Paul Krugman: Coal, Cash, and Bad Faith
Tom Bachtell/The New Yorker
President Trump, in March 2017, signed an executive order rolling
back many of President Barack Obama's climate change initiatives.
If there is any lasting benefit from the Trump era — which is by no means a sure thing, since democracy may not survive the experience — it will lie in the Great Unmasking: the revelation of just how much bad faith pervades modern conservatism.
Some of us, of course, knew this all along, and are not surprised. Conversely, many centrists and much of the news media simply refuse to face up to the asymmetry of our politics and will persist with bothsidesism even as one side drives us into the abyss. But one can at least hope that the constant revelations of past hypocrisy will have some impact.
These revelations come on many fronts. Flag-waving super-patriots who called Democrats unpatriotic are perfectly OK when Republicans actively collude with foreign dictators. Pious invokers of fiscal responsibility and hysterical debt alarmists are perfectly OK with tax cuts that explode the deficit. Professors who denounce campus political correctness as the greatest threat we face to free speech collude with right-wing activists to conduct opposition research on left-wing students .
Rather oddly, some of the few people on the right who really seem to believe what they were saying are foreign policy neoconservatives. They misled us into a disastrous war; but they appear to have been sincere about their national security concerns, and are among the few Republicans who remain steadfast in their Never Trumpism. (Curse you, Donald Trump, for making me feel some respect for Bill Kristol!)
But almost everyone else on the right is revealing his true face. And now comes energy and environmental policy.
Over the past 40 years or so conservatives have become ever more strident in their attacks on environmental protection. They questioned the science; they insisted that any attempt to limit emissions would greatly damage economic growth; they denounced government intervention and declared the sanctity of free markets (even though Econ 101 calls for intervention in the case of negative “externalities” like pollution.)
But none of it was sincere. Climate skeptics have repeatedly given the game away, for example by touting new studies that they insisted would refute global warming, then rejecting those studies when they confirmed it. Economists who tout the limitless ability of markets to cope with change suddenly proclaim them utterly incapable of adapting to a carbon tax.
And now all that talk about free markets is revealed as the sham it always was.
Ten years ago the big debate was whether we should adopt a comprehensive strategy to limit greenhouse gas emissions. For a while it seemed possible that we'd adopt a cap-and-trade system that would in effect place a price on carbon. That effort failed; still, the Obama administration used administrative authority to try to nudge us away from the climate apocalypse.
Even more important, however, technology has been coming to our rescue. The single biggest source of greenhouse emissions, the thing we really need to stop, is coal-fired electricity generation (which has lots of other public health costs too.) And a funny thing happened: coal-fired power became uneconomical. Instead of building new plants, we're retiring old ones.
Partly this was the result of cheap natural gas thanks to fracking. Increasingly, however, we're looking at the effects of the technological revolution in renewables, which has produced spectacular declines in the cost of wind and solar power. Even if you believe in the sanctity of free markets — which you shouldn't — you should recognize that markets are now driving a great transition to clean energy.
So is the Trump administration accepting this market verdict? Of course not: as with trade, it's abusing powers granted to defend national security on behalf of destructive policies that have nothing to do with security. In this case, it's planning to force clean energy to subsidize dirty energy .
Why? Probably the main reason is sheer corruption: coal moguls are key Trump backers, and he's trying to reward them. But there's also, I suspect, the sheer meanspiritedness that characterizes modern conservatism: “Liberals want clean energy? Hah! We'll show them!”
Campaign contributions from the coal industry
In any case, it's yet another demonstration of the pervasive bad faith of the conservative movement. Nothing they said about their reasons for opposing climate policy were sincere, and now they're perfectly willing to ditch all their supposed principles to keep the coal fires burning.
Paul Krugman is an American economist who is currently Distinguished Professor of Economics at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, a Nobel Prize-winning Op-Ed columnist comments on economics and politics for The New York times. Petroleumworld does not necessarily share these views.
This commentary was originally published by The New York Times on June 2, 2018. Petroleumworld reprint this article in the interest of our readers and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Petroleumworld and its owners.
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