"This is probably the most difficult task we have ever given ourselves, which is to intentionally transform the economic development model, for the first time in human history. This is the first time in the history of mankind that we are setting ourselves the task of intentionally, within a defined period of time, to change the economic development model that has been reigning for the, at least, 150 years, since the industrial revolution."
Those were the words spoken on Feb. 4 by Christiana Figueres, the executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), under the auspices of which the international climate industry periodically gathers, debates, rides in limousines to the finest local restaurants, obfuscates and promotes such historic achievements as the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, the 2009 Copenhagen Accord, the 2010 Cancun Agreements, the 2011 Durbin Platform, the 2012 Doha Gateway, and — given sufficient prayer to Gaia — a new agreement scheduled to be hammered out in Paris next December.
Back to Figueres: Obviously she does not support mass famines or deportations or imprisonment. But neither does she seem to understand that a transformation of the "economic development model" is a repository of consequences unintended but predictable, the impoverishment of many millions of people foremost among them. More narrowly, she seems to have forgotten the party line, to wit, that the looming climate catastrophe can be deterred relatively easily, with some moderate shifts in energy technologies that will pay for themselves. And with some easy changes in land-use patterns, in vehicle choices, in food production and distribution, increased insulation and other such shifts at the margins.
After all, the policy of the Obama administration is an easy reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of about 20 percent below 2005 levels by 2025 — supposedly no sweat — a change that is supposed to offer salvation, defined as no more than 2 degrees of warming by 2100 as predicted by the climate models. All that is needed is an adjustment period and an international Green Climate Fund of $100 billion for the poorer economies, to be financed by the wealthier nations, a small sum representing only about one-tenth of 1 percent of world gross domestic product. The amount pledged thus far: $10.2 billion.
The happy story promoted by the climate industry — much gain, little pain — has mentioned nothing at all about a fundamental transformation of anything, let alone the "economic development model," that is, the basic organization of economic activity, one that has evolved over centuries as a response to the desperate need of billions of people to emerge from grinding poverty.
Obama during the 2008 presidential campaign promised a fundamental transformation of the United States of America, whatever that meant, but he never said anything about transforming the "economic development model," a silence unlikely to have been accidental in that any such goal contains within it myriad political land mines and an infinitely metastasizing series of questions. No American politician is willing to advocate our own version of Gosplan. Even now, the administration insists that the flexibility and adjustment periods allowed under its greenhouse gas policies will yield net economic outcomes strongly positive. No such modesty or prudence is required for the executive director of the UNFCCC; the intentional transformation of the economic development model is necessary, in that she believes what she believes because she believes it, along with everyone with whom she speaks. She simply knows that climate catastrophe looms, that fundamental economic transformations are needed to avert it, that the costs and dislocations are necessary and that omelets require broken eggs. Can Obama and the other Western leaders and the international politicians and the rest of the climate industry be happy that she has been so explicit about the real agenda? About that there are good reasons for doubt.
Zycher is the John G. Searle scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.