Thoughts on Warming
by Ari Armstrong, August 3, 2006
By way of orienting ourselves to the debate over global warming, I suggest three thought experiments.
What would happen if it were proven that serious global warming is taking place, that its net effects will be seriously harmful for human life, and that it is entirely caused by factors other than human activity?
Would we expect the same outcry from environmentalists that we have do "do something" to stop global warming? If not, why not?
Two presumptions lie at the heart of the environmentalist movement. First, humans are not "natural." Second, the "natural" world (which excludes all things human) has intrinsic worth. The consequence of these two presumptions is that humans are a blight on the world, that our activities -- whatever they are -- constitute pollution, and that at best we can hope to live out our guilt-ridden lives reducing our "footprint," seeking indulgences through good environmental works to offset our original sin of being human, generally loathing humanity and its successes, and championing the environmentalist cause.
Thus, I predict that most environmentalists would not get very excited about "doing something" to stop non-human-influenced global climate change. It's only "natural," the environmentalists would tell us. Who are we presumptuous humans to seek to change the natural order? The climate has changed naturally many times in the past, passing the torch to new species. Who are humans to meddle with nature, to disadvantage those species that would benefit by warmer climates?
Furthermore, I predict that more than a few environmentalists would argue that it's immoral for humans to try to stop "natural" warming trends.
This suggests that the faux humanitarianism of environmentalists is just a cover to dupe the ignorant masses. If environmentalists get excited about "doing something" to stop global warming allegedly "caused" by humans, yet they would not get excited about employing human actions to stop purely "natural" climate changes, that indicates that human well-being is not really their animating principle.
Here's a second thought experiment that's closely related to the first. What would happen if it were proven that serious global cooling will soon take place, that its net effects will be seriously harmful for human life, and that it is entirely caused by factors other than human activity?
Would environmentalists urge us to "do something" to stop this purely "natural" global cooling? Would they advocate measures like tax breaks for Hummers? Subsidies for high-emissions coal-burning plants? Somehow, I rather doubt it.
In addition to moralizing about the presumptuousness of humans, environmentalists would also mass produce arguments about unintended consequences, if the issue were purely "natural" climate change.
Even if the climate change might hurt humans, environmentalists would argue, our "solutions" would be unlikely to have much effect. Furthermore, our "solutions" might do a variety of things we can't predict. Finally, why should we spend a bunch of resources to try to change the climate, when we could simply adapt to the changes? An aggressive campaign to try to change the climate through human action would only result in the rich capitalist nations exploiting the world's poor by imposing the brunt of the costs on them.
If my predictions are accurate, they suggest an environmentalist bias toward finding human "causes" for climate changes. Even the possibility of the slightest human influence translates into a human "caused" catastrophe.
Here's a considerably different thought experiment. What if it were proven that serious global warming is taking place, that its net effects will be seriously harmful for human life, that the change is significantly caused by humans, but no government action could be taken to address the problem?
People would pursue two basic approaches, singly or in combination: adapt to the change or try to figure out a way to reduce it.
In his March 28 blog, economist George Reisman argues that government ought not play any role in trying to alter climate change. He takes the adaptation route: "Economic freedom is what is required to cope with global warming, global freezing, or any other form of large-scale environmental or social change. If global warming turns out to be a fact, the free citizens of an industrial civilization will have no great difficulty in coping with it -- that is, of course, if their ability to use energy and to produce is not crippled by the environmental movement and by government controls otherwise inspired."
I won't be surprised if, within a few decades, innovative businesses figure out how to economically mass-produce cleaner energy, whether through improved nuclear technology or some other advance. The greatest barrier to such progress is political interference in the economy, whether promoted by environmentalists or any other group. The great improvements in human well-being have always come about because of liberty and capitalism -- the very things opposed by environmentalists.