Climate Sanity

Shikha Dalmia of Reason has an excellent piece today on how ideology colors our engagement with the climate change issue:

Why do Republicans so stubbornly resist the climate change story? It’s not like when a tornado touches down, it spares them, targeting only Democrats. Conversely, why are liberals so eager to buy the climate apocalypse? It’s not like they can insulate themselves from rising energy prices or job losses that a drastic energy diet would produce. The answer is that each side is driven by concerns over whether this issue advances or impedes its broader normative commitments, not narrow self-interest.

The right’s chief commitment (which I share) is to free enterprise, property rights, and limited government that it sees as core to human progress. So when the market or other activities of individuals harm third parties or the environment, they look for solutions in these principles. If overgrazing threatens a pasture, to use a classic example, the right’s answer is not top-down government diktats to ban or ration use. Rather, it is to divvy up the pasture, giving ownership to farmers—or privatizing the commons. The idea is that what individuals own, they protect; what they don’t, they abuse.

But there is no pure free market or property rights solution to global warming. There is no practical way to privatize the Earth’s atmosphere or divvy up pollution rights among the world’s seven billion inhabitants in 193 countries. This creates a planet-sized opening for the expansion of the regulatory state. Hence, right-wingers have an inherent need to resist the gloomy global warming narrative.

This is a massive conservative blind spot. But it is, in many ways, matched by liberals’ tunnel vision.

It is no secret that liberal commitment is less to promoting individual liberty and more to curbing capitalistic greed, which the left views as the great enemy of social justice and equality. At first blush, environmentalism and egalitarianism appear in conflict given that the environment is something of a luxury good that rich folks generally care about more than the poor.

Indeed, this conflict is why the 1960s New Left, driven primarily by humanistic concerns such as eradicating poverty and eliminating racism, shunned the emerging environmental movement for over a decade, according to University of Wisconsin’s Keith M. Woodhouse. Many in the New Left condemned the first Earth Day in 1970 as “the white liberal’s cop out” and believed that a preoccupation with overpopulation, for example, was “racist hysteria.”

Lefties and enviros merged into the modern-day progressive movement only when the New Left was persuaded that environmental degradation and social injustice were manifestations of the same greed-ridden system. Global warming, in a sense, combines this twin critique of capitalism on the grandest possible scale, indicting the rich West for bringing the world close to catastrophe by hogging a disproportionate amount of the global commons, leaving less for the developing world.

This is why, despite the demonstrated impossibility of imposing a global emission-control regime after the failure of the Kyoto treaty, liberals continue to demand that the West unilaterally cut emissions, even though this will arguably make little difference to global temperatures. It is a matter of cosmic justice, as far as they are concerned.

  Indeed, if there is any doubt that liberal alarmism no less than conservative skepticism is driven by ideological commitments—and not a realistic assessment of actual risk and achievable solutions—research by Dan Kahan of Yale University ought to put it to rest. He found that when geo-engineering—pumping sulfates into the atmosphere to deflect heat—is offered as the solution to climate catastrophe instead of emission restrictions, liberals become far more questioning of global warming science. Why? Because, presumably, it does nothing to curb Western greed. Conversely, geo-engineering makes conservatives far more accepting of the science, likely because it avoids Big Government.

Yes, skeptics succumb to ideology when we question the big government solutions they propose, but for good reason. A not-insignificant share of the global environmental movement is comprised of the Communist refugees who had no ideological home following the fall of the Berlin Wall until they wandered into the environmental movement, which was quite happy to welcome such a sudden influx of committed leftists. Check out James Delingpole’s Watermelons: The Green Movement’s True Colors if you wish to dive deeper into the “green on the outside, red on the inside” thesis.  None of which is to say the debate is “settled” (that kind of language is the sole property of the left) or that we shouldn’t have robust debates about carbon and energy. But what we’re having today is far far removed from anything resembling an honest and open inquiry. What we have today is a demand from our cultural betters to conform to their latest trendy orthodoxy, or else. And it is the unhinged left that flings words like “denier” and “anti-science” around with all the care with which they deploy “racist.”  It is growing very tiresome.

A Uniform Theory of Government

“Do less.” Indeed.

