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Home | Blog | Must Free-Marketers Reject Global Warming?

Must Free-Marketers Reject Global Warming?


You can't make this stuff up. Someone at the UK Guardian named David Grimes has declared that "economic liberalism," by which he means the ideology of laissez-faire, "clashes" with "scientific evidence." Which scientific evidence, you might ask? Well, the unassailable scientific dogma of global warming is one:

Climate change illustrates this well, because despite overwhelming evidence of anthropogenic influence, there is a tendency for those with pronounced free-market views to reject the reality of global warming. The reason underpinning this is transparent – if one accepts human-mediated climate change, then supporting mitigating action should follow. But the demon of regulation is a bridge too far for many libertarians.

There is no doubt that some people who purport to be advocates for free markets reject arguments of anthropogenic global warming out of hand without even considering the evidence. I'm agnostic on the matter myself, although I certainly reject the ludicrous assertion that there is such a thing as "settled science" and that the matter is not debatable. And unlike many allegedly great men and women of scientific inquiry, I refuse to agree that global warming "deniers" are heretics who should be burned at the stake (or the modern equivalent of having one's career ruined). To anyone capable of logical thought, it should be obvious that one's support for free markets is utterly independent from one's opinions on the matter of global warming. There's no reason at all why someone who accepts the reality of anthropogenic global warming would have to support government regulation of all energy usage. To argue such would be like arguing that one's acceptance of the Bering Strait theory determines one's opinions about the minimum wage. So why would Grimes think this? We can see it in his quotation above where he says:

The reason underpinning this is transparent – if one accepts human-mediated climate change, then supporting mitigating action should follow.

Ah, so there it is. Acceptance of global warming = acceptance of "mitigation" = acceptance of government regulation. Case closed. Grimes packs many assumptions into just this one statement. Let's look more closely: If one accepts that global warming is a grave danger, is it nonetheless necessary to support "mitigating action" even if it can't be shown to actually improve anything at all? Even assuming that global warming were proven beyond a reasonable doubt, the burden of proof of success is still on those who want mitigating action. Specifically, they need to be able to prove that such action has  a reasonable chance of achieving the desired ends. They most certainly have not done so. Indeed, many scientists say it's already too late to stop it. Many argue that even if major global action were taken right now, the expected result over the next century would be too small to make any difference. In other words, it's futile at this point to enact mitigating actions. (Also here.) Presumably, if it's too late, then there's no reason we should still be debating mitigating action. But of course, having realized that the "it's too late" message is a PR disaster, the message has instead been changed to "it won't be too late if we act right now!" By their own admission, if global controls on production and energy use are not imposed by 2020, we're all doomed. When 2020, rolls around, however, look for the date to be changed to 2025, and so on. Indeed, the global warming gang is like the Seventh Day Adventists who kept predicting the end of the world in the nineteenth century, and then changing the date when it didn't happen.

Note, however, that the entire narrative depends on the assumption that all mitigating action must consist of socialist edicts and regulations. Could there be mitigating action that is not based on socialist command and control systems? We all know that any such suggestion would be laughed out of the room by global warming scientists, who in addition to being experts on climate, are also experts on politics, economics, and anything else they decide to be "experts" on. Private solutions aren't even worth discussing in their view, so even if a laissez-faire minded global-warming enthusiast were to suggest something other than government control of the global economy, he would be immediately excluded from the debate. We all know what "mitigating action" really means. So, there may be any number of mitigating actions supported by global-warming minded free-market people, from better water filtration, to agricultural engineering, to desalinization, to water delivery systems, all which might be done within the context of markets. But no, none of that is acceptable. The only acceptable "mitigating action" for people like Grimes is global governmental control  of the entire means of energy usage and production. Also important to the support of any mitigating action is an analysis of the cost. Knowing that the true cost to people of submitting to a global warming regulatory regime would be very high, it is necessary for the global warming regulators to portray the effects of global warming as being nothing less than a nightmarish post-apocalyptic landscape of Mad Max proportions.

