What do German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister Theresa May, French President Emmanuel Macron; European Commission head Jean Claude Juncker, Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven; Luxembourg's Prime Minister Xavier Bettel; Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon have in common? All of them are childless.
Likely at least some of the above wanted children and could not have them for one reason or another. But as a group they are emblematic of the emerging childless Europe, which is denuding the continent of its old European stock.
The absence of a coming generation is a double threat to the stability of almost every Western European country. First, because there will not be enough young workers to support the generous social benefits of a rapidly aging population. Second, because that absence of younger workers forces European countries to import potential workers raised in countries with very different mores.
And the lack of impetus to worry about the coming generation inevitably impacts the policies of political elites. The Burkean social contract between the living and the yet unborn breaks down when the "yet unborn" are likely to remain that way.
Franz Rosenzweig writes of the "presentiment of death" that affects peoples as well as individuals: "Thus the peoples of the world foresee a time when their land with its rivers and mountains still lies under heaven as it does today, but other people dwell there; when their language is entombed in books; and their laws and customs have lost their living power."
That disappearance, however, is not a sad future event, but one Europeans are bringing about through their own well below replacement birthrates. Perhaps Rosenzweig's observation no longer applies, and Europeans no longer lament the imminent disappearance of their cultures. Their decision to go childless reflects a feeling that there is nothing of lasting meaning about their own lives worth transmitting to successive generations.
Once one takes future generations out of the picture all cost-benefit analysis shifts. Short-term risks become paramount and long-term risks are downplayed.
That process can be seen clearly in the European approach to both the Iran nuclear deal and to its own open borders. A nuclear Iran poses the greatest likelihood of cataclysmic nuclear war. If Shiite Iran obtains nuclear weapons, it is virtually certain that many of its Sunni neighbors will as well. Thus the world's most volatile region, with some of its least stable governments, will have the most widespread nuclear proliferation.
Yet throughout the negotiations leading up to the Iran deal, the Western powers consistently acted as supplicants desperate for a deal – even one that leaves Iran a clear path to nuclear weapons – at every turn. The Western concessions continued until nothing was left to concede because the alternative of destroying Iran's nuclear infrastructure militarily was one that the West never considered, and which Iranians knew it would never consider.
True, even a short and successful military campaign would have entailed heavy costs, including likely temporary disruptions in world oil supplies and terror attacks around the globe. (Iran has no fewer sleeper terror cells than ISIS.) But once the West showed resolve to stop Iran's nuclear program, Iran would have had to dramatically recalibrate its plans for regional hegemony and the use of terror, in full knowledge that it would be risking the continued reign of the mullahs by provoking the newly resolute West.
The second great European failure to consider future consequences was German Chancellor Angela Merkel's decision to throw open the borders of Europe to millions of Muslim refugees, mostly young males, without any possibility of vetting. In doing so, the European community not only dramatically increased its vulnerability to internal terrorist attacks but subjected its female population to constant harassment and worse.
All this at a time when experience was proving that native-born, second-generation Muslims are frequently much more radicalized and less interested in integrating into their host cultures than their immigrant parents were. Merkel's open-door policy accelerated Europe's demographic catastrophe, as European Muslims have birthrates many times those of the native European populations.
In the case of opening the door to millions of unvetted Muslim immigrants, it is impossible even to discover the short-term gain, unless it is the German need to establish the moral superiority of the new Germany.
THERE IS, HOWEVER, one glaring exception to general rule of Western leaders weighing the cost of present action too greatly against future dangers. That exception is climate change. The hysteria that greeted President Trump's decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris Accords is a case in point. Trump was wildly assailed for having unilaterally taken a major step towards ending life on this planet as we know it.
Yet unless you take Al Gore Jr. seriously, the major impact of global warming or, as it has become known, climate change, will be felt beyond the lifetimes of most of us. More than a decade ago, Gore predicted in "An Inconvenient Truth," a so-called documentary for which he won the Nobel Peace Prize, that by now Mt. Kilimanjaro, Africa's highest peak, would be snow-free. Tropical storms and hurricanes would increase dramatically, and unprecedented heat waves would kill tens of thousands. None of those things came to pass. In fact, "An Inconvenient Truth," hit the theaters in the midst of what turned out to be a fifteen year hiatus in the rise of global surface temperatures.
But even if one grants for the purpose of argument the existence of anthropogenic global warming – as opposed to thinking that the wide fluctuations of world temperatures over the millennia are more likely the result of natural phenomenon such as sun spots – it is still hard to escape Vice-President Mike Pence's conclusion that global warming has become something of an obsession for Western elites.
Yet in this case it is speculative future consequences that are said to call for dramatic and very expensive action now. Consider the Washington Post's "fact-check" of President Trump's speech on the Paris Accords. Trump pointed to a recent MIT study that concluded that even if every nation kept its commitments under the Paris Accords – something that is already not happening – the result would only be a .2 degree reduction in the rise of global temperatures by 2100. (There is no reason not to think that such a minimal increase might not result in a more fertile world than the current temperature. Earth did not come with an optimal temperature instruction sheet.)
