Environmentalists Are China's Useful Idiots | Opinion

In his drive to achieve absolute power, Vladimir Lenin could count on Western progressives and opportunist executives to serve as "useful idiots." Today's most prominent Communist, China's Xi Jinping, can count on similar help, this time from the West's environmentalist, corporate elites.

Nowhere is this clearer than in the alliance of green non-profits and their oligarchic backers, whose demands for a quick evolution toward "net zero" emissions are quickly undermining the last vestiges of Western competitiveness. And the winner in this "energy transition" is China, which, oddly enough, produces more greenhouse gases than the entire developed world put together.

Of course, China plays lip service to climate goals. But it's building scores of new coal plants and plans to expand natural gas and nuclear power, both anathema to America's hardline greens. Not content to spew greenhouse gases at home, China is also building coal plants around the world as coal consumption hits a historic high.

China has maneuvered itself into an enviable position of doing as it pleases while its biggest competitors unilaterally disarm. Green groups have long taken money from Chinese interests as well from Russia, which has cynically backed efforts to curb the West's production of natural gas. As Robert Bryce has demonstrated, green non-profits—what he scathingly dubbed "the anti-industry industry"—received well over four times as much as those advocating for the use of nuclear or fossil fuels in 2021.

Nor do they lack for influence. The big names behind the green agenda include a who's who of oligarchs and inheritors: billionaires like Tom Steyer, Bill Gates and Richard Branson, as well as powerful foundations like Rockefeller, Doris Duke, Walton, MacArthur, Hewlett, and George Soros' Open Society, which have sent  hundreds of millions to leading environmental  groups. Jeff Bezos in 2020 alone announced $10 billion in gifts, mostly to green non-profits.

And all this money is being spent to aid China in its existential struggle with the West—much more than to aid the environment.

Greenpeace activists set up a symbolic wind turbine during a protest in front of the Castle Peak coal power station in Hong Kong, 20 October 2005. Greenpeace is calling governments, banks and industry to invest in clean renewable energy instead of using climate change-causing coal plants in Asia. SAMANTHA SIN/AFP via Getty Images

China already enjoys a growing market share in manufactured exports roughly equal to the U.S., Germany and Japan combined, and green policies seem poised to push China's industrial supremacy even further, making energy both more expensive and unreliable. This is accelerating the de-industrialization of Germany, including its natural-gas dependent, world leading chemical industry.

With the adoption of electric vehicle mandates including a ban on gas cars, Europe seems determined to destroy one of its last areas of excellence in favor of technology that is almost entirely controlled by China and other east Asian countries. As for the U.S., the majority of the Biden administration's infrastructure plan is based around green infrastructure rather than manufacturing itself, with the big winners shell companies who sell things like wind turbines exclusively made in China.

The truth is obvious to anyone paying attention: The electric future embraced by the Biden Administration and the EU will be a China-dominated one.

China is already working to make sure that solar-manufacturing technology is not exported to potential competitors. China already boasts a huge lead in solar battery production, and increasingly dominates the production of the rare-earth elements, which also figure prominently in wind turbines, solar panels and electric vehicles. As American EV firms struggle with production and supply chain issues, China's Warren Buffett-backed BYD has emerged as the world's top electric vehicle manufacturer, with big export ambitions. Meanwhile Tesla focuses much of its future growth at its Chinese factories.

China and the green agenda may help keep Elon Musk the world's richest man but at the cost of making most Europeans and Americans poorer. Living standards in the de-industrializing west have already worsened, particularly for the middle class. Europe has endured a decade of stagnation, while Americans' life expectancy has gone down for the first time in peace time.

Yet the only way to achieve net zero emissions by 2050 is by squelching all future growth, as Deutsche Bank's Eric Heymann observed, and this will have catastrophic effects on middle class living standards. Heymann calls it eco-dictatorship.

One might think our business elites would be concerned about their countries' decline. But the promise of easy lucre seems more important than the health of their fellow citizens.

Silicon Valley constitutes another pro-China bastion, the other pole of the pro-green oligarchic elite. Firms like Apple may be "headquartered" in Cupertino, but more than 90 percent of iPhones, iPads, and MacBooks are made in China.

Despite their endless virtue-signaling and tentative moves to places like Vietnam and India where costs are lower, the tech elite have also become China's ultimate enablers, with venture capital firms raising billions to fund new firms in the Middle Kingdom.

Having played an outsized role in building up China's massive tech sector, Apple has announced plans to share its technology and source some of its chips from there. Your average tech oligarch may pose as a progressive green visionary, but he is fine with using factories staffed by Chinese slave labor and powered largely by coal power. As venture capitalist Chamath Palihapitya recently suggested, "nobody cares" about the repression of China's population, particularly the Uyghurs. Many tech firms also make a nifty profit from supplying China's ever-expanding surveillance state.

Ultimately, Silicon Valley firms seem less committed to fulfilling American aspirations than to enabling Xi Jinping's "China dream" of greater state control, more wealth, and technological supremacy.

As for the greens, one wonders how it makes sense to help shift economic power to the very state that generates the by far the most greenhouse gases. The West is being sacrificed by the economically clueless greens and corporate interests, who together are embracing a policy agenda that will make the rest of us poorer, the West weaker, but both China and them even richer.

Somewhere under Red Square, Vladimir Lenin is smiling at the capitalist elite's latest folly.

Joel Kotkin is the Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and executive director of the Urban Reform Institute. His new book, The Coming of Neo-Feudalism, is now out from Encounter. You can follow him on Twitter: @joelkotkin.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.