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Op-ed Placement

Climate Protesters: If You Want to Save the Planet, You Should Support Capitalism Not Socialism

BY Jason Pye
09/25/2019
Originally Published in The Washington Examiner by Jason Pye on 9/25/19.

Employees in the D.C. area experienced an even worse-than-normal commute on Monday. No, the Metro wasn’t on fire again: Climate change protesters brought traffic to a virtual standstill in busy intersections around the city by physically blocking roads. Apparently they think you stop climate change by making cars sit idle in traffic for hours.

Notably, at least some of the protesters made anti-capitalism a key theme of their protests. In fact, one group of protesters prominently displayed a banner that read: “Capitalism is killing the planet.” As Ken Cuccinelli, who saw the banner from his office, rightly noted: “[W]hat [the protesters] are really against is capitalism and freedom.”

Climate protesters who rail against capitalism display woeful ignorance of history. Not only does socialism have a disastrous history when it comes to human rights, it also has a terrible environmental record because of central planning and the misallocation of resources.

“When historians finally conduct an autopsy of the Soviet Union and Soviet Communism, they may reach the verdict of death by ecoside,” wrote Murray Feshbach and Alfred Friendly in their 1992 book, Ecoside in the USSR: Health and Nature Under Siege. “For the modern era, indeed for any event except the mysterious collapse of the Mayan empire, it would be a unique but not an implausible conclusion.”

“No other great industrial civilization so systematically and so long poisoned its land, air, water, and people. None so loudly proclaiming its efforts to improve public health and protect nature so degraded both. And no advanced society faced such a bleak political and economic reckoning with so few resources to invest toward recovery,” they added.

Soviet irrigation projects quite literally caused what was once the fourth-largest lake in the world, the Aral Sea, to nearly dry up. The ecosystems around the sea have been ravaged as a result. Even years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the land had been so badly polluted that during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, visitors were warned not to use the water in their rooms.

Of course, pollution remains a problem in the other major state-run economy, China, which is, by far, the world’s largest carbon emitter and has been for more than a decade. It’s true that China has made some progress on renewable energy, yet, ironically, the environmental problems there have advanced to such a point that air pollution is preventing solar panels from being used to their full potential.

These examples from the now-former Soviet Union and China don’t even scratch the surface. There is ample research available on the high rates of certain diseases and respiratory illnesses in socialist nations as a result of decades of environmental disasters and pollution.

Meanwhile, carbon emissions in the United States in 2017 were down to a level not seen since 1993. As economist Mark Perry has noted, “For that impressive ‘greening’ of America, we can thank the underground oceans of America’s natural gas that are now accessible because of the revolutionary, advanced drilling and extraction technologies of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal/directional drilling, and are increasingly displacing coal for the nation’s electricity generation.”

In a mostly-free economy, businesses are incentivized to conserve and properly allocate resources through market forces. Competition encourages innovation that produces more environmentally friendly products. Meanwhile, in socialist countries resources are allocated by a cumbersome bureaucracy that is slow to respond and lacks the incentive to improve. Socialist countries have, time and time again, misallocated resources, often with environmentally and economically disastrous — not to mention deadly — results.

At a time when protesters are calling for an end to capitalism, we should be studying socialism’s environmental record and its misallocation of resources to make sure similarly terrible ideas never catch hold here. Unfortunately, they may be on the rise: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s so-called Green New Deal has captured nearly 100 co-sponsors in the House and 14 in the Senate.

Ocasio-Cortez’s former chief of staff, Saikat Chakrabarti, accidentally revealed the sinister intent of the Green New Deal in May when he said, “[W]e really think of it as a how-do-you-change-the-entire-economy thing.” He’s right: The platform, if enacted, would represent a fundamental restructuring of the economy, allowing the federal government to allocate most of the nation’s resources, from housing to healthcare to transportation. The end result isn’t hard to predict, based on the environmental record of socialism. And it isn’t very “green” after all.

We should be concerned about the environment, and we should all strive to protect it. But we should embrace capitalism to accomplish this goal, not abandon it for socialism.