The left love to ridicule its opposition as “paranoid” about government for two reasons. The first is obvious: defining the enemies of big government as “extreme” or “outside the mainstream” is what progressives do. When your ideology elevates superficial class concerns over individual liberty, and does so as a matter of principle, it reveals an utter lack of meaningful principles altogether. Compare the foundational literature of conservative and libertarian dogma with that of progressives and socialists and try not to be dumbfounded by the massive disparity in volume and quality of argument. The tradition that holds individual liberty and free markets as the highest virtues is older, richer, and deeper; with a larger canon of philosophical and moral arguments for a free society than any competing ideology. Collectivism was born in direct response to industrialized capitalism and has been wondering in the wilderness in search of a coherent theory of government ever since.

Which leads us to the second reason for the “paranoid” pejorative they so love to sling: the left doesn’t stand for anything, besides more ________ . It doesn’t matter what we’re talking about, the progressives want more: taxes, redistribution, welfare, subsidies, political correctness, speech codes, censorship, bureaucracy, etc. And, being the party of more, it is natural that they would greet those who shout less! with contempt and derision, and so it goes. Champions of small government must be incredibly paranoid of black helicopters and such because why else would anyone have a problem with our benevolent government providing basic necessities like food stamps to people in need? There is no sentiment more alarming to a progressive than “do less” because any suggestion that government has perhaps done too much implies progressive failure in the past, which is why they are prepared to fight to the death to preserve the New Deal mentality that sustains the welfare state. Ultimately, the left is anti-capitalist, as evidenced by every policy prescription and bit of ignorant economic rhetoric that comes spewing from their midst.

The best the anti-capitalists have come up with so far is probably Rousseau’s “social contract,” which suggests that human nature is chaotic and Hobbesian, thus the corrupting temptations of the individual must be subordinate to the collective good of “society.” It’s the type of theory that sounds good to 8th graders but should have been laughed off the stage for all eternity once Rousseau’s vision culminated with The Terror. Rousseau’s vision of the “common good” being preserved through benign state action would become the galvanizing principle of collectivist movements for the next two and a half centuries, from Marx to Lenin to Mao to Castro to the Greens. Again, this is hardly a principle at all. Saying you’re for the “common good” is meaningless without defining the terms by which goodness is going to be brought about. Saying you’re for the common good while pushing for initiatives that expand government in order to procure all this goodness is just stupid. Human nature will always nurture certain pathologies like our instinct to seek quick and easy solutions to complex problems, a phenomenon that knows no partisan lean. Conservatives who rightfully tout the rule of law as sacrosanct often succumb to this instinct when they treat prisons and drone strikes as quick and easy solutions to crime and terrorism. The fallible human condition allows even principled conservatives who take seriously the threat of excessive state power to place their trust in state and federal authorities to not abuse their power, and they often fail to see the contradiction at work. You can’t be for freedom and limited government and simultaneously support a militarized police campaign against non-violent drug offenders and the war on terror to boot. But no one falls for the promise of the quick and easy fix as often or as passionately as the left. They need to ditch the Rousseau and read some John Locke or Adam Smith.

The idea that utopian society is right around the corner if only we got the right people in charge is the left’s uniform theory of everything. The belief that society can be “administered” to at all is ridiculous, and yet the left still show no signs of inching any closer to understanding this basic fact of life and economics. What the left does understand, though, is comedy’s capacity to be subversive and instructive, in places you least expect it. And it is in that vein that I submit Paul Rudd’s epic surfing advice as a meta narrative on how government should behave.

UKIP

The United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) is having a moment. The libertarian-ish party was founded in the early ’90’s as a protest faction among the conservative Tories, its principal mission to get the UK out of the European Union (EU). Though England has three traditionally accepted, entrenched parties in Labour, Conservative and the Liberal Democrats, as well as a host of smaller, more marginal parties (such as the Greens, the British National Party, etc), UKIP was never seen as a threat to become a viable voice in British politics. And yet, UKIP has been leading in the polls as the European elections approach, giving us the hilariously predictable and panicked responses from the major parties. You see, UKIP are a bunch of racists, and must not be trusted. At least there are a few sane voices who see the accusations of racism as irresponsible and dangerous but, for the most part, English media reached consensus that the UKIP rebels were racists ages ago.

There just has to be a global leftist cabal akin to the pentaverate. How else does one account for the remarkably consistent message that conservatives, libertarians and anyone else unimpressed with the status quo are nothing more than racists, the tactic most used by the left in Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States? Do these groups coordinate with each other, or is it just a universal trope that left wing parties will inevitably resort to accusations of racism? I’m inclined to believe it is much more of the latter than the former, given the left’s propensity for viewing society as a clash of class and race, and not much else. As with most things that are terrible, we can thank Marx for this too.