This enables them to argue that no cost is too high to adopt their regime. Back in the real world, however, costs must always be considered. Most of the "solutions" to global warming offered by the global elites involve the widespread impoverishment of much of the human population by limiting the production of goods, and the use of transportation resources. Such "solutions" would massively undermine advances in the standards of living for billions of ordinary people just as they are finally starting to come out of grinding levels of poverty. In other words, most of the anti-global warming regulators (most of whom are wealthy white people in first-world countries) want to deny the poor of the world their washing machines.  For Grimes, a white intellectual in a wealthy country, he won't bear the true brunt of the global warming "solutions." But for many people, the cost of the "solutions" for global warming will be extremely high indeed. So perhaps many people can be forgiven for rejecting the rich-white-man assumption that restrictions on energy usage and production are the bee's knees. The proponents of global warming regulation completely ignore these costs, and instead insist that desertification will destroy human society, so it's better to just make everyone poor now, rather than later. The argument goes something like this: global warming will make many areas of the earth uninhabitable and people will become starving bands of scavengers as a result. So, the only solution to this is to force people back down to nearly-unbearable subsistence levels now, so that they don't become post-apocalyptic cannibals later.

They argue, for example, that much of the American South will become a desert and that many coastal cities will be flooded by rising water levels. All they're really saying, of course, is that in case of global warming, large numbers of people will have to migrate to other places. When noting that the South will become a desert, they never mention, for example, that Canada, will become much more hospitable in climate, or that the Hudson Bay would become a more temperate area and a natural location for major trade networks and new cities. So what the global warming crowd has to do is prove that the cost of migration in the future is evidently higher than the cost of destroying the global economy right now. This has most certainly not been proven, and given that huge migratory flows are relatively common in human history, depicting such a situation as akin to the apocalypse is dishonest at best. Moreover, since the sea levels and desertification processes would not occur overnight, we also know that there would be time for persons to migrate, and we also know that many of the places to which they would migrate, are now virtually uninhabited. Indeed, it would seem that if mass migration is in our future, we would want to do everything we can to encourage economic growth now. To invest in technologies that contribute to making capital more easily transportable (like smaller and lighter computers and vehicles) and encouraging people to save for the future.

The alternative offered by the proponents of global warming regulation -pushing much of the developing world back into abject poverty- would be sure to bring something far worse, such as endless civil wars among populations where had a middle-class lifestyle within sight, but was then ripped away by the global elites in the name of saving the world. So, if global warming is indeed on our horizon, it would appear that perfecting technologies like water desalinization, aqueducts, improved agricultural practices, and lowering the costs of basic staples such as housing and labor-saving appliances would be essential. Much of the world has already been working on these problems, and global warming has had nothing to do with it. The Israelis have been developing better and better water and agriculture systems for decades. Many desert countries (including the western United States) have been working on better water filtration and delivery systems. Many societies, such as The Netherlands and Singapore already deal with various issues related to dense populations.[1] But can you guess which societies are the best as dealing with these issues?

Not surprisingly, the societies that have the wealthiest populations and the most industrialized and capital-intensive economies offer the best solutions for dealing with all the problems that  global warming has to offer. In other words, the most free economies offer the best hope for addressing these issues. We don't hear much from Venezuela, for example, about the latest scientific advances in energy production, water cleanliness, and housing. Meanwhile, those who support global warming "mitigation" are most interested in crippling the very system that makes it easiest to deal with climate-related issues.  By impoverishing the world, the global warming regulators wish to see to it that few could afford the very sorts of technologies that would be most helpful in a warmer world. For David Grimes, "science" apparently tells him that poor population are better at mastering their environment than rich populations. If that's "science" then we can only hope that "anti-science" eventually prevails.

Notes [1] See the Copenhagen Consensus project for more reasonable comments along these lines.  

Ryan McMaken (@ryanmcmaken) is the editor of Mises Wire and The Austrian. Send him your article submissions, but read article guidelines first. Ryan has degrees in economics and political science from the University of Colorado, and was the economist for the Colorado Division of Housing from 2009 to 2014. He is the author of Commie Cowboys: The Bourgeoisie and the Nation-State in the Western Genre.

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