The arrival last week of the enormous — 829 pages — and laborious U.S. National Climate Assessment, a report put together by 300 American worrywarts, reminds me of a little-noted fact. The American left has no practical solution for many of the problems that agitate it and that its neurotics hope will agitate us. Put another way, the left is given to setting the American people off on noble quests for which there is no solution. A case in point is global warming, or climate change.
The global warmists — mostly drawn from the left — may or may not be right about global warming. As they say in their recent bull on climate assessment, "Climate change, once considered an issue for the distant future, has moved firmly into the present." Well, maybe so, but there is still little we can do to alleviate global warming. America is, mostly for economic reasons, meeting the goals of the Kyoto Protocol without actually having signed the treaty. In fact, we were the first major industrialized nation to do so back in 2012. The problem of global warming resides not with us, but with other nations. Led by China, the poorer countries of the world are paying no attention to the Kyoto nonsense, and one should not expect them to. Why should a poor country impede its growing standard of living for the grandiose and highly speculative goal of climate control?
Globalization seems to have set off a widespread economic boom in some of the earth's impoverished regions. If the boom is to continue, those economically emerging countries will be in need of more energy, more fossil fuel. They cannot put their trust in the flimsy promises of solar or wind power.
I wonder if the world's leftist elites operating out of such haunts as the United Nations ever recognized this "problem," to wit: the growing energy needs of emerging nations. Did they just think that the world's poor nations would always be with us? Did they not think that the benefits of commerce, generally free markets, would reach China, India and elsewhere? What is needed is for the richer countries of the world to invest in technologies that will mitigate global warming, and that will come when it is it is economically viable. What is needed is the development of technologies to capture carbon dioxide and other elements that contribute to global warming. Such technologies do not exist today, but they might exist in the future if development continues.
Just as the left has no practical solution for global warming, it has had no solution for arms control, universal health care and, in fact, the expenses of the welfare state. Arms control always depended on the United States, a nation that abides by its treaties, signing a treaty with Russia, a nation that does not abide by its treaties. Universal health care's costs are proving to be catastrophic and will be unsustainable. The welfare state runs up bills that in the end will bankrupt us. Yet the dutiful leftists plod on, insisting that the answer to all our problems are readily available.
The American leftist has become the most slavish conformist under the sun. In the 1970s, the left worried about global cooling. There was talk of a new ice age and constant winter. Today, the hysteria is about global warming and the alarm bells are sounding for drought, torrential rains and ocean levels rising. Through all these contradictions, the believing automaton of the left proceeds without a thought of complaint. The American leftists may lead lives of constant anxiety, but they find reassurance in one thing: their own moral superiority to the rest of us. I find that a curious consolation.
R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. is editor in chief of the American Spectator, a senior fellow at the London Center for Policy Research, and the author of "The Death of Liberalism" (Thomas Nelson, 2012).