The promised climate utopia will cost us our prosperity and our freedom, if we allow it
By Paul MacRae, Climate Realists of British Columbia, July 4, 2023
Dr. Trevor Hancock, the first leader of the Canadian Green Party and now a retired professor of public health, has for several years had a regular weekly column in the Victoria Times Colonist promoting what can only be called a bleak vision of the future if we don’t abandon our industrial-technological civilization and return to a more “natural” way of being (smaller communities, less consumption, etc.)
He is, of course, firmly in the Net Zero by 2050 camp when it comes to “climate change” and the headline for his June 25, 2023, column is “Climate action needs a greater sense of urgency.”1 This column focuses on the “face” of global warming in the spring and summer of 2023—forest fires—and he notes that 2023 is having the “worst wildfire season in the past 20 years.”
This upsurge in fires is due, of course, to “global warming,” hence the need for urgency. Although, curiously, the number of fires in Canada has actually gone down over the past 30 years, according to the National Forestry Database (see graph below). If forest fires are one of the “faces” of global warming, shouldn’t the number of fires have gone steadily up for those 30 years of previous warming, rather than down?
In reality, “climate change” has many faces. For some, “climate change” means more, and more-intense, forest fires; for others more floods; for others more drought; for others more cases of extreme heat; and so on.
None of these problems, alone or in combination, are new; humans have been dealing with them for thousands of years, mostly with success. Why? Because we have found affordable, engineering-based solutions for all these so-called global-warming-related issues.
In our technological toolkit are better fire-management practices; better flood-control measures (the 2021 Sumas Prairie flooding in B.C. was caused by failure to maintain the embankment system, not “global warming”); better channeling of water resources to reduce drought; cooling measures to protect vulnerable people for the few days a year of “extreme heat” (the week-long B.C. “heat dome” of June 2021 comes to mind), such as air-conditioned community centres.
Piecemeal versus utopian social engineering
Philosopher of science Karl Popper called these practical solutions “piecemeal engineering,” which means tackling problems as they come up, as opposed to what he called “utopian social engineering,” which aims at some broader, overarching goal.
For Popper, the sensible reformer (or weekly columnist) may have an ideal blueprint of the society he/she wishes to create, “but he will be aware that perfection, if at all attainable, is far distant. The piecemeal engineer will, accordingly, adopt the method of searching for, and fighting against, the greatest and most urgent evils of society, rather than searching for, and fighting for, its greatest ultimate good.”2
In other words, if you have raccoons in the attic, the “solution” isn’t burning the house down to get them out but calling the exterminator.
But for social reformers like Hancock, piecemeal solutions aren’t good enough. Their “solution” to forest fires, floods, heat waves, or whatever the most prominent “face” of global warming happens to be at any given time, isn’t to ramp up measures against these evils. Their “solution” is to dismantle our technological civilization by drastically reducing the use of fossil fuels. This dismantling, reformers believe, will reduce carbon emissions and, over a few decades, bring global warming to a halt, or at least keep it at 1.5° Celsius above pre-industrial times (the mid-1800s).
Utopian approach ridiculously expensive
The social reformers aren’t deterred by the fact that this “burn the house down,” Net Zero approach will be ridiculously expensive— because, of course, they believe the alternative is a scorched planet. However, for those who care about what’s in their wallets, and believe reports of our impending planetary death are greatly exaggerated, the 2022 report by McKinsey & Co. should be an economic wake-up call.3
McKinsey estimates the cost of Net Zero by 2050 at $275-trillion globally, or about $9-trillion a year. This is not a trivial sum—Canada’s GDP in 2022 was less than $2-trillion.
McKinsey expects the fight for Net Zero to cost seven per cent of Canadians’ net household income per year. In 2020, Canadian household income was $96,000 a year, so households would be paying $6,700 a year to meet Net Zero by 2050, in addition to the usual taxes. In reality, since the underdeveloped nations cannot afford to pay their “full share,” Canadian households will be paying more than $6,700 a year—a lot more.
And, for our efforts, we will only reduce the global temperature by a fraction of a degree Celsius.
Lots of social engineering needed for green utopia
The social reformers’ “solution” will also require lots and lots of utopian social engineering. What can we look forward to in this Brave New Green World?
In his book Heat: How to Stop the Planet from Burning, ultra-alarmist George Monbiot quotes a veteran British environmentalist who, at a meeting, was asked: “What would Great Britain be like if it cut carbon use by the 80 per cent needed to prevent runaway global warming?” The environmentalist’s reply? “A very poor third-world country.”4
A “very poor third-world country”—is that what most of us want? Would most citizens vote to become poorer if given the clear option (an option that will be heavily sugar-coated—”just transition,” anyone—if offered at all)? Unlikely.
In fact, this future as a “very poor third-world country” sounds like a bad joke. But alarmists like Monbiot and the other climate social reformers are deadly serious: they want to substantially reduce our standard of living, and remove many of our freedoms, on the theory (so far unproven) that the “planet” can’t support the eight billion of us at a Western standard of living and that we’d all be happier with much less.
