It is customary for old-fashioned religion to threaten those whose way of life is not to its satisfaction, with the prospect of hell in the afterlife. Substitute for the afterlife, life on earth in centuries to come, and it is possible to see that environmentalism and the rest of the left are now doing essentially the same thing. They hate the American way of life because of its comfort and luxury, which they contemptuously dismiss as “conspicuous consumption.â€ And to frighten people into abandoning it, they are threatening them with a global-warming version of hell.
This is not yet so open and explicit as to be obvious to everyone. Nevertheless, it is clearly present. It is hinted at in allusions to the possibility of temperature increases beyond the likely range of 3.5 to 8 degrees Fahrenheit projected in the recent United Nations report on global warming. For example, according to The New York Times, “the report says there is a more than a 1-in-10 chance of much greater warming, a risk that many experts say is far too high to ignore.â€
Environmentalist threats of hell can be expected to become more blatant and shrill if the movement’s present efforts to frighten the people of the United States into supporting its program of caps and reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions appear to be insufficient. Hell is the environmentalists’ ultimate threat.
So let us assume that it were true that global warming might proceed to such an extent as to cause temperature and/or sea-level increases so great as to be simply intolerable or, indeed, literally to roast and boil the earth. Even so, it would still not follow that industrial civilization should be abandoned or in any way compromised. In that case, all that would be necessary is to seek out a different means of deliberately cooling the earth.
It should be realized that the environmentalists’ policy of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions is itself a policy of cooling the earth. But it is surely among the most stupid and self-destructive such policies imaginable. What it claims is that if we destroy our capacity to produce and operate refrigerators and air conditioners, we shall be better protected from hot weather than if we retain and enlarge that capacity. What it claims is that if we destroy the energy base needed to produce and operate the construction equipment required to build strong, well-made, comfortable houses for hundreds of millions of people, we shall be safer from hurricanes and floods than if we retain and enlarge that energy base. This is the meaning of the claim that retaining and enlarging this capacity will bring highly destructive global warming, while destroying it will avoid such global warming.
In contrast to the policy of the environmentalists, there are rational ways of cooling the earth if that is what should actually be necessary, ways that would take advantage of the vast energy base of the modern world and of the still greater energy base that can be present in the future if it is not aborted by the kind of policies urged by the environmentalists.
Ironically, the core principle of one such method has been put forward by voices within the environmental movement itself, though not at all for this purpose. Years ago, back in the days of the Cold War, many environmentalists raised the specter of a “nuclear winter.â€ According to them, a large-scale atomic war could be expected to release so much particulate matter into the atmosphere as to block out sunlight and cause weather so severely cold that crops would not be able to grow.
Wikipedia, the encyclopedia of the internet, describes the mechanism as follows:
Large quantities of aerosol particles dispersed into the atmosphere would significantly reduce the amount of sunlight that reached the surface, and could potentially remain in the stratosphere for months or even years. The ash and dust would be carried by the midlatitude west-to-east winds, forming a uniform belt of particles encircling the northern hemisphere from 30Â° to 60Â° latitude (as the main targets of most nuclear war scenarios are located almost exclusively in these latitudes). The dust clouds would then block out much of the sun’s light, causing surface temperatures to drop drastically.
Certainly, there is no case to be made for an atomic war. But there is a case for considering the possible detonation, on uninhabited land north of 70Â° latitude, say, of a limited number of hydrogen bombs. The detonation of these bombs would operate in the same manner as described above, but the effect would be a belt of particles starting at a latitude of 70Â° instead of 30Â°. The presence of those particles would serve to reduce the amount of sunlight reaching most of the Arctic’s surface. The effect would be to maintain the frigid climate of the region and to prevent the further melting of its ice or, if necessary, to increase the amount of its ice. Moreover, the process could be conducted starting on a relatively small scale, and then proceed slowly. This would allow essential empirical observations to be made and also allow the process to be stopped at any time before it went too far.
This is certainly something that should be seriously considered by everyone who is concerned with global warming and who also desires to preserve modern industrial civilization and retain and increase its amenities. If there really is any possibility of global warming so great as to cause major disturbances, this kind of solution should be studied and perfected. Atomic testing should be resumed for the purpose of empirically testing its feasibility.
If there is any remnant of the left of an earlier era, which still respected science and technology, and championed industrial civilization, it might be expected to offer additional possible solutions for excessive global warming, probably solutions of a kind requiring grandiose construction projects. For example, one might expect to hear from it proposals for ringing North Africa and Australia with desalinization plants powered by atomic energy. The purpose would be to bring massive amounts of fresh water to the Sahara Desert and the deserts of Australia, with the further purpose of making possible the growth of billions of trees to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Another possibility would be an alternative proposal simply to pump an amount of sea water into confined areas in those deserts sufficient to provide an outlet for a growing volume of global seawater other than heavily inhabited coastal regions. (I would not be ready to endorse any such costly proposals, but they would be a vast improvement over the left’s only current proposal, which is simply the crippling of industrial civilization.)
Once people begin to put their minds to the problem, it is possible that a variety of effective and relatively low-cost solutions for global warming will be found. The two essential parameters of such a solution would be the recognition of the existence of possibly excessive global warming, on the one side, and unswerving loyalty to the value of the American standard of living and the American way of life, on the other. That is, more fundamentally, unswerving loyalty to the values of individual freedom, continuing economic progress, and the maintenance and further development of industrial civilization and its foundation of man-made power.
Global warming is not a threat. But environmentalism’s destructive response to it is.
In claims to want to act in the name of avoiding the risk of alleged dreadful dangers lying decades and centuries in the future. But its means of avoiding those alleged dangers is to rush ahead today to cripple industrial civilization by means of crippling its essential foundation of man-made power. In so doing, it gives no consideration whatever to the risks of this or to any possible alternatives to this policy. It contents itself with offering to the public what is virtually merely the hope and prayer of the timely discovery of radically new alternative technologies to replace the ones it seeks to destroy. Such pie in the sky is a nothing but a lie, intended to prevent people from recognizing the plunge in their standard of living that will result if the environmentalists’ program is enacted.
As I’ve written before, if the economic progress of the last two hundred years or more is to continue, if its existing benefits are to be maintained and enlarged, the people of the United States, and hopefully of the rest of the world as well, must turn their backs on environmentalism. They must recognize it for the profoundly destructive, misanthropic philosophy that it is.
They must solve any possible problem of global warming on the foundation of industrial civilization, not on a foundation of its ruins.
This article is copyright © 2007, by George Reisman. Permission is hereby granted to reproduce and distribute it electronically and in print, other than as part of a book and provided that mention of the author’s web site www.capitalism.net is included. (Email notification is requested.) All other rights reserved. George Reisman is the author of Capitalism: A Treatise on Economics (Ottawa, Illinois: Jameson Books, 1996) and is Pepperdine University Professor Emeritus of Economics.