The West Weakens Itself in Pursuit of Unreasonable Climate Policies

On the nature of policymaking, Thomas Sowell, a prominent American intellectual, once claimed that “there are no solutions, only tradeoffs.” With brevity, Dr. Sowell revealed a truth that many climate policymakers have forgotten. In a monomaniacal pursuit to reduce carbon emissions, the West risks implementing unreasonable policies that could ultimately weaken itself in an increasingly dangerous world. 

One attempt to quantify the costs and benefits of current climate policies comes courtesy of Bjorn Lomborg, founder of the climate policy think tank: The Copenhagen Consensus. Supported with research from Nobel-winning economists, Dr. Lomborg points out that global net-zero policies by mid-century will likely yield benefits of “about $1 trillion each year”, while costs can reach between “$10 and $43 trillion each year.” Even if the quoted figures are global, the West, as the collection of the richest countries on the planet, will almost certainly bear the vast majority of the cost burden. 

With the possibility of such massive outlays on the horizon, Western societies need to think long and hard about the tradeoffs they are making with finite economic resources and whether such policies will make them resilient to near-term geopolitical threats. Take the energy transition in Germany for example.

Expending immense resources to build solar capacity where geographical conditions don’t favor solar energy simply makes no sense. Germany is one of the countries with the least sunshine hours in the world but has one of the highest solar adoption rates and plans on further expanding its solar capacity. Not surprisingly, the country also has one of the highest electricity prices globally. 

While Germany is receiving kudos for its stance on renewable energy, its economy is declining because its industrial base, which is highly energy intensive, is starting to crack from energy costs and a lack of reliable energy supply. Worse still, Germany went from being reliant on Russia for its energy needs to being reliant on China, which is dominant in the field of rare-earth mineral processing, a key step in the production of many renewable energy technologies, including solar panels. If there is one lesson Germany has learned with Russia in the 2020s, it’s surely that developing a reliance on a geopolitical foe can be a very bad idea. And yet, it is blindly treading the same path with China. 

A slowing economy has downstream effects that extend down to military strength, technological progress, and societal welfare. Germany has been made weaker on the world stage in part because of its energy decisions, and its downward trajectory can only serve to embolden geopolitical adversaries who don’t see themselves as bound to the Western order. Countries elsewhere in the West would be wise to learn from Germany’s misstep.

There is also no reason that the West needs to completely sacrifice climate goals for the sake of an affordable and secure energy supply. For the last two decades, 65% of the decline in carbon emissions in the United States’ electricity sector has been due to a phasing out of coal in favor of natural gas. Even so, the West is utterly fixated on prematurely phasing out fossil fuels when cleaner, more efficient, and more reliable forms of energy, such as nuclear fission, are only in the early stages of deployment and experimentation.

An honest evaluation about tradeoffs needs to take a more central position in climate policy discussions. But at the moment, many policymakers are willing to bypass nuance on the basis that climate change is an existential threat. That would be a mistake. The history of climate activism is littered with disastrous policy decisions that stem from false predictions of doom. 

In the late 1960s and early 70s, the world was gripped by a fear of overpopulation and mass starvation, manifesting in reports like “Limits to Growth”, created by The Club of Rome: an organization not too dissimilar from the modern United Nations Conference of the Parties (COP). Overpopulation fears back then weren’t entirely new either, as the English economist Thomas Malthus had already proposed the theory of overpopulation a century prior to the creation of The Club of Rome. “Limits to Growth” made an impression on certain individuals like Song Jian, a Chinese missile scientist who became convinced of the importance of limiting population growth and helped spur the eventual formulation of the one-child policy in China

By now, we have long moved on from any fears of mass starvation, but the resulting policy consequences aren’t so easy to escape from. Because of its fateful decision to constrain child-birth, China is now facing a demographic crisis, producing fewer and fewer young people with each passing generation to support the future functioning of society.

The West must not fall into a similar exhibition of self-destructive behavior. Prosperity has been and will always be a nation’s best answer to any challenges that come its way. If current climate policies lead to a reversal in progress, then it is time to reconsider the consensus. 

Cover Image Source: 

https://unsplash.com/@opixels

Bibliography (links in order of appearance):

https://nypost.com/2023/11/29/opinion/uns-summit-will-again-push-multi-trillion-dollar-cures-that-are-worse-than-climate-change/

https://www.reuters.com/markets/europe/german-industrial-output-falls-slightly-more-than-expected-july-2023-09-07/

https://climate.mit.edu/ask-mit/how-much-does-natural-gas-contribute-climate-change-through-co2-emissions-when-fuel-burned#:~:text=From%202005%20to%202019%2C%20according,replacing%20coal%2Dfired%20power%20plants.

https://www.jstor.org/stable/20192474?seq=2

China’s shrinking population and constraints on its future power

Quinn Collins

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *