Gabriel Garcia Marquez, a man who always stood up for the worker, once made this very contrarian statement “I would continue where others have stopped, and I would rise when others sleep.” This is an inspiring explanation of the moral worth of polemics, or being contrarian for its own sake. Because not only are polemics a potentially pointless, occasionally perilous game, tolerating the polemicist is the only reason we have political freedom. One might also add that indulging contrarian thought is the only way we preserve a glimmer of truth, during every time our world is seized with misplaced monolithic zeal, and consequently, nurturing the contrarian is a way civilization can better adapt and embrace disruptive and productive innovations and more quickly evolve. So how would workers or contrarians view our latest global panic, the war on CO2 emissions? In considering this question, the differences between unions, who care about workers, and environmentalists, who care about nature, become quite interesting.
Global warming policies and environmentalist policies in general are only in part about global warming or environmentalism, they are more generally about to what extent we redesign our government to give more rights to government and fewer rights to individual property owners. Environmentalists claim their policies benefit the economy, but one might just as easily argue that is not only false, but dangerously false. In the name of environmentalism we are not simply slowing our economy down, we are failing to develop and maintain infrastructure necessary to avoid natural disasters. A certain amount of environmentalist wisdom informing government laws and regulations is healthy, indeed essential. But restricting development of water infrastructure, power plants and freeways, forcing developers to only be permitted to approach heavily restricted lists of eligible property owners based on “urban service boundaries,” and litigating literally everything in the name of some environmentalist statute or presumed statute – is environmental extremism, not common sense environmentalism. Now we have the war on CO2. This imperils the global economy, it undermines attempts to improve human safety and security, and threatens the freedom of individuals and nations.
Two of the biggest drains on the United States economy over the past 30-50 years are environmentalists and labor unions. Both have reduced the efficiency of the economy in critical areas. Environmental laws and litigation have raised the costs for all resources, dramatically slowing economic development while only yielding marginal additional environmental benefits – if any. The power of big labor, in both the public and private sector, has reduced the ability of unionized workforces to right-size their entitlements in the face of lower revenues. This inflexibility in-turn causes larger than necessary shocks when large corporations or government entities postpone restructuring because of legacy obligations.
Unlike environmentalist policies, however, the impact of unions – in both the public and private sector – are at least economically progressive in a relatively egalitarian and competitive system that values project-merit, and therefore release money into a broader and more productive sector of the economy. Environmentalism, on the other hand, funds jobs for government bureaucrats along with astronomical fees for private service professionals – people who produce nothing and are motivated by their compensation to perpetually demand additional takings. Such environmentalism is regressive and slows economic growth, it raises costs of living for working people and transfers the wealth to far fewer, far more highly compensated, far less productive individuals. Environmentalism, at its idealist core, too often worships nature and marginalizes the aspirations of individuals, and consequently restricts building activity. Union organizing, at its idealist core, is to care above all for the common man who works to build things that create wealth.
Another crucial distinction between unionism and environmentalism is there is an inevitable end to the need to have unions, because the need for unions will wither away as per capita wealth increases. Since ever-advancing technology and slowing human birthrates guarantee that per capita wealth will always increase, eventually there will be enough overall wealth in the world to provide everyone with basic needs and more. Environmentalism, on the other hand, has no inevitable limit, it must be self regulating. And the more extreme environmentalist policies become, the less wealth we will have. Environmentalist doomsday predictions of resource shortages will likely occur, if they occur, precisely because we stopped developing resources in the name of protecting the environment. Balance has been lost in the discussion – the trump card is the alleged need to stop CO2 emissions – and the zealotry and propaganda mustered today to silence climate skeptics would make Francisco Franco proud, and others, in hopefully not all of their unfortunate worst iterations.
Of course we should prepare for climate change. The climate changes catastrophically all the time, these are called “storms,” and they are perfectly natural. Sometimes, since the beginning of time, we have had “extreme storms,” and this is also perfectly natural. As our ability to mitigate risk to humans increases through technology, our values and our priorities to upgrade publically available human protections increases apace. Of course we need to better prepare for droughts and extreme weather. But we need to do this regardless of whether or not CO2 is causing overall temperatures to increase – and excuse me if, Marquez-like, I would continue with my global warming skepticism where others have stopped. Along with underground HVDC electrical grid upgrades, we should be building freeways and aqueducts and offshore LNG terminals. We should be burying fiberoptic cable and moving electricity conduits underground, and eliminate the visual scourge and dangerous tangle of overhead telephone wires and telecom cables across the old suburbia. There are plenty of union jobs out there waiting to be done, and they create real value, but approving any of these developments requires prohibitive environmental compliance costs – billions and billions and by God, nowadays, trillions of dollars. The fact that unions and environmentalists are in the same political party in America is curious, to say the least.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez also said this, “I have learned that a man has the right to look down on somebody only when he is helping him to get up.” Environmentalists may claim to have this impulse, but unlike the unionists who clearly are empathic with ordinary people, environmentalist policies are now ignoring the needs of ordinary people in favor of elites. The environmentalist mantra ala stopping global warming at any costs will benefit the established oligarchal elites, not the working man, not unionists, not minority activists, nor free thinking liberals. Why then do those who claim to speak for working people continue to embrace extreme environmentalism, when its practice yields results that are opposed to their own core values and goals? The way the workers will rise economically to the point where unions can willingly wither away will be when we implement infrastructure proposals and public policies designed to make energy, water, transportation and shelter less expensive, not more expensive. This will require reforming environmentalism.
Edward Ring is a contributing editor and senior fellow with the California Policy Center, which he co-founded in 2013 and served as its first president. He is also a senior fellow with the Center for American Greatness, and a regular contributor to the California Globe. His work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Economist, Forbes, and other media outlets.
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