In her new book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate, environmentalist Naomi Klein advocates a ban on fossil fuels and a statist utopia where government “creates” a record number of jobs through “investment” in wind and solar energy. (Full disclosure: I have not read Klein’s book, nor do I intend to read it. However, I did read fawning reviews by Mark Bittman in New York Times and Drew Nelles in the Globe and Mail—more than enough time spent contemplating Klein and her reviewers’ dishonest claims.)
Why should we care about what Naomi Klein and her ilk write? First, their claims contradict facts, yet the media lap them up and spread them to their uncritical readers, touting climate change as “the defining issue of our age” that will lead to a disaster—unless drastic measures are taken to counter-act it. Second, Naomi Klein and her media fans argue that to combat climate change, we need “Marshall plan-level” government control to end capitalism and to extinguish the fossil fuel industry. Such measures would lead to incredible human misery and shortened lifespans (for evidence, consider life before the individual rights and fossil fuels were discovered). Therefore it is important to counter the untruthful claims of Klein and others and to defend both capitalism and the fossil fuel industry as crucially important to our well-being.
As Alex Epstein shows in his forthcoming book, The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels (based on meticulous research using data from nonpartisan international sources, including the World Bank and the International Energy Agency), there has been no significant global warming in the last century. The temperature increase over the last hundred years has been less than one degree Celsius, which is non-significant as temperature has gone through both cooling and warming trends—and shows that CO2 is not a significant cause of temperature fluctuations. Importantly, the global temperature has been flat for the last 16 to 26 years (surface temperature vs. satellite temperature record)–completely contradictory to the environmentalists’ claims.
Climate is always changing—not due to human activity and CO2 emissions but due to natural causes. The fossil fuel industry is not the villain that Klein and others paint it. Quite the contrary, the fossil fuel companies are critically important to our well-being. They provide 87% of the world’s energy, powering the plants and farms producing our food, clothes, medicines, vehicles, computers, furniture, and all other material goods on which our survival and well-being depend. Fossil fuels also power our homes, offices, hospitals, and means of transportation. They provide raw materials most of the products we depend on daily: clothes, footwear, plastics. Most renewable energy sources such wind and solar, on the other hand, have proven too undependable to play a significant role in human progress in the modern industrial society with its unprecedented levels of income and life spans, achieved largely thanks to the fossil fuels. (See Lawrence Solomon’s column here.)
One reviewer of Klein’s book points out that she is not very clear about the meaning of capitalism. Yet she claims capitalism is bad for the planet (because, according to her, it causes climate change) and should therefore be banned through government force. She may be foggy about capitalism but she is wrong: capitalism is good for the planet.
Capitalism, in Ayn Rand’s definition, is “a social system based on the recognition of individual rights, including property rights, in which all property is privately owned.” There are no capitalist countries in the world today, so capitalism could hardly be blamed for climate change, or for anything else. However, if it did exist, pollution would be reduced (because of private property and the protection of property rights) and more innovative solutions to energy and raw material problems would be found (because of competition and free trade). For evidence, consider the 19th century America, the closest that world ever came to capitalism, and its unprecedented level of innovation and wealth creation
Environmentalists like Naomi Klein are intentionally unclear and misleading about the fossil fuel industry and capitalism, because it serves their purpose of taking away our freedom to live our lives and run our businesses the way we choose (without violating the rights of others). If we care about human flourishing, it behooves us to learn the truth about the environmentalists’ claims (Alex Epstein’s new book would be an excellent starting point), to defend the fossil fuel industry’s right to produce energy, and to advocate capitalism.