UN also wants to make us poorer (but happier!)
This smaller-is-better, utopian-engineering approach has the enthusiastic backing of the United Nations. For example, a 2021 United Nations’ Environmental Program (UNEP) report entitled “Making Peace with Nature” notes that environmental degradation has gotten so bad that
only a system-wide transformation will achieve well-being for all within the Earth’s capacity to support life, provide resources and absorb waste. This transformation will involve a fundamental change in the technological, economic and social organization of society, including world views, norms, values and governance.5 [emphasis added]
The report continues:
With successful transformative change, the consumption of resources would decrease in wealthy contexts and increase sustainably elsewhere. … Human ambitions for a good life would no longer be centred around high levels of material consumption, but around rich relationships involving people and nature, in keeping with diverse traditions throughout the world.6 [emphasis added]
Sounds great! But what about those stubborn and unevolved people who kind of like “high levels of material consumption” as well as rich relationships with people and nature? Alas, there will be holdouts, the report tells us:
Opposition from vested interests to transformations aiming to secure a sustainable and prosperous future is to be expected but can be addressed. …. Individuals and organizations have habits, procedures and ways of doing business that can yield a reluctance and resistance to change. Individuals and organizations can also oppose change that disrupts their livelihoods, market share and revenues, or that otherwise appear unfair.6
Imagine! Opposing measures that will disrupt our livelihoods, market share or revenues or—gasp!—appear unfair! Fortunately, the report has an answer for dealing with these economic and social Luddites:
Some opposition can be addressed proactively by redirecting subsidies to steer workers and firms toward opportunities associated with transformative change. Programmes fostering a just transition can include, for instance, retraining workers from unsustainable industries and helping them relocate in order to take up new jobs.8
Well, that’s a relief. Once the brutish, selfish, capitalist supporters have been gently persuaded that losing their livelihoods, etc., is a Good Thing (if history is any guide, this “persuasion” will include repression, prisons, concentration camps/gulags, and executions, lots of executions), we’ll all be freed from our selfish human nature and operate on the principle of “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.” Does that phrasing sound familiar?
Giving up ‘liberty and individualism’
Lest anyone think this anti-Western, anti-freedom ideology is confined to the ivory-tower bureaucrats of the United Nations, in 2023 Health Canada—in other words, with the backing of the Government of Canada—produced a report, “What We Heard: Perspectives on Climate Change and Public Health in Canada,” that strongly suggests Western civilization has to go. The report is based on interviews with about 30 health professionals. One of them is quoted (anonymously) with the implicit approval of the report’s three authors. He/she writes:
Ultimately, there are three core values in western society, and for that matter, in global society, that have to change. One core value is about growth and materialism. The second core value is liberty and individualism, which has to be rethought because the kind of individualism that is preached by neo-liberals is part of the problem. It advances the individual over the collective, it says as long as I get what I want, bugger you, and it leads to a huge number of problems, and it undermines the collective process. A third core value that has to change is around our separation from nature, and [that] somehow, we’re separate and apart from nature.9 [emphasis added]
Bad enough we’re expected to give up “growth and materialism”; we also need to give up “liberty and individualism,” two “core values” that have made Western societies the richest and free-est in the world, a wealth and freedom that is gradually spreading to other parts of the globe (if the climate alarmists will allow it). Without “liberty and individualism” Western civilization would not exist.
Remaking human nature
As part of this utopian social engineering project, these reformers also want to remake human nature.
For example, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s most recent report (AR6) suggests that to reach Net Zero, we all must undergo an “inner transition.” It notes: “An inner transition within an individual typically involves a person gaining a deepening sense of peace and a willingness to help others, as well as protecting the climate and the planet.”10
In other words, our brains will be greenwashed until we’ve all learned to love Green Big Brother.
On my shelf is a 1981 book entitled The Reenchantment of the World, by historian Morris Berman that nicely encapsulates this climate-alarmist world view and the society it envisions, although it appeared before climate alarmism really took off.
Berman is highly critical of Western logical, rational, empirical, scientific thinking because this thinking divides up the world, so that our experience loses (or appears to lose) its primordial “unity” with nature/reality. It resembles Al Gore’s lament that
I believe our civilization is, in effect, addicted to the consumption of the earth itself. This addictive relationship distracts us from the pain of what we have lost: a direct experience of our connection to the vividness, vibrancy, and aliveness of the rest of the natural world. 11
As part of the European rationalist Enlightenment, Berman notes, “we hammered out a new way of perceiving reality,” shifting from “quality to quantity, from ‘why’ to ‘how’.”12 In other words, we have lost the sense of the “enchantment” of the world that less-rational, less-scientific peoples have (ostensibly) had, to (for Berman) our profound loss. Berman’s hope is that we can get this “enchantment” back.
