More than ever before, we are conscious of our impact on the planet. Awareness of climate change and a desire to see world leaders do something about it are both at record highs. Unfortunately, the approaches favoured by western governments are not working. Climate policies are failing to slow down the warming of the planet and, alarmingly, often carry substantial side effects that undermine our wallets and our basic liberties. Luckily, there is another way – a policy approach which brings together climate and freedom.
The general public’s awareness of the climate and humanity’s impact on it is growing. According to polling by the European Commission, a whopping 93% of EU citizens see climate change as a serious problem. We see what is happening around us. Greenhouse gas emissions warm the atmosphere, which harms both people and the environment. There is a strong political imperative around the world for policy action on climate change.
Politicians across the globe feel compelled to take up the climate mantle and ensure their country is doing its bit to save the planet. Sadly, the policies they come up with are often ineffective, short-sighted, and cause more problems than they solve. The EU’s approach to climate policy, for example, centres around the European Green Deal, whose costs are spiralling and whose effects on citizens and businesses are substantial.
The problem with this approach, which is not unique to the EU, is the interventionist way it tries to solve environmental problems. From carbon dioxide emissions to agriculture regulations and planning restrictions, policymakers seem determined to centralise decision-making and erect barriers to progress. Their policies make people poorer, indirectly by dissuading investment and growth and sometimes directly through punitive taxes. They make doing business more difficult and they seem suggest a worldview wherein the only way to protect the environment is to build less and consume less.
The consequences of these mistakes are unfortunate. Pushback against environmental policy is growing. While there is near-universal consensus among the public about the need to save the planet, we are becoming more divided than ever on the question of where to find the right kind of environmental policy. But there is a solution.
By looking forwards rather than backwards, up rather than down, policymakers can embrace a climate agenda which both protects the natural world and empowers individuals to become wealthier and freer. The error in the decision-making process of the EU and countless national governments is to focus on the past, assuming that the only way to stop our assault on the planet is to bring technological progress, innovation, and growth to a grinding halt. The things we’re consuming, such as meat and flights, are causing climate change, so we should consume less of them, goes the argument.
This is not the case. The truth is much more optimistic. We are already seeing ways in which we can continue to benefit from innovation in environmentally friendly ways. From lab-grown meat to sustainable fuel for aeroplanes, the open market is doing what it does best and finding ways to help people enjoy the things they choose in a sustainable way. There is a role for regulators, especially when it comes to ensuring safe and productive innovation in these fields. But the driving force is consumer demand and private investment, not top-down regulation from the government.
A movement is beginning to build behind the idea of combining climate policy with freedom. The Climate & Freedom International Coalition is a group of policymakers, researchers, economists, and more who have banded together to present actionable policy suggestions to help advance environmental goals without compromising freedoms. The Climate & Freedom Accord sets out how forward-looking policies based on free trade, deregulation, and lower taxes can help, not hinder, the environmental cause.
Time is running out to confront environmental issues. Rather than trying to control and reroute the economy through aggressive central planning, as the European Green Deal attempts to do, the EU and governments across Europe would do well to harness the power of innovation sooner rather than later. Climate and freedom go together; we shoot ourselves in the foot by lurching for one while neglecting the other.