Environmentalism, says Czech President Vaclav Klaus, is the new communism, a system of elite command-and-control that kills prosperity and should similarly be condemned to the ash heap of history.
The provocative Mr. Klaus, an economist by training and former prime minister, said in an interview that today’s global warming activists are the direct descendants of the old Marxists who trampled on individual freedoms and undermined free markets in pursuit of a greater good.
“I understand that global warming is a religion conceived to suppress human freedom,” he told editors and reporters at The Washington Times. “It is used to justify an enormous scope for government intervention vis-a-vis the markets and personal freedom.”
The 66-year-old Mr. Klaus was in Washington this week for talks with senior U.S. officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney, and to tout his new book, “Blue Planet in Green Shackles,” about the dangers to life, liberty and prosperity posed by the modern environmental movement.
His Washington meetings included discussions on a pact to situate key parts of a U.S. missile defense shield in the Czech Republic. A top Bush administration priority, the system is designed to defend against attacks from rogue states such as Iran.
Mr. Klaus said he expected the Czech parliament to ratify the pact by the end of the year, but acknowledged it “won’t be an easy debate.”
Russia has fiercely opposed the system, something the Czech president said may actually build public support for the plan back home.
“The stronger the Russian position opposing the system, the easier it is in the Czech Republic to get support,” he said.
Having experienced decades of Soviet domination during the Cold War, Czechs are “extremely sensitive to any patronizing from that part of the world,” he said.
Mr. Klaus was a leading figure in the first Prague governments after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and was prime minister when the former Czechoslovakia broke into two countries in the “Velvet Divorce” of 1993.
He barely won a second five-year term as president in February amid divisions in the rival Social Democratic Party.
An admirer of conservative former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, he has emerged as a leading voice in Europe for free markets and individual rights.
He opposed the first drive for a European Union constitution, which collapsed when French and Dutch voters rejected it. The Czech parliament is expected to ratify an amended EU constitution by the end of the year.
The outspoken Mr. Klaus does not appear to mind being out of step with his government at times.
He criticized the Czech Republic’s decision last week to recognize the independence of Kosovo from Serbia, over the fierce objections of Belgrade.
Mr. Klaus said his experience with the breakup of Czechoslovakia convinced him that any separation had to come from within and accepted by all parties.
“If we had had U.S. or EU commissioners coming into Czechoslovakia telling us how to divide the country, there would have been shooting,” he said. “I’m sorry that in [the United States], the substance of this argument was not appreciated.”
That formative experience growing up under communism, said Mr. Klaus, has led him to his own strong views on the modern environmental movement, which he charged has failed to do a basic cost-benefit analysis in its drive to force people to obey its dictates.
While saying he was not a “total libertarian,” Mr. Klaus observed, “For most of my life, I lived under a regime where the public debate was manipulated. That is why I feel so strongly about this.”
Former Vice President Al Gore - whom Mr. Klaus has challenged to a public debate - won the Nobel Peace Prize and the Czech Republic ratified the Kyoto climate treaty seven years ago, but Mr. Klaus insisted he had the world’s “silent majority” behind him in the green debate.
“I don’t feel alone,” he insisted.
He rejected the “fashionable” idea of a cap-and-trade pollution control system, endorsed by Republican presidential hopeful Sen. John McCain and his two Democratic rivals, Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Under cap-and-trade, the government would set a ceiling under which companies could trade “credits” on how much carbon they produce.
“It’s a scheme to play the market and I refuse to accept that concept,” he said. “Please don’t try to play the market.”
More practically, he said, government bureaucrats will be so afraid of setting the cap too low - stifling all economic activity - that they will set the ceiling too high, making it “meaningless.”
Mr. Klaus pointed to the sharp rise in global energy prices as a sign the market is a far better engine for social change than politicians or bureaucrats.
The recent price increase “is so much more than any government would dare to do,” he said. “Can you imagine if the U.S. Congress tried to introduce such a tax to cut consumption? The Congress would disappear tomorrow morning.”