Opinion Pieces

The Green Crusade Goes National

The tried and true formula underlying Obama’s climate speech

National Review Online

Having grown up on a farm in California’s San Joaquin Valley, I have seen firsthand how environmental extremists smashed a flourishing agricultural region. Citing the need to protect a three-inch baitfish called the Delta smelt, green activists succeeded in getting farmers’ water supplies drastically cut. As some of the world’s most productive soil degenerated into a drought-stricken landscape, farmers — some of whose families had worked these lands for generations — packed up and left. The local economy sank, with unemployment in the Valley now doubling the national average. 

President Obama’s recent speech unveiling his “new national climate action plan” — with its centerpiece proposal to begin regulating carbon emissions from power plants — shows this extremist agenda being applied nationwide. All the key elements we have seen in California are there — the doomsday demagoguery, the brazen dishonesty about the policy’s economic effects, the breezy dismissal of democratic norms, and other deceptions large and small. The following is a partial list:

Scaremongering. In the days leading up to Obama’s speech, the press was full of reports about the dramatic decline in the pace of global warming over the past 15 years. Some climate-change Cassandras, most notably The Economist, suggested this could imply inaccuracies in the computer modeling that underlies the “scientific consensus” on global warming.  

But Obama’s speech contained no hint of this debate, no clue of skepticism or doubt. Ridiculing his opponents as part of a “Flat Earth Society,” Obama cavalierly invoked an array of weather events — hurricanes, droughts, wildfires, heat waves — to prove the need to completely transform our economy and our way of life in order to fight global warming. The fact that these kinds of weather events predate the Industrial Revolution apparently did not impress the president.

“Ultimately,” Obama intoned, “we will be judged as a people, and as a society, and as a country” by what we do about this issue. With that declaration, he identified global warming as the single most urgent issue of our time. This alarmism is a staple of every green crusade of the past half century — acid rain, overpopulation, resource depletion, global cooling (remember that one?), deforestation, etc. Every green campaign is said to be crucial for preserving life on Earth — until it isn’t.

Anti-democratic tendencies.
The issue is so urgent, in fact, that the president can’t be bothered to observe constitutional niceties in solving it — he will implement drastic new regulations administratively through executive-branch agencies. In fact, his entire “plan” is a response to the administration’s failure to get these kinds of measures passed by the American people’s elected representatives in Congress. Early in the Obama presidency, the Democrat-controlled Congress blocked his cap-and-trade carbon-taxing scheme, prompting him to remark that there’s more than one way to skin a cat. Well, this is how he’s “skinning the cat.” The pleas for bipartisanship that littered Obama’s speech were pure disingenuousness, considering the entire effort is designed to bypass Congress and vest himself with the authority to implement these regulations directly through the bureaucracy.

In some ways it’s hard to accuse the Obama administration of deception, since during his first presidential campaign Obama stated his intention to bankrupt the coal industry. Still, the White House usually doesn’t like to express its goals so openly. Shortly before his speech, a member of Obama’s science advisory panel told the New York Times, “Politically, the White House is hesitant to say they’re having a war on coal. On the other hand, a war on coal is exactly what’s needed.” Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune understood that Obama’s speech marked precisely this kind of “direct confrontation with the fossil fuel industry.”

Until now, regulating carbon emissions from power plants has largely been regarded as a “nuclear option” so radical that it could be used only as a threat. In fact, as the American Action Forum notes, EPA administrators, assistant administrators, and other administration officials all denied the Obama administration was planning to do it, and the proposal did not appear in the “Unified Agenda” of federal regulations for 2013.

Shortly before Obama’s speech, the administration laid the groundwork for this move with similar secrecy, boosting the “social price of carbon” by more than 60 percent. This figure is used in government calculations about the price of regulations, meaning the higher the “price,” the more beneficial regulations appear to be if they reduce carbon. The announcement of the change was buried in a trivial new rule about microwave ovens. As Bloomberg reported, “Even supporters questioned the way the administration slipped the policy out without first opening it for public comment.” 

Economic dishonesty
. These new regulations will entail huge economic costs as they force the shutdown of coal power plants. Instead of acknowledging these costs, Obama presented the regulations as an economic boon, asking why Walmart and other corporations would support global-warming regulations if they weren’t good for business.

