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Leader comment: How self-interest dictates the climate agenda

12 November 2021

DOES the future of the planet really rest on self-interest? Certainly, those who are openly thwarting efforts to reduce the use of fossil fuels seem immune to altruistic pleas. President Biden’s green energy programme, designed to reward suppliers who switch from coal to wind or solar power, has been blocked by three Democrat senators, one of whom, Joe Manchin III, represents the coal-producing state of West Virginia and earns a tidy sum each year from his mining interests. A spokeswoman said: “He continues to support efforts to combat climate change while protecting American energy independence and ensuring our energy reliability” — two halves of a sentence that do not seem to fit together. The trouble is that President Biden’s knife-edge majority hands absolute power to any naysayer in the Democrat ranks.

As a result of this and other protectionist stances around the world, environmentalists have adapted their message. Now, it seems, far from involving any sacrifice or hardship, the fight against climate change will herald in a new era of prosperity and economic growth. Boris Johnson appears to be a convert on these new terms, having told the UN Assembly in September: “I don’t see the green movement as a pretext for a wholesale assault on capitalism. Far from it,” and then having devoted most of the rest of his speech to lauding the financial advantages of new technology. Even the radical US representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said on Tuesday that “justice and jobs” needed to be the focus of any reforms. Plans would have to “benefit” the working class, the vulnerable, frontline communities, people of colour, women, and under-served communities. “That’s what’s going to make it politically popular and where we’re going to mobilise our economy to meet these aggressive targets.” The key word here is “benefit”. We suspect that interpreting it merely as “keep alive” is not enough, and that there should be material advantages as well.

It is a worrying indication that the climate-change deniers are still in charge. They no longer rubbish the science, but continue to set the bar for the remedies: nothing that is done to lessen climate change can be seen to inconvenience their constituents. The “inconvenience” of climate change is clearly still too remote to persuade people of the imminent danger that they are in. West Virginia, incidentally, is the state most in danger from flash flooding. Perhaps living with such a risk has inured the people to warnings of future disaster. But if the distance of time is too great (and the year 2100 does seem a dim prospect), the effect of climate change now on millions of people must be brought to bear on those who feel safe and complacent. Christ advised his hearers to be reconciled with their brothers and sisters while “in the way” with them before the appeal to the judge and punishment was imposed.

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