This book is about freedom. It is about its loss as a result of policies designed to slow down what is presumed to be man-made global warming.
Avoiding planetary catastrophe gives a president and the executive branch a higher dispensation than that granted by the Constitution. Obamacare was implemented under the Affordable Care Act, passed by Congress in 2010. Implementation of the Clean Power Plan is by administrative fiat and the Senate was bypassed when the US ratified the 2015 Paris Agreement. What we see here is important, that America’s eighteenth century Constitution should not be allowed to impede a project in which society is to be radically transformed through the agency of the state. As the embodiment of an ideal of freedom, the Constitution is incompatible with a project that is alien to the tradition of liberty flowing from America’s founding, though not to the ideologies, originating in Europe, from which the project first sprang. The two cannot co-exist. One or other will prevail and define America for decades to come.
America has had such an enormous impact on the modern world and the huge gap between American hard power and the rest of the world sometimes blinds Americans – especially American conservatives – to America’s vulnerability to other countries’ soft power. America invented Earth Day in 1970 and gave birth to post-war environmentalism with Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (1962). Yet even these seemingly all-American products drew on ideas from across the Atlantic and from across the historical chasm of the Second World War; the cancer chapter in Silent Spring, for instance, was influenced by the Nazis’ belief that industrialization was causing a cancer epidemic.
If there is a purely American strand of environmentalism, the demands it made on America were fairly limited. The costs of banning DDT – the principal policy consequence of Silent Spring – were mainly inflicted on Africans exposed to the risk of malaria. Thanks to the availability of cheap substitutes, phasing out CFCs a decade-and-a-half later to preserve the ozone layer hardly required Americans to change their lifestyles. Preserving habitats and wildernesses did not necessitate transforming American society and culture.
There is a strand of American apocalyptic thinking that was first initiated by scientists after 1945 in reaction to the atomic bomb. But this scarcely amounted to an ideological challenge to the basis of American capitalism. That came when it was mixed with the post-Marxist environmentalism developed by German exiles and subsequently weaponized by the Progressive Left in America. They were the prophets who prepared the way. Their student followers in Germany would come to form the leadership of the Greens in the early 1980s. The Greens are a link with another group of prophets; prophets because, active within the Nazism in the 1920s and the 1930s, chronologically they came first and because Nazi ecological politics were rehabilitated by the Greens and would come to form part of mainstream German and then European politics. What united them was a deep hostility to capitalism and the free market. Against them stands the Jeremiah of capitalism. Far from wishing to see capitalism fail, Joseph Schumpeter foresaw its death coming from its own hand, although he could not have seen that the instrument it would use to turn up itself would be environmentalism.
This, then, is the ideological landscape across which the action unfolds. At the end of the 1960s, whilst American environmentalists were focusing their efforts on banning DDT, Sweden was putting the world’s coal-fired power stations in the cross-hairs when it made acid rain the top environmental problem. By making energy policy the focus of international action, it gave environmentalism an escalator to transform the basis of industrial civilization. In the past, waves of innovation have transformed the fabric of American society and vastly improved Americans’ quality of life. None was as transformational as cheap, ubiquitous electrical power. It bade farewell to the age of steam, gaslight and paraffin. Grid-supplied electricity is the technology that separates the twentieth century from the nineteenth on which the technologies of our own century depend. It helped trigger a social revolution. Electrical appliances replaced domestic servants and the liberation of women from household drudgery began. This is different – a planned societal and cultural transformation directed by the administrative state.
Within a year of Barack Obama’s election to the White House, such a transformation was being discussed by European climate change radicals and senior Democrats at a conference in Germany. Where Europe led, America would follow. This book tells the story of two countries and three environmental scares. Two originated in Sweden (acid rain and global warming) and one (the nuclear winter) was transmitted from Moscow via Stockholm.