jump to navigation

Resist the Drumbeat of World War III: The War on Climate Change (Washington Examiner) August 29, 2019

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds.

Do you hear the drumbeat of war? No, I don’t mean the threat of nuclear war with Iran or North Korea, or even the trade war with China. I’m talking about the drumbeat of liberal politicians and climate scientists who want us to go to war on climate change.

It’s not as if we aren’t fighting enough of these wars on domestic policy problems already. We still live in a war on poverty, declared by President Lyndon Johnson in 1964, as well as a war on crime, a war on drugs, Jimmy Carter’s “moral equivalent of war” on energy consumption, the war on terror, and a few less formal wars such as those on cancer, obesity and the like.

The truth is that whenever we find a big domestic policy problem we don’t know how to solve, we simply declare war on it. Then several things happen, most of them bad.

First, we never solve the problem at hand — in fact, we rarely even make real gains against it. We have more of everything we are warring against than when we started. One reason is that, when we declare a war, we don’t really understand the problem or how to solve it — that’s why we turn, in desperation, to the war metaphor. Once we declare war, we no longer study it and consider policy alternatives since, after all, we’re at war. We’re too busy appointing czars, passing regulations, and spending money.

Second, and this is no coincidence, we end up turning a good many policies that used to belong to state or local government over to Washington, while also transferring power from one end of Pennsylvania Avenue (Congress) to the other (the president and his executive agencies). In fact, starting with President Franklin Roosevelt, who took advantage of the Great Depression crisis to transform government into his New Deal with its ever-expanding administrative state, presidents have learned that mobilizing the country for war against this or that enemy is the way to consolidate power and leave a legacy.

So here we go again. When Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez introduced her everything-and-the-kitchen sink Green New Deal in February, she described it as “our World War Two,” demanding the same kind of war-like mobilization of the country. If you read her bill introducing it, however, it is long on such rhetoric but, like the rest of these wars, short on actual policy plans. Not to be over-matched (this will be a war, after all), presidential candidate Bernie Sanders recently introduced his even bigger Green New Deal, one that would not only emulate the mobilization of World War II but which he claims would solve the class war as well.

Scholars and climate scientists are even more explicit about attacking climate change with an all-out war. Bill McKibben, a scholar at Middlebury College, has written that “the enemy,” climate change, is carrying out “a devastating offensive,” as “enemy forces have seized huge swaths of territory.” He concludes, “World War III is well and truly underway. And we are losing.” Climate scientist Michael Mann agrees, “We do need a world-war type mobilization,” while economist Joseph Stiglitz says, “The climate emergency is our third world war.”

All of this is code for “we don’t really know what needs to be done, but it needs to be big, expensive and federal.” In fact, McKibben proposes, and Sanders agrees, that we need the president to start immediately by declaring a national emergency, which triggers all kinds of special presidential powers. Few realize that we already live under 31 such national emergencies now, the oldest declared by Jimmy Carter in 1979. Emergencies may come and go but emergency declarations remain.

I recently heard a talk by economist John Cogan who argued persuasively that even a problem seemingly as big and unsolvable as the Social Security and Medicare crisis could actually be stemmed by a series of small and medium targeted steps. If our real concern was addressing climate change, this would be the right approach. But if the aim, as it appears, is to use climate change to solve class wars, reinvent the economy, restructure environmental policy, and grow federal power, then there’s nothing like declaring one more federal policy war.

To read the column at the Washington Examiner:




%d bloggers like this: