Greens sing the blues as reality triumphs at COP26
In the end, it comes down to a difference in political philosophy. Like their Marxist forebears, the green activist community believes that the complexity of the world can be distilled down to one clear problem, with one clear policy solution. Marxists saw the capitalist world system as the problem and, armed with this monocausal view of the world, they believed a class-based analysis of capitalism would lead to an overthrow of that system, ushering in the proletarian Valhalla. One hundred years and 100 million deaths later, communism — in all its brutal forms — has been utterly discredited.
Undaunted, the global left has moved seamlessly onto the green agenda. Here, global warming is the world’s pre-eminent problem, one whose solution requires the sacrifice of whatever else comes to hand, in order to prevent a ring of fire from engulfing the world. Yet, this over-wrought monocausality shares a great deal with its Marxist ancestors. Indeed, the general green solution to global heating amounts to Marxism by the back door — to combat this worldwide emergency, governments must take over the commanding heights of the global economy, enforce public mandates on private individuals and industries alike, and engage in economic dislocation if necessary, all to solve the world’s one overriding issue.
The problem with this leftist fairy tale view is that, when push comes to shove, the member states of the world — that still retain the lion’s share of the globe’s power, not the politically and economically illiterate Greta Thunberg and her ilk — all rightly see the world in more complex terms. Predictably, the latest leftist monocausal fairy came up against the wall of political reality at Glasgow. Just as unsurprisingly, reality won.
The key issue at the conference became the desire of the activist world to begin nothing less than the abolition of fossil fuels, particularly the winding down of the use of coal as a primary energy source, as it is responsible for much of the carbon dioxide emitted into the air, causing a significant portion of global warming. In typical leftist, Wilsonian fashion, the initial wording of the final communique at Glasgow called for the world’s member states to agree to “phase out” coal. It was anticipated that this general pledge would be followed up in the next of this endless series of conferences with more specific pledges on how to get to utopia from where we are now. But the activist left had not counted on the very real interest calculations of the great powers that are the primary users of coal: China, India and even the US.
The activists had not counted on the very real interest calculations of the great powers that are the primary users of coal.
Dr. John C. Hulsman
It turns out that both India and China think the world’s problems are a little bit more diverse and complicated than the monocausal fairy tale beloved by the green activist left. In the case of New Delhi, economic growth amounts to its primary aspiration moving ahead. After centuries of the most wrenching poverty, the Indian economy is set to boom — with all that this will mean for the country socially and politically — thanks to its very favorable demographic catch-up growth over the next generation.
To put this bounty in peril by agreeing to give up coal without putting anything in its place to make some Westerners feel better about islands sinking into the Pacific struck many there as the height of fancy. For India, the ultimate human right is high rates of growth over a generation transforming the country once again into a great power. It turns out the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi thinks there are other primary issues and interests out there besides global heating.
Likewise, following the tumult of the later days of Mao Zedong’s reign, Deng Xiaoping rebranded the Chinese Communist Party’s political legitimacy as being based on delivering on both capitalism and nationalism, two traits inherent in Chinese culture. Deng’s bold political risk was rewarded with the greatest of success as the CCP’s grip on power was bolstered by its triumph on both key counts.
Now, with energy supplies as tight as they have been in memory, President Xi Jinping fears that the north of his country may experience rolling blackouts in the winter ahead — a disastrous possibility. Immediately, Xi ordered that Chinese collieries should work around the clock to head off this economic disaster. The timing could not have been worse for the Western activist left to, in an otherworldly fashion, ask Xi to part with his coal, even as his government sensibly accepted the need to do exactly the opposite. For perfectly understandable reasons of social growth and political stability, both India and China — great powers both — illustrated for the frustrated left that life is just a little more complicated in terms of competing interests than they had thought.
In the end, the world’s new “big three” — the US, China and India — brokered a deal on the floor of the Glasgow conference site, even as the toothless EU and the green activists watched haplessly from the sidelines. The wording “phase out” was replaced by “phase down,” which means almost nothing. But what the failure of the Glasgow conference truly portends is the truism that, when complex reality meets activist simplicity, count on reality to win.
- John C. Hulsman is the president and managing partner of John C. Hulsman Enterprises, a prominent global political risk consulting firm. He is also a senior columnist for City AM, the newspaper of the City of London. He can be contacted via johnhulsman.substack.com.