Climate change was meant to be a central plank of the US Democrat Party’s plan to unseat Trump in next year’s presidential election. Instead, there is broad agreement – even among the left-leaning media – that climate change turned into a train wreck for would-be candidates in last week’s debates. Robinson Meyer at The Atlantic, for example, laments that:
“The moderators asked some simplistic questions, and—more important—the candidates gave poor answers. And in a broader sense, Democrats still seem unsure of how to talk about climate change. It’s clearly one of the party’s biggest animating issues, but what kind of problem is it?”
The would-be candidates either waffled or confused combatting climate change with a growth-based industrial policy centred on non-renewable renewable energy-harvesting technologies. Justin Worland at Time was even more brutal:
“If you want to understand just how badly climate change was handled in the Democratic debates, start by looking at a good answer on another subject.
“When former HUD Secretary Julián Castro was asked about immigration during the first night of this week’s debates, he went full force… [his] answer had it all: a bold policy proposal, specific facts about the law, a good understanding of where your rivals stand, a reference to recent news, an emotional connection and finally a moral or ethical claim for your position.
“When the subject turned to climate change, however, none of the candidates managed to pull that off — including Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who have made it a centerpiece of their campaigns, and former Vice President Joe Biden and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who have put forward aggressive proposals as well.
“By and large, they didn’t even come close, with answers that were either evasive, meandering or dry. Climate change was a subject at the debate, but it was not a subject of debate.”
Unsurprisingly, the Democrat party’s opponents add climate change to a list of policy areas where they have alienated the majority of the American public. This, however, may be unfair; since no politician, anywhere on the planet, has a solution to climate change that stands a prayer of getting them elected.
Running against the climate change denying Trump allows Democrat politicians to take the moral high ground in the same way as Angela Merkel has done in Europe over the last decade, or how Theresa May did at last week’s G20 summit. Look more closely, however, and you discover that both Germany and the UK have done little beyond deploying wind turbines that still have to be backed up with large volumes of fossil fuels – in Merkel’s case, with the dirtiest lignite (brown) coal; because of her insane 2011 decision to close Germany’s nuclear power stations because she feared a tsunami.
Both the UK and the EU’s plans for reaching net (i.e. paying someone else to offset our carbon) zero carbon are based on a large amount of hopium and yet-to-be-invented technologies which allow us to continue to engage in destructive fossil fuel-based economic growth on the promise that someone will figure out how to remove our greenhouse gases from the atmosphere sometime in the future. And that is the most forward-thinking plan for tackling what they have come to call a “climate emergency.”
The stumbling block, of course, is that infamous statement by George HW Bush: “The American way of life is not open to negotiation.” For the rest of us, that simply means that solving climate change cannot take precedence over business as usual. As one of our local politicians here in Wales put it:
“It was the thankless and tireless campaigning by thousands of young climate activists coupled with pressure and support from my party, Plaid Cymru, that led the Welsh Government to declare a climate emergency last month.
“But when the Labour First Minister, Mark Drakeford AM, said that he did not think declaring a climate emergency ‘represented a sharp difference in policy’, alarm bells rang. Doesn’t he and his Government realise that the whole purpose of declaring a climate emergency is to recognise that the status-quo is not sustainable?
“Declaring a climate emergency must mean more than rebranding existing policies.Take the Government’s recently published A Low Carbon Wales paper, for example. The vast majority of the promises in that paper already existed. They weren’t new policies, per se. Many of the document’s commitments begin with various caveats including, ‘We will be consulting on…’, ‘We envisage…’, ‘We will consult on…’ and so on.
“This doesn’t sound very urgent to me.”
Elsewhere in the UK things are no better. The supposedly “green” Scottish Nationalist Party government – which is deploying wind turbines on any part of the Scottish seabed that doesn’t already have an oil or gas rig on it – have come in for criticism for not letting a “climate emergency” inconvenience their representatives in the Scottish Parliament. As Paul Hutcheon at the Herald Scotland reports:
“[First Minister] Nicola Sturgeon has been accused of climate change gimmickry after her ministers took dozens of car trips on the short route between Government headquarters and Holyrood.
“Ministers used their chauffeur-driven vehicles for a journey that takes less than 15 minutes by foot a week ahead of Sturgeon declaring that an over-heating planet is an ’emergency’. Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham was one of the Cabinet heavyweights to have been ferried about.”
What concrete action can be proposed though? When Macron made a relatively minor hike of diesel prices last year, he triggered a revolt of the masses that continues to this day. When the Australian Labor Party went into their recent federal election on a green ticket last month they were soundly beaten by the pro-fossil fuels Liberal Party. When several Democrat-leaning US states added carbon taxes to the ballot in the mid-terms last year, they were resoundingly defeated by their own supporters.
So far as the affluent salaried classes are concerned, fighting climate change is something to virtue signal about – particularly if someone else is paying – until someone proposes a policy that costs them money or impinges on their way of life. Of course other people should give up air travel and have fewer kids… but they’re different. And woe betides the political party that adopts a policy platform that impacts their standard of living. For the growing precariat, whose jobs and livelihoods are the price that inevitably has to be paid for climate policies that neither halt the production of greenhouse gases nor inconvenience the salaried class; green politics are a non-starter. As Ruth Lea who writes the Conservative Woman blog observes, the UK’s attempts to lead the world on climate change amount to little more than an expensive futile gesture:
“One fairly recent study which estimated the emissions associated with trade was released by Carbon Brief, which looked at the data for 2014, two years before the IEA data quoted above, but the conclusions for 2014 are almost certain to be valid for 2016.
“This study concluded that the largest ‘outsourcers’ were the US (352million tonnes), followed by Japan (180million) and the UK (158million). At the other end of the scale, the countries held to account for CO2 emissions of exported goods included China (1,369million tonnes), followed by Russia (257million) and India (195million).
“Carbon Brief estimated that the UK’s domestically generated CO2 emissions fell by around 27 per cent between 1990 and 2014 (the IEA figure for UK emissions in 2014 was 408million tonnes, so this figure is in the right ‘ball park’). Allowing for the outsourced emissions, the decrease between 1990 and 2014 fell to just 11 per cent.
“Suffice to say, the UK’s zeal in clamping down on domestic emissions merely risks the raising of electricity prices, damaging UK industry’s international competitiveness and transferring economic activity from the UK to overseas exporters. Indeed, it is more than plausible that this has already occurred.
“CO2 emissions are still rising and can be expected to continue rising.”
All the evidence so far is that climate politics is a seductive trap into which parties of the left tread at their peril. Any proposal beyond vague platitudes of the “something must be done” type risks alienating too many voters; which is why, no doubt, Democrat candidates skirted around the issue last week. And anything to which a price tag can be attached will likely go down like a lead balloon.
Some version of a green new deal is coming, however; just not this side of the next economic crash. That is, even the relative stability of economic stagnation is less threatening to the majority of voters than the prospect of a government turning on the printing presses and cranking out an inflationary dose of currency to spend on technologies that will lower the living standards of the poor even further, while allowing the wealthy to continue living as if we had several spare earths to fall back on. And until we get to the desperation of the next economic crash, any politician or party that puts climate change front and centre of their bid for government is going to lose.
As you made it to the end…
you might consider supporting The Consciousness of Sheep. There are five ways in which you could help me continue my work. First – and easiest by far – please share and like this article on social media. Second follow my page on Facebook. Third, sign up for my monthly e-mail digest to ensure you do not miss my posts, and to stay up to date with news about Energy, Environment and Economy more broadly. Fourth, if you enjoy reading my work and feel able, please leave a tip. Fifth, buy one or more of my publications