Although our president has vast experience as a community organizer, he seems to have little direct knowledge of the private sector and is apparently unfamiliar with rent-seeking behavior. One example of rent-seeking would be when corporations suck up to those in power in order to influence legislation. That influence can aim to make harmful regulations less damaging, or to shape them so they disproportionately impact the firms’ smaller competitors. Obama should be familiar with this phenomenon by now, based on all the big health insurers that supported Obamacare and the tobacco corporations that supported his anti-smoking regulations.
Indeed, if these regulations are so good for business, it’s a wonder corporate America is waiting for the government to mandate them instead of adopting them voluntarily. But in Obama’s demagoguery, since they’re good for the economy as well as the environment, no reasonable person would oppose them — to do so is to harbor “a fundamental lack of faith in American business and American ingenuity,” to “bet against American workers,” and to “bet against American industry.” 

Meaningless goals
. The president’s speech had all the meaningless goal-setting and numeric fixations that always accompany the cult of planning. He began by reminding listeners of his pledge to lower America’s greenhouse-gas emissions by 17 percent from their 2005 levels, as well as his accomplishments of doubling wind and solar electricity generation and doubling the “mileage our cars will get on a gallon of gas by the middle of the next decade.”

Unsurprisingly, he didn’t mention his most famous goals — putting a million electric cars on the road by 2015 and creating 5 million green jobs. But the fact that his previous goals proved preposterous didn’t stop him from announcing new ones: ensuring the federal government consumes 20 percent of its electricity from renewable sources; doubling again our wind and solar power production; creating enough private, renewable energy capacity on public lands to power more than 6 million homes; making the Department of Defense install three gigawatts of renewable power on its bases; and enforcing efficiency standards for appliances and federal buildings that will reduce carbon pollution by at least three billion tons.

Like a Soviet apparatchik exhorting the masses to fulfill the five-year plan, Obama explained that he expects the multitudes to join his crusade. He called on Americans to “educate,” “tell” people, “speak up,” “push back on misinformation,” “broaden the circle,” “convince those in power,” “push your own communities,” “remind folks,” and “make yourself heard” on global warming. He did not overtly call on kids to inform on parents who don’t observe the proper global-warming rituals, though the benefits of such actions were pretty well implied.

Picking winners and losers
. Obviously, something as important as saving the world can’t be subjected to the vagaries of the free market. Thus, according to Obama, “my budget once again calls for Congress to end the tax breaks for big oil companies, and invest in the clean-energy companies that will fuel our future.” In other words, his energy sources are good and should receive government support, while traditional energy is bad and should be punished.

The problem with this kind of industrial planning is that in a large-scale modern economy, government experts cannot possess enough information to consistently make good decisions. Moreover, when the government becomes deeply involved in the economy, it enables corruption and empowers special interests that have the means to influence these decisions. One would think that Obama had learned this lesson with the ignominious end of Solyndra, Fisker Automotive, Beacon Power, A123 Systems Inc, EnerDel, and other taxpayer-supported green-energy disasters. But clearly, what Obama is promising us is more disastrous green energy loans, more useless cash-for-clunkers programs, and more ridiculous home-weatherization efforts. This is his jobs program.

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Unfortunately for President Obama, the purpose of this gargantuan, economically destructive, anti-democratic campaign cannot be achieved by the means he has proposed. America’s ability to influence the global climate is nearly zero. Even if we were to exceed his utopian vision in which farmers merrily grow new fuels, and scientists sing green songs as they develop alternative power sources, and workers laugh joyously as they build windmills and install solar panels, we would not lower the temperature. Even if we were to inflict on ourselves some new Morgenthau Plan — the post–World War II proposal to deindustrialize the entire German economy — we’d have little if any impact on the weather. Obama implicitly acknowledged the futility of unilateral U.S. action against global warming when he touted the need to convince other countries to join his fight.

It’s doubtful that other nations will be as willing to sabotage their own economies as Obama is to sabotage ours. And his plea for developing nations to forgo the energy sources that form the basis of the West’s prosperity, and use instead more expensive, less efficient green energy sources, is equally myopic.

As we’ve seen in California, the relentless green crusade pushes aside all caution, common sense, and humility. Viewing mankind as a parasite blighting the planet, green extremists seek by any means necessary to reduce human economic activity. They exploit our natural urge to protect the environment, channeling these impulses toward a fanatical agenda. They have already despoiled large swathes of my native San Joaquin Valley, and the American people should understand that it is this agenda the president has in store for the nation.

Republican congressman Devin Nunes (Calif.) is chairman of the Ways and Means Trade Subcommittee and a member of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.