Roger’s Rules

A "green" economy vs. a productive economy, or how America became a third-world country with first-world feelings of moral superiority

The House of Representatives just took a large step towards refashioning the United State into a Third World economy with first world self-regard. The so-called “cap and trade” (“cap and tax” to its opponents) bill, sponsored by Henry Waxman and Edward Markey (remember those names, voters), squeaked by 219-212. (The roll call is here: check to see if your Congressman just voted to impoverish you and your country.)

Reacting to the Democratic victory (but one, please note, that would not have been possible had not 8 Republicans voted for it: they are listed in italics in the roll call), Rep. Markey of Massachusetts described the “American Clean Energy and Security Act” as “the most important energy and environmental legislation in the history of our country.” This is true. Plenty of unpleasant things are important. Rep Markey is also correct that the legislation “sets a new course for our country.” Indeed, I’d say it was all part and parcel of Obama’s observation, made last October, that he and his henchmen were  only a few days away from “fundamentally transforming the United States of America.” Where Rep. Markey errs is in his conclusion: that this “important” “new course” “steers us away from foreign oil and towards a path of clean American energy.”

In fact, Ed, it will do almost nothing to emancipate us from foreign oil even as it steers us towards a path of less American energy. The architect Mies van der Rohe famously said “less is more,” to which Robert Venturi equally famously quipped “less is a bore.” This is not the moment to intervene in that discussion about the place ornamentation and authenticity in architecture. Applied to the world of economics, however, we can observe with confidence that less is less.

The Wall Street Journal explains some of what this new legislation would mean:

By putting a price on emissions of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, the bill would affect the way electricity is generated, how homes and offices are designed, how foreign trade is conducted and how much Americans pay to drive cars or to heat their homes.

So, thanks Ed! And thanks Harry! And thanks to the other 217 Congressmen and women who just voted to make America poorer and less competitive on the world stage. I hope that the electorate will remember your actions when the next election comes around.

To help them remember, let’s pause further to consider the meaning of this bill. Kimberley Strassel, writing in The Wall Street Journal yesterday, noted that while the green church of Al Gore thrives among the power elite of Washington, elsewhere in the world it is facing serious challenges from scientists as well as politicians. “Among the many reasons President Barack Obama and the Democratic majority are so intent on quickly jamming a cap-and-trade system through Congress,” she observes “is because the global warming tide is again shifting.”

It turns out Al Gore and the United Nations (with an assist from the media), did a little too vociferous a job smearing anyone who disagreed with them as “deniers.” The backlash has brought the scientific debate roaring back to life in Australia, Europe, Japan and even, if less reported, the U.S.

In April, the Polish Academy of Sciences published a document challenging man-made global warming. In the Czech Republic, where President Vaclav Klaus remains a leading skeptic, today only 11% of the population believes humans play a role. In France, President Nicolas Sarkozy wants to tap Claude Allegre to lead the country’s new ministry of industry and innovation. Twenty years ago Mr. Allegre was among the first to trill about man-made global warming, but the geochemist has since recanted. New Zealand last year elected a new government, which immediately suspended the country’s weeks-old cap-and-trade program.

As I say, this reaction to the Gospel of Gore is not just political — not just a recognition and response to the economic consequences of embracing environmentalism as a religion. It is also a response to mounting evidence that Al Gore was, to put it bluntly, wrong. As Strassel notes,

The collapse of the “consensus” [over the idea that climate change was primarily man-made] has been driven by reality. The inconvenient truth is that the earth’s temperatures have flat-lined since 2001, despite growing concentrations of C02. Peer-reviewed research has debunked doomsday scenarios about the polar ice caps, hurricanes, malaria, extinctions, rising oceans. A global financial crisis has politicians taking a harder look at the science that would require them to hamstring their economies to rein in carbon.

So: countries in the rest of the world, bowing to scientific evidence and economic reality, adjust their policies to make their economies more productive, hence more competitive.

The United States, led by leftist ideologues who are suspicious of American power, and who regard “excessive” prosperity with alarm, have framed legislation that will systemically handicap American industry and make the necessities of life more expensive for American citizens.

The up side? Americans, or at least American Leftists, will be able to luxuriate in the knowledge that they have sacrificed something for an “ideal,” even if it is only the spurious ideal of environmental purity.

It won’t, in the overwhelming number of cases, involve any sacrifice for them personally, of course. Just as Congress has its own health care provisions that are different from, and vastly better than, what they are proposing to provide for the mere citizens of the country, so, too, the onerous restrictions mandated by this legislation will not touch people who have insulated themselves from the strictures they impose on an increasingly docile public. It will cost you a lot more to travel to New York for a night out on the town with your wife, but if you are Barack Obama and the public is picking up the tab for the date, you go by government jet, surrounded by a cocoon of secret service vehicles greedily gobbling up their quota of fossil fuel. It would be instructive to keep tabs on the “carbon footprint” of members of Congress and other government officials — and to discover how the restrictions they have imposed on the rest of us affect them personally.

Today, dirigiste politicians celebrate the advent of America’s embrace of a “green economy.” But a green economy bears roughly the same relation to a productive economy as fool’s gold does to the 24-carat variety. Sooner or later, the country will wake up to this fact. The longer it takes, the less pretty will be the response, because the more serious will be the effect on the country’s economy.

The U.S. Senate now has an opportunity to restore sanity by scuttling this legislative monstrosity. Let’s see how many senators have the wisdom, and the courage, to stand up against the sirocco of left wing demagoguery that will be filling the airwaves and cyberspace in the weeks to come.