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Chile and the revolt against climate-change policies

Add Chile to the growing list of countries whose governments are suffering a backlash as average people, tired of elites forcing costly climate policies down their throats, take to the streets to protest higher energy costs.

Although, undoubtedly, many issues stoked the protests on the streets across Chile, the Washington Post rightly notes that what finally drove the public to take to the streets was the government’s decision to curry favor with international agencies by pushing expensive energy restrictions to fight purported climate change.  As the Post states, “[T]he catalyst [behind the protests] was a proposal to raise public transport fares and energy bills.  There is ample evidence from across the world that these will incite rebellion like nothing else — a point that those who hope to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions via a carbon tax should bear in mind.”

Climate alarmists at international agencies heaped praise on Chile’s government for its aggressive climate policies in recent years.  The United Nations awarded former Chilean president Michelle Bachelet a Champion of the Earth prize in 2017 for rapidly replacing relatively inexpensive fossil fuels used for electricity with much more expensive wind and solar power.

The Chilean government’s climate policies are causing the country’s people to suffer.  Chile’s electricity prices have risen 18% in just the past year — making Chile’s electricity costs the highest in all of South America.  Before the riots, the government had announced that electricity prices would increase an additional 9% by the end of 2019, a plan it canceled in response to the violence in the streets.

The final straw for Chileans was the announcement of Metro fare hikes.  The Metro is a critical source of mobility for the nation’s poor, and they revolted at the thought that even as coal, oil, and gas prices remained low, prices to ride the Metro were going up so the government could reap praise for running its transit system on wind and solar power.  The people finally had enough!  The protests and riots forced Chilean president Sebastián Piñera to announce that Chile would no longer host a U.N. climate conference, previously scheduled for December.

Chile’s travails are just the latest evidence of the public’s growing skepticism concerning the value of costly climate policies.  Beginning in 2016, with the election of noted climate catastrophe skeptic Donald Trump as president of the United States, climate alarmist governments and movements have taken their lumps on the streets and at the polls.

In progressive Washington State, for instance, voters in 2016 and again in 2018 directly rejected referenda that would have imposed taxes on carbon dioxide to fight climate change.

Perhaps the most visible and violent rejection of policies to raise energy prices in the name of fighting climate change — prior to the Chilean riots — came in France in 2018.  For months, protesters donning yellow vests took to the streets to protest scheduled increases in fuel taxes, electricity prices, and stricter vehicle emissions controls.  French president Emmanuel Macron claimed that these increases were necessary to meet the country’s greenhouse gas reduction commitments under the Paris climate agreement.  After the first four weeks of protest, Macron’s government canceled the climate action plan.

Similarity, in Ontario in 2018 and in Alberta in 2019, voters replaced their premiers who had supported Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau’s climate policies with global warming skeptics who announced they would rescind provincial carbon taxes and fight Trudeau’s federal carbon dioxide tax in court.

In August 2018, Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull was forced to resign over carbon dioxide restrictions he’d planned to implement to meet the country’s Paris climate commitments.  His successor announced that reducing energy prices and improving reliability, not fighting climate change, would be the government’s primary energy goals going forward.

In March 2019, the Forum for Democracy (FvD), a fledgling political party just three years old, tied for the largest number of seats (12) in the divided Dutch Senate in the 2019 elections.  On the campaign trail, Thierry Baudet, FvD’s leader, said the government should stop funding climate change programs, saying such efforts are driven by “climate-change hysteria.”

And in Finland, where climate policies were the dominant issue in the April 14 election, climate skepticism surged, with the Finns Party — the only party rejecting plans to raise energy prices and limit energy use — coming from way behind to win the second highest number of seats in Parliament.

The public is tuning out the ever more shrill headlines proclaiming that the end of the world is near due to climate change, saying “enough is enough” to high energy prices that punish the most vulnerable, but do nothing to control the weather.  As the riots and elections show, politicians who ignore this message do so at their own peril.

H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. ([email protected]is a senior fellow on energy and the environment at The Heartland Institute, a nonpartisan, nonprofit research center headquartered in Arlington Heights, Illinois.