By Rupert Darwall
Tuesday’s 57-0 Senate vote against the Green New Deal, with 43 Democrats voting “present,” shows how Republicans can win on this nutty issue. But their attacks haven’t quite yet hit the bull’s-eye.
At the heart of the GND is a plan to outlaw hydrocarbon energy and produce all electricity from wind, solar and other renewables. This isn’t just wildly impractical. It would deliver a crippling blow to the economy. Coal, oil and gas left in the ground are jobs and income buried forever, causing a permanent contraction in the productive capacity of the economy. The GND would thus be a declaration of war on blue-collar America, imperiling the Trump recovery and its half a million new manufacturing jobs.
Republicans have decried the GND as “socialist.” But whatever its real-world outcomes, and they were horrendous, at least the old socialism in theory sought to advance the economic interests of the working class. The GND does the opposite.
Subsidizing wind and solar while rooting out carbon is very expensive. That’s why industrial electricity prices in Europe are nearly 50 percent higher than they are in the rest of the Group of 20 advanced nations — and why energy firms are loath to invest in Europe.
Transplanting such European-style policies across the Atlantic, as the GND essentially aims to do, would kill energy jobs and drive up the price of energy in America. For American workers, the unspoken message from GND environmentalists is: Go and learn computer programming, or at best you will end up wiping snow and sand off solar panels.
The GND, in other words, is redistributionist, yes, but the redistribution goes from the bottom to the top — from the poor and from workers to wind and solar investors. Again, Europe’s example is instructive. The drive to subsidize renewable energy led Britain to drop its pledge to abolish fuel poverty. The official measure of fuel poverty, defined as households spending 10 percent or more of their income on energy, kept rising. So it was replaced with a new government definition less sensitive to rising energy costs, instantly halving the number of households officially deemed fuel poor.
Meanwhile in Germany, Europe’s wealthiest country, at one stage more than 300,000 households a year were being disconnected because of unpaid bills.
“It is only gradually becoming apparent how the renewable energy subsidies redistribute money from the poor to the more affluent,” the left-of-center Der Spiegel newspaper editorialized. Energy companies know that the best way to avoid accusations of price gouging is to claim that it’s to fight climate change. For this reason, renewable energy acts as a conspiracy against the less well-off.
In the US, a capitalist aristocracy is pushing wind and solar. Its members include blue-blooded capital from the likes of the Rockefeller, MacArthur and Ford foundations, and Silicon Valley billionaires touting phony claims of 100 percent renewable energy. Climate change is ethics for the super-rich. The self-righteous rhetoric of this aristocracy legitimizes the vast accumulations of wealth by the green robber barons of the 21st century.
The big question Republicans should ask is: Why?
Successful prosecutors show the motive behind the crime. So it is in politics. The supposed motive behind the GND — fighting climate change — doesn’t wash. If the scheme were genuinely about climate change, green activists would be campaigning to expand nuclear power rather than trying to shut it down. The truth is the climate war isn’t about climate. It is and always has been deeply ideological.
Control energy to reverse the Industrial Revolution and abolish industrial capitalism — these are the real targets of green ideology.
The progressives’ climate war is a war that will be lost before the first shot is fired. America doesn’t exist in a climate bubble. China, India and other developing economies are going to keep growing and keep emitting. The good news is that the GND could well fracture the Democratic coalition, pitting billionaire funders and upper-middle-class green activists against blue-collar workers and ethnic minorities for whom well-paying jobs and cost of living come first.
Both for reasons of principle and political advantage, Republicans are right to put GND front and center. But the message they need to develop shouldn’t just focus on the plan’s impracticality. Instead, the right should hammer at the left’s class war against workers. Hone and repeat that message through 2020, and they will win.
Rupert Darwall is author of “Green Tyranny,” out in paperback this month.