Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s call for a $10 trillion Green New Deal has been replicated worldwide. The UK’s Labour Party backed a motion for a “socialist green new deal” at last year’s annual conference — after cross-party support by elected MPs. The European Union has committed over €600 billion ($6.6 billion) to a “European Green Deal,” promising “economic growth decoupled from resource use.” South Korea signed a 73.4 trillion won ($60 billion) Green New Deal into law during the pandemic. Activists have pushed similar efforts in Canada, and even internationally via the UN. But the problem with all these expensive frameworks for addressing climate change is the misconception that more state control of the economy will improve the environment. Both in principle and in practice, socialism has inflicted more climate and humanitarian crises than it has solved.
Roger Scruton once wrote that the picturesqueness of England’s countryside was the product of protected private property rights. It has also been documented how developments of the agricultural and industrial revolution did away with wood-burning and slash-and-burn farming for food and fuel, making way for a rejuvenation of Britain’s forests. Fear of the wilderness was converted, culturally, into the forefather of conservatism, Edmund Burke’s reverence for the sublime — with the creation of Romantic and Transcendentalist poetry following suit. Without innovation, we’d have no shift from dominion to stewardship, and no resulting artistic appreciation for nature. Internalising incentive structures is the key to conservation — particularly for nature’s beauty and necessary resources. This is why Environmental Kuznets Curves so closely correlate the successful pursuit of economic prosperity with environmental wellness across societies.
Quite conversely, as Steven Pinker conceptualised, environmental degradation is a Tragedy of the Commons problem: with the inability to afford incentives to improve air quality or reduce pollution, environmental neglect can quickly become out of hand. . Public property is always “someone else’s problem” — which is why entropy sets in so quickly, and upkeep is so infrequent. This is the system of perverse incentives that socialist economies are predicated on.
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Despite Sino-Soviet Alliance propaganda depicting a thriving people among flourishing flora and fauna, Soviet Russia’s environmental record was one of extraction, exploitation, and extinction. Marxist materialism strips the soul of any environmentalist sentiment. Gulag survivor Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn attested to how forced labour induced a hatred of “the forest, this beauty of the earth, whose praises have been sung in verse and prose,” with walks beneath “arches of pine and birch” inducing “a shudder of revulsion.” This relentless plundering also occurred at sea: with Soviet whalers responsible for ninety-eight percent of blue whales, and ninety-two percent of humpbacks, killed after the 1966 ban.
The same occurred in China. Jiang Hua, party secretary of Zhejiang, asked county leaders to “actively shape nature” via Lysenkoism: the application of Marxist principles to the planting and cultivation of agricultural crops. Seeds were placed close together, in shallow plots, with the belief that comradeliness prevents plants from the same “class” from competing. Mao Zedong also declared war on rats, flies, mosquitoes, and sparrows in 1958, to “conquer nature” and increase crop yields. A reliance on the indiscriminate use of poisons killed wolves, rabbits, snakes, lambs, chickens, ducks, dogs, and pigeons. The food chain was decimated, sparrows were eliminated, and insect infestations increased, depleting whole planted fields. Sixty percent of fields in Nanjing suffered insect damage in 1960. The resulting widespread crop failures and famines contributed thirty million to the estimated forty-to eighty-million killed by Mao’s Great Leap Forward.
Socialist approaches to solving conservation challenges kill profit incentives and internalise the ideological errors of its enforcers into the systems and practices applying its dictates. Planned-economic models fall afoul of laws of diminishing returns. Psychologists Buss & Durkee found that a model of societal organisation, which decentralised resources by making them rewards for displays of confidence, and defended unearned expropriations of those fairly-gotten gains, is stable and prosperous Peterson, and Piaget’s “equilibrated states hypothesis” similarly modelled the effects of enforcement costs on hierarchical societies. Over time, the voluntary, reciprocally rewarded behaviours of citizens in free states cause them to be more productive and law-abiding. This explains how the Soviet Union’s escalating tyranny produced eventual bankruptcy compared to the U.S. during the Cold War.
Part of the problem with socialism is the decentralisation and dispersal of knowledge. Mises & Hayek explained that no bureaucrat or commissar can keep pace with the rate of innovation — meaning the state’s information is always outdated, and inadequate for accurately setting prices or targets. Only the rapid and organic dissemination of information via free-exchange and innovation can solve any climate crisis.
But what if the environmental degradation perpetrated by dystopian communist dictatorships is, as contemporary socialists like Naomi Klein argue, because “real communism has never been tried”? Marx & Engels endorsed a “Dictatorship of the Proletariat,” as a mechanism to nebulously transition capitalism into stateless, classless communism. If such a reprehensible idea is inherent in the founding texts, is it any wonder that socialism produces corrupt and repressive totalitarianism everywhere it is replicated?
The ideological pitfalls and abhorrent track record of socialism prove that its ideas are anathema to human nature, and inadequate for solving any climate change challenges. Conservation is contingent on property rights, profit incentives, and market competition.
We should be thankful that we can go green, while keeping our consciences clean.
Connor Tomlinson is the Head of Research for the British Conservation Alliance and a political commentator for Young Voices UK. He appears regularly in American Spectator and on talkRadio. Follow him on Twitter: @Con_Tomlinson