Conflating the Problem with a Solution

June 10, 2007

I am at a loss.

I am really at a loss trying to figure out why rational, brilliant and insightful anarchists and libertarians, who use history and reason to eloquently and forcefully argue economics and philosophy in favour of liberty, refuse to accept the science of anthropogenic global warming. Why is it they suddenly jump from rationality to paranoid conspiracy theorizing when global warming or the climate crisis is involved?

Take Lew Rockwell, for instance. He is incredibly insightful when discussing the over bearing power of the state to make war, or the intrusion of the state into our lives. But he happily links to articles such as this one by Alexander Cockburn at Counterpunch, regurgitates the most of the so-called scientific evidence against global warming, every single bit of which has been debunked and refuted before.

It is clear from the preponderance of evidence, from the vast majority of climate scientists (a number that is growing, not shrinking) that global warming is really happening and is caused by human activity. Why, then do libertarians and anarchists refuse to accept it?

It seems to me they are confusing the problem of global warming with the mainstream idea of the solution. They don’t want to believe the science, because, I suspect, they think this means they must accept the so-called solution – state enforced austerity measures, regulations and ‘carbon taxes’. What self-respecting libertarian could accept that? None, but the problem is that is how the debate has been framed – either doom and gloom or near complete economic regulation to prevent it. I also suspect there is a bit of confirmation bias and ideology involved. To accept global warming is to accept that our capitalist system, the free market is the cause. It is quite ironic that Lew Rockwell links to Cockburn then as the Marxist Cockburn seems to think that the climate crisis is a capitalist invention to create demand and forced scarcity to drive profit.

Let me posit an alternative view:

First, let us accept that global warming is real and created by human activity (if only for the sake of argument). That is the problem.

Does that mean that capitalism or private enterprise are to blame?

No. As I stated in an earlier post, it is in fact state interference and regulation, at the behest of mercantilist corporations, that are the one of the reasons. Think of the destruction of public transit systems throughout the US and Canada by city councils in cahoots with GM, so the latter could sell more cars and the former could run parking lots and get money from parking tickets. The result, as anyone who has read Jane Jacobs can attest, is our car-centric, just-in-time urban lifestyles. Cars, trucks and airplanes used for transportation of people and goods are a major source of CO2 and other greenhouse gases. In my city of Ottawa, there hasn’t been a new street built with a sidewalk in over 15 years, except, ironically, if the street was to have a bus route on it.

In Canada, the biggest producers of greenhouse gases are public power generation utilities and not the private sector.

Does that mean that the solution is  more regulation and state imposed austerity?

No. Ever since apple farmers were prevented from suing the factories destroying their crops with pollution, the state has been  interfering in, distorting and creating the externalities in the market that have created not just the problem with greenhouse gases, but with pollution in general. 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.

In other words,  the state and regulation is the cause of the problem, not the solution. The solution is less state regulation and less (or no) state interference.

Does that mean that something can or should be done about global warming?

That is a debate that has not taken place. Ron Good’s post seems to be the first to even tangentially consider this. Global warming can be real and can be caused by human activity, but that does not mean that it is possible or even desirable to “do”  anything on the grand scale. It may be that we should use the science to help us prepare for, rather than prevent the future climate changes we have caused. It may not even be possible, at this point, to do anything. Should we spend our resources cutting down on carbon, taxing fossil fuels, or looking at what we should do when the ice caps melt, or when New York  or Los Angeles are underwater. It is hubris to think we can do something in 20 years to stop something we have been contributing to for over a century. It would be like trying to snap someone out of an overdose of Valium by injecting them with speed.

But then, it would be  just as much hubris to do nothing and not even try.  On this, I have not decided where I come down on this.