If we do become “enchanted” again, then Berman, like Hancock and the other Net Zero believers, promises a much more fulfilling life for all of us! He writes:
Such a society would be preoccupied with fitting into nature rather than attempting to master it. … Technology will no longer pervade our consciousness and its presence will be more in the form of crafts and tools, things that lie within our control rather than the reverse. We will no longer depend on the technological fix, whether in medicine, agriculture, or anything else, but instead favor solutions that are long-term and address themselves to causes rather than symptoms.13
This future ideal society would be highly decentralized.
Characteristic of such decentralization are community hospitals and food co-operatives, the cultivation of neighborhood spirit and autonomy, and the elimination of such destroyers of community as television, automobiles, and expressways. Mass production will yield to craftsmanship, agribusiness to small, organic, labor-intensive farming, and centralized energy sources—especially nuclear power plants—to renewable energy options appropriate to their own regions…. One will not have a career but a life….14
In short, we would be returning to a social and economic version of the Middle Ages, which was clearly a much better time than today because, amidst the squalor, poverty, disease, early death, religious superstition and persecution at least we were “enchanted”! It’s “enchanted” people, after all, who believe in, say, witches.
Net Zero revives vision of Karl Marx
When I first read Berman’s book, and especially the paragraphs above, I thought, “How can any intelligent academic historian, much less any intelligent person, believe this nonsense, much less write a book about it?” The answer is simple: because Berman is a Marxist, in name or spirit or both.
Now, more than 40 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, after we’ve seen how badly communism continues to operate in countries like China and North Korea, it is astonishing that Marxism still has any credibility in the modern world. And yet, idealism will always exist, and this idealism often attaches itself to the vision of Karl Marx.
This is why Berman’s wonderful new “enchanted” world, and the utopian world envisioned by the United Nations (“Making Peace with Nature”) and the Canadian government (“What We Heard”), all sound pretty much like (or, really, identical to) Karl Marx’s imagined ideal community once communism had been fully achieved:
In communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wants, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, shepherd or critic.15
This ideal communist society is definitely something to look forward to, once we’ve gone through the messy (and murderous) “gulag” stage….
Using piecemeal engineering to tackle ‘climate change’
All of this social reform and “inner transitioning,” this loss of liberty and individualism, this decline in our standard of living, this move toward a smaller-scale, more communistic society, is excused, for Hancock and his fellow believers, because of the overarching problem of “climate change.”
But any psychologist will advise that you handle a large, amorphous problem by breaking the problem into manageable parts. Similarly, the “solution” to an apparently huge problem like “global warming” isn’t to dismantle Western civilization and replace it with a lower-tech socialist utopia that, like most utopias, will almost certainly make our lives worse.
The solution is to break the global-warming problem down to its component parts and then deal with each part through the “piecemeal engineering” approach that has worked well in the past. Also, the piecemeal approach allows us to continue to use fossil-fuel energy while we move gradually and organically to a new energy system, almost certainly nuclear, that can still sustain Western-style civilization.
We haven’t lost our “liberty and individualism” yet, which means we, the voters of Canada and other democratic nations, still have time to halt the utopian social-engineering project of the Net Zero believers. But the clock is ticking and history is clear that once freedom and prosperity is lost, there is no guarantee we will get them back.
This is an expanded version of an article that appeared in the June 30, 2023, online edition of the Victoria Times Colonist.
- Trevor Hancock webpage, https://trevorhancock.org/2023/06/27/climate-action-needs-a-greater-sense-of-urgency/ ↩
- Karl Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies, Vol. 1., p. 148. ↩
- McKinsey Global Institute, The Net Zero Transition: What it could cost—what it could bring. McKinsey & Co., January 2022, “In brief,” p. viii. Available online and in PDF format. ↩
- George Monbiot: Heat: How to Stop the Planet from Burning.Toronto: Anchor Canada, 2007, p. xv. ↩
- United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP), “Making Peace with Nature: A scientific blueprint to tackle the climate, biodiversity and pollution emergencies.” 2021, p. 15. Available online. ↩
- “Making Peace,” p. 29. ↩
- “Making Peace,” p. 29. ↩
- “Making Peace,” p. 29. ↩
- Heather Castleden, et al., “What We Heard: Perspectives on Climate Change and Public Health in Canada.” Public Health Agency of Canada, 2023. ↩
- IPCC, AR6, Working Group III, Chapter 17, Section 17.2, p. 1737. ↩
- Al Gore, Earth in the Balance: Ecology and the Human Spirit. Toronto: Penguin Books, 1993 (1992), pp. 220-224. ↩
- Berman, p. 29 ↩
- Morris Berman, The Reenchantment of the World. Cornell University Press, 1981, p. 45. ↩
- Berman, Reenchantment, p. 276. ↩
- Karl Marx, The German Ideology, “Feuerbach,” “1. History.” Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1968, p. 45. ↩