Fortunately, a hero is on the scene. Nigel Farage is impugned by many in the English media as a “one man band” and UKIP comes under immense criticism for lacking a deep bench of members on par with Farage. The degree to which this criticism is fair or not is open for debate (my own unscientific analysis is that UKIP has many capable leaders but also has many who are unqualified and undisciplined and who wither under the klieg lights of scrutiny, which bolsters the view that it’s all about Farage) but what is not debatable is the prowess and pedigree of Farage himself. Rarely photographed without a pint or a cigarette, Farage uses his everyman charm to compliment his commanding voice and passionate opinions. His diatribes on the floor of the European Parliament against what he sees (accurately) as policies leading inexorably towards a super European single state are riveting and inspiring. Farage boldly accuses the leaders of the (unelected) European Commission as being closet communists, and he’s right. Juan Manuel Barroso and Herman van Rompuy are indeed interested in creating a communist superstate in Europe, all under the guise of stability and security, for in their view, it was the pernicious “nation-state” with its borders and its nationalism that led to the tragedies of the twentieth century (haven’t they heard Obama and Kerry trumpet the virtues of this new century being gloriously free of conflict and aggression? You know, “nineteenth century behavior” is behind us?). Farage has been shoving EU failure squarely in the faces of those responsible, and the commissioners at the EU have been forced to sit meekly as Farage has spent years thundering about the inevitable demise of the euro and the coming electoral wave that disbands political union and restores national state sovereignty to all concerned. Farage is particularly exciting to this American observer because of the parallels UKIP shares with the “libertarian moment” here at home. And just as we libertarians find ourselves in pitched battle on two fronts, with our own arrayed against us in many respects, so too does UKIP take flak from all corners.

There’s a great piece in the UK Spectator about how UKIP isn’t really a party but a rebellion within conservatism. In this regard it is very similar to the Tea Party, the difference being that in Britain it is much easier to go third (or fourth, fifth, sixth) party, whereas our two-party system forces intra-party rebellions to remain intra-party. Still, despite a lot of Labour and Lib Dem disaffected voters coming over to UKIP, it is still essentially a libertarian-conservative movement made up of mostly pissed off Tory voters who view their conservative establishment in Westminster with as much a jaundiced eye as we view ours.

Step one of the UKIP revolution is winning the European elections held May 22-25. Step two would then be leveraging that momentum in order to secure a referendum on getting the UK out of political union with the EU. But even with an expected triumph in the elections, UKIP will still face an uphill battle in getting David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Milliband to convince their staid party establishments that a referendum on EU membership can no longer be avoided. To date, only UKIP have offered a committed stance on leaving the EU, which explains UKIP’s success more than anything, as it is the issue above all others in England right now. Once you separate the UK from the EU (a prospect that was deemed quite impossible just a year or so ago), then UKIP will likely come to a gradual reconciliation with the Tories if the Tories show that they’ve gotten the message and are willing to ditch their current brand of statist conservatism.

It’s striking how many parallels exist between UKIP and the Tea Party/libertarian cohort here in the States. Both are facing entrenched opposition from unhinged leftists as well as from establishment grayhairs in their own parties, and both represent the lone voices of sanity on liberty, markets, sovereignty and composition of government.

It’s interesting that political insurgencies seem to only come from the right these days. Probably that is because the hard left long ago co-opted the Democratic and Labour parties, making it quite unnecessary for the left to worry about facing energetic insurgencies from its base, its base already being well placated and pandered to. That establishment “conservatives” across the Anglosphere have become such squishy statists explains the persistence of both the Tea Party and UKIP. Their anxiety over society’s growing divide between the rank and file citizens they represent and the entrenched special interests and bureaucrats fighting to defend the status quo is not going to abate until such time as the powers that be have taken notice and changed their ways.

With the barbarians at the gate, the temptation to order archers to the towers and trebuchets to the ready is surely strong but, as President Obama loves to remind us, this is “the twenty-first century” and, with such direct recourse unavailable, establishment elites in both England and America resign themselves to rhetorical warfare, hence racism.

This guy never butchered language as badly as the progressives do.