“The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge.”
—Daniel J. Boorstin

Vladimir Putin’s green allies

cartoon al-gore-plane-1Few environmentalists would regard themselves as allies of Vladimir Putin. Indeed, in their stout opposition to petroleum, which the Russian president is using both as a piggy bank and a weapon for expanding his power, it might appear that they are opponents. Such a view is superficial.

In many ways, both Mr. Putin’s Russia and the modern green movement are offshoots of the collapse of the Soviet empire. They remain united against the old Soviet enemy: free markets and free minds.

Petroleum has been the energy driver of economic growth and prosperity for much of the past century, but it has also fuelled tyranny: “the resource curse.” Oil and gas were indeed a curse for the Soviet people for seventy years. However, the dependence of the Soviet state on petroleum revenues during a time of sagging prices in the 1980s also helped push it into collapse.

Many pundits naively believed that the collapse would lead to the spontaneous outbreak of democratic capitalism. The prospect of democracy was welcomed. Capitalism not so much. Not only was capitalism the demonized fiction on which Communism had been based, its alleged flaws were the rationalization for the vast bulk of interventionist policies that kept Western politicians in business. The latest and greatest, which was just beginning to rear its head as Communism collapsed, was man-made global warming.

The notion that capitalism might somehow have “triumphed” with the break up of the Soviet Empire was in any case as outrageous for Western left-liberal elites as the collapse of that empire was tragic for Vladimir Putin.

Mr. Putin succeeded Boris Yeltsin ten years after the collapse, in 2000, and brought back the resource curse. He did so by exploiting the strategic error of “shock therapy,” which had enabled former Soviet insiders known as “oligarchs” to grab petroleum and other resources assets. Mr. Putin used public resentment against the oligarchs to seize back control of Russian petroleum, which would fund his twin ambitions: to make Russia feared once more on the international arena, and to seize back choice parts of the old Soviet empire, an objective which he is currently pursuing in the Ukraine.

The timing of Mr. Putin’s return to de facto control of oil was impeccable, as both the explosive growth of China and loose money policies in the West led to a surge in oil prices in the early years of the twenty first century. He was also helped by another less obvious ally: the environmental movement and its demonization of the carbon dioxide emissions that had driven capitalist global prosperity.

It might appear that a movement that wanted to end the age of petroleum would be antithetical to a man whose aspirations were based on petroleum. However, the global warming policy labyrinth offered obvious potential to a former Soviet secret policeman who had thrived in a climate of devious hypocrisy.

From the perspective of those behind “official” climate science and the Kyoto process, Russia’s industrial collapse in the 1990s had been not so much a disaster as a model. They even offered rewards to Russia in the shape of “credits” for the reduction in greenhouse gases that went with post Soviet turmoil.

In the Alice-in-wonderland climate policy world, Russia would be able to sell its non-emissions to Western producers, who would be forced to buy them as a penalty for creating wealth under a relatively free market.

The European Union dangled membership of the World Trade Organization as another incentive to Mr. Putin to sign onto Kyoto, which Mr. Putin duly did, even though one of his most insightful former advisors, Andrei Illarionov, called it a “death pact.” However, just as millionaire climate evangelists such as Al Gore, Neil Young and Tom Steyer think that lifestyle restraint is for others, so Mr. Putin no doubt grasped that Kyoto commitment was only for suckers (such as Canada).

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