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MAI: Climate activism’s core consists of economic radicalism

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The annual gathering of business leaders, heads of state and cultural elites in the Swiss Alps for the World Economic Forum (WEF) last week showcased two starkly different approaches for thinking about climate change — one defined by hysteria and destructive radicalism, and the other focused on harnessing human ingenuity by promoting free enterprise. 

Self-proclaimed climate activist and political prop Greta Thunberg best embodied the former, pushing a radical agenda of completely restructuring the global economy in order to ward off impending doom by way of rising temperatures in oceans (we only have eight years!). 

Reminding everyone why children should not be leading the public discourse on critical issues, she angrily demanded that “participants from all companies, banks, institutions and governments” at the WEF “immediately halt all investments in fossil fuel exploration and extraction, immediately end all fossil fuel subsidies and immediately and completely divest from fossil fuels.”

Unsurprisingly, the Swedish teenager or anyone in the environmental movement, has not offered up any viable substitutes for fossil fuels. How could they? 

As of now, there are no alternatives to oil and gas that could possibly sustain the standard of living billions of people currently experience around the world. Solar panels and wind turbines are not nearly as efficient as fracking or pumping oil. 

Fossil fuels quite literally power every part of our lives, and given our unprecedented standard of living, that is something we should all be grateful for. 

Testifying to the overall shallowness of Thunberg’s activism is her selective criticism of western countries. For if she wants a world with “zero carbon emissions,” her speeches at the United Nations (UN), Davos and elsewhere should have called out China and India. 

These countries are the biggest drivers of carbon emissions and even if the United States and other developed nations were to cut emissions to meet her demands, none of it would matter if China and India are ignored. 

Furthermore, it is not even clear that carbon emissions are uniformly bad. In certain geographies, the increase in atmospheric carbon levels has actually boosted crop production and led to longer growing seasons. 

So why do we treat this fear-mongering teenager as a climate change expert? 

The answer is that the people behind the climate change movement are not actually interested in, as they say, “saving the planet.” A staff involved in the development of the absurd Green New Deal revealed as much when he said: “It wasn’t originally a climate thing at all … we really think of it as a how-do-you-change-the-entire-economy thing.” 

This staff was referring to what were the proposal’s calls for the federal government to seize the means of production in order to establish an economy that runs solely on “green energy,” de facto abolishing private property and capital investment in the process. 

While Thunberg claims to be a non-ideological single-issue activist, whether she fully understands it, her crusade vis-à-vis the ban of fossil fuels requires the same thing. 

In a rebuttal to “the perennial prophets of doom and their predictions of the apocalypse,” President Donald J. Trump instead touted America’s economic prosperity, energy independence and technological progress. 

“The Cathedrals of Europe teach us to pursue big dreams, daring adventures and unbridled ambitions. They urge us to consider not only what we build today, but (also) what we will endure long after we are gone. They testify to the power of ordinary people to realize extraordinary achievements when united by a grand and noble purpose,” Trump said, pointing to the monuments of the past.

The message here recognizes that we have inherited a remarkable civilization made possible by the unleashing of the human spirit through free enterprise, individual liberty and a collective sense of “Manifest Destiny.” 

Rather than tearing it all down, it is our duty to build and innovate with the same conviction as our ancestors so as to leave a better world for our children and the generations thereafter. 

Any serious conversation about climate change would recognize that it would be foolish to forgo this system of prosperity for a collectivist economy and a complete divestment from fossil fuels. 

Instead, a more measured approach would be to take into consideration these two constants. One is that the climate is always changing and the other is that people invariably adapt to survive. Contrary to Thunberg’s calls for panic, “one year ago I came to Davos and … I said I wanted you to panic,” Trump cited capitalism’s history of finding answers for some of the biggest questions of our time. 

“A growing and vibrant market economy focused on the future lifts the human spirit and excites creativity strong enough to overcome any challenge … The great scientific breakthroughs of the 20th century — from penicillin, to high-yield wheat, to modern transportation and breakthrough vaccines — have lifted living standards and saved billions of lives around the world.” 

We should ignore Thunberg and the panic she and others have whipped up in order to further their own political agendas. Instead of turning to needlessly destructive solutions, we should be grateful for a system that has dramatically improved the human condition and will continue to do so as long as we allow it. Fortunately, most people realize that there has never been a better time to be alive. 

No amount of scolding from a Swedish malcontent will change that. 

Matthew Mai is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in public policy. His column, "Beneath the surface," runs on alternate Thursdays.

*Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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