The Climate Paradox
President Biden laid down a climate marker in his inaugural address: “A cry for survival comes from the planet itself. A cry that can’t be any more desperate or any more clear.” As further reported by the Wallstreet Journal, Biden returned to the theme in his speech last week to the Munich Security Conference, calling the climate crisis “existential.” For environmentalists this means a lot. Right now, this climate diplomacy is limited to rhetoric. However, with the large number of greens in the White House, new policies will result in regulations for American businesses.
The real people excited about this new green policy are those looking for new business opportunities. It isn’t only renewable energy companies looking for government mandates and funding. It’s major auto manufacturers dreaming of replacing every gasoline-powered car and truck on the planet with an electric vehicle—and reaping the public relations reward of looking virtuous. It’s the construction companies looking to replace the existing energy infrastructure. Paradoxically, as climate change assumes a more prominent place on the international agenda, climate activists will lose influence over climate policy.
Geopolitics and greed are what is causing this new climate change world order. Greens believe climate change is an existential threat that harms every human on the planet. That is not how the world works. Countries inevitably see even the most urgent global problems through the lens of their own interests. Russia likes to sell oil and gas, wants the Arctic to become a major shipping route, and—despite some issues with tundra melt—doesn’t worry that Siberia will grow too warm. Germany is locked into high-cost energy policies by domestic politics and the facts of geography. German industry would like to protect itself from imports made in countries where energy remains cheaper. The U.S. is so rich in cheap oil and gas that climate policy is a heavy political lift—and no binding climate treaty is likely to gain the two-thirds Senate majority for ratification. In New Delhi, no government can accept international agreements that slow India’s economic rise. Many Brazilians believe that the development of the Amazon basin is essential to their national future and won’t accept international limits on their activities there.
China has more to fear from climate change than any other great power. Some of its major river systems depend on vulnerable Himalayan glaciers; its agricultural areas depend on rainfall patterns that climate change threatens to disrupt; its coast is exposed to devastating typhoons. Reducing China’s dependence on imported fuel eases Beijing’s fear that American sea power could cut it off from necessary resources in the event of a major crisis. China stands to benefit from a shift to electric cars and has invested heavily in solar panel and battery technology. However, China’s booming solar-power industry is heavily coal-dependent and based in Xinjiang. Are solar panels built with forced labor OK? Who decides?