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What "Climate Justice" Really Means

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09/24/2019

According to the organizers of the global climate strike — the biggest in history — more than four million people went to the streets on Friday to demand more drastic action in the fight against global warming. 250,000 protested only in New York City, 330,000 in Australia, and perhaps most impressively, a full 1.4 million in Germany. If it wasn’t before, the environmental activism, led by the 16-year-old Swedish schoolgirl Greta Thunberg, has become a global mass movement. Throughout the West, the “Green Wave” has been picking up steam politically as well, with Green New Deals being planned on both sides of the Atlantic and environmental parties surging ever further in the polls.

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With this many people heading to the streets and so many being worried of the coming climate crises, it seems to be just a matter of time until politicians would react, fearing a massive loss of voters. And in Germany, they did on Friday, when Angela Merkel’s government presented its Klimapaket, i.e., climate package. Under pressure, the government decided to act — and as expected, it wasn’t pretty for taxpayers of all stripes, though particularly for low-income earners.

The Plan

To sum up quickly, a carbon tax will be introduced for gas, starting with €10 per ton of CO2 in 2021, but increasing to €35 in 2025. This is not necessarily high when one looks at the greater debate on how high a carbon tax could be, and yet, it will have an effect for car owners, who will have to pay 12 cents per liter more in the end, increasing gas prices that are already three to four times as high as in the US. In addition, the car tax will be increased for cars that pollute significantly and domestic flights — or as they are also called, “dumping flights” — will cost at least €30 more. The quasi-state-run train company, which is known for its notoriously bad service and delays and gets outcompeted even by private bus services at this point (not to mention private train companies in neighboring countries), will get some additional subsidies.

Of course, the German government did its best to make it seem as though this reform package would not just mean higher costs. Commuting allowances would be increasing starting at a commute of 21 kilometers (13 miles), meaning a tax break for those traveling a longer way to get to work (talking about setting wrong incentives “for the environment”). Almost 75 percent of Germans have a commute of less than 21km, though, meaning the tax break is only useful for a minority. At the same time, the electricity prices are supposed to be reduced by around €30 a year — but it is difficult to see this as anything other than a nice, small tweak on the abhorrently high electricity prices which came into being due to some other ill-conceived environmental activism by the government.

While these “reforms” could have been, let’s be frank about this, much worse, the reactions to them from the climate strikers are much more interesting — and show how many of them have left the realm of rational political debate long ago. The German government, in their view, of course didn’t go nearly far enough. Indeed, we're told, the government proved to be mere traitors to the world, full of — as the Chairman of the Green Party put it — “cold-heartedness” of which he was completely “horrified.”

Donate today and receive this bookletWhat "Climate Justice" Means

What the climate apostles of today want instead goes much farther. They want to attain climate justice, something which sounds similar to another famous weasel term, namely social justice, and in fact is even more similar than one thinks at first. As Robert Colvile, the Director of the British Centre for Policy Studies, showed, reaching this goal includes a complete abandonment of nuclear power and fossil fuels by 2030 — a rather costly endeavor to say the least. The climate goals also require the rejection of new technologies such as geoengineering and carbon capture and storage. “Justice” requires massive financial transfers from the industrialized to the developing world. “Justice” demands food sovereignty (“culturally appropriate food markets”), and “agro-ecology,” which means “an explicit focus on social and economic dimensions of food system” as well as “a strong focus on the rights of women, youth and indigenous peoples.”

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Worst of all, “non-market approaches” are the only ones deemed worthy of being taken into consideration. Indeed, the market economy itself has to be abolished to stop global warming. As Colvile puts it, “the ideas behind the climate strike movement are fundamentally illiberal.”

Luckily, though, environmentalism doesn’t have to be socialist. Nothing is wrong with wanting to protect natural wonders and trying to alleviate climate processes that would destroy these wonders and the livelihood of millions, if not billions of people. It is understandable that Greta and others want to protect this world.

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For this, however, they perhaps should consider the market economy, their own declared enemy, as the lifeboat of the world. It is not only that we can fight environmental degradation while we can keep our capitalist system alive (as far as it still exists). This capitalist system may actually be helpful in that very fight. And in contrast to government-mandated “climate justice,” innovation and technological progress thanks to entrepreneurs wouldn’t bring with it mass unemployment and major economic distress, but greater prosperity.

Kai Weiss is the Research and Outreach Coordinator at the Austrian Economics Center and a board member of the Hayek Institute. Follow him on Twitter.

Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.
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