Saturday, August 24, 2013

Climate: Debate Morality Instead of Science

This same dialogue goes on in my mind every time I hear discussion on climate change. It is basically frustration with the left for not recognizing individual rights, and frustration with the right (except for the Ayn Rand Institute and a few random others) for not standing up for those rights. Instead, Republicans are playing amateur scientists and digging up every scientific counterexample they can. Since conservatives have become a laughing-stock regarding their opposition to science in other areas, this does not help their cause much.

There was a post at NPR this morning that caught my eye and here was my reaction:

The depressing thing to me is that advocates of liberty -- and I don't necessarily include all Republicans in that group -- are even referencing science in this debate.

Not because science is unimportant, but because the nature, degree and causes of climate change don't affect the decision on whether humans have inalienable rights. We do, and they cannot be violated regardless of what is happening to the Earth, regardless of the outcome of scientific discussion. Yes, even if the fate of our planet is at stake. Every crisis always involves calls to enslave humanity as the only possible and moral solution, it never ends.

Statements like this: "But leaving climate change actions to individuals will not solve the problem" are morally reprehensible, because there is basically nothing being proposed for government that would not violate our rights. So this basically equates to: your rights must be violated, period. Thanks a lot.

And since advocates of liberty are not making the moral case for freedom, but instead are trying to become amateur scientists, they will lose the political battle, and we will lose freedom.

From a purely practical standpoint, humanity will be in a much better position to deal with whatever happens if we are free and prosperous. And this is no mistake: because liberty is designed after human nature, to allow us to act according to our nature will produce the best practical result.

One this is for sure: if governments crush the world economy, we're not going to have the resources to deal with any crises that come along.

Those who advocate freedom are often asked "How would you solve X?" but it is not always an individual's job to solve problems of the world or come up with solutions. It is not most peoples' job to change the climate, end inequality, or feed the third world. We can do small things that contribute, but the collectivization of responsibility for the world's problems is merely an instrument of guilt, the cultural and economic equivalent of Original Sin.

So my answer is: I don't have an answer, and morally, I don't need to.

This is not cruelty and uncaring, it is setting morality back on its feet: that the individual life is the standard of morality, not a collective. Even the earth does not have moral primacy over the individual. So, let's get to the task of solving our problems, individually and by choice. It is the only moral way.


  1. I would say banning coercion from society is pretty forward-thinking. People should be free to come up with non-coercive ways to improve life on earth.

  2. "The individual life is the standard of morality, not a collective. "
    Again, what about those that don't have the same voice?
    E.g. future generations, and if that's too abstract, today's children; and if that's too abstract, how about me, a week from now?

    What is the "right" to smoke in a public space? Not a restaurant, for sake of argument...but just pulling up next to a family on the beach or park, lighting up, maybe playing some loud music. Infringe much?

    A bit more abstract: automobile exhaust. What is the "right" for unregulated emission of toxins? In this case, the single car itself might not be the problem, so much as the collective exhaust that hovers over freeways and in cities, being especially problematic for asthmatics and elderly people.
    How do we monetize the use of finite resources? Sure, when it's capitalized, the market will "solve" it in the future with exorbitant prices. But how is that fair? OK, it's just oil and gas, which isn't a how about our diminishing fresh water supplies and wild spaces? Or loss of entire species -- how do we monetize that?

    Climate change is a form of pollution. We can debate the degrees (multiple puns intended) but there's an important concept of exponential if not irreversible damage based on the collective, not the individual.

    The market solves things for the supply and demand of the here and now, but, when unregulated, is woefully inadequate in being forward-thinking. The concept of sustainability is essentially balancing freedom of opportunity now with the ability of future generations (including children who are alive now) to have the same opportunity.

  3. Markets were never intended to be a substitute for punishing harm, or a policy tool of any kind, so I would not ask them to monetize anything. They merely facilitate trade.

    Capitalism already has a means of dealing with harm for all of the cases you mention: tort law. If harm can be objectively proven in a court of law, punishment is warranted. I cannot begin to suggest how to do that, but that's why I'm not a lawyer.

  4. "but that's why I'm not a lawyer" --> That's why it's still fun to discuss with you!

    Isn't tort law an ex post facto form of regulation -- still subjective? The threshold is admittedly higher -- harm is proven rather than theorized -- but the problem is when there is irreversible harm. Or the entity no longer exists (dissolved corporation). Or the harm is fractional/probabilistic but very real (e.g pollution, cancer).

    I believe aspects of sensible regulation are necessary to prevent irreversible harm to entire generations, (if not ad infinitum, e.g. species loss). Undoubtedly, though, regulation itself can be limiting. I think there are examples of both extremes.

  5. Rights are not beholden to particular outcomes.

    Murder is irreversible, yet we don't preemptively lock everyone away in solitary confinement to prevent murder, or require them to get a Safe Citizen License involving tests and interviews, before they can leave their home. It would be small consolation to future generations if they were born in prisons as a means to saving them from murder. Not to mention ironic.

    Ultimately, the only reason we are having this conversation is due to legal history, i.e. the fact that trade is not Constitutionally protected. If it were, the sanctity of trade would be taken for granted on par with free speech (although that's under attack), due process (that's under attack) and the like. We wouldn't regard preventive trade regulation as sensible, we'd regard it as a rights violation.