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Transatlantic Blog

Climate change: Regulations vs. results

Christians believe we should be good stewards of the earth, and for some the issue has taken on apocalyptic dimensions. Yet faith leaders, including the leaders of multiple worldwide Christian communions, have ignored the most effective method for reducing carbon emissions while praising counterproductive policies.

There is no doubt about the extent of concern. A  recent Gallup poll found that 70 percent of young Americans worry about climate change, and people aged 18 to 34 are the first generation in which a majority believes climate change will “pose a serious threat in your lifetime.” So pronounced is the hysteria that some members of that generation believe the world will end in a dozen years.

People of all ages, including global religious leaders, have condemned politicians who oppose economic regimentation and industrial regulation. Yet the greatest reduction in carbon dioxide emissions came from the market rather than the state, writes Philip Booth of St. Mary’s University at Twickenham on the blog of the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA).

“The issues most Christians (including Pope Francis) tend to focus on when criticising Trump are the proposed ‘Wall’ to keep out migrants and his opposition to joining international regulatory initiatives in relation to climate change (which critics compare unfavourably with the EU’s support),” Booth writes.

While the pontiff and Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby praise the EU’s intentions, its top-down statist approach has not yielded the results produced by U.S. openness to the free market. Under a less regulated energy market U.S. carbon emissions fell to the lowest level in decades, even as they rose by 50 percent worldwide. The Tribune News Service reported late last December that increasing use of natural gas is “the single biggest factor” – and this has been made possible largely through the expanded fracking:

It’s not just carbon. The combined emissions of six key air pollutants dropped 73 percent between 1970 and 2017 even while GDP soared 262 percent and energy consumption rose 44 percent increased. … EPA data show that natural gas system methane emissions decreased 16.3 percent while natural gas production jumped more than 51 percent between 1990 and 2015.

Rest assured, of all the proffered solutions to reducing carbon emissions, increased fracking made no central planner’s list.

Meanwhile in the EU, Booth writes, the “labyrinthine and complex networks of regulation” spiraling out of Brussels receive the praise of Pope Francis and Abp. Welby. Leftists, religious or otherwise, similarly laud its member states’ social welfare policies. And yet these patchwork regulations work to opposite ends.

He writes:

In 2017, the German government spent €2.7 billion subsidising coal production whilst ostensibly regulating markets in order to reduce carbon emissions. The total value of energy subsidies in the EU (estimated by the EU itself) is €113 billion excluding transport subsidies. This leads directly to increased emissions. And, as we see, the effect of the government interventions is the precise opposite of the declared intention.

The United States has reduced its carbon emissions even as the EU – intentions firmly fixed in the right place, regulatory statutes drawn up by the greatest technocrats the continent has to offer – has lagged behind.

It should be underscored that even as CO2 emissions fell in the United States, energy use increased. This no mere statistical curiosity: It means greater warmth in the winter, lifesaving air conditioning in the summer, and – in a literal sense – greater light in the darkness. Conversely, Europe’s attempt to lumber away from fossil fuels toward not-yet-reliable renewable energy subjects its citizens to periodic blackouts akin to those in the developing world.

In a free market economy, energy producers offer cleaner and more abundant energy out of economic incentives, as well as self-preservation.

Christians concerned about climate change should look at results, not intentions, and “judge not according to the appearance, but judge just judgment” (St. John 7:24).

(Photo credit: Public domain.)

Rev. Ben Johnson is a senior editor at the Acton Institute. His work focuses on the principles necessary to create a free and virtuous society in the transatlantic sphere (the U.S., Canada, and Europe). He earned his Bachelor of Arts in History summa cum laude from Ohio University and was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa.