To some critics, America’s founding generation adhered to a profound misconception of human nature. The Enlightenment’s attachment to secular rationality rejected mankind’s fundamental hunger for religion. Human beings need a faith, and the secular world will never truly divorce itself from dogma. There is an essential truth in that, and it may be most evident today in the forms that environmental activism takes.
It must be said at the outset that climate change is real and observable, and the consensus that human activity contributes to that change (though to what degree has not yet firmly been established) is all but unassailable. But for a certain set of activists, there is only one acceptable response to the challenge: privation. The technological innovations attributable to market forces—innovations that have led to the dramatic reduction of American carbon emissions—are dismissed, not because their contributions are not observable, but because they undermine the notion that a simpler, monastic life is the only real source of collective absolution.
Critics of the activist class’s evolving policy prescriptions are attacked as “deniers.” Those who predict catastrophic, near civilization-ending disasters resulting from unchecked climate change are deemed “prophets.” Oracles forecast “the end of the world” within our lifetimes absent the adoption of their preferred paradigm. And any critical reflections on this new eschatology, the portents of which have often proved irreparably flawed, is dismissed with fervent passion.
A faith requires its pieties, and the so-called “Green New Deal” amounts to a sacrament. To true believers, its implausibility and impracticality is not a mark against it. Just the opposite; it is an expression of zeal, an acknowledgment of the righteousness and urgency of the cause it seeks to address. Its efficacy is measured in the number willing to genuflect before it.
This is not a serious policy proposal. Its goal is the elimination of fossil fuels in transportation and power generation, though it also would phase out emissions-free nuclear power plants. It seeks to retrofit every free-standing structure in America, pare back America’s industrial agriculture industry to “local” (or, presumably, subsistence) scale, and virtually eliminate domestic air travel within the continental U.S. by transitioning entirely to high-speed rail (which, assuming perfectly uniform topography, would still force bicoastal Americans to a nearly 20-hour trip). This would all be done in a single decade.
All this disruption to the economy isn’t much of a problem, of course, because the plan assumes that the displaced will simply transition directly into new, unionized green jobs. And for those who spent their lives acquiring expertise that is no longer valuable, the proposal would impose a “just transition” into a lifestyle more befitting this brave new world.
The Green New Deal’s central planners aren’t so hubristic that they cannot admit uncertainties. For example, they admit that it’s unlikely that they could “fully get rid of farting cows and airplanes that fast.” The ethics associated with industrial-scale bovine slaughter are unaddressed. The Green New Deal is its own moral imperative.
Almost no effort is made to deal with the costs associated with this program. Indeed, the proposal is disdainful of the premise of cost altogether. “[T]he question isn’t how will we pay for it, but what will we do with our new shared prosperity.” Some have proposed dramatic and constitutionally dubious tax increases to fund the progressive left’s growing hunger for dramatic societal transformations, but they fall wildly short of meeting proposed expenditures (Medicare-for-all, tuition-free in-state college, a federal jobs guarantee, and a universal basic income, among others). Petty monetary considerations are no obstacle for those possessed of the will to power evident in the Green New Deal, and so they’ve appealed to “Modern Monetary Theory” (MMT) as a workaround.
MMT is not a faith, but it’s most committed adherents tend to treat it like one. MMT advocates running high deficits, printing money to pay government debts, and raising taxes to control inflation—perhaps the most pernicious and politically dangerous of economic conditions. This theory’s adherents argue that the progressive wish-list is attainable with almost no tradeoffs.
The advocates of this theory perfunctorily dismiss the all but insurmountable political obstacles before them, such as their prescription for dramatic tax increases to combat inflationary effects like raising prices on consumer goods. But that amounts to magical thinking. In the hands of its advocates, MMT’s assumptions are unfalsifiable.
In the absence of a national religion, Americans have frequently adopted a variety of civic codes that mimic the inviolable tenets of a faith. Some of them are healthier than others. With each passing day, the dogma of the green revolution looks less like a healthy expression of political agency and more like a cult.