Why Wishful Liberal Thinking Led To Disasters In Ukraine, Homelessness, And Climate – OpEd


In the three decades since the collapse of the Soviet Union, liberals in the West have denounced their political opponents as deniers of climate change, science, and reality in general. Progressives and neoliberals alike argued that they alone could see the shape of the new world being born. It would be increasingly globalized, democratic, and focused on new threats, like climate change.

It’s now clear that all of that was a delusion. Neither China nor Russia is democratizing and both have become more autocratic and totalitarian. Neither nation views climate change as a major threat. On the contrary. Russia views climate change as an opportunity to expand agriculture and shipping through its newly ice-free waters. Where both Putin and Chinese Premier Xi used to give lip service to climate change, neither even bothered to attend last fall’s United Nations climate talks.

It’s true that the West has imposed sanctions on Russia, and the Ukranian people are battling the Russians fiercely and admirably. A few days ago, Russians retreated from the capital city of Kyiv. Western nations froze bank accounts of Russian oligarchs, hammering the ruble. And European governments are calling on their citizens to reduce energy consumption.

But those are hiccups on the way to a rapidly changed world. Consider that:

  • China aided Russia’s invasion of Ukraine through a massive cyberattack on Ukraine’s military and nuclear facilities, according to intelligence memos obtained by The Times of London.
  • Europe continues to import Russian energy while China nor India are buying Russian oil at a steep discount. There is little reason to believe conservation measures by Western consumers will make much of a dent in energy consumption.
  • And Russia’s retreat from Kyiv appears to be temporary and strategic.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine comes at the very same time as: the collapse of the West’s climate and renewables agenda; an energy crisis triggered by climate activists; and a worsening drug, crime, and homeless crisis in America’s cities.

What do all these events have in common? They all point to the grave dangers of irrational liberal optimism.

Liberals aren’t the only ones who are guilty of wishful thinking. There are an alarming number of Republicans who believe that Donald Trump was elected President in 2020 and that Larry Elder defeated Governor Gavin Newsom in California’s recall election last fall. Only an elaborate electoral fraud conspiracy, the reasoning goes, kept them from assuming office.

And conservatives contributed to the disasters in Ukraine, homelessness, and climate change. George W. Bush famously said he looked into Putin’s eyes and “was able to get a sense of his soul.” Bush also made the disastrous “Housing First” policy of giving away apartment units, unconditionally, to addicts and the mentally ill, federal policy. And many Republicans have, in recent years, promoted renewable energy subsidies.

But when it comes to the West’s failure to deter an increasingly totalitarian and violent Russia and China, the growing scarcity and unreliability of energy, and the destruction of America’s cities by open air drug scenes, the fault lies squarely with people on the Left end of the political spectrum.

Western leaders, including President Joe Biden, French President Emanuel Macron, and former German Chancellor Angela Merkel, all denied to themselves, and to others, what was plainly obvious to many analysts for years: Putin intended to invade Ukraine.

Even as Russian forces prepared for war games last fall, Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan wondered “why Russia would take such a military action at that time,” according to a reconstruction of the events leading up to Putin’s invasion by the Wall Street Journal.

On climate change, center-Left parties around the world deluded themselves into thinking their high-energy economies could be powered by renewables, which energy historians have known for centuries had to be abandoned for fossil fuels in order for the industrial revolution to happen. And around the world it was liberals not conservatives who fought to shut down nuclear plants and block natural gas pipelines and infrastructure.

Liberals and progressives could have embraced a climate and energy strategy focused on domestically-produced natural gas and nuclear, as I have urged them to do for over a decade, and which Putin did, allowing him to gain a stranglehold over Europe’s energy supplies.

Such a strategy was the only one that ever made any sense from an environmental point of view. Nuclear and natural gas are the two technologies that are most responsible for declining emissions by the US and Europe since the 1970s.

Instead, the Left in Europe opted for importing fossil fuels from Russia and the Left in the US for importing solar panels made by enslaved Muslims in China.

