The right is to blame for the proliferation of dangerous leftist eco-nonsense

“This changes everything” is perhaps the leading siren call in the face of climate
change. For a certain sub-genre of leftist, the existence of environmental issues
means only one thing. Capitalism, modernity, growth, consumerism, and
industrialism are to blame, and a paradigm shift is necessary to save humanity
and the earth. We must embrace a zero-growth, or even degrowth, economy with
significant central planning and curtailment of consumption. The alternative is
global catastrophe.

This is, of course, absolute nonsense. As Tim Worstall has pointed out in
response to George Monbiot’s opportunistic take on Hurricane Irma, a grandiose
quixotic paradigm shift in values and economic organisation is entirely
unnecessary. The answer to climate change, and indeed pollution, lies in the
market price system generally and intelligent policy, such as a carbon tax,
specifically. Other free market policies, such as deregulating nuclear energy and
removing subsidies for fossil fuels, are also viable and important tools for
mitigating climate change. Likewise, imposing specific environmental
regulations does not amount to “changing everything” much as banning dumping
toxic waste in rivers is not some kind of refutation of the profit motive.

These are not merely alternative solutions to the problem. The puritanical-
luddite route of demonising consumerism is a grotesque vision, even if it could
work. Whilst the likes of Monbiot may relish a poorer, more regimented, and
guilt-fetishizing world, I’d suggest that most people would not. In any case, even
if prices cannot take account of environmental risk this is no way implies that
central planning has been vindicated. In lieu of prices there is no way, at all, of
assessing value at an economy-wide or global level, let alone of organising
efficient allocation.

So, why do the worst kinds of environmentalism gain so much traction? Simply,
for far too long, far too many on the right have endorsed or enabled denialism
and a caricatured version of the case for free markets. I dislike the term “market
fundamentalism”, but the resistance of some libertarians to any role for
government has caused significant damage to our cause. Pigouvian taxes to
internalise and correctly price externalities are not socialism or anathema to a
free market economy. Preventing or reducing activities that impose on and harm
others is not a violation of self-ownership or inherently illiberal.

Some measure of skepticism regarding climate change is not necessarily
misguided. When data was less comprehensive and there was less of a scientific
consensus, it was right to treat claims of catastrophe with caution. Likewise, the
fact that there is a serious risk of environmental damage does not mean that any
proposed solution should just be accepted without taking account of other
factors, such as the wider economic implications of said policy. Nevertheless,
verging into conspiratorial thinking and amateur attempts to debunk the bulk of
climate science is in no way laudable.

Failure to engage with addressing, and minimising the magnitude of,
environmental problems is, of course, damaging in its own right. It has also left
the door open for uninformed and outright dangerous agendas, which gain
traction in a relative vacuum. Making the case for serious solutions that are
compatible with prosperity and liberty has been made considerably harder by
this context.