Skeptic of Combating Global Warming

by Don Boudreaux on March 8, 2007

in Environment

For those many people who believe that the case for "combating" global warming is open and shut — for those people whose jaws drop in disbelief or whose eyes roll with contempt and ridicule when they encounter someone who is skeptical about rushing headlong into action against global warming — the video that Russ posted yesterday is especially relevant.  (Or, I should say instead, that video should be especially relevant.)

People in the world today — especially those of us in the industrialized, commercial, globalized parts of the world — are vastly better off than we were just a few decades ago.  Vastly.  Billions of ordinary people are much wealthier and healthier.

Let’s assume that every bit of the industry and commerce that generated these increases in wealth and improvements in health contributed to global warming — and let’s also assume that this global warming presents non-trivial adjustment challenges for humankind.

Is it so clear that reining in capitalism to fight global warming would improve human-beings’ prospects for healthier, longer lives?  It’s not clear to me (especially because nearly all proposals for fighting global warming involve giving power to politicians).  I concede the possibility; it’s the likely reality that I doubt.

What distresses me most about the global-warming debate is the general failure of many self-styled environmentalists to appreciate the gigantic, gargantuan enormity of the benefits that humans today, worldwide, enjoy from the capitalist institutions that are accused of causing global warming.  This obliviousness to the towering benefits of global commerce and industry is scary; people suffering this obliviousness do not come across as trustworthy analysts of the problems that society confronts because of global warming.  These persons do not come across as trustworthy stewards of the power necessary to combat global warming in the ways that many demand that it be combated.

I am not so much a skeptic of global warming.  But I am indeed a skeptic of combating global warming.

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{ 8 comments }

Matt C. March 8, 2007 at 11:06 am

Don-
I am not sure that the "environmentalist" are really all the caring about human acheivements. Many seem to believe that we, humans, have no place within the world and that we do nothing but destroy the environment rather than adapting to it or making it adapt to our needs.

This idea of primative beast seems to cloud their judgements in many arguments.

Person March 8, 2007 at 11:27 am

Don_Boudreaux, you're echoing a conclusion I came to. I see a lot of people on forums casually say something like, "Yeah, you can build carbon sinks, but it's a lot easier just to not emit the stuff in the first place." as it if were obvious.

It's hard to get people even to see that you have to look at *both* the harms, *and* the opportunity forgone.

Even worse, someone once said that I don't have a right to use incandescents because "Your right to swing your fist ends at my nose. When your wasteful use of energy impacts others, that's my business."

If that rigorously defined what he meant by "waste", and decided that the waste *specifically* was what violated his rights, he would see he's essentially saying, "Emit all the carbon you want … but you had better damn well reach a minimum threshold of happiness per ton emitted!"

Sam Grove March 8, 2007 at 11:38 am

Of course, the core of the anti-capitalist sentiment is anti-human, that is, anti-individual.
If billions must die to sate Gaia, then so be it.

Daniel March 8, 2007 at 2:06 pm

Don,

Right on! You've expressed most of my views, though I must admit I'm still a bit of a skeptic on global climate change. Reports in the '90s said the frequency and intensity of El Nino's were indicative of climate change. Yet in this decade La Nina's have been more frequent and intense. We were told in 2004 and 2005 the the number and severity of hurricanes was indicative. But last year the lack of hurricanes was due to a cooler Atlantic Ocean, which of course could also be tied to climate change because the icebergs are melting. Though we're having a cold winter this year, caused by an El Nino, the BBC World Service reported this week that a coming La Nina in the Pacific will cause more hurricanes in the Atlantic. It's enough to make one's head spin.

But back on your point about being a skeptic on combating global warming. I agree with you and with the earlier post that it seems to be more of an attempt to use global warming to change our economic system than it is to combat global warming. Back in the early days of the concern over global warming (when the term still was global warming rather than global climate change), which was a time when skepticism was still tolerated, I read something that went: “If I'm wrong (global warming doesn't happen) and we spend all this money to combat it it's no big deal. But if if you're wrong (global warming doesn't happen) and we don't spend the money to combat it, then there will be hell to pay.” I didn't realize it at the time, but the writer was restating Pascal's Wager. Replacing the existence of God with the global warming. Having been trained to think in terms of expected values, I knew that the writer was placing an infinite value on the problems associated with global warming, so, no matter how low the probability of it occurring, it would always have a positive value. Or, since I'm a finance professor, always have the highest net present value. The argument has other problems of course. It is an example of Garbage In Garbage Out. It ignores opportunity costs and the time value of money. And it's not a controlled study. If global warming doesn't occur, the advocate will always say see I told you so.

