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He wood not, would he?

26 Feb 2020 | News Roundup

For more on the reality front, look at this week’s most unlikely climate story, which is saying a mouthful. It appears that in the birthplace and home of Magna Carta it will soon be illegal to put a log in your fireplace. At least unless it’s been dried in a kiln first. Using who knows what energy, and at what cost, since Britain intends to be carbon-neutral by 2050. Or rather its Prime Minister does. We won’t say his constituents are getting a lump of coal from Johnson, because apparently that substance is being banned too. By next year. Without warning and whether people want it or not. It seems Magna Carta, at least, can still be burned, on the green altar.

This measure is an extraordinary betrayal of Britons, many of whom the BBC points out bought wood stoves to benefit the environment just as they bought diesel cars, at their government’s urging, to do the same only to see the latter facing a total sales ban. Though in fact this measure isn’t ostensibly about climate change, it’s about local air pollution. And there’s no doubt that governments have the right, indeed the duty, to stop people from dumping unwanted things into their neighbours’ air, just as they do their water or their lawns. But measures must be rational, enjoy informed public support, and not change with bewildering kaleidoscopic speed.

Rather than focusing on the environmental impact, we want to talk here about the constitutional one. As John Locke laid down in 1691, “freedom of men under government is, to have a standing rule to live by, common to every one of that society, and made by the legislative power erected in it; a liberty to follow my own will in all things, where the rule prescribes not; and not to be subject to the inconstant, uncertain, unknown, arbitrary will of another man”. And governments’ tendency to disregard this principle led James Madison to warn in Federalist #62 roughly a century later that “It will be of little avail to the people that the laws are made by men of their choice if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood; if they be repealed or revised before they are promulgated, or undergo such incessant changes that no man, who knows what the law is today, can guess what it will be tomorrow.”

Environmental policy is fast reaching this point. That the police are increasingly wary of enforcing the law when it comes to climate protestors, from Britain to Ontario, is not helping matters. But voters just never know what zany rule will come over the hill next, not least because governments frequently have absolutely no idea what they are doing. Including the British government’s inspiration to get to net zero carbon by 2050, which by some estimates will cost over £3 trillion over 30 years, or £100,000 per household.

Now that’s a number from the Global Warming Policy Foundation, who some might be tempted to dismiss as being the usual skeptical suspects, and point to the British government’s own less scary numbers. But here’s the really scary thing. The British government has no numbers other than ones plucked from thin air for PR purposes. It has launched upon a project to destroy the existing economy and hope a new one descends from on high as clear as crystal, made of jasper and gold. And it didn’t ask first what if it doesn’t and we have to build it ourselves. Is this how self-government works? (It may be to a surprising degree in the EU where former Romanian president Traian Basescu warns that its Green New Deal may drive some members out the door.)

Many people have argued, plausibly, that the election of Boris Johnson was an important affirmation of democracy in Britain because of his determination, and effectiveness in carrying out the Brexit for which, rightly or wrongly, a majority voted in 2016. But it seems the British Prime Minister is now lurching disastrously in the other direction, imposing a radical green agenda on citizens of the UK about which they were not warned in the election. Including banning cars and, it now transpires, the sale of coal or “wet wood” while apparently hiking fuel taxes.

There are those who believe drastic steps are necessary including many American Democrats. For instance Senator Elizabeth Warren, seeking their presidential nomination, has just said the Green New Deal doesn’t go far enough and she wants a Blue New Deal, a total fracking ban, to make the entire world give up oil (not in an imperialist way, you understand), a national mobilization unseen since World War II and much much more. Which reminds us of a line from Alfred Venn Dicey in a different context that “legislators must go mad before they could pass such a law, and subjects be idiotic before they could submit to it”. But at least Sen. Warren is running this idea past Democratic primary voters in order to put it to American voters generally, to see whether they have indeed become idiotic.

As for those in authority going mad or seeming to, as we noted last week, a great many would-be reputable people seem to have been going along with the alarmist rhetoric without thinking anyone would take it seriously, only to find that it has now become pervasive in schools, the media, politics and to a surprising degree in the business community and that we are now therefore in the process of enacting radical measures whose costs will be enormous and their benefits small. It is past time they recovered their senses.

We get comments periodically on our CDN videos saying even if the alarmists turn out to be wrong, it’s just too risky to do “nothing” so we should take prudent counter-measures. The problem is that by the alarmists’ own arguments and models, it’s not a question of doing nothing or doing something prudent. Rather, it’s a question of doing something incredibly radical like ceasing to emit CO2 within a quarter-century and accomplishing “nothing”; even if every nation on Earth met its Paris Accord targets, the effect would be vanishingly small.

It is crucial to understand that when the great and good, in Britain or elsewhere, get some sudden inspiration and thrust it upon an unprepared and unwilling populace, it has very real costs especially for the poor who may, in this instance, be unable to heat their homes properly in winter, causing suffering, illness and death. It is for this reason that over many centuries controls were placed on the awesome power of government to take measures without regard for their consequences to others, a process in which Magna Carta was a crucial landmark.

As against these safeguards, as William Pitt the Younger memorably said in 1783 (channeling John Milton) “Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves.” The Daily Express says many people in the UK are furious about this capricious new rule and rightly so, and even Johnson's own colleagues seem surprised and dismayed by this sudden and unheralded plunge into the great green yonder without a mandate.

If it is necessary to ban coal, or normal wood, from the homes of citizens, let them be asked about it frankly and permitted to vote.

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