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Even Bill Gates is backtracking — the air’s gone out of the climate-crisis balloon

Has the air gone out of the “climate crisis” balloon? 

It’s starting to look like it. Some other causes du jour are looking limp lately, too.

Oh, hysteria is still out there. In Boston this month, I passed a church whose door bore a lurid poster reading “DUE TO GLOBAL CLIMATE CRISIS, WORSHIP IN SANCTUARY 9-17-23 CANCELED.”

If it were really a global crisis, wouldn’t you want to be praying?

I first thought it was referring to Hurricane Lee, which had been predicted to bring apocalyptic storm conditions to Beantown. 

Lee, though, veered out to sea, and that Sunday was sunny, warm and delightful. 

(While the soldiers of God had fled the scene in advance, the armies of Mammon were out in force on the Boston Common, in the form of a massive cannabis fair. Say what you will about the stoners, they’re not prone to panic or overthinking.)

But this seems actually a case of closing church so parishioners could go to New York to “Join us in the March to End Fossil Fuels,” which is even more amusing, since traveling uses a lot more fossil fuels than staying in Boston and praying for an end to fossil fuels, which would be at least as effective.

Bill Gates, however, is pumping the brakes on climate panic. 

Speaking at a New York Times event, he observed heavy-handed policies won’t work: “If you try to do climate brute force, you will get people who say, ‘I like climate but I don’t want to bear that cost and reduce my standard of living.’”

As Gates noted, many of these people are in middle-income countries, like China and India, that are the biggest contributors to carbon emissions today and whose emissions (unlike those of the United States) have been growing.

He also rained on the greens’ apocalyptic parade, saying “no temperate country is going to become uninhabitable.” 

And he cautioned against untested approaches like massive tree planting: “Are we the science people or are we the idiots? Which one do we want to be?”

Well, the climate policies the political system supports are mostly the ones likely to yield the most graft, and those the corporate world supports are mostly the ones involving massive government subsidies.

But it’s interesting to see Gates softening his tone; it feels as if climate outrage has passed its sell-by date.

Oh, sure, there are still kooks in Europe gluing themselves to roadways and the occasional nut throwing oil on famous works of art, but it’s all started to seem rather forced.

When you see a shift in a social trend like this, it’s almost always happening for the same reason: The people behind it have figured out it’s doing the left more harm than good.

It’s of a piece with the sudden de-emphasis of ESG (environmental, social, governance) as a tool of corporate management. 

In both cases, the detached, well-off white people who mostly run the left dreamed up causes and slogans, which their follow-the-herd peers uncritically adopted until they ran into reality and the rest of the world noticed. 

(More to the point, recent polls show Donald Trump actually pulling ahead of Joe Biden.)

The reality, as Gates is reminding us, is there’s not actually a climate “crisis” calling for drastic action tomorrow, and running businesses and institutions as if there is one is counterproductive and even outright destructive. 

Another reality is the great mass of people around the globe knows this and has lost patience with it.  

Likewise, investors have figured out ESG is just a way for managers to substitute fuzzy, hard-to-assess performance metrics — basically a “net wokeness” calculus — for clear and well-defined metrics like, you know, how much profit managers produce for shareholders.

It’s not really surprising that, on reflection, shareholders would rather have profit than trendy causes, and voters would rather have jobs and functioning societies than nonstop apocalyptic rhetoric.

Even Ibram X. Kendi’s antiracism center is falling apart, having produced nothing of substance.

I hope this trend continues. It would be nice to see the New York City government emphasize crime control, subway maintenance and pothole-fixing instead of trendy (and grift-filled) social-justice projects.

It would be nice to see the Department of Defense — which hasn’t won a war since Desert Storm more than 30 years ago — emphasize defeating our country’s enemies over training commanders to avoid “whiteness” and getting their soldiers’ pronouns right.

Kipling’s “Gods of the Copybook Headings” are always waiting for civilizations that lose sight of fundamentals in favor of glittering fictions. 

Let’s pray ours is returning to good sense before it’s too late.

Glenn Harlan Reynolds is a professor of law at the University of Tennessee and founder of the blog.