Friday, February 22, 2008

Global-Warming Authoritarianism

Reprinted with permission from the Ayn Rand Institute. My comments follow.

February 20, 2008.

Irvine, CA--Many people are calling for drastic political action to cope with climate change. But the authors of a new book, The Climate Change Challenge and the Failure of Democracy, go much further, claiming that global warming can be effectively dealt with only by "an authoritarian form of government."

In an article promoting the book, co-author David Shearman praises China's recent ban on plastic shopping bags, expressing special admiration for its authoritarian quality. "The importance of the decision," he writes, "lies in the fact that China can do it by edict and close the factories."

"Views like this reveal an ugly and ominous aspect of the political frenzy surrounding global warming," said Dr. Keith Lockitch, a resident fellow of the Ayn Rand Institute. "Though easy to dismiss as overwrought and atypical, such views expose a very real authoritarianism underlying the calls for action on climate change.

"While few global-warming activists are willing--as Shearman is--to come out in favor of openly dictatorial policies, the kinds of laws and regulations that activists do call for will hand a comparably frightening degree of control over our lives to politicians and environmentalist bureaucrats.

"In one form or another, every minute of our every day involves the emission of carbon dioxide, the primary greenhouse gas claimed to be the cause of climate change. Every moment we spend running our computers, lighting our homes, powering countless labor-saving appliances, driving to work or school or anywhere else--we are using industrial-scale energy to make our lives better.

"But global-warming activists want our use of the fossil fuels that provide the major source of that energy to be strictly controlled by the government and severely curtailed, no matter the harm that causes.

"Despite the constant assertion that global-warming science is 'settled,'" Lockitch said, "it is far from certain that we face any sort of catastrophic global emergency. But in the name of 'saving the world' from unproven threats, such activists want to impose a draconian regimen of taxes, laws, regulations and controls that would affect the minutest details of our existence. Their solution to their projected 'environmental disaster' is to impose an actual economic disaster by restricting the energy that powers our civilization and subjecting its use to severe political control.

"Let us not allow panic over the exaggerated claims of climate alarmists to deliver us into the hands of would-be carbon dictators."


Galileo Blogs comments:

This is an excellent editorial that captures the essence of what is wrong with those who want to curtail human emissions of carbon dioxide in order to stop the alleged threat of global warming. In essence, it would create an "actual economic disaster" to stop the potential and not yet proven disaster of global warming.

Moreover, it can only do so by imposing dictatorial controls over our daily lives. This is so because "every minute of our day involves the emission of carbon dioxide." How can a government restrict our activities in such an intimate manner without assuming dictatorial powers?

This fight against global warming will enslave us and impoverish us to achieve its purported goal.

The proper image of our future, should the global warming dictators be successful, is Bangladesh, a poor and authoritarian country where thousands of people die every few years from floods. Contrast Bangladesh with Holland. Thousands of Dutch have lived below sea level for hundreds of years, yet they are safe from floods, protected today by a multi-billion dollar system of dikes, high-tech sensors and dams. However, the real protection of the Dutch against floods is their wealth. The Dutch can afford to protect themselves from floods.

Their relative freedom is what makes the Dutch wealthy. In contrast to the freedom and wealth of the Dutch, and the protection they offer against floods and other natural threats, the coming global warming dictatorship will only ensure that the entire world becomes like Bangladesh.

Where would you rather live?


Amit Ghate said...

Hi Galileo,

Nice post on an excellent press release. I would only add to your comments that Holland differs from Bangladesh not only in wealth, but also in its Western heritage -- which in turn explains why it has the legal and political structure necessary to value and implement such life-promoting action and long term planning. (I would question whether Saudi Arabia e.g. could follow Holland's example were it necessary.)

Galileo Blogs said...

Hi Amit,

I agree. The press release was excellent, which is why I featured and commented on it.

Thank you for your comment. You are making a very valuable point. It is not just wealth that differentiates Holland from Bangladesh, but the rational, Western values that prompted Holland to do something as forward-thinking as building a state-of-the-art flood control system to protect themselves. Holland's Western heritage was even present in the 1600s, when it protected itself with windmills and dikes, as it was in the 1900s, when Holland built its multi-billion dollar state-of-the-art flood management system following a major flood.

Interestingly, consider what the flooding of New Orleans says about the cultural heritage of that city. Although it is located in the United States, a country that shares a similar Western heritage as Holland, New Orleans also worships a "live for today" ethos embodied by the drunken revelry of Mardi Gras.

That hedonistic mentality, if enshrined as a central virtue, is the opposite of the forward-thinking, reality-focused Western mentality that Holland embodies. As a result, the managers of New Orleans' levee districts spent money on projects that engendered publicity and curried political favor rather than building state-of-the-art levees to withstand a severe flood.

The result was the flooding of New Orleans. Sadly, New Orleans still hasn't learned its lesson and the levees remain inadequate to the task of protecting that city from a severe hurricane. When Holland had a severe flood in the 1950s, it responded by building a flood control system designed to withstand the worst flood that could occur in 100 years. New Orleans responded with bickering and a quest to gain more booty from the federal government to divvy up among its residents. New Orleans' decision reflected the dominant values of its residents.

