In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, some governments shut down a large chunk of the economy. The bumper to bumper traffic in urban centers evaporated, leaving streets eerily empty. Factories …
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, some governments shut down a large chunk of the economy. The bumper to bumper traffic in urban centers evaporated, leaving streets eerily empty. Factories operated at diminished capacity or temporarily halted operations. Unemployment ran to historic highs, and the government borrowed trillions of dollars so people could pay their bills. While things are starting to move again, we’re far from a complete recovery.
A side effect of this economic standstill is a substantial decrease in CO2 emissions. Some media outlets have praised this development. “Global emissions plunged an unprecedented 17 percent during the coronavirus pandemic,” read a Washington Post headline in May. Reuters, Getty, and The Associated Press published images of smog-free skies over Paris, Los Angeles and Phoenix. This is often referred to as the “silver lining” in the pandemic.
Now, as economies restart and people go back to work, those same media outlets are lamenting the loss of this fleeting reduction in CO2 emissions. Last month, the Post ran a headline “What the coronavirus can teach us about climate change.” The author argues that, since people “overhauled their lives” to comply with government policies to stop the spread of the coronavirus, the “pandemic proved that big change is possible.”
This peculiar take on the economy-destroying lockdowns suggests that since we radically changed our behavior to deal with COVID-19, we should have no problem doing the same for climate change mitigation. Contrary to this sunny outlook, the real lesson here is that if we are to fight climate change the way they propose, we need to get used to a lot more poverty.
In July, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden rolled out a clean energy plan that looks very similar to the Green New Deal introduced last year by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York. The plan commits the U.S. to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Among its solutions are expansions in high speed rail, subsidies for energy-efficient housing and forcing everyone to rely almost exclusively on the wind and sun for energy.
Biden said his plan would cost $2 trillion over the next four years. Biden justified the expense by saying “we have nine years before the damage is irreversible.” The oft-touted claim that we have a decade or so to save mankind from cataclysmic climate change is based on a misreading of the 2018 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report. While unabated CO2 emissions could become a serious problem toward the end of the century, contrary to what Biden and Ocasio-Cortez claim, the IPCC does not predict the world will end if we don’t hit some arbitrary targets.
In the early days of the lockdowns, Imperial College models predicted 2.2 million deaths from the coronavirus by now. In the same way the IPCC reports are misconstrued, this Imperial College model was based on an unrealistic scenario in which no health policies were enacted and no one did anything voluntarily to protect themselves from the virus. Yet, many people understood this to be the real risk the virus posed. This misunderstanding of the model informed a lot of the more extreme lockdown policies that have destroyed businesses. Fortunately Wyoming, as well as Park County, was much more reasonable in its approach to the pandemic.
Based on grand exaggerations of averting cataclysmic climate change, the enormous costs associated with proposals like Biden’s don’t seem to bother supporters in the least, in the same way the economic hardships of lockdowns have been brushed aside by those who champion them. Poverty kills people, and efforts to save lives that cause more poverty aren’t really solving anything at all.