The decision to halt the global economy during the pandemic produced the largest annual decline in carbon emissions on record. 2020 saw a 5.8 percent decrease in CO2 (-2.4 billion tonnes). April saw the most significant drop: a seventeen percent fall in global carbon emissions. Eco-socialists say that this proves their degrowth model of demolishing economic prosperity to reduce emissions is the only way to address climate change. At a Durham University debate, Extinction Rebellion spokeswoman Clare Farrell advocated repurposing pandemic emergency measures to reduce carbon emissions and redistribute wealth. Were this only the opinion of extremist activists, we’d need not be worried. But ‘climate lockdowns’ have captured the imagination of policymakers in the international community. Climate lockdowns are unconscionable and unsustainable. If we are to combat climate change, it must not be done at the expense of human freedom or economic prosperity.
Lockdowns remain on the table for many governments. A World Health Organization treaty, proposing a global surveillance pact to identify and react in a timely and uniform fashion to potential pandemics, has attracted 194 countries as cosignatories. China still holds sway over the WHO; despite their fresh round of lockdowns, which go against the WHO’s current advice. Therefore, critics remain sceptical that this supra-national declaration threatens the universal imposition of lockdowns as the go-to method of pandemic planning, with no room for domestic democratic opposition.
But why stop with infectious diseases? The WHO calls climate change ‘the biggest health threat facing humanity’. As such, Mariana Mazzucato, advisor to the WHO has hypothesized that ‘the world may need to resort to lockdowns again – this time to tackle a climate emergency.’ India took this suggestion seriously. In New Delhi, officials proposed lockdowns to reduce air pollution. India’s COVID lockdowns reduced national carbon emissions by thirty percent — resulting in arguments that their economic development should be sacrificed to curb global climate change.
In Britain, the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) transitioned from prescribing pandemic policy to giving opinions on climate change. Sir David King, Head of Independent SAGE, hopes to turn ‘All 12 members [of Independent SAGE] into media personalities’ to influence climate policy. Independent SAGE unanimously supported lockdowns; spearheaded by lifelong communist Professor Susan Michie, who argued social control measures should stay ‘forever’.
It is not unreasonable to fear the slippery-slope of nudges becoming shoves. The easiest means to ensure the demise of market prosperity is to halt economic activity for an emergency, and blame the resulting suffering on the paused system. In The New Statesman, Paul Mason heralded a climate crisis as the demise of capitalism: arguing a ‘Stalinist planned economy […] might be the only thing that’s going to achieve the rapid reduction in carbon emissions we need.’ Mazzucato and the WEF agree: arguing the near-unanimous response of countries to COVID demonstrates a need for corporations and international bodies to ‘do capitalism differently’, and introduce ‘some Marxism’ to fight climate change.
XR, Insulate Britain, and their ilk would similarly shepherd society from capitalism to eco-socialism via a ‘People’s Assembly’. This committee of unelected activists constitutes a ‘Revolutionary Vanguard Party’: a group of ideologues who conduct a revolution claiming to represent the working class. To fulminate revolutionary fervour, people must become discontented with the status quo. To engineer this instability at the foundation of our social hierarchy, radicals advocate ‘accelerationism’: the intentional sabotage of institutions and supply-chains to blame the resulting immiseration on capitalism. Lockdowns are, therefore, an ideal weapon for anti-capitalists, who would use climate change like a Trojan Horse to insist socialism will ‘save the planet’.
But like socialism, the pandemic strategy which relied on confiscating freedoms produced disastrous consequences. A John Hopkins study found lockdowns reduced mortality by only 0.2 percent; while the UN fears lockdown-induced supply-chain disruptions means ‘COVID-related hunger could kill more people than the virus’. Ongoing shortages include fuel, food, and baby formula. Deaths from despair and other diseases have eclipsed deaths from COVID in various age groups. These deaths of despair and privation are worsened by the economic collapse. Global debt has reached a record $303 trillion. Bringing the economy to a halt for either COVID or climate change will always have human costs.
Preventing economic prosperity not only produces harmful negative externalities: it is also an extremely costly way to eliminate emissions. Furthermore, many countries cannot ‘leapfrog’ to cleaner energy technologies and commit resources to environmental protection without reducing the cost of those technologies and increasing their levels of wealth. Per the Environmental Kuznets Curves: the faster a nation’s economic development, the faster it adopts environmentally conscious policies. Crashing economies prolongs the emissions-heavy stage of economic development. According to MIT climate scientist Kerry Emanuel, we should encourage India’s industrialisation, so that they can adopt the clean energy technologies on our horizon.
As C3’S recent Free Economies report shows that the instruments of ensuring economic prosperity — private property rights, free trade and investment, and a clear and universally applied rule of law— are equally conducive to environmental wellbeing. The state control necessary to enforce lockdown measures would sabotage all of that. If we truly care about sustainability and human rights, then lockdowns aren’t the answer to lowering emissions.
Connor Tomlinson is the Head of Research for the British Conservation Alliance. He appears regularly in American Spectator and on talkRadio. Follow him on Twitter: @Con_Tomlinson