Wednesday, August 01, 2007

What Should We Do About Global Warming?

[The following was my reply to this interesting post. I am re-posting it here.]

The big problem with the AGW (anthropogenic global warming) argument is that it is used by those who hate capitalism to attack capitalism. Whether it is true or not, the argument has been seized upon by those who want to throttle industrial activity by restricting the most fundamental underpinning of our standard of living: the combustion of fossil fuels.

The combustion of fossil fuels provides most of our electricity, heats our homes, and powers our planes, trains and automobiles. Restricting the burning of fossil fuels (by whatever mechanism, such as a "carbon tax") means that all of these activities will be more costly, and will happen less. Our standard of living will fall. That is undeniable.

Now, whether it is moral to sacrifice our standard of living to prevent AGW is not a scientific issue to be addressed by atmospheric scientists or geophysicists or any other "hard" scientists. It is a philosophical, economic and legal issue. That is where Objectivism comes in.

If we assume that AGW is a reality (and a serious one, at that), I contend that it is not a governmental matter. However, "we" should absolutely do something about it. This means that each of us, if we live in a coastal region, should absolutely gradually build up seawalls and embankments to handle the projected 2 foot increase in sea levels that will occur over the next century. It means that "we" should make sure our air conditioners are in working order to handle the couple degree increase in temperatures we will gradually experience over the next 100 years. It means that those of us who are investors and farmers should consider, sometime over the next century, buying valueless land in Canada and Siberia that could become arable over the next 100 years.

It means that we should continue using our free time -- a consequence of our high standard of living, which itself is a consequence in part of having cheap energy that comes from burning fossil fuels -- to research cheaper and better ways to make electricity, air condition our homes, grow crops, develop new medicines and forms of entertainment. In other words, each of us -- using cheap energy and the high standard of living it makes possible -- should use our minds to enjoy our lives, and in so doing, create new technologies that propel our standard of living ever higher.

This ascent of man is itself in part a function of cheap energy. Such ascent is hamstrung by restrictions on that energy that make it more expensive, in order to prevent our atmosphere getting hotter by a couple of degrees and our sea levels from rising by a couple of feet over many decades.

This is the context of the AGW argument, and why those who hate capitalism have gravitated so enthusiastically to it. They see the AGW argument not so much as an "environmental" issue, but rather as a way of attacking man and industrial civilization.

They are right. The AGW argument *is* being used to attack man and industrial civilization. This is not to say that scientifically understanding whether AGW is true, and how severe it is, is not important. Getting a handle on the concretes is important, and does bear on what we should do about it. However, it is unlikely that any scientific understanding of the problem will show that it is of such a magnitude that it merits *governmental* intervention, and the concomitant reduction in our freedom and standard of living.

6 comments:

LarryO said...

GB,

I was with you until your conclusion that "we" should "absolutely" take a wide variety of actions.

I'm wondering why, under Objectivist principles, "we" have any obligation whatsoever to those "future generations" that environmentalists use so effectively to guilt us into such sacrifices.

Galileo Blogs said...

larryo,

You are correct. We do not have an obligation toward an anonymous future generation. The point of my commentary is that each of us is responsible for proactively and rationally selfishly managing his own life. That means responding to whatever problems come our way, such as a gradually rising sea level or temperature, if indeed the global warming theorists are correct.

I wanted to stress that each of us is capable of responding individually to something so minor and gradual as these supposedly drastic harms arising from global warming. Global warming, if indeed it is occurring and is man-made, is not an issue that requires a governmental response.

My perspective is individualistic, self-responsible and self-interested. I construe it as fully consistent with Objectivism. I apologize if my meaning was unclear.

LarryO said...

GB,

No need for an apology. As a fellow Objectivist, I’m just trying to get a handle on the situation. But, I still can't make the leap in logic that concludes an individual living now is compelled by Objectivist ethics to take any action whatsoever to counter such an event that will occur far beyond his own lifetime, even if accepted as a certainty.

I would also suggest that the marketplace, not the sacrificial actions of the believers, and not government financing, will be the inspiration for the necessary research to find effective solutions (if need be). In fact, self-imposed restrictions on power usage could be counter-productive in the marketplace because it masks real demand.

Galileo Blogs said...

larryo,

With all due respect, you are still misunderstanding what I am saying. Please refer to my prior comment. I am definitely *not* saying that we, individually or otherwise, have an obligation to future generations. In fact, I am saying the opposite.

My point is to emphasize that we are only responsible for our own lives, and that by exercising our responsibility for our own lives, we can handle such a minor problem as rising sea levels that we may face *in our own lifetimes* just as we handle other problems in life.

We handle such problems, when we encounter them, out of our individual self-interest, not out of concern for a future generation.

Does that make sense?

Respectfully,
GB

LarryO said...

GB,

Absolutely.

And, my humble apologies for any overly repetitious questions.

Although the Global Warming Apocalypse (real or imagined) is so far in the future that it shouldn’t concern us now, we still have a legitimate concern, as you have already point out, with government involvement in the solutions.

While any effort to determine the validity of AGW theory would appear to be a colossal waste of time for anyone other than a trained scientist, how can we otherwise stave off statist solutions — especially with a public that finds value in self-sacrifice?

In the meantime, I would suggest that every Objectivist faced with the admonitions and regulations to achieve energy-savings, carbon emission reductions, etc., give first consideration not only to their own personal comfort and needs, but also to demonstrating a resistance to the statist panaceas of the advocates.

Galileo Blogs said...

As an Objectivist, I would guiltlessly enjoy all of the pleasures life has to offer, especially those that consume energy, plastics, you name it.

The modern-day environmentalist mania is a modern version of the medieval practice of wearing hair shirts. I will not wear a hair shirt. I will wear a comfortable shirt, perhaps made in part with petroleum-based synthetic fibers, as I relax in my well-air conditioned apartment that uses abundant quantities of fossil-fuel generated electricity.

I will do this while firing up the barbie in the backyard, emitting greenhouse gases in the air, while I eat my red steak and sip my frigid cold beer cooled using abundant heaps of electricity in my roomy refrigerator.

If I have waterfront property and discover that sea levels are rising an inch or two a decade, I will ponder my planned 1/2 foot sea wall addition that I will build 30 years from now while I sip my beer and contemplate all of the wealth I can accumulate before then to pay for it. I can accumulate that wealth because our economy is prosperous, in part because of the availability of cheap energy from the burning of greenhouse gas-producing fossil fuels.

When viewed at the level of one's own individual life, the whole global warming debate becomes alarmingly silly, if it weren't the basis of bad laws that threaten to make our lives nasty, brutish and short.

Objectivism... the key to guilt-free living, and the philosophical defender of our prosperity.

Thank you for your comments. No need for apologies for making me clarify my comments! I enjoy doing it.

Best,
GB