Dogma II – Global Warming

March 15, 2007

Global Warming seems to have caused a great many of normally sane and insightful libertarian and anarchist bloggers to descend into the trap of dogmatism that I described earlier. As I discussed with Ron Good, it seems that refusing to accept the reality of global warming is not so much a refusal to accept the science, but a refusal to accept the proponents.

I cannot think of a better example of dogma and group-think, the very thing these so-called skeptics claim to be fighting against.

The scientific consensus is not merely a group of scientists getting together and deciding to agree. Scientific consensus requires adherence to the scientific method – posit a hypothesis, present evidence and data, and allow others to replicate those results to test your hypothesis. Though flexible, this process is slow and rather conservative. This requires a great deal of examination and argument before something becomes accepted as the consensus. Those who challenge this consensus will, in a true Hegelian sense, either successfully change the consensus or have their hypothesis disproved by peer review, thus making the consensus stronger. The consensus arises when large numbers of scientists, in varying fields, independently confirm and support the findings of the others.

This was the case with evolution by natural selection and appears now to be the case with global warming.

Thus the consensus is not just a matter of opinion or of collective herd mentality, but of a large group of individuals that agree independently based on the facts. Not unlike, ironically, the workings of a free market or of the common vision of an anarchist society – the peer review in science acts exactly by the same mechanism that the interlocking insurance agencies would work in the works of Rothbard, Murphy or Long.

If you read the science, from the actual climate scientists, you will see that there really is no controversy and that the consensus is based on fact, not opinion.

So why the hostility form some quarters? To me it appears that it comes from a combination of disliking and distrusting some of those that are global warming proponents and those that support them and the confounding of the problem with the solution.

Again, from the post with Ron, its true that many of those who support and rally to the cause of global warming are statist-lefties, marxists, ‘anti-capitalists’ and Machiavellian politicos looking to use this for their own devices. That does not mean, however, that the problem is not real. Too many smart people have decided, rather illogically, that if these people are for it, it must not be real. Some have even taken to subscribing to outrageous conspiracy theories, that this whole crisis is some vast socialist scheme to destroy capitalism (if the socialists could do that, why exactly did communism fall?). These people, while claiming the pro-global warming scientists are doing this for money or corporate favour, completely ignore the same evidence indicating those that are skeptical are overtly indulging in this behaviour.

Some (sometimes the same people) seem to believe that accepting global warming means accepting the statist solutions the proponents are backing. Therefore they must deny the problem exists, and happily and unknowingly play the patsy to those that use this anti-global warming position for other purposes, like continuing to pollute and externalize the problem in order to keep making profits.

James Wilson even points out that tackling the problem has benefits even if you do not accept global warming as real:

“Where global warming differs from other controversies is that it shouldn’t really matter in terms of public policy. That is, the same policies would curb the problem and mitigate the problem, but would work just as well if the global warming didn’t exist at all. In any scenario the sound policy is to tax land, don’t tax anything else, cut government spending and government-created perverse incentives, and let free markets work”

While I don’t agree with his minarchist approach, he makes great points that are often over looked by those caught up in the anti-global warming dogma.

What many are forgetting is that this is an opportunity to strike the root against the state. The state itself is the cause of the problem, not only of global warming, but of much pollution in general. From the 1860s when businesses were exempted form being sued for polluting, state interference has allowed pollution to take place unchecked, even under the guise of regulation.

Thus, as Rothbard pointed out in “Law, Property Rights and Air Pollution”, only the free market, without state interference coupled with “collapsing crime into tort”, could this kind of pollution be effectively fought, as polluters would have to bear the full costs of their polluting ways, something they can now externalize on the rest of us.

Jim Henley, in his cogent post entitled “Hayek was not a physicist” puts it thusly:

Libertarians have a great deal of intelligent things to say about the ability of market economies to adapt to changing environments. Libertarians have a great deal of intelligent things to say about the ways that government policy distorts markets and encourages fossil fuel consumption (as I brought up in a recent post). Libertarians have a great deal of intelligent things to say about the danger of using blunt regulatory tools to solve problems. Libertarians have a great deal of intelligent things to say about the importance of letting innovation and markets tackle problems rather than central planners. And, if one absolutely must pursue a coercive remedy to a problem, libertarians have much to say about what sort of remedy would at least be minimally distortionary.

But libertarians possess no unique qualifications when it comes to determining whether a substance that efficiently absorbs solar radiation will increase the temperature of the atmosphere. You can consult Rand and Hayek and Nozick and whoever else and learn all about libertarian political philosophy and economic issues and the morality of a market economy. But you won’t learn anything about heat transport, scattering of infrared radiation from aerosols, absorption cross sections, or gas flow.

