Conservatives often affirm that creating alarm over alleged global warming is meant to lead to another attempt at collectivist control of our lives. They say that radical environmentalism is the new communism. This makes sense but I think it misses two marks. First, it makes it sound as if the attempt would be innocent enough if only it failed. Second, it implies a certain conscious cynicism on the part of proponents of the climate change view of the world. I think both assumptions are wrong and that it matters that they are wrong.
The religious cult of climate change generates fervent belief in its followers and it will have done our society much damage even if they fail utterly to impose on us the massive socio-economic transformations toward global poverty they pursue. Its applications are ridden with large, crude errors: Today’s Wall Street Journal (10/29/09) mentions an article in the current issue of Science . The article explains how tax-subsidized ethanol turns out more carbon than gasoline.
My judgment that the climate change movement is a religious cult is based on common, ordinary observations: The forceful denial of contrary evidence, the demonization of non-believers, the attempt to shut up effective contradictors by having them fired, the apocalyptic beliefs, are all religious hallmarks of fanatical religiosity. Accordingly, most of the believers are completely sincere, I think, and all the more dangerous for that reason. It’s a strategic mistake to think they are corrupt. It’s easier to change the minds of the corrupt than of the religiously stupefied.
Secondly, much damage will have been done even if they fail utterly. Curiously, reading a second book by an intelligent, calm, collected environmental advocate brought to my mind the damage the current “environmental hysteria” is causing, even if the hysterical ones never reach any of their goals. The first book was Bjorn Lomborg’s 2001 Skeptical Environmentalist in which the author uses hard facts and tight logic to destroy just about every single militant belief. Lomborg has done more than anyone, more than silly Al Gore himself, to expose the religious nature of the movement. Believers cannot read any part of the book without experiencing salutary doubt. That’s why it’s banned by the church of environmentalism. Yet, Lomborg insists he is fighting to improve mankind’s use of the physical environment. He is an environmentalist but one who prefers facts to wild myths of monsters under the bed.
The second book, published in 2005, is titled Collapse , with blinding clarity of purpose. The book systematically warns us of eventual (not eminent) societal disaster if we don’t collectively change our ways, a standard message from green and assorted doomsday sayers. The author, Jared Diamond however is difficult to dismiss out of hand. He has real scientific training, in the form of a doctorate in Physiology from Cambridge University. He possesses all the good academic credentials one wishes for (I, for one, take such things seriously.) Then, he is enormously well read in addition to having amassed much field experience, all by choice. Finally, Diamond gave us before Collapse, the luminous and commercially very successful 1997 Guns, Germs and Steel. (It’s rare that thick books written with scholarly care become commercial successes.)
I found myself reading Collapse reluctantly because of its announced objective of warning us of coming environmentally-caused disaster. I have heard so much tripe, so much non-sense, so many lies, I have witnessed so many exercises in stubborn stupidity about the environment than my mind is more than half-shut to anything that sounds “environmental.” It’s become so bad, I actively avoid “organic” produce at the supermarket. I tell myself that I may not be able to stop the tide but that, as a man of conscience, I don’t have to swim with it, an imbecilic smile painted on my face. And yet, Diamond is fairly persuasive. He is no threatening us with hundred-foot waves crashing over New York City. Instead, he carefully lays out several scenarios based on the continuation of current practices. I am left with the impression, even after close critical scrutiny, that one or more of his scenarios are plausible. It seems to me we might be preparing ourselves for a non-cataclysmic descent into serious poverty because, collectively, we mismanage the physical environment, all in concrete, measurable ways.
The damage the climate change jihadists will have done is to have closed through their excesses the minds and hearts of rational people to possible improvements on current practice. Some, many, of these improvements are possible without grievous assault on conservative consciences or on rationality.
First, what I don’t believe. I don’t give a rat’s ass about my carbon footprints (or about Silly Al’s hundred times larger footprint). Let me repeat what I have said several times on this blog: The Norse inhabitants of Greenland (so-called “Vikings”) were eating home-raised beef around the year 1100, something you could not do now, after “global warming.” It was warmer then, before cars, before the Industrial Revolution, before anything, when mankind’s numbers were very small. End of idea of man-made global warming! By the way, Jared Diamond has a beautifully detailed account of the Norse Greenland settlements in Collapse. If you want to learn more about the un-going causes of my unbelief, follow the “Climate change” link [here].
Yet, I would not be surprised if unprecedented large numbers of people, acting mostly with ideas and ethics derived from a time when people were few and technologically weak, managed to do real damage. The idea is not absurd but it has almost escaped our attention because of our need to protect ourselves from the shrill, irrational mendacity of mainstream environmentalists. And then, precisely because I am a conservative, I like good resource management. That’s one of the reasons I put my faith in the market in the first place. (Another reason to dislike all socialism is that it’s inherently wasteful.) As a conservative, I am bound to dislike waste. It’s apparent to me that some of our everyday habits are wasteful and that they could be improved without reducing the area of legitimate individual liberty. Below are three examples.
Every durable good I buy from a store seems to me obviously over-packaged, not a little but a lot. It may well be that I am misunderstanding some of the functions of elaborate packaging but it should not be impossible to explain them to me. Consumers should encourage wholesalers and retailers alike to justify their packaging practices on the package itself. I am not calling for more regulation of manufacturing or of retail, but for greater transparency sanctioned by consumer choice alone. That would economize on transport costs and yes, save trees. (I like trees; shoot me!)
I drive a medium-size pick-up truck. I have my own reasons for this, one of which is the arms race on the highways. It’s a moderate gas guzzler. I estimate that about one third or the mileage I put on this vehicle is on flat ground, within a shortish distance of my house. I wouldn’t mind bicycling there when the weather is good (most of the year). I wouldn’t mind saving gas money and depriving the government of some tax revenue and it would not be bad for my health. Except that it might be terminally bad for my health. Motor vehicles are mixed too closely with bikes for safety and many drivers are mindless road-hogs. It seems to me it should be possible better to separate the two kinds of traffic, at least in many places, at minimum cost and by steps. And, by the way, since the laws are already on the books, I wouldn’t mind draconian enforcement of stop signs regulations. Jumping one just cost one of my friends $500. He is not likely to do it again soon.
I have priced solar heating options for my house. Even in sunny California they take too long to pay for themselves to be economically attractive, in the narrow meaning of “economic.” Yet, as a luxury choice, some of them make sense. Think of it this way: Solar heating is no more extravagant than gambling, whoring, or owning some fancy cars. It’s comparable to a sturdy beer habit. ($30/week= $1600/year= $25,000 over fifteen years.) If I ever take the step, it will be because it separates me to a significant extent from government-regulated and government-colluding big corporations. It will be a positive step toward personal autonomy, with the additional merit of taking revenue away from government. (It’s devilishly difficult to tax sunlight though I am sure they will try.) In addition, taking energy from the sun is technologically elegant. It would give me the kind of aesthetic satisfaction that others get from a fancy car, precisely.
And, of course, there are powerful reasons of national security why we should wish to extract less and less of our energy from the bad neighborhoods where we undoubtedly finance those who want to slaughter us.
Those are just three small examples above of how one can be a conservative environmentalist. I am sure there are many more. We must just resist the green crazies’ ability to annoy us until we can’t think straight anymore.
[Editor's note: this essay first appeared on Dr. Delacroix's blog, Facts Matter, on October 29th 2009]