I was a private contractor living in a slum of Kuwait City through the summers of 2014 and 2015 when two things happened that started turning me green.
I was frequently humbled living in the small, oil-rich kingdom. Humbled by the clash between two of nature’s most inhospitable terrains: a great sandy desert meeting a great salty ocean. At the boundary where these two titans collide sits a different kind of marvel: a Starbucks. I would frequent the café, and sitting near me one evening was a small gang of loud school boys in their perfectly pressed dishdasha. I kept my distance. (Those kids could get away with murder, especially if one of them were even remotely connected with the royal family.) When they left, each kid unceremoniously tossed his half-full Frappuccino off the balcony into the ocean below. The water there was already so littered with waste that they didn’t even make a splash. I was indignant. “This water is a world heritage,” I thought, “it belongs to me as much as to anyone else.”
My second, and more permanent, realization took place later that year. Another former Marine and I decided to relive the old days by doing a run-swim-run (which is exactly what it sounds like). We left our apartment complex and ran down the broken, dusty streets to the ocean. The beach itself seemed well-manicured, but we still had to be careful where we stepped: hypodermic needles were often buried under the sand. After running the length of the beach, we jumped into the Gulf. But we could not have swum more than one hundred meters before we were forced out, hacking and dry-heaving; sick to our stomachs. Our skin burned all over. This water wasn’t polluted – it was poisoned. I remember my hands and feet trembling uncontrollably for ten minutes after we’d pulled ourselves from the water. We caught our breath, feeling the chemicals crust on our skin in the summer sun, until a child began circling us yelling “Kafir! Kafir!” ( Infidel! Infidel!). Time to leave.
As both the Kuwait Times and personal experience have shown, the (now-closed) Shuaiba Refinery was obviously dumping their waste in the water. However, it is not just the Persian Gulf that is contaminated; this kind of pollution is transboundary. In the way that an ant colony can be thought of as a single organism, so is the Earth itself alive. Pollution in one pocket leaks across borders to infect others.
Today I am all for saving the rain forests and sustainable lumber harvesting, conservation of endangered animals and wildlife sanctuaries; Teslas and solar power. I even support local recycling efforts. Years after my swim in Gulf I have become the kind of person who actually dives into the dumpster to save a glass bottle. Sure, this particular glass bottle is not going to detox the Gulf. But it isn’t about the bottle. It’s about my personal commitment to our ecosystem. I deeply believe that we can all pitch in to reduce the impact that we have on nature.
However, I have stayed mostly on the sidelines of the Global Warming debate, if you can call this public goat rodeo a debate. I must admit that I can get turned off by the beehive of statistics and counter-statistics collected by partisans on both sides – some of whom are happy just to muddy the waters.
It is evident that the earth has shown warmer temperatures in the past two decades, and the preponderance of evidence shows that it is a human artifact. And yet I still have questions that I’m hesitant to answer in our public mudslinging contest – because the answers have secondary baggage associated with them. Here’s the rub: the champion of nature is personal responsibility, not “massive government intervention.” In fact, governmental overhaul is where I get off the train. And if you believe in climate change, then I think you should consider doing the same. So, after years of mostly silent observation on the issue, I have come to two conclusions:
1) You need not be a Lefty or a climate change apostle to care deeply about the environment.
2) Even if we human beings are the cause of climate change, the answer is not socialism.
Regardless of whether you’re a skeptic or a believer, let us continue on the assumption that our climate is being altered by mankind’s irresponsibility. I pump the breaks when the touted solution to our continued environmental woes is more government. If the government can’t seem to oversee the Veterans Administration, get my taxes right, maintain a successful public education program, keep its nuclear arsenal up to date, run a simple healthcare insurance program, handle the DMV, fix crumbling infrastructure, maintain a social safety net, or even balance a budget sheet, why should I expect that more government regulations will positively affect the environment?
Destroying American productivity and individual rights on the altar of *insert agenda here* is the most surefire way to get a national rejection of whatever moral crusade you might have. If that surprises you, then likely Trump’s sweeping 2016 election surprised you too.
While America is making strides to cut back harmful emissions, despite withdrawing from the Paris Accords, other countries are taking advantage of the lull in American’s production ability and they don’t care whom or what they exploit. China, a signatory of the Paris Accords, has not stopped billowing soot into the atmosphere. And China is being eclipsed by India in both population and carbon emission. Many third world countries have no qualms about devastating the environment to gain a leg up against their regional peers.
America is the leader of the free world because of its strength and economy; any moral influence that the United States has comes as the fruit thereof. America’s attempts to influence the world in support of environmentalism, peace, safety, or stability is rooted in our economy and military. Strangling American production through crippling government intervention is how you lose the long fight.
Which means that, if you really believe in environmentalism, you must change the culture, not the government. I lived in Los Angeles for years and, despite their quirks, the locals knew how to influence business with their dollars. If a business wasn’t green in some way, it likely wasn’t making a good profit. Certainly, it is true that government and culture are interdependent and symbiotic. Legislation follows culture and then, cyclically, that legislation influences culture.
