Debugging Common Myths on Green Policies: Interview with Cormac Lucey

Environment - November 4, 2023

Editor’s note: At the margin of the ECR Conference in Kilkenny, Ireland, The Conservative met with Cormac Lucey, a finance expert on the Faculty of Trinity College Dublin and a speaker at the Conference itself. This is the interview he has released to our readers.

In your very vocal intervention to you have underscored that Green policies are threatening our Western societies. How?

The West is making three cardinal errors by adopting the Green agenda so unreservedly.

Then lets start with the first.

The first strategic error of the Green economy is that it is a concept that exists independently of any cost/benefit analysis. It might, perhaps, be understandable if a left-wing political leader were to cling to “net zero” as a policy victory. But is it not extraordinary that a conservative leader, such as Theresa May, should cling to it.

And does it not demonstrate the raw, emotional power that the concept of the Green economy has?

That power represents a political tripwire that opponents of the concept must be very careful to confront. We live in an era where the software of a liberal society is being quietly and slowly erased. For a liberal society needed to be maintained politically, that must be political action, political discussion and political compromise. It can only be kept going by compromises, political stratagems and coalitions. One of the features of modern liberalism is that it wants to take more and more issues out of politics, so that they can’t be contested at all. To establish them as rights, legal rights, or in some way whereby they’re put beyond political questioning. There are many in Europe who want the Green economy to enjoy this status, where it becomes a matter of legal obligation rather than democratic decision-making. But the fatal strategic and operational errors from which the Green economy suffers are too great for this position to be sustainable.

Getting back to the list of cardinal errors…

The second strategic error of the Green economy is that the West would be better expending resources on adaptation to climate change than on a vain effort to reverse it by actions in one corner of the world. As the philosopher and writer John Carey has observed: People might say, “But we’ve got to, we’ve got to show that we’re on the right side, we’ve got to accomplish it, even if other people don’t do it.” I think that’s the politics of narcissism: “I want to feel good.” But in the meantime, you’re wasting resources and you’re wasting time. There is a serious possibility that we’re now in the early stages of runaway climate change. We should be focusing everything we’ve got — not on having an infinitesimal impact on global carbon levels, which would be the case even if the whole programme was implemented — but on policies of adaptation.

And what is the third cardinal error?

The third strategic error of the Green economy is to accord stopping and reversing climate change such a high political priority when there are other more deserving causes. Bjorn Lomborg is the president of the Copenhagen Consensus Centre and the author of “The Skeptical Environmentalist” (2001) and “Best Things First: the 12 Most Efficient Solutions for the World’s Poorest and Our Global SDG [sustainable development goal] Promises” (2023). Lomborg has written recently, in the Wall Street Journal, of the recent IMF/World Bank joint meeting. In advance of that meeting, Lomborg warned of how “an unholy alliance of green activists and climate-anxious politicians” will push policy-makers “to devote a plethora of new resources to climate change”.

But surely there are more pressing human priorities?

Lomborg reports that, across poorer countries five million children die each year before their fifth birthdays and almost a billion people don’t get enough to eat. More than two billion have to cook and keep warm with polluting fuels such as dung and wood, which shortens their lifespans. And education is often so dismal that most children in low- and lower-middle-income countries will remain functionally illiterate. Yet a new Group of 20 report urges the World Bank and other development organizations to push for an additional $3 trillion annual spending and direct most of it to climate policy. This is western narcissism on steroids.

True, however, a cleaner Planet is a public good. How can Conservatives lead on the agenda?

At a political level, the costs of the Green economy are becoming increasingly evident. Blanket support for Green policies has eroded badly. We should:

  1. Insist on a rigorous cost/benefit analysis for any future steps down the Green road.
  2. Argue for a practical adaptation to climate change rather than a narcissistic, self-sacrificial policy of attempting to stop it.
  3. And, finally, argue for more humane big government projects – such as eliminating hunger, ended tuberculosis and promoting education – than build yet more Green elephants in the sky.

As consumers, we should be wary of being sacrificed on altar of Green policy change in areas like heat pumps and electric cars. Above all, government policy should be determined by enlightened self-interest rather than by narcissistic self-sacrifice.

In this debate, what role should nuclear energy play?

I think that low-carbon nuclear power can and should play a key role in facilitating a transition to renewable energy. But the Green agenda is powered so much by adolescent narcissism that nuclear is not included in it.