To some, particularly in the green movement, this month’s Paris climate change summit represents something like the great synods of the early Christian era, where truth and policy, for example, on pastoral celibacy, were determined by the princes of the church. Some others, largely marginalized on the fringes of the Right, insist the whole extravaganza is part of a vast left-wing conspiracy to delude people into accepting a world government.

Lost in translation is that the Paris conference is largely a sideshow camouflaging a potentially epic struggle among national, regional and economic interests. This mundane reality is often lost amid the apocalyptic rhetoric, such as employed by Gov. Jerry Brown, that insists draconian action is necessary to avoid the species’ imminent “extinction.”

In the real world, everything boils down to the winners and, arguably, the many more losers from the relentless drive to “decarbonize” the economy. Economist Bjorn Lonborg suggests that, by 2100, climate change policies will cost about a $1 trillion each year. Although scientists, bureaucrats, nonprofits and connected corporatists might actually benefit from decarbonizing quickly, it’s hard to see how most people will benefit from such an upheaval.

Not surprisingly, a growing number of people in key countries have become increasingly less interested in sacrificing their lives for some impending but not-yet-occurring catastrophe. In fact, a recent BBC poll covering some 20 countries found a decreasing interest in the climate agenda in all but three – Russia, Turkey and Spain. In many countries, including the United Kingdom, despite almost incessant media coverage, the public has become more skeptical about paying for far-reaching climate policies.

Given the likelihood of resistance, climate change activists increasingly look to authorities to impose their policies by fiat. A Washington state judge, for example, recently ruled that governments should have no choice but to impose draconian policies in order to protect the futures of young people. Oddly, the judge had no similar concern about their future economic prospects.

In a similar vein, the Atlantic recently rejected relying on markets or technology for solutions in favor of creating a ruling “technocracy.” These worthies then could impose energy austerity that would limit many middle-class pleasures like cheap air travel, cars, freeways, suburbs and single-family housing. Like it or not, we are to be crammed into the dense, urban living favored only by a small, if increasingly influential, section of the population.

This approach requires developing something akin to a wartime mentality, when people are most willing to surrender their interests for the greater good. It also requires demonizing the “enemy” – oil companies, skeptics, suburban developers – who are creating the apocalypse. There is little room for either debate about either means or ends, an intolerance that even extends to distinguished climate scientists whose crime is to differ, in any way, with the alarmist consensus.

Still, we have not yet surrendered to the rule of a single group of credentialed experts. In the United States, and most of the world, politics remain a creation of imperfect people who will decide based largely on self-interest. Below are some of the major political fault lines that will rage after the climate talks and will likely shape how the issue is addressed in coming years.

Rich countries versus developing world

Besides endless proselytizing, the discussions in Paris arguably will revolve around the ransom – $100 billion is one recent estimate – demanded by developing countries for their enacting greenhouse gas reduction policies. After all, the developing countries argue, the rise in carbon emissions began with the Industrial Revolution born in the West. Asking poorer countries to adopt tough climate policies threatens their growth at a time when many of them have made enormous progress in creating wealth and reducing poverty.

Most poorer countries are more interested in getting rich – which generally means they will increase emissions – than pleasing the rich in the developed world. China, by far the world’s leading emissions generator, wants to put off major reforms until 2030. Barely 18 percent of Chinese, according to Pew, consider climate change a major issue. The pope, Al Gore and Jerry Brown may worry endlessly about the fate of the planet, but in China, it’s the fate of the economy, and the Communist Party, that really matters.

Comparatively, China is far better positioned to cut emissions than the many much poorer countries, such as India, where the vast majority live near and below the poverty line, and which are likely to account for most new emissions. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has no intention of abandoning fossil fuels, including coal, which, due to developing country demand, remains the fastest-growing of all major energy sources. Modi recently moved to try to remove Greenpeace from India for trying to mobilize against coal-fired plants.

The green Left and corporate allies versus a fading Western middle class

The developing world’s leaders, beyond the obligatory statements for Western media consumption, will not embrace massive decarbonization. This leaves as the only way to reduce emissions quickly the slowing down of the already anemic economic and population growth in the wealthy countries. Some environmentalists openly embrace the notion of “de-development” or “de-growth” in high-income societies, a polite way of saying our children will not live better than we have, and maybe not as well as their grandparents did.

This goal will be used to justify housing policies that will force people into high-density living, which discourages baby-making, weakens overall growth and reduces both living standards and incomes. It will also likely accelerate the shift of production to developing countries.

Who loses here? Not Wall Street or the tech oligarchy, either of which can profiteer on crony ventures and whose industries – unlike autos, homebuilding, logistics and energy – are not overly impacted by high energy prices or green regulation.

The real losers will be the middle and working classes in Europe, America and East Asia, who will continue to struggle with low growth rates, diminished incomes and reduced prospects for gainful employment. The outlines of this divide, even during relatively good times, are already clearly discernible in California.

Climate and the 2016 election

Climate change tends to be an obsession among the high-minded, and often high-income, bastions along the Northeast and Pacific coasts. This agenda is now so indelibly imprinted among progressives that everyone from Bernie Sanders to Hillary Clinton seems to believe it is now the paramount national issue, as opposed to Islamic terrorism, inequality, crime or race relations. Sanders even went so far as to blame Syria’s meltdown into civil war on warming temperatures.

In this way, deep-blue-state Democrats are becoming like the increasingly isolated religious fundamentalists. But just as most Americans are not obsessed with abortion or gay marriage, relatively few see climate change as the priority issue. Gallup ranks climate change well below other public concerns, from the economy and terrorism to education. In fact, according to the pollster, climate change ranks well behind even other environmental issues like air and water pollution and the extinction of animal species, in terms of public concern.

This will affect electoral geography. A radical decarbonization policy will push much of the Great Plains and the South, notably Texas, further off the shelf for Democrats. Only the Donald Trump effect could make progressives competitive there. More critical may be the impacts in the pivotal heartland, which includes several states – Iowa, Kansas, Ohio, Illinois, Minnesota and Indiana – among those most reliant on coal for generating power.

Life after Paris

When the conference ends, there are likely to be many accounts claiming great progress that can be built upon. But, if climate activists and their media allies hold the floor in Paris, over time, mundane politics more likely will determine the outcomes.

Normally, we are told that politics are bad, but sometimes they can provide the road to reason. The kind of politics that seeks to ban cheap energy in developing countries or asks the Western middle classes to become downwardly mobile proletarians can only advance so far without eliciting resistance. Hopefully, politics will tilt us to more sensible and affordable approaches – like more-efficient cars, conservation and gradually substituting natural gas for coal – instead of lurching toward a ruinous economic agenda. Rather than push for some radical transformation of society that relatively few desire, it’s time to forge policies that create both a more prosperous and cleaner world.

Originally published in the Orange County Register

Cross-posted at New Geography