I made a comment on this topic yesterday on the EconLib blog. Arnold Kling had responded to another blogger who responded to one of his essays. I said the other other blogger was a true believer. According to Eric Hoffer's book, The True Believer, every mass movement has something in common. Their problems are caused by someone else. For the environmental movement, the someone else was Christianity and still is capitalism. Christianity was evil because of the protestant work ethic and man is supposed to have dominion over the earth, which meant rape and pillage it. But now, the church has been co-opted. Genesis now reads man is to have stewardship over the earth, which means to protect it and care for it. So the enemy that remains is the free market. An example of this mindset is NPR's Living on Earth program. In the early '90s (sorry I don't have a link for transcripts) it had a broadcast were they discussed do we need a new economic system. The program began that according to economics some goods, like air, are so plentiful that they're free. More than a decade before, one of my undergraduate economics professors remarked that there are no free goods – if you want to pollute the air, or fly through it, or broadcast over the air, you must pay. But the environmentalist, at least most, believe markets are wrong.

I assume these environmentalist think that believers in free markets think that the environment is the enemy. As Spock said in Star Trek IV “killing all the whales is not logical.” I want to live in a cleaner, better environment without fear of the harms from man made climate change. But as you said, I'm a skeptic of the ways proposed to get there.

Daniel

Bruce Hall March 8, 2007 at 2:50 pm

Sometimes there is more to public pronouncements than meets the eye. Just as yesterday's post on Income and Health shows there is more to the story, when you begin to dig into the data of global warming… there is more to the story.

http://hallofrecord.blogspot.com/2007/03/us-extreme-temperatures-update.html

Depending on how data is structured or selected, in the U.S. we are experiencing:

a) a warming period
b) a normal period
c) a cooling period

But only a) sells newpapers and grabs votes.

Neil Craig March 10, 2007 at 10:20 am

I think most "environmentalists" & virtually all their leaders do not believe in catastrophic warming – it is merely a stick with which to beat us into opposing economic growth, scientific progress & capitalosm – this Luddite fear being their real agenda.

2 things which I think prove this.

Their attitude to nuclear power. Nuclear is the only practical way, except for hydro, to produce large amounts of electricity. It produces virtually zero CO2 (far less than the side effects of windmillery). If they genuinely believed we faced ctatstrophe they would spsre no effort to encourage nuclear. With a few honourable exceptions they are the strongest opponents.

The "environmntalist" answer to global warming is fewer aircraft & less industry generally. 30 years ago they believed we faced a global ice age & demonstrated for us to adopt their solution – fewer aircraft & less industry generallye

LS March 13, 2007 at 11:03 am

Great to watch the C4 documentary this week. But will politicians watch it? will it be recommended to school kids, as a counter to Al Gore's shit? Most unlikely. My biggest suprise in this latest eco-fanatasy is not the fact that politicians are lapping it up (that's what you'd expect from that type) nor that the media are spouting the tripe. No my greatestest disappointment is that people I previously admired for their unbiased scientific credentials such as David Attenborough and Australia's Tim Flannery have for all intents and purposes been 'converted' to the GW religion. Their snouts are firmly immersed in the trough and making dough from the fairy tale. Trouble is (convenient for them though) is that by the time the bubble has burst and semi-sanity reigns again, most of these peole will be long gone. Sad really.

Finally! A Fair and Balanced Mainstream Reporter July 9, 2007 at 12:54 pm

CBS 4 Reporter Shomari Stone was praised on the “Schnitt Show,” a syndicated, moderately conservative talk-show, for his ground-breaking report on “Global Warming.” ( http://cbs4.com/video/?id=34785@wfor.dayport.com )

South Florida affiliate station 610 WIOD airs the show from 3:00pm to 6:00pm, Monday – Friday. On average, host Todd Schnitt has an estimated 800,000 listening audience across the country after scoring a huge deal XM Satellite radio.

The Schnitt Show began praising Shomari Stone on Monday, May 21, 2007 at 4:00pm about his report on Global Warming.

Schnitt said, “I have to give credit where credit is due. I have to highlight this individual. I am taking the time to reach out to a reporter, Shomari Stone, in Miami, he’s a CBS 4 WFOR reporter. Shomari did a news story on Global Warming. Instead of asking Hurricane Expert Dr. William Gray about hurricanes, he did a story about how Dr. Gray says humans ARE NOT causing global warming.” “Shomari Stone dared to expose the other side. He had the cahoonays.”

“I have no idea what Shomari’s position is personally. I have no idea. But you’ve got to hand it to him for presenting the other side of the story. A rarity. He’s good. Good job Shomari Stone. I appreciated the diligence that you put into the report.” “Finally, mainstream media, has a Dr., a professor that says, wait a sec, not so fast, on this annointed reason that’s been shoved down our faces. That’s all I ask for. Is just the other side of the debate. I’m not saying Al Gore should not present his stuff in “An Inconvenient Truth.” I just like both sides of an issue presented. Fantastic report! Finally I can’t tell you the last time I saw something like that. I don’t think it’s been done.”

You can watch CBS 4 Reporter Shomari Stone’s Exclusive Global Warming Report by clicking or copy and pasting the following link:

http://cbs4.com/video/?id=34785@wfor.dayport.com

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