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What if the private sector were responsible for California wildfires?

Summary:
So we enter another week enveloped in smoke, here in California.My thought for the day: Can you imagine the public and political reaction if this were caused by a private-sector activity?Imagine for a minute that Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg had a many thousand acre ranch in Northern California, but for decades they refused to ...

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What if the private sector were responsible for California wildfires?

So we enter another week enveloped in smoke, here in California.

My thought for the day: Can you imagine the public and political reaction if this were caused by a private-sector activity?

Imagine for a minute that Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg had a many thousand acre ranch in Northern California, but for decades they refused to do any proper management and let kindling pile up. Suppose that when massive fires erupted every year, they relied on heroic volunteers and prisoners being paid a few dollars a day to go try to put out the flames. Suppose this happened every year, covering the state in smoke that make the bad old days of 1960s air pollution. Or, worse than Beijing

What if the private sector were responsible for California wildfires?


Suppose when questioned that Bezos and Zuckerberg said, well, there is nothing to be done about it because the climate is getting warmer. Or supposed they offered to build a high speed train and subsidize electric cars to reduce California's 0.1% contribution to carbon, so the climate will only get warmer 2.999 degrees rather than 3.00 degrees in the next century. Which you will pay for.

Imagine if any of this came from the private sector. Suppose one of the few remaining oil refineries were covering the state in smoke for a month at a time every year. Or if it were automobile exhaust.

I think the guillotine set up in front of Bezos' home recently is mild compared to what would happen. The state government would be launching lawsuits, draconian regulations, and long prison terms. Politicians and activists would be issuing daily denunciations of capitalism gone amok.  Bad air  hits poor, sick, and minorities harder, which they'd be screaming about.

This is the state that pioneered clean air after all. We have had our own special smog restrictions on cars for a half a century. Commenters on nextdoor go apoplectic if anyone turns on a gas leaf blower.

Yet the response so far is an amazing silence. If indeed it is climate change, dear fellow citizens, then that is ever more reason to do something about it. Climate change is a slow-moving predictable problem that will get worse. Even if the whole world takes up the whole green new deal, and even if that turns out to work, it only limits how much the climate gets warmer. If it's climate change, the only rational answer is to spend a lot more money to fix the problem, now. There are a lot of unemployed people in this state. They could be cleaning forests 11 months of the year. There is a huge amount of money in the state budget. It could be hiring firefighters, buying airplanes, and stopping this in its tracks.

Underlying it is the moralistic attitude. This is the price we must pay for our carbon sins, so we must pray to the carbon gods with useless virtue signals and endure, as our ancestors prayed to keep plague away. Even though we know the cause and effect here. To do anything about climate-induced problems is dreaded "adaptation," which does not involve the necessary self-flagellation.

But that attitude would change fast if the government were not completely responsible for this avoidable disaster. Hence my thought for the day.

John H. Cochrane
In real life I'm a Senior Fellow of the Hoover Institution at Stanford. I was formerly a professor at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. I'm also an adjunct scholar of the Cato Institute. I'm not really grumpy by the way!

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