Skeptical? Not Exactly

Czech Republic President Vaclav Klaus addressed the National Press Club today, talking about his book Blue Planet in Green Shackles, which has just been translated into English. Klaus speaks from a unique perspective, as an economist who lived under Communism and who places the current wave of environmentalist extremism squarely in that tradition. Introduced as a global warming skeptic, Klaus objected:

I’m just surprised to hear that I’m skeptical vis-a-vis environmentalism. I’m not skeptical. I am totally against it. “Skeptical” is an understatement which I would never, never use.

To my knowledge, Klaus’s talk is not available online; sadly, we can’t post it in its entirety. But here are a few highlights:

My today’s thinking is fundamentally influenced by the fact that I spent most of my life under the communist regime which ignored and brutally violated human freedom and, as I remember quite well, wanted to command not only the people, but also the nature….

I do not see the future threats to free society coming from the old and old- fashioned communist ideology. The name of the new danger will undoubtedly be different, but its substance will be very similar. Like their predecessors, they will be certain that they have the right to sacrifice man and his freedom to make their idea reality.

In the past, it was in the name of the Marxists or of the proletariat; this time, in the name of the planet. Structurally, it is very similar. The current danger, as I see it, is environmentalism and especially its strongest version, climate alarmism. ***

My central concern is in a condensed form, as was mentioned by Madam President, captured in the subtitle of this book. I ask, what is endangered, climate or freedom? And my answer is it is our freedom and, I might add, and our prosperity.

The book was written by an economist who happens to be in a relatively high political position. I don’t deny my basic paradigm, my economic way of thinking, because I consider it an advantage, not a disadvantage, by stressing that I want to say that the climate change debate, in a wider and the only relevant sense, should be neither about several tenths of a degree Fahrenheit or Celsius, about the up or down movements of sea level, about the depths of ice at north and southern poles, nor about the variations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

The real debate is and should be about costs and benefits of alternative human actions, about how to rationally deal with the unknown future, about what kind and size of solidarity with much wealthier future generations is justified, about the size of externalities and their eventual appropriate internalization, about how much to trust the impersonal functioning of the markets in solving any human problem, including global warming, and how much to distrust the very visible hand of very human politicians and their bureaucrats.

Klaus defended freedom and indicted statism:

I know that you lived all your life in a world where you were used to discuss the market failure as a phenomenon. And there has been permanently attempts to correct some real or would-be market failures by government action, government intervention.

That was the spirit of the 20th century. I think that rational people and many American economists made a great contribution in this respect, started to study the opposite, started to study the government failure. And the issue is, is the market failure bigger and more dangerous than the government failure?

You may have your experience, but my experience with half-a- century in communism, I know that government failure is incomparably worse than any market failure. So, therefore, my position on any form, kind, motivation of government intervention is quite clear, to limit it as much as possible.

Klaus couldn’t run for President, even if he wanted to, but is it too much to expect that a Republican presidential nominee might share his instinctive trust in freedom?

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