Looking at the recently proposed Green New Deal (GND), Representative Ocasio-Cortez’s solution to climate change, it becomes painfully obvious that the end state is not environmental protection; its socialism. The acquisition of the means of production by the people – via the government – has been tried on every continent to consistent failure. In fact, Representative Ocasio-Cortez awkwardly admitted the fact that the GND would “require massive government intervention” to implement, citing the free market’s inability to make immediate progress.
Socialism’s definition and boundaries can be rather chimerical. Often, proponents of socialism use the term loosely and point to the Nordic countries as personifications of their ideals. In 2015 Democratic socialist Bernie Sanders made waves by arguing, in a debate with Hillary Clinton, that the United States “should look to countries like Denmark, and Sweden and Norway, and learn what they have accomplished for their working people.” While the Danish were flattered by such attention, in a speech at Harvard’s Kennedy School, Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen was quick to clarify that “Denmark is far from a socialist planned economy. Denmark is a market economy.” Similar arguments about the failure of the famous “third way” have been made in the Swedish context as well. Many Nordic countries have realized the struggles that have come from overemphasizing government regulation and are returning to more mainstream economic policy.
Turning to the GND itself, my problems begin at the legislation’s vaguely worded, zero-sum rhetoric; it is evidence of a hard-Left echo chamber. To be clear: it is a veneer for a clearly political end.
This is not hidden from anyone who might critically read the bill’s text. Beyond government mandated retrofitting and interdiction of private property, the GND is designed to “counteract systemic injustices.” This is why, despite the name, the bill devotes a substantial portion of its legislative effort to causes like healthcare, free college, safe housing, and income inequality – issues that have nothing to do with anything green. This attention is, at best, highly ironic given that the legislation is predicated upon worries that we have only twelve years to avert global environmental catastrophe. Why are we bothering with free college if we are facing massive extinction?
Even more, Ocasio-Cortez’s bill states that it will be funded by a combination of taxes and deficit spending, citing America’s experience with FDR’s New Deal in and around World War II as its model. But during that conflict, the average American had to make titanic sacrifices. The government capitalized on existing civilian factories and even nationalized certain private institutions. There was extensive rationing of all goods and services and every adult male was conscripted – taxes skyrocketed.
Proponents of the legislation suggests that the federal government’s mobilization for the war is what “created the greatest middle class that the United States has ever seen,” and that this intervention will be “an investment,” but I disagree. What lifted the post-World War Two American economy was not government intervention but government relaxation and, conveniently, the complete destruction of any foreign competitor’s production capability. As it turns out, owning a global monopoly on production is a great way to build an economy.
Indeed, the taxes after Roosevelt’s New Deal, and even more so in the Second World War, were overwhelmingly shouldered by the lower and middle classes. In 1929 the average American household made about $1,400 per year, well within the lowest tax bracket of 1.5% for incomes between $0 and $4,000. In 1932, anticipation for the New Deal saw the lowest tax bracket nearly triple. The burden for taxes imposed on lower income families continued to spike until the last hike in 1944: 24% for the first $4,000 income earned – a 1500% increase on those who fall in the lowest income tax bracket. Giant government programs cannot be sustained on the backs of the rich, they require the government to tax the poor.
The economics of deficit spending is a notoriously complicated topic. But the kind of massive deficit spending proposed in the GND is unsustainable over the long term – even within an American economy that currently has a low rate of inflation-to-deficit ratio.
The Green New Deal would massively increase the tax burden on the middle and lower classes. It would increase deficit spending and swamp the federal budget, which is already burgeoning with non-discretionary allocations, with long term obligations.
In other words, there is evidence that the GND is using climate change as a front to accomplish another agenda. Environmental alarmism, whether in poor or good faith, is being used as a Trojan horse. Statements in the text of the bill itself – “wars fought over access to food, water and land will become commonplace,” for example – breed fear, hatred, urgency, tribalism; they speak to the herd instinct of man. And just like the buffalo in the plains, man can be tricked into running himself off a cliff.
What’s the bottom line? The fundamental problem with the GND is that it eliminates any reason that might otherwise tempt half of the American population to move toward an environmentally sustainable future. Because it excludes green conservatives like myself. If environmentalism is continually used as a shell for government regulations then the Right, which favors small government and individual liberties, will never accept it.
I hear the frustration in the Left’s rhetoric, that they are tired of fighting the conservatives to get any meaningful laws past. But, as a conservative myself, I can say: we don’t want laws or regulations. We want reasons to do it ourselves. And whenever these reasons appear to be camouflage for government intervention or collectivism, it further entrenches anyone who identifies with the American spirit of individual liberty. Propaganda is easier than persuasion and government intervention might feel more expedient than a drawn-out public dialogue. Yet using the free market to dictate the direction of environmental policies is the best way to ensure that the air and water stays clean in the long haul.
Jake Davis is a father, husband, brother, and a Christian. He has been deployed worldwide as a United States Marine and then continued his service as a Private Military Contractor.