His conclusion is as sharp as it is controversial:

The difference between an insightful libertarian and a denialist shill is that the insightful libertarian wants non-government solutions to problems, while the denialist shill insists that there are no problems.

When we are skeptical without facts, and disavow problems because we don’t like the company of the people telling us about them, we are as blindly dogmatic as any Soviet aparachik. We are acting as bad as any collectivist shill we often battle with.

As I stated before, part of being an anarchist and libertarian is not just free thinking, but critical thinking. ‘Question even the existence of God,’ said Thomas Jefferson. I say question even Prodhon, Kropotkin, Rothbard, Von Mises, and Goldman. If they are right, their arguments can stand up to questioning easily and indeed the arguments will be the stronger for it.

You are not free if you refuse to think.

Critical thinking is not just denying or fighting against something merely because it is favoured by your opponents. That’s being reactionary, not libertarian.

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17 Responses to “Dogma II – Global Warming”

  1. supplanter Says:

    Thanks for the link to UO! It was actually my colleague Thoreau who wrote that particular entry, I should confess.

  2. theconverted Says:

    Ah, sorry…I saw this originally at Human Iterations and he said it was you….


  3. […] In that light, I’d invite you to read Mikes essay, entitled “Dogma II – Global Warming.” […]

  4. Treehugger Says:

    Interesting post Mike.

    I agree with much of what you have said here. The reactionary angle against critical thought is an important consideration in the debate. It is easy to see how critical senses are immediately turned off from the discussion when there are so many dooms day environmentalists with religious-like fervour at the forefront of the discussion.

    IMHO there has not been enough focus on what the scientists are actually saying and too much knee jerking from both extreme sides of the discussion. Common sense is being left on the wayside.

  5. theconverted Says:

    Exactly TH…I see it from both sides, but especially from those who would otherwise espouse critical thinking for any other issue.

    I also see a frightening lot of conspiracy theory floating around this, again on both sides…

  6. Werner Says:

    You state the case very well. Corporate conservatism [ie. the bad sort] has always tried to portray any opposition “from the left” as only the collective brownian motion of unemployed social science students looking for the next grant to “study” the latest “fad”. Therefore every issue becomes illegitimate because it is tainted by contact with the wrong people. At the same time they try to display the “common touch” by claiming a concern for the greater good … if someone opposes nuclear power, gas guzzlers, or whatever they are elitists hurting the proles whose jobs depend on this stuff.

  7. theconverted Says:

    Thanks Werner.

    My biggest concern is less about the reality of global warming and about how its opponents are arguing against it. Its about conspiracy and ignoring the science rather than based on well evidenced science to the contrary.

    For example, Lew Rockwell, whom I normally find quite intelligent, posted yesterday a link to the ‘Great Global Warming Swindle’ – a video that has not only been debunked thoroughly in the blogshpere, but in the British Press as well. Yet he posts it as if it were ‘proof;.

    Confirmation bias at its highest.

  8. Jeremy Says:

    I agree wholeheartedly with your post.

    I do think, however, that even if we address this separate from G.W., we need to look into the highly institutionalized practice of science. The control that statist forces have over the decisions and acceptable debate in science is likely a drag on free inquiry.

    However, that’s a complaint I have about all science, not just G.W. Great article.

  9. plum Says:

    One thing that fascinates me is how libertarians (sadly, we get them in New Zealand, too) will merrily throw up a link-fog to climate sceptic sites and “conclusive” papers. (By the way, how is it that these papers are freely available pdf files? If it weren’t for my university account, I wouldn’t be able to access a whole bunch of academic articles in any number of fields. Odd that these sceptics put their work in the public domain…)

    And yet — and here’s my point — some libertarians rail against creationism. I always wondered why they didn’t go for the quinella. My hypothesis: believing in evolution does not require government intervention. Global warming does.

  10. nastyboy Says:

    So Mike,

    This is the new blog huh? Nice.

    What ya got holdin it up there? Two by sixes?

    Yeah that’ll work.


  11. […] Dogma II – Global Warming […]

  12. Glenn Says:

    You should check your sources. The Heartland Institute is funded by exxon mobile. No wonder they claim there is no crisis.

  13. theconverted Says:

    Well, that would make sense if I quoted the “Heartland Institute” anywhere and if I were actually denying the climate crisis. I am doing neither.

  14. Maximus Says:

    I would like to see a continuation of the topic


  15. […] must deny the problem exists, and happily and unknowingly play the patsy to those that use this anti-global warming position for other purposes, like continuing to pollute and externalize the problem in order to keep […]


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