On crime, liberal cities have gradually reduced consequences for breaking laws, whether from addiction or malevolence, resulting in rising homicides, burglaries, and open air drug scenes. Relatedly, on homelessness, progressives have funneled hundreds of billions into “Housing First,” which gives away apartments to homeless drug addicts without requiring sobriety.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom doubled down on Housing First last year. At a press conference announcing $12 billion for Housing First, a journalist asked, ”How do you keep California from becoming a magnet for people who have issues in other states and coming here to take advantage of what California is spending. It’s been a problem in the past.”

Responded Newsom, “To the extent that people want to come here for new beginnings and all income levels, that’s part of the California dream. And we have a responsibility to enliven and inspire. California’s dream is still alive and well. A $80 billion budget surplus… And that should not just be for certain people.”

The result is that, today, well over 50 percent of the people on the streets of San Francisco and Los Angeles are from out of town, according to expert insidershomeless outreach workers, and the homeless themselves.

Why do liberals keep making the same mistake over and over again?

In part, it’s because of what cognitive psychologists call “theory of mind.” Liberals tend to think that other people think like they do. Western liberal leaders thought Putin was one of them, a liberal democrat committed to rule of law, even though he repeatedly said he wanted to reconstruct the Soviet empire.

Similarly, leading liberal leaders think homeless drug addicts are seeking a better life, and just need their own apartment to quit drugs, get a job, and re-connect with family and friends. In truth, many if not most homeless addicts maintain their addiction until they are forced to quit.

On energy and climate change, progressives indulged in the fantasy that we could power the world with energy sources that have no negative consequences. They convinced themselves that renewables were better in every way than either fossil fuels and nuclear, even as they demanded massive subsidies for, and the right to kill endangered species in, their deployment.

And liberals engaged in wishful thinking that high standards of living can be maintained with much lower levels of energy consumption, and that poor and working people will accept low standards of living.

There were financial rewards for such wishful thinking. Politicians like Newsom can raise much more money from homeless housing developers than from homeless shelter providers. Center Left parties take money from renewable energy companies all over the world. And it’s now clear that climate activists in Europe, and perhaps the United States, took, took money from the Russian government to fight fracking and natural gas production.

The good news is that the failure of elites to govern at local, national, and international levels points to a coming change of leadership, triggered by covid, but ultimately resulting from the exhaustion of post-Cold War ideologies and institutions.

It will gradually become clear that the West must defend itself more vigorously against resurgent illiberal regimes, particularly Russia and China, which could well invade Taiwan, or even attempt to take a Japanese island, in the coming months or years.

In California, it has fallen to mothers of homeless addicts to speak out against the open drug scenes. Yesterday they held a press conference in San Francisco warning foreign tourists not to visit. The dangers of the open air fentanyl markets, unofficially supported by the governments of San Francisco, California, and the United States, are simply too great. The billboard they purchased in Union Square to warn tourists was covered by every major San Francisco news media outlet.

And major political changes are afoot. Republicans will likely take one or more house of Congress, and President Joe Biden is unlikely to run again in 2024. The result will be major changes within both parties. California, long a leader of change, for good or ill, will likely see the recall of district attorneys in San Francisco and Los Angeles, the election of a new attorney general, and the election of a new, more moderate, governor.

In this context, it becomes clear that the claims of reality denial by progressives were a kind of psychological projection. It was progressives who denied the realities of climate change and energy, the intentions of Vladimir Putin, and homelessness. The good news is that people are waking up, and quickly. The trend toward the dismantling of civilization could soon reverse itself. But, ultimately, what happens next is up to us.

Michael Shellenberger

Michael Shellenberger is a Time Magazine “Hero of the Environment,” and president of Environmental Progress. Follow him on Twitter @ShellenbergerMD and at https://michaelshellenberger.substack.com

One thought on “Why Wishful Liberal Thinking Led To Disasters In Ukraine, Homelessness, And Climate – OpEd

  • April 5, 2022 at 6:46 pm

    As everything backfires, we need to alter our way of thinking, good things just don’t automatically happen, if we think so, now we must think again. If we want goods results, it takes work, i.e. addicts don’t quit in hiding, they need to feel the forces of change through a forced justice system, we can help them with treatment, but they must feel a force of persuasion.


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