Bangladesh may have a similar mentality as New Orleans. Instead of living for today and drunkenness, the Bangladeshis turn to Muhammed or one of their other gods for help. Neither New Orleans nor Bangladesh does what is necessary: hire the best engineers money can buy, and build a state-of-the-art bulwark to protect themselves.

johnnycwest said...

I too believe that drastic political action is required to combat global warming, whether it is happening or not. We owe it to ourselves, as well as future generations to make radical political changes. The solution to any potential crisis or emergency is clear - freedom to practice true capitalism to become as productive and as wealthy as possible, as fast as possible. Life requires the political freedom to act rationally for one's own self interest - and if you want to act irrationally, no one will stop you at the point of a gun.

If we truly do face a crisis of climate change, or massive outbreaks of disease, or an asteroid collision, our need for capitalism and political freedom is even greater. I am tired of so-called radicals supporting the tired ideas which have enslaved humanity for most of history. They always look for new excuses and rationalizations, but the bankrupt ideas soldier on.

Global warming is just the newest red herring to distract the world from the real threat to our existence.

Galileo Blogs said...

Nicely put, johnnycwest. I agree with you completely. Capitalism is the cure for any potential disaster, whether it is global warming, global cooling, or anything else. Moreover, capitalism is the only way for humans to live, in general, not just in emergencies.

To attack capitalism in order to halt the potential problem of global warming is like cutting off a foot because it hurts you.

johnnycwest said...

And your point is excellent - (now I am beginning to feel like Chip and Dale the Warner Brothers chipmunks)- not just emergencies. With 24 hours cable news - yes I mean you CNN as the worst offender - EVERYTHING is a crisis. We lurch from crisis to crisis. Somehow we survive, but everyone is nervous and anxious. This is where Obama is getting his traction - he looks different and he sounds different and he is preaching change. Deep down people sense there is something wrong, but they have no clue what is really wrong. The scary thing is that they are turning to the cult of personality - yikes - where have we seen this before?

So we have our daily, weekly, monthly and decade crises. It is analogous to life boat ethics - worrying about the most marginal of situations and ignoring the central issues and principles . The house we are living in is slowly sliding into the ocean and we as a society are worried about the dirty carpet, the leaking faucet, and the broken cupboard door.

Sorry for the rant, but the current presidential race is making it all too clear how bad the political situation has become. I do not believe in the crisis mentality that animates the media. I do catch CNN now and again to stay current, but these crises are wearing me down.

To paraphrase Elvis Costello - I used to be disgusted, now I'm just amused, but I am starting to get really PO'ed.

Galileo Blogs said...

The news does have a breathless, crisis-of-the-moment tone. There is the today's crisis and, then... onto the next crisis.

It can be depressing to watch this. A good antidote, besides limiting how much you watch it, is to bear in mind the principles that underlie the alleged crises. Then you can see that most of the news really isn't news at all.

Examples: All weather news is non-news, unless you or a loved one lives in the affected region. Right there, you can eliminate 30% of CNN's reporting.

Most news stories about economic deprivations are non-news. Here we need to sub-divide further:

News about oppressed racial or gender groups, or the suffering of "the children." These stories are usually dreamed up by various welfare-state pressure groups demanding a handout from government. They can be ignored. That is 20% of CNN's reporting.

News about drug companies, insurance companies, banks, et al., who oppress poor consumers or workers. These stories are just anti-capitalist bleating, motivated by a Marxist class-struggle view of the world. These are 15% of CNN's reporting. They can be safely ignored.

What's left? Nearly all economic and business reporting suffers from either a Marxist bias or fallacious Keynesian framework of analysis. They can be dismissed wholesale. That is about 20% of CNN's reporting.

All stories about Bush's travels to foreign countries to hand out largesse for AIDS programs or other such nonsense, or to confer and hold hands and kiss various dictators and plutocrats such as Vladimir Putin and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, have no information value. That eliminates another 10% of CNN's reporting.

If my math is correct, that leaves about 5% of CNN's news stories that even approach worthiness of being watched. If you then take out all those stories that are treated superficially, that eliminates 80% of these remaining stories.

What's left? Only 1% of CNN's news stories are worth watching.

Now, if only I can find a way to filter the news to just that 1%, it would save a lot of angst, depression, and throwing things at the television!

Anonymous said...


I have a question: it was only after reading Ayaan Hirsi Ali's book that I learned how widely welfare statist the Dutch government is. How is it then that the Dutch and other Europeans nations continue to enjoy such high levels of wealth and prosperity compared to other welfare states in the world? I can understand a legacy of wealth and westernization has helped them in the accummulation of wealth, but how long do you think it will last? It clearly cannot last this long. Most of Europe and its citizens are Socialists and neo-hippies. Yet, these countries are rather well-off. For example, Italy is so heavily regulated, and that's not even talking about its corrupt bureaucrats and the mafia. Yet, Italy seems to function much more efficiently than India or Bangladesh, and it has much more wealth.

