On climate or anything else, you need to think clearly
Several generations of lost economic growth is what differentiates the United States and Canada from Argentina and Uruguay. A 1-2 percentage point gap in growth over the last two centuries is what differentiates us from Mexico.
The environmentalist movement in current form does not understand the implications of what they’re asking people to sacrifice.
“Climate change is always quite well covered by the media”
I think Matt meant that climate change is not ignored. That does not make it “well” covered. The coverage is still centered around the meta question, “Is the climate changing in harmful ways?” “Are the changes really bad?” But the real meta question is “What to do?” And although we are “doing” a lot, have been for years, there is very little coverage of “Are we doing it right?” Instead, we get coverage of how to “feel” about climate change. It reminds me of the coverage of COVID, lots of coverage of how bad it is, how worried we should be and very little of the policy question, is our policy response the right ones?
Republicans organized, funded think tanks and, in some ways, created an entire theory of jurisprudence focused on their goal of overturning Roe v. Wade and implementing restrictions on abortion. It was a goal with VERY motivated activists inside their coalition, though without enough support in Congress to pass a bill on the topic. Finally, after almost 50 years, their work paid off and Roe was overturned.
But it turns out that the larger populace that maybe doesn't like abortion -- even adopting the "safe, legal and rare" slogan -- has now realized just how extreme the abortion activists are. But Republicans have kowtowed to that part of their coalition for 50 years and Republicans are going to be paying a price for their "win" for years to come.
Climate activists run the risk of doing the same to the Democratic Party, though potentially on a larger scale. The reaction to the gas stove ban proposal will look mild to the reaction to an EPA-driven (not passed by Congress) mandate to force people to buy EVs.
In the U.K., the government recently allowed extra oil and gas exploration in the North Sea. This has resulted in howling from environmentalists because we should be cutting hydrocarbon production. The problem is that we went through a winter of high gas and electricity prices due to curtailed supply. I do not recall anyone saying this was a good thing because it will force people to curtail use of gas and electricity. Rather, they said the government were to blame for not ensuring a greater supply… which is what the government is trying to do now, albeit it will only bear fruit in a few years.
When Saudi Arabia cuts oil production, it’s because they are trying to increase the price of oil. When we tell our governments to cut oil production, it’s to reduce emissions. But it’s the same thing!
It’s this confusion and cognitive dissonance that frustrates me. This attitude of not being willing to face trade offs.
The median voter wants a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage, only to be told farming chickens is cruel and car ownership is destructive. This is because environmentalists are the progressive equivalent to conservative sexual puritans: joyless scolds who live in perpetual fear that someone, somewhere, is happy and having fun.
One query this poses is why the environmentalists rather than UAW should be the ones to compromise here. I don't meant this in the sense of "because I'm normatively right and they're normatively wrong" sense, but rather as a pure numbers game: if 12% of people put climate as their top priority, that's roughly 40 million people (4 x 10^7), whereas the UAW appears to have a total of only 400,000 people (4x10^5). Even if you cut the size of environmental coalition down 90% to account for partisan spread and not everyone in the US being of voting age, it's *still* ten times larger than the UAW, whose entire membership is a whopping 0.12 % of the U.S. population.
How are the unions not the narrow interest group whose ox should get gored here?
It does seem really baffling how much Musk got snubbed by the Whitehouse - especially after the Obama administration was an early backer (and copped flack from Romney over it in 2012). And it’s very clear that Musk was quite miffed, when Biden repeatedly held EV events where the big 3 were invited and Tesla was not.
Climate activists won’t become more practical coalition partners because very few are practical people.
It is not rational to worry about uncertain harms that will mainly accrue after one’s death. Climate activists worry anyway because they either enjoy apocalyptic thinking or can’t help themselves. Such tendencies do not pair well with making sensible tradeoffs between nuclear power, labor demands and neo-pastoralist fantasies.
There is a galaxy-brained take on Musk, which is that because he's a right-winger who thinks climate change is real and that it's important to do something about it, pushing him into the GOP should reduce the partisanship of EV vehicles.
If Tesla ends up as being "the EV for Republicans" then pro-EV policies stop being as partisan, and therefore the GOP doesn't try as hard to block them, which means they could end up in a bipartisan or Secret Congress deal rather than in a big partisan reconciliation bill.
But I do think this is galaxy-brained: there was a real danger in pushing Musk out of the Democratic coalition - though I think it's fair to say that he pushed himself out since buying Twitter anyway, so perhaps the price was baked-in anyway.