The Post disputes Trump's characterization of this difference as "tiny, tiny," by pointing out that the lead author of the MIT study supports the Paris Accords. By contrast, it diminishes the President's claim that adherence to the U.S. guidelines would result in a three trillion dollar loss of gross national product by 2014 by saying that spread over two decades that only amounts to a 6% loss of gross national product. Such a decline would constitute at best a major recession.
The less hysterical critics of Trump's action acknowledge that its impact on the climate will be minimal. Indeed one of their main arguments for remaining in the Paris Accords was that they are largely meaningless anyway because the various national commitments to reduce emissions are all voluntary and subject to unilateral change by each country as it sees fit.
Yet by withdrawing, Trump did more than just please his base by sticking a finger in the eye of non-serious global elites. And non-serious they are. If those obsessed about fossil fuels and their effects on the climate were serious, they would be pushing hard for non-polluting nuclear energy and the development of smaller, more efficient nuclear plants. Yet nuclear energy is almost as anathema to them as coal.
And leading anti-fossil fuel crusaders, like actor Leonardo Dicaprio and Al Gore would have more credibility if they did not leave such large carbon footprints flying around the globe in their private jets rather than travel with the hoi polloi.
Trump is charged with having damaged American credibility by withdrawing. But President Obama did not submit the Paris Accords to Congress for approval as a treaty because he knew they would never be ratified under the Constitution's treaty provisions. So the Paris Accords are nothing more than Obama's personal commitment. Withdrawal will hopefully serve as a caution to future presidents who seek to limit U.S. sovereignty by submitting to international organizations.
In his speech defending withdrawal, Trump made clear that climate change is not a sui generis issue removed from all cost-benefit analysis, and in that analysis the impact on American workers will take precedence. Nor is it an issue that mandates handing over vast power to experts to regulate every aspect of human activity.
Danish statistician Bjorn Lomborg argued in his 2001 book The Skeptical Environmentalist, that enforcement of the Kyoto Treaty (predecessor of the Paris Accords) would alone cost $150,000 billion a year. Tens of thousands of lives could be saved annually with the same money by improving drinking water supplies and the like. Similarly, Yale economist William Nordhaus has shown that the highest benefit-to-cost ratio would be achieved by fifty years of economic development in the least developed countries unimpeded by greenhouse gas controls.
The Europeans have been by far the most sanctimonious in their climate change alarmism. And they have paid the price in far higher energy prices, and the lower economic productivity that goes with it, in their search for viable renewable energy sources. Yet European carbon emissions actually increased in 2015, while U.S. carbon emissions decreased 3% over the same period. The American decline was not due to job-killing government interventions, but because the ongoing technological advances in shale fracking that have facilitated a switch from coal to natural gas as an energy source. Profit-seekers did more to reduce carbon emissions than government regulators.
Do I have an answer for the paradox posed above: Why have Western elites, who with respect to imminent and clear threats consistently prefer non-action or appeasement to confronting the threats, in the hopes that catastrophe will wait until they have shuffled off this mortal coil, adopt a diametrically opposite approach to climate change. In the latter case, they advocate major costs now to protect against a speculative future disaster predicted by theoretical climate models whose projections have proven consistently wrong?
Not really. I would only note that there are important overlaps between the refusal to confront impending threats, like a nuclear Iran or Islamic-inspired internal terrorism, and environmental alarmism. One is selfishness and moral preening, which often go hand in hand. What could be more generous than to respond to every terrorist attack by issuing stern warnings against phantom Islamophobia? How much easier than facing the actual threat of a large, unassimilated Muslim population in the nation's midst? The elites prefer, in any event, to avoid places where crowds gather as they jet around the world in their private aircraft, and are thus less likely to be terrorist targets.
While the proposals of environmentalists to drastically curb carbon emissions might cost coal miners and oil field workers their jobs and livelihoods, the jobs lost will not be those of the bureaucratic/expert class – those will only grow rapidly.
Large swaths of the environmental movement have always been infected with a certain anti-human bias. Population control has always been one of the central tenets of the environmental movement. Remove human beings, or at least dramatically reduce their numbers, and then Nature can return to her pristine state to be enjoyed by a few properly enlightened souls.
Victor Davis Hanson Jr. describes in poignant detail how environmentalists bent on protecting a species of three-inch fish largely destroyed California's agricultural irrigation system, which was a marvel of the world and allowed California agriculture to flourish.
That preference for fish, which are natural, over human beings, who are somehow viewed as intruders into Nature, reverses the order of Bereishis and the dominion of Man. And it is consistent (if not identical) with the disdain for human life inherent in the refusal to bring future generations into existence.