How is it that these Socialist nations in Europe are not collapsing or going bankrupt or becoming stagnant like the nations in South America or East Asia have and did?

You could also direct me to relevant reading material for this, if you can. Thanks!

Galileo Blogs said...

Hi Ergo!

We share something great in common, Ayaan Hirsi Ali's book Infidel. She is a great woman, and one of my heroes. In case you haven't seen it, I reviewed it on my blog a while back.

As for your question, I have one, possibly two, reading recommendations. I recommend the book entitled "The Other Path" by Hernando de Soto, published in 1989. If you read it, much of it will probably seem familiar. He is a Peruvian economist and he reviews the institutional barriers in Peru to property rights. Specifically, he shows that the bureaucratic rules, arbitrary dicta and other obstacles make it nearly illegal to acquire and dispose of property, or to legally operate a business. As a result, much of Peru's economy operates sub-rosa. Although I have not been to India, my knowledge of India from Indian friends, reading, etc., suggests to me that, although the subject is Peru, this book will strike a note of familiarity to you.

His conclusion is that the only path to prosperity for Peru (the "other path" away from terrorism, then endemic in the country) is the establishment of true property rights based on the rule of law. He concludes from his "bottoms up" analysis that prosperity cannot exist without property rights and all the related institutions and practices.

His conclusion is not remarkable to an Objectivist, but what is remarkable is how he reached it, from bottoms-up observation of the Peruvian economy. As a result, his conclusion rings powerfully true, well grounded in the "facts on the ground," so to speak.

Relating all this to India and Bangladesh is my second recommended reading, although I have not read it! It is the Heritage Foundation's Index of Economic Freedom. The Index, as far as I can determine, analyzes nearly every country on earth using similar criteria to those developed by Hernando de Soto. It ranks measures of freedom such as "Business Freedom", which consists of "how free entrepreneurs are to
start businesses, how easy it is to obtain licenses, and the
ease of closing a business."

Other key measures it ranks are investment freedom, fiscal freedom (i.e., the level of taxation), property rights, freedom from corruption, labor freedom, etc.

Based on my quick glance at the index, its methodology looks sound. Based on my reading of de Soto and Objectivism, it is logical to me that how free a country is in its economic *institutions* should determine how wealthy it is. Indeed, per capita GDP and a country's rank on the Heritage Foundation index is correlated.

Having said all that, here is where the Netherlands, India and Bangladesh rank on the Index of Economic Freedom:

Netherlands: 13th in world, 6th in region (Europe)

India: 115th in world, 21th in region (Asia Pacific)

Bangladesh: 149th in world, 27th in region

India's ranking has risen considerably since 1995. Interestingly, so has India's per capita GDP.

I agree with this explanation of the relative differences in prosperity among these countries. I welcome your thoughts.

Regarding your comment, I certainly agree that the hippy and welfare state mentality in Holland and elsewhere is a serious problem. Anecodotally, though, there is also quite a lot of evidence of rational pursuit of profit, along with institutional protection of property rights in Holland. On a personal note, I remember once arriving in Amsterdam very late on a business trip and staying in an exquisite small hotel, and then leaving for my meetings in the morning only to discover I had been staying practically next door to the red light district!

Perhaps that congruence says much about Holland. Obviously, should the red light district or the welfarist mentality encompass the whole country, they are doomed.


Anonymous said...

GB, thanks for your detailed comments and those recommendations. I am currently reading "Inspite of the Gods: The Strange Rise of India's Economy". The books takes a similar view of India's economy and points out how it is struggling to forge ahead despite its politicians and their Gods.

I hope to get a hold of De Soto's book somehow. I doubt I'll find it around in Mumbai. Might have to look online. The Index rankings were very helpful, and of course, it makes sense.

It bothers me that Europeans are mostly so anti-capitalists and hippies, and yet they enjoy a relatively high standard of living. And what bugs me the most is when they come to India as tourists or social workers and admire, romanticize, and celebrate India's poverty, villages, religions, and collectivism.

To me, this is a very insidious kind of unwitting activism because, for impressionable young Indians who lack a good sense of self-esteem, these hippie foreigners appear as messiah's from the West who have a "Gospel" to preach to the Indians: the Gospel is that the Indians have it better than the West, that they hold the "secret" of civilization, that India's "spirituality" must not be forsaken, that the Westerners themselves have rejected the Western ideals and wish to emulate the Indians, and that Indians should embrace their primitivism and superstitions.

It is revolting! And from personal experience, I know of a few people my age who have become Indian hippie followers of such foreign messiahs; they have joined the Gaia movement, they visit spiritual ashrams, and they rant about the ills of capitalism and materialism.

Galileo Blogs said...

I would also find the sight of those foreigners revolting. They are not the best of the West. Fortunately, back in Holland or New York or London, there are plenty of hard-working, rational people who create the wealth that these foolish hippies piss away in their quest for redemption outside of themselves.