe that the central Earth Day imperative is fundamentally anti-human, an eternal truth that the proponents of Invest In Our Planet™ attempt to deny by claiming that unconventional energy has become as inexpensive or even cheaper than conventional energy. (They argue simultaneously that the massive subsidies, guaranteed market shares, and other subventions for the former should not be reduced.) Oh, please. If that were true, no coercion would be required; the market would shift to unconventional energy simply as a matter of self-interest. Needless to say, it is not true.
If all it takes to save the planet is a “partnership” to “change it all,” no more Earth Days would be needed, as the planet would have been saved decades ago. Can anyone imagine a proclamation from the environmental left that its work is done? No, it is coercion that will be necessary now and forever — the kind that only unaccountable bureaucrats, politicians, and elites can exert, and only on an international basis — as impoverishment is not a condition that massive numbers of ordinary people will accept voluntarily.
That is why the environmental left cannot abandon apocalypse as its central assumption. And that is why I am led this Earth Day as I have so many times before to the eternal wisdom of that noted philosopher and keen observer of the human condition, Dogbert: “You can’t save the earth unless you’re willing to make other people sacrifice.” Forget Invest In Our Planet™. Dogbert’s wisdom is the true theme of all Earth Days, past, present, and eternal.
Benjamin Zycher is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.