The climate lobby isn’t into concessions or partial wins. They expect their every demand be met or else the world will imminently end, in their narrow view.Everything from toasters to gas stoves to air conditioners are threats that must be taken away. Every fire, hurricane, earthquake never would have happened without climate change. It is all so exhausting. So, the climate warriors are not interested in coalitions; rather they are guided by their self proclaimed truths and righteous moral mission to save the world. Follow them or else...
I felt like the intra-environemntal compromise section could be a whole article of its own just to better scrutinize the coalition problems *within* what we broadly call the environmental movement.
It's so weird on the surface to see the things that Matt lists like GHG capture, making it easier to build nuclear and geothermal, and making it easier to build better transmission lines as goals that *environmentalists* are giving up as goals, at least in the context of AGW. Of course, "at least in the context of AGW" is doing a lot of work here, because of all the the conflicting factions within:
--There's a (hopefully aging out) faction that is averse to nuclear energy under all circumstances.
--There's another faction that is averse to any despoiling of nature, real or perceived, even for the cleanest of energy development like solar or wind.
--And there's another faction that is laser focused on being averse to any sort of construction of fossil fuel harvesting, regardless of whether it constrains energy supply or whether it's produced in a cleaner way than the current or previous ways are.
All three of these factions have inherent conflicts with the fourth faction that should dominate the banner of environmentalism: building as much energy possible in the cleanest way possible. That, to me, is the most exciting thing to see. The challenge is how to make those things look sexier to the environmentally minded than focusing on saving individual megaflora/megafauna, or stopping individual projects that look and feel scary to them. I don't know how to proceed there.
This is very reminiscent of how the Build Back Better stuff went, where Democrats were just incapable of saying “no you need to compromise” to any part of their coalition, even though that resulted in the ultimate bad outcome of not achieving anything at all. And if it had passed, it would have resulted in enormous inflation for a decade and commensurate voter backlash. I’m surprised you didn’t cite that precedent here.
Too many activist types want to circumvent the hard work of getting votes and go straight for the policy change. Usually you cannot shortcut the hard work though, and then some folks get angry at that reality.
I want to quibble with "the stingy nature of our safety net for children". Is that really true, or are there just not that many benefits for middle and upper income families with children.
For low-income children, there are direct income supports (EITC), free childcare (Headstart), free healthcare (Medicaid, CHIP), food supports (WIC, food stamps, reduced/free school lunch). Then for all children there is free public education with transportation included ($15k per student per year)!
You could certainly argue for more, but this doesn't really seem "stingy" to me.
But the funny thing here is that Matt is describing compromises that do not in fact buy additional support. Would labor oppose the IRA if there were no Buy America? Would the climate justice folks oppose it if it were all in on carbon capture and storage? And who came up with the idea of subsidizing _investments_ in low CO2 emitting /saving technologies instead of subsidizing the amounts of CO2 not emitted/saved? Who in the “coalition” does that buy off?
Hi Matt Y,
Lots of excellent points in your column, but I want to look at the other side of the coin. You say, most people don't care about climate change, so politicians can't demand that people sacrifice their self-interest for its sake. I say, what can we do to *convince* more people to care, so that they will be willing to make some sacrifices?
To be absolutely crystal clear: I am NOT one of those "humans are a CaNcEr on the pLaNeT" extremists, nor am I a wide-eyed believer in the inherent goodness of living in harmony in nature in a hunter-gatherer band that had no electricity or modern medicine and had a life expectancy in the thirties. I love modern civilization! I'm grateful for abundant energy!
What I'm talking about is, can we convince people to give up *some* aspects of their energy-rich lifestyles for the sake of averting the worst effects of climate change? I'm thinking of:
-More people living in urban, walkable areas, where most day-to-day commuting can be done by walking and/or public transit, not driving everywhere
-Change our cultural norms so that meat becomes an occasional treat, and eating more plant-based meals is the norm
-Less household stuff (I was a child in socialist Poland, and the difference in the amount of household goods we had then and what a middle-class American has now is astonishing. I'm not saying we should wind back the clock to Poland in the 80s, but could we aim for something halfway between then and now?)
-stop air conditioning buildings to below 70 F in the summer, for crying out loud. Nothing wrong with a nice healthy 75 F indoor temperature in the summer!
-Do all this alongside a massive push for no-CO2 electricity, and yes, that includes nuclear as well as solar and wind, and it also includes giving the middle finger to those complaining about "but I don't want to see a wind farm from my summer house."
This would result in a pleasant, modern lifestyle, not some kind of ascetic deprivation, while saving tons of CO2 emissions. Can it be done?