So when Louis Proyect gives us a report on the New York's Ecosocialism Conference, I just want to curl up into a fetal position and go back to bed. The term connotes a series of ideas that all contain a grain of truth, but lead to gross exaggerations if not outright falsehoods.
Ecosocialism suggests a beneficial connection between socialism and environmental quality. There is no evidence for any benefit. The former communist countries all have a very poor record of environmental stewardship. China, famously, has been unable to reform its Maoist-era apparat--the air quality in Beijing proves that. Centralized control over the economy leads to crony capitalism and corruption on a massive scale--along with ecosocialist-scale pollution.
Both environmentalists (at least the radical ones) and socialists ascribe religious urgency to their crusade. One of Mr. Proyect's correspondents puts it well:
Joel Kovel’s talk brought in an absolutely necessary, albeit uncomfortable recognition that the ultimate stakes of climate change are meta-economic, meta-social, and meta-political, which is to say they are transcendental or, to use his vocabulary, spiritual.They believe the world is in do-or-die crisis--if we don't stop greenhouse gas emission right now, then the planet is doomed.
It's a very self-serving theology. Environmentalists and socialists alike want to run your life for you. They arrogantly presume to tell you what kind of car you're allowed to drive (if any), where you can live, what you're allowed to eat, and whether or not you can smoke or drink. They want to ration your electricity, your gasoline, and your home heating and cooling. They will tax anything and everything you do, all for the sake of saving the planet. Ecosocialists have pure hearts--but that means it's all your fault.
They get away with this using four strategies. One is they exaggerate everything out of proportion. Fossil fuel burning won't just result in some incremental change in the climate (with both positive and negative consequences), but instead augers immediate and irreversible catastrophe. Fortunately, most of the world no longer believes this stuff--even the Real Climate crowd has stepped back from the imminent disaster theory. But catastrophe is a major justification for the dictatorship of the ecosocialists, so they scream that from the rooftops.
Second, they make liberal use of the for the children argument, as in If it saves one child's life, it is worth banning all automobiles now. The argument is a non-starter because it makes any rational cost/benefit analysis impossible. Everything involves risks. Perhaps tripling the cost of gasoline would benefit the environment some how, but it would also hugely raise the cost of fresh fruits and vegetables. Ecosocialists claim to know all the answers to these trade-offs. I suggest they've got no clue.
Now the ecosocialists' real beef is with people like you and me--we're supposed to sacrifice our livelihoods, lifestyles, and enjoyments so that the all-wise, all-seeing, pure-hearted ecosocialists can save the planet for our great-great-great-great grandchildren. But we, being the selfish bastards that we are, don't readily volunteer for a life of poverty, misery, boredom and servitude.
So the ecosocialists have a third trick up their sleeve--namely it's all the rich people's fault. That's right--in the new, ecosocialist paradise only millionaires and billionaires will have to live in mud huts with no heating. The rest of us will use solar magic-powered electricity to drive around in earth-friendly Priuses manufactured out of thin air by free unicorns.
Mr. Proyect reports
Jill Stein, the Green Party presidential candidate in 2012, spoke at the morning plenary. She is really dynamite, using Powerpoint slides to illustrate how fucked the system was. ... She really knows how to speak to working people using concrete examples like people and loaves of bread. With the current income disparities in the USA, there is one person at the top with fifty loaves of bread and at the bottom fifty people to share one loaf.That some people are richer than others is unfair, to be sure, but only in the sense that life is unfair. This is the old Marxist meme: We're poor because the rich people stole all the money. But it's simply not true--the rich people created the money (or, more accurately, wealth). Capitalism makes everybody richer, and rich people are better for the environment. The ecosocialists are not just against rich people--they're against wealth in general. They think poverty and slavery are good for the environment. They're wrong.
Fourth, ecosocialists slander anybody who disagrees with them. They think people like me are opposed to any environmental regulation. And further, they think we're just motivated by money, i.e., Exxon or somebody is buying us off. I wish. But I guess that's true in the sense that I'm not willing to sacrifice my standard of living just to make a bunch of ecosocialists happy. I don't feel too guilty--I've just googled a couple of Mr. Proyect's correspondents, and they're not living in mud huts without electricity, either.
And for the record, I support appropriate environmental regulation. Unfortunately there is no sharp definition of the word "appropriate," but clear and present danger does seem like a reasonable standard.
- I support taking lead out of the consumer environment, with lead-free paints and unleaded gasoline. This has had dramatic and provable health benefits.
- I support catalytic converters. Unburned fuel is a major pollutant and air toxin. This rule has greatly reduced smog in Los Angeles, for example.
- As a chemistry professor, I support the existing rules for the safe disposal of chemical waste. As far as I can tell they seem quite sensible, and they're not that expensive to comply with.
But I can't support laws that are based on hokey computer models, and that even if the models were correct, would do nothing to correct the problem (if there is a problem). Thus I'm opposed to carbon taxes or carbon cap and trade laws. All those do is give ecosocialist bureaucrats more power and money than they deserve.
There is an argument to be made against banning fine particulates from emissions. There are benefits, but the costs are extremely high. My sense is that the costs outweigh the benefits, and we should not pass such regulations. I am opposed to giving the EPA a blank check to "save the environment," regardless of cost, as is now their mandate. The EPA should have its wings clipped.
Nuclear power has been irrationally over-regulated. As a result it is too expensive, and innovation has been forbidden. So today nuclear energy is neither as cheap nor as safe as it would be if the regulators used a lighter touch.
Likewise, fracking has both risks and benefits, but the benefits are huge. The industry does need to be regulated, but innovation has to be allowed and costs have to stay low. In the long run that will lead to cheaper gas more safely procured.
In a word, environmental regulation has to serve people and the economy, not the other way round.