‘COP26 is a neo-feudal performance’

Michael Shellenberger on the staggering arrogance of the green elites.

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The COP26 climate talks have been defined by brazen hypocrisy. It has escaped few people’s notice that the very same world leaders who have spent the week warning of a CO2-fuelled armageddon arrived in Glasgow on a fleet of private jets. And the very same world leaders calling for us all to cut back on our consumption have been lodging and dining in staggering opulence. So what lies behind this mismatch? And is there more to it than just hypocrisy?

Michael Shellenberger is the founder of Environmental Progress. He is also author of Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All and San Fransicko: Why Progressives Ruin Cities. He joined Brendan O’Neill for the latest episode of his podcast, The Brendan O’Neill Show. What follows is an edited extract from their conversation. Listen to the full episode here.

Brendan O’Neill: I want to ask you about COP26. The planet is apparently still on fire. We have, I don’t know, eight years, seven years, three years to save the world – I have lost track. There has been a ratcheting up of the kind of apocalypticism that you have previously taken down. You have argued that for too long the climate-change discussion has flitted between the denialists on one side, who think everything is absolutely fine, and the apocalyptics on the other, who think that the world is going to end. What do you think about what’s happening at COP26?

Michael Shellenberger: The elites are completely delusional. Emissions have declined by 26 per cent in Europe and 22 per cent in the US since 2005, thanks to the transition from coal to gas. Meanwhile, there is a global-energy crisis because of the renewables the climate activists have pushed for.

At the same time, they have gathered all of the world’s douchebags in a single conference, flying them in on 400 private jets. You have to ask, are they really that tone deaf? Is this a kind of performance – are they performing their superiority in some neo-feudal way? Remember, feudalism was full of pageantry. There’s so much pageantry here – the self-celebration, the narcissism and the histrionics.

Yet, on the substance, their agenda is falling apart around them. They could not even achieve a ban on financing coal plants, which was low-hanging fruit given the gas revolution. Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin did not even come to COP26. China has announced a huge project for new nuclear power plants anyway. Using gas and nuclear is really all that matters on climate change. That’s it.

All of this other garbage is just neo-feudalism. Those at COP are calling for more renewables, for energy to be made more expensive, while they fly around on private jets. They are saying that they follow a different set of rules to us.

O’Neill: I have been asking myself the same thing over the past few days. COP26 is happening in the UK so we have got wall-to-wall coverage here. And the optics are so unbelievably dreadful. You have the 400 private jets flying in. You have Joe Biden driving around Rome at the G20 in an 85-car convoy and then flying to Glasgow on Air Force One. You have Prince Charles saying that everyone needs to tighten their belts and save the planet. The royal family has flown enough air miles over the past five years to get to the Moon and back and then go around the Earth’s equator three times. Most of us could not do that in 50 lifetimes. There is an extraordinary level of hypocrisy, decadence and stupidity going on.

You have written about the religious atmosphere around the climate-change issue. Climate change is a problem – one that is relatively easily resolved through the use of gas and particularly nuclear. Those things should be promoted as much as possible. And yet we still have this constant promotion of climate-change alarmism – this end-of-the-world, apocalyptic vision. You have argued that climate-change alarmism has become a set of ‘false gods for lost souls’. To what extent is COP26 confirming your view of the role that this ideology plays in some people’s lives?

Shellenberger: The people who say the world is coming to an end from climate change oppose natural gas and nuclear, even though natural gas and nuclear are why emissions have declined so much in Europe and the US over the past 15 years. So, obviously, they don’t really care about emissions or about the climate. They are pursuing a different agenda. On the one hand, they are flaunting their status. That’s what Harry and Meghan are doing by flying back from climate conferences on private jets. They are saying ‘f-you’ to all of us. Yet on the other hand, when they get up on stage and say how the world is at the brink of disaster, with their trembling voices, I feel that they mean it. Their emotion seems to be quite true and authentic. And that is why you have to ask if this is all just personal projection.

It’s no coincidence that it is former aristocrats who are saying the world is ending. Their world is ending. Their aristocratic world. They are completely irrelevant to what Uganda, China, India, South Africa and Brazil are doing. They are a joke. Take Prince Charles. That guy is ridiculous. He is a sad sack. You don’t go to him for leadership. So it feels like a real collapse of leadership when President Joe Biden says at his press conference that he has been taking advice from Prince Charles. The West is committing suicide.

O’Neill: It’s not a coincidence that it’s the old aristocrats and the new aristocrats, the woke aristocracy, who are raging against the contemporary world and trying to rein in what they see as problematic developments. If you look back in history, it was the aristocrats who raged against the Industrial Revolution. In many ways, I see environmentalism as the revenge of the aristocracy against modernity. That’s why it lends itself so beautifully to Prince Charles, who is trying to create a new role for himself in the world, and also to Harry and Meghan and others.

On a more positive note, I want to ask you about nuclear power. It gets an incredibly bad rap. Even greens argue against it. They do not recognise what a revolutionary role it can have, in terms of providing clean, abundant energy. Yet it’s not a focal point of COP26 at all. Certainly, you won’t hear Prince Charles banging the drum for more nuclear plants. Isn’t the solution to the climate-change issue relatively simple?

Shellenberger: Of course. Nuclear is the only way to make society sustainable. It means we can live high-energy lives and reduce our negative environmental impacts. Naturally, environmentalists are against it, because that’s not what they are about. They are about taking down Western civilisation by destroying the basis of it, which is cheap, reliable energy. The aristocracy has joined in on this attack.

Nuclear is obviously the key. Xi Jinping decided not to go to COP26, but instead China announced 150 new nuclear reactors, costing almost half a trillion dollars. Russia is going big on nuclear along with gas, gaining more control over Europe by opening up a second gas pipeline. Nuclear is the only way for Europeans to achieve their own economic, energy and national security.

Michael Shellenberger was talking to Brendan O’Neill in the latest episode of The Brendan O’Neill Show. Listen to the full conversation here:

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