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Coming Soon: Lockdowns to Save the Environment?

By Kristin Tate

Many Americans are only now beginning to realize the devastating impacts that COVID lockdowns had on our society, as many businesses struggle still to recover and children try to catch up with missed learning opportunities. But what if the pandemic was just a trial run for more drastic restrictions and lockdowns related to climate change?

After decades of arguing that the world is at a climate tipping point, Democrats may try to enact restrictions to stop perceived global warming at an order of magnitude larger than the COVID-19 measures imposed during the height of the pandemic. And considering the pandemic’s ability to bring out authoritarian streaks in our leaders, this should be worrying for most Americans. Some claim that climate change is the “greatest health crisis of our time,” and Microsoft founder and philanthropist Bill Gates agrees it could be worse than the pandemic.

Some bureaucrats are already laying the foundation for climate-related restrictions. For example, states such as New York and California have moved to ban the use of fossil fuel-powered vehicleslawnmowers, and stoves.

A combination of efforts could build, perhaps coercing mass support for draconian regulations and soft environmental lockdowns over the next decade. Do you really need a gasoline lawn mower, anyway? For many young people and city dwellers who don’t drive regularly, cut grass, or individually heat their homes, such actions to curb energy use may seem like no-brainers. Whether it’s a liberal U.S. president or some party apparatchik abroad, the restrictions will be packaged in some panacea like a scaled-down Green New Deal. There likely would be sweeteners — for example, perhaps your student loan could be eligible for dismissal if you voluntarily give up going to the office or owning a car.

What, exactly, might environmental restrictions mean for ordinary Americans? Short flights could be banned, as France has done to “fight climate change,” or a carbon tax could be levied on travel. Some measures may be imposed through involuntary changes, such as a four-day school week. Such a change likely would be difficult for families working traditional schedules, but this hurdle will be framed as being for “the greater good” of the climate. A four-day mandatory workweek could do the same for families whose kids attend schools with traditional schedules.

Local governments and utilities might limit access to power. A Colorado utility recently came under fire for changing its customers’ thermostats without their knowledge, and the same happened in Texas during extreme heat. Restrictions on gasoline cars could lead to a de facto rationing regime similar to that during the 1973 oil embargo. If you’re old enough, you’ll have bad memories of being able to purchase fuel only on certain days.

But a climate lockdown will not be an all-hands-on-deck event, such as with the start of the pandemic. Those on the political left and in the administrative state know that hitting Americans with one regulation or tax or ban at a time may not spark a sharp reaction. Rather than mandating that you can’t leave your house, for example, you may slowly notice over several years that your work and personal habits have been restricted one step at a time.

Many of the changes produced by the COVID lockdowns have made Americans more accustomed to severe measures. Earlier this month, a New York City school switched from in-person classes to remote learning in order to house migrants during severe weather. Yet there are many reasons why such a restriction is a bad idea: Learning outcomes during the pandemic were disastrous, especially for younger students. Test scores, basic fundamentals, socialization, and behavioral issues all became worse because teachers unions and Democratic policymakers insisted that schools had to close during COVID — in some cases lasting into 2022.

When a precedent is set, the genie is out of the bottle. Schools could institute remote learning instead of a snow day or for a “climate day.” Once there is a model for institutions to scrap tradition for electronic facsimiles, the building blocks of a new lockdown are in place.

At the same time, the pandemic shifted the American workforce significantly. In 2019, just 5% of Americans worked from home. Two years later, the figure had tripled. It would be relatively easy to require much of the white-collar workforce simply to stay at home to prevent environmental impacts. After all, the thinking goes, cutting back just one day of commuting to an office can cut your carbon footprint and working from home may reduce carbon emissions by more than half.

There likely would be some workers and young people who would willingly go along with environmental lockdowns. Many people got to work remotely or received unemployment checks during COVID lockdowns, and now may prefer remote work. Make no mistake, the left will make climate shutdowns sound alluring. And people could virtue signal on social media about how it’s making the world a better place!

Of course, the hypocrisies of the environmental restrictions likely would mirror those of the COVID era. For example, although some people were told that they could not visit dying relatives in the hospital during the pandemic, Democrats and their advocates in the liberal-leaning media went out of their way to explain that protesting in large crowds, on the other hand, was not a major risk of spreading the virus. In other words, don’t block the people breaking lockdown rules — they’re on the right team. Many of the same people enforcing lockdowns openly endorsed the demonstrations that erupted after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Similarly, the people who will push excessive climate restrictions likely will continue to travel by private jets.

A sign in a store window says, "CLOSED' like many others in New York during the height of the pandemic in April 2020.
A sign in a store window says, “CLOSED’ like many others in New York during the height of the pandemic in April 2020.Ira L. Black/Corbis via Getty Images

To paraphrase what may have been Karl Marx’s only cogent pronouncement, history repeats itself, first as tragedy and then as farce. The lockdowns of 2020 were ham-fisted efforts by both well-meaning and malicious politicians to grapple with the surprise of the first global pandemic in a century. But the next round of restrictions may be planned with icy precision and little thought about their practical effects. These will be framed however policymakers need them to be, and those who resist may be labeled anti-government extremists for not simply accepting them and rolling over.

Kristin Tate (@KristinBTate) is a writer based in Texas focused on government spending, federal regulation and digital currencies. She is an on-air contributor for Sky News and routinely provides political commentary for U.S.-based cable networks. Her latest book is, “The Liberal Invasion of Red State America.”