The bottom line is that it is not inconsistent with being an anarchist or libertarian to accept that global warming is real. The difference is how (and if) to deal with it. The climate crisis is caused by state interference and regulation and this should be the mantra of anarchist and libertarians when the subject comes up, rather than deny the problem even exists. Ironically, it is global warming and its cause that provide the greatest opportunity for libertarian and anarchist solutions to gain mainstream acceptance,  if only we took advantage. Accepting the reality of global warming and what if anything to do about it are two different things.

We must fight the inherent statism of the global warming debate  without abandoning the field of reason and pretending the problem doesn’t exist. That just makes us look stupid and drives people away from us.

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26 Responses to “Conflating the Problem with a Solution”


  1. Please stop associating the rejection of the “science” of anthropogenic global warming with denial or a confusion between problem and solution. I perfectly understand what you’re saying, but theoretical arguments do not empirical evidence make.

  2. theconverted Says:

    True enough Francios. So why is it that some folks have so much trouble with the science, and keep repeating the same old, debunked counter arguments? I am honestly trying to come to grips with the question I posited in the first paragraph. This whole post was trying to rationalize it.

    Yes, its my opinion not “empirical evidence”. I’ve linked to the empirical evidence and science of anthropogenic global warming, including the refutation of all the normal talking points (“Its the Sun!”, “Its a natural cycle!”, “It isn’t happening!”) yet I continue to read people who parrot these points as if they are some big revelation.

    Or they quote a second-rate sci-fi author as if he is an authority on global warming because he wrote a fiction book about it. If that was all it took, then he would also be an expert in time travel and genetic engineering.

    Or they stampede toward conspiracy theory – that hundreds and thousands of scientists are in cahoots to make all this up. Of course, they make that assertion with out any “empirical evidence” either.

    If you have any real evidence that all of this is made up or wrong, produce it and see it it stands up to scrutiny. So far it hasn’t. Or is that part of the conspiracy too?


  3. BTW, I added your blog to my blogroll. So if I preach to you, does that mean I am preaching to the converted? (hah!)

    “So why is it that some folks have so much trouble with the science, and keep repeating the same old, debunked counter arguments?”

    The issue is not science per se, but “consensus science,” the code-words anthros use to push their agenda. Science does not progress by consensus, and truth is not determined by consensus. In any instance of progress, the consensus is inevitably, eventually, proven to have been wrong. What matters is the evidence, and what non-political, unbribed scientists have to say on the matter of said evidence.

    “If you have any real evidence that all of this is made up or wrong, produce it and see it it stands up to scrutiny. So far it hasn’t. Or is that part of the conspiracy too?”

    I do not believe that global warming is “made up or wrong.” I do believe, however, that the issue of whether “man” is responsible for it is both misguided and politically motivated.

  4. nastyboy Says:

    We must fight the inherent statism of the global warming debate without abandoning the field of reason and pretending the problem doesn’t exist. That just makes us look stupid and drives people away from us.

    I’m so glad to hear you say that. I’ve maintained a healthy skeptisism about anthropogenic global warming, and the hysterical overkill of a good portion of it’s proponents is one of the main reasons I haven’t changed my mind.

    They seem to screech like Sutherland at the end of Body Snatchers everytime someone dares to disagree with them. And the more they claim that debate is over and there’s a scientific consensus when there so clearly isn’t, doesn’t help either.

    But I’m an Albertan and therefore a tool of Big Oil so what do I know?

  5. theconverted Says:

    Francois,

    He he, indeed preaching to the converted.

    Your points are taken. That is why I included in my post the possiblility that we may not be able to or want to do anything (as the link from Ron Good points out). I think my point, even for the sake of arguement, is that even if all the doom and gloom is true, that does not nescesarily follow that we “do” what many proponents say or that indeed we “do” anything except adapt to the new reality.

    And thanks for adding me to your blogroll.

    Nasty,

    I have always suspected you of being a tool and now I know for sure.

    😉

    You will get no argument from me that the Global Warming folks are being over the top. There is also a fine line between skeptical (which is always good in my book) and hysterical in the opposite direction – “Na na, I can’t hