Anyone familiar with the disastrous environmental impact of the communist grip on eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union knows what happens when unaccountable totalitarians hold power. If nothing else, the Chernobyl disaster should give one a clue, a legacy Ukrainians will have to endure for decades more, if not centuries. Apparently, though, one does not become the United Nation’s climate chief by collecting such clues.  This week, Christiana Figueres offered a prescription for solving global warming — communism!

United Nations climate chief Christiana Figueres said that democracy is a poor political system for fighting global warming. Communist China, she says, is the best model.

China may be the world’s top emitter of carbon dioxide and struggling with major pollution problems of their own, but the country is “doing it right” when it comes to fighting global warming says Figueres.

“They actually want to breathe air that they don’t have to look at,” she said. “They’re not doing this because they want to save the planet. They’re doing it because it’s in their national interest.”

Doing it right? We’ll get back to that in a moment. Anyone offering communism as an environmental solution has to be either ignorant or deliberately obtuse. The Federalist’s Colin Grabow offered a primer on Monday to all those with short memories of what the fall of the Soviet empire exposed:

Not only a blight on the human condition, communism’s impact on the planet’s ecology has proven consistently ghastly.

When the Berlin Wall came down and the Iron Curtain was finally lifted to expose the inner workings of communism to Western eyes, one of the more shocking discoveries was the nightmarish scale of environmental destruction. The statistics for East Germany alone tell a horrific tale: at the time of its reunification with West Germany an estimated 42 percent of moving water and 24 percent of still waters were so polluted that they could not be used to process drinking water, almost half of the country’s lakes were considered dead or dying and unable to sustain fish or other forms of life, and only one-third of industrial sewage along with half of domestic sewage received treatment.

The “central planning” of communism turned a massive inland sea into a desert:

In the early 1960, the Soviet government decided the two rivers that fed the Aral Sea, the Amu Darya in the south and the Syr Darya in the northeast, would be diverted to irrigate the desert, in an attempt to grow rice, melons, cereals, and cotton. This was part of the Soviet plan for cotton, or “white gold”, to become a major export.

…From 1960 to 1998, the [Aral Sea]’s surface area shrank by approximately 60%, and its volume by 80%…The amount of water it had lost is the equivalent of completely draining Lake Erie and Lake Ontario.

Colin gives a number of examples of communist “environmentalism,” and then aptly diagnoses the essential problem with totalitarianism and the environment:

Perhaps most obviously, communism invariably means authoritarianism (how else would a New Soviet Man emerge to work towards the bright, shiny future prophesied by Marx and Engels without re-education camps and control over the levers of societal machinery?), with little tolerance for dissent or concerns about hazardous waste in the worker’s paradise. To voice the opinion that perhaps not quite all was well, or that the air smelled funny, was to invite suspicions being a saboteur, kulak or harboring bourgeois tendencies.

Second, communism means an absence of property rights, having all been surrendered to “the people,” which is to say the state. As that which belongs to everyone in fact belongs to no one, who is to be confronted over the factory sending toxic plumes into the sky which then descends on the cornfield, or the dumping of waste into the river plied by tourists on cruise boats? And who really owns the cornfield or the boats?

Lastly, communism also simply cannot compete with capitalism in the production of wealth and technology, both of which greatly assist in addressing environmental problems. Why should anyone be surprised that only one East German power station had the necessary equipment to scrub sulphur from its emissions? This, after all, was a country whose answer to Western automobiles — the Trabant launched in the late 1950s — did not even include a fuel gauge in its early versions, something first introduced decades prior (unsurprisingly the Trabant was also bad for the environment, emitting nine times the hydrocarbons and five times the carbon monoxide emissions of the average European car of 2007).

As if on cue, the very communist nation hailed by the UN climate chief as “doing it right”on air quality is at the moment engulfed in a gigantic smog cloud that has residents running for cover:

Air pollution readings spiked across China’s capital Beijing on Thursday, prompting residents to don air masks and offices and homes to put electric air purifiers on overdrive.

Commuters across Beijing found themselves cloaked in a thick, gray haze as air pollution monitors across the city registered readings over 20 times the recommended exposure levels suggested by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Beijing Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau readings Thursday for PM 2.5 – air particulate smaller than 2.5 microns blamed for a range of severe respiratory ailments – registered over 500 micrograms per cubic meter. The WHO recommends no more than 25 micrograms per cubic meter.

Officials in Beijing issued a severe air warning and urged residents to wear protective masks while outdoors, and said the elderly and schoolchildren should stay indoors until conditions improved.

This is not a new problem for Beijing. It was a huge concern for the 2008 Summer Olympics, and almost exactly a year ago the air quality was upgraded to “hazardous” after another of these smog clouds began to dissipate.

I know that those who forget history are bound to repeat it, but that’s usually in the context of history outside of one’s lifetime. This is a great example of just how much credibility we can put in the UN’s climate science, and what its ultimate purpose really is.

Update: Be sure to check out my Green Room piece on the way China “does climate change right” by selling smog as a benefit.