Saturday, April 18, 2020

Sterling Burnett: COVID-19 Trumps Climate Concerns

In the United States, Europe, and around the world, governments are setting aside concerns about the purported “existential threat” of climate change to focus on the much more real, concrete threat the coronavirus poses to human health and the economy. 

Everywhere you look, world leaders supposedly committed to fighting climate change as the gravest threat facing human civilization and the environment, are jettisoning climate policies in hope of reducing the damage to their economies from the COVID-19 shutdown and speeding economic recovery once the pandemic subsides.

In the United States, Democrats led by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) tried to take advantage of the coronavirus crisis to pack the third coronavirus relief bill with a grab-bag of special-interest mandates and subsidies, including restrictions on carbon emissions from airlines and extending subsidies for wind and solar power beyond their current expiration dates. President Donald Trump and the Republican leadership in the Senate refused to be extorted. In the end, Democrats showed the shallowness of their fear of climate change by removing all climate and green-energy proposals from the bill. They fought harder for extra funding for arts and humanities programs, performance halls, and museums than they did for climate policies.

Across the pond, the European Union seems also to be wavering on its climate policies in the wake of CONVID 19, at the behest of calls from its member governments and companies in important industrial sectors.

The Polish government says the coronavirus will make it nearly impossible to achieve any of the European Union’s current and proposed climate goals. “As a consequence of this crisis, our economies will be weaker, companies will not have enough funds to invest, completion of some important energy projects may be delayed or even suspended,” Poland’s climate ministry told Reuters. “These are real problems that we will be facing soon, and achievement of our climate goals will be even more difficult because of them.”

Poland is far from alone in this. In a speech in the State Parliament in Munich on March 19, Marcus Soder, minister president of the German state of Bavaria, requested the federal government suspend Germany’s electricity tax and EEG levy, a 6.88 ¢/kwh surcharge paid by electricity consumers. German consumers and industries are on the hook to pay €23.9 billion in green energy levies alone this year, amounting to approximately 280 euros per household, Soder noted.

Euractiv reports Czech Republic Prime Minister Andrej Babiš called for the E.U. to scrap plans for a Green New Deal mandating members achieve net-zero greenhouse emissions by 2050, which was proposed in March. “Europe should forget about the Green Deal now and focus on the coronavirus instead,” Babiš told reporters on March 16.

Babiš’s call for scrapping deeper emission cuts was echoed by Jan Zahradil, vice chair of the European Parliament’s Committee on International Trade, who said the crisis requires reconsideration of governments’ climate plans. “No post-virus economy in Europe will be able to handle it, it’s too expensive,” Zahradil tweeted.

Even U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres—just months after declaring the climate crisis an emergency at U.N. summits in September 2019 and December 2019, during which he called for an end to fossil-fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions by 2050—now says the COVID-19 pandemic is the world’s top priority. In a an unprecedented mid-March online press conference, Guterres said action on climate change would have to be delayed for the near future as all the U.N.’s resources and programs would be directed at tackling the pandemic and its impact on U.N. efforts to reduce hunger and poverty across the globe.

If the Green New Deal and similar policies were really good for the world’s peoples and economy and would produce jobs and improve living standards, the current disease-induced economic crisis and shutdown of global trade would be the logical time for a fresh start with a new, green economy. Instead, in Europe, the United States, and elsewhere, all the stimulus and economic support laws enacted or proposed to combat the economic devastation wreaked by the virus are aimed are restarting economies powered largely by fossil fuels, with much of the support going to industries, such as airlines, for which fossil fuels are essential.

Despite many leaders arguing for years that restrictions on fossil fuels and big green energy programs would drive economic growth and create millions of jobs, governments are withdrawing support for climate policies and industries dependent on them and are pouring money into the same fossil-fuel-dependent industries that powered the economic growth of the past century and a half.

Ignoring their previous calls for living with less and reaching a steady-state economy not dependent upon continual growth, everyone now seems to be a proponent of more growth, more production, more wholesale and retail sales, more dining and drinking out, and so on.

The public wants restaurants, bars, theaters, and stadiums to reopen. They want fully stocked supermarket shelves. No one is praising this economic decline, despite its purported climate benefits and even though the current state of the economy would be the end result of any country or region imposing anything like a Green New Deal.

People can push green fairy tales in good economic times, but support fades when hard times hit and a crisis displays the reality of what it really takes to power an economy and produce the goods an
d services people want and need.

Dr H. Sterling Burnett is a Heartland senior fellow on environmental policy and the managing editor of Environment & Climate News.

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