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
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.