It seems fair to say that rarely has a gathering of so many doing so little gotten so much attention. But the Copenhagen summit does have its uses. For starters, it reminds us that environmentalism continues to be a cover for uglier agendas.
Bolivian president Evo Morales was interviewed by Al-Jazeera television while in Copenhagen. "The principal obstacle to combating climate change is capitalism," he explained. "Until we put an end to capitalism, it will continue to be a big obstacle for life and humanity."
Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe proclaimed in a speech: "When these capitalist gods of carbon burp and belch their dangerous emissions, it's we, the lesser mortals of the developing sphere, who gasp and sink and eventually die."
Right. That is, unless Mugabe kills them first.
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The big name in the anti-capitalism club was, of course, Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan national-socialist strongman. In a typical stem-winder, he belched: "Capitalism is a destructive model that is eradicating life, that threatens to put a definitive end to the human species."
I don't know how to say "chutzpah" in Spanish, but you've got to hand it to the leader of the world's No. 5 supplier of oil for bemoaning the system that keeps his regime afloat by buying his product.
Now, I know that nice, moderate progressive types are rolling their eyes at my cynical effort to associate their noble activism with support for socialism and thugs. Fair enough. Let us concede that many, perhaps even most, proponents of draconian restrictions on carbon emissions have no sympathy for socialist dictators and do not want to chuck capitalism in the dustbin of history. But surely it should trouble these responsible greens that they're in bed with a "Star Wars" cantina of villains and monsters.
Also, if environmentalists want to avoid the "watermelon" charge ("green on the outside, red on the inside"), maybe the delegates and activists in the audience shouldn't have given Chavez such a loud and boisterous round of applause. Perhaps the folks who gave him a standing ovation didn't help either.
The simple truth is that hostility to freedom (i.e., economic liberty and political democracy) and fondness for non-democratic statism suffuse much of the environmental movement. I will confess to having a minor obsession with New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, who consistently writes of his confessed envy for China's authoritarian regime. But I am trying to wean myself off Friedman-bashing lest he get a restraining order.
So consider instead Diane Francis, a ballyhooed Canadian pundit. In a recent Financial Post column, Francis wrote that the "'inconvenient truth' overhanging the UN's Copenhagen conference is not that the climate is warming or cooling, but that humans are overpopulating the world." She insists that "the only way to reverse the disastrous global birthrate" is to implement a "planetary law, such as China's one-child policy."
Population control has always been at the heart of the progressive project, so it's no surprise that it's in fashion once again.
But Francis' proposal is particularly disgusting, not least because Francis has two children. I think the hypocrisy charge is overused in political debate these days, but when you tout a totalitarian police state's population policy of, among other things, forced abortions, you might try harder to practice what you preach. Think globally, act locally and all that.
But Francis' argument is also stunningly stupid, as are virtually all of the complaints about capitalism being the root of the problem.
The historical record is clear: Democratic free-market nations are better at protecting their environments than statist regimes for the simple reason that they can afford to. West Germany's environment was far cleaner than East Germany's. I'd much sooner drink the tap water in South Korea than North Korea.
Mugabe rails against capitalism as if he has a better idea of how to run things. That's almost funny, given that Mugabe has destroyed what was once a great cause for hope in Africa, in large part by abandoning capitalism and democracy. Zimbabwe now has the highest inflation rate in the world and one of the lowest life expectancies. Let's hope nobody was taking notes when he was giving out advice.
Moreover, capitalism, and the wealth it creates, is the best means of bending down the population curve. Don't take my word for it. The United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change acknowledges that "affluence is correlated with long life and small families" and that growing prosperity will cause world population to decline even further.
Want to know the best way to heal the planet? Create more rich countries. Want to know the best way to hurt the planet? Throw a wet blanket on economic growth.