Analysis: The West Mimics Mao, Takes a Green Leap Forward – ‘The green scramble to transform energy is reminiscent of China’s forced industrialization’
Steel production was a priority of the Great Leap Forward. Mao wanted China to surpass the U.K. in steel output within 15 years. Across the country, including in the village where my father lived, people tried to contribute to this goal by building small backyard furnaces. Each village had a production quota to meet, so everyone—including children and the elderly—pitched in. Using everything they could find to keep the furnaces burning, villagers melted down farming tools and cooking pots. These efforts yielded only pig iron, which had to be decarbonized to make steel. That was a process a backyard furnace couldn’t handle. The effort and resources were wasted.
The steel campaign diverted manpower from farming, even as the government ordered farmers to meet unrealistic quotas. Local party officials initially compelled farmers to experiment with ineffective and sometimes harmful techniques, such as deep plowing and sowing seeds much closer than usual. When these radical methods failed to increase yield and depleted the soil, local leaders had no choice but to lie to their political superiors about how much had been produced (a practice referred to as “launching a Sputnik”). Based on these false production figures, the state demanded villages sell more grain than they could spare. In a vicious circle, the more the local officials lied about their output, the higher the central government set the quotas. Farmers were forced to hand over every bit of grain they had, including the following year’s seeds, to meet the quotas. Resistance was violently suppressed.
The combination of lies, failed experiments, absence of labor and violent requisition practices led to famine. From 1959 through 1961, an estimated 30 million to 40 million Chinese people died from hunger. The Chinese government continues to refer to the famine as a natural disaster, pretending forces beyond their control were to blame for this man-made calamity.
Like Mao, today’s advocates for the green-energy revolution have become impatient with the slow progress made by renewable energy. Fossil fuels and nuclear power provide 80% of the energy the world needs. Despite years of subsidies, renewable energy is still unstable and unreliable, since the sun doesn’t shine at night and the wind doesn’t blow all the time. Almost all renewable-energy power plants require either nuclear or fossil fuels as backups.
Rather than gradually phasing out fossil fuels while investing in renewable energy research and development, Western green-energy revolutionaries have launched their own version of the Great Leap Forward in Europe and the U.S. Today’s greens operate in a democratic system unlike Mao, but they have resorted to government coercion to replace fossil fuels (and nuclear power) with renewables on an aggressive deadline. The European Union is set to cut greenhouse-gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030, and the Biden administration promises to “achieve a 50-52 percent reduction from 2005 levels in economy-wide net greenhouse gas pollution in 2030.”
One of the essential lessons from China’s Great Leap Forward is that catastrophic failures inevitably follow from politicians’ insistence on ignoring reason, logic, truth and economics. Europe’s current energy crisis, California’s continuing power outages and Sri Lanka’s food shortages are all warning signs. The Green Leap Forward has set humanity on a fast track to another man-made catastrophe.
Ms. Raleigh is the author of “Confucius Never Said” and “Backlash: How China’s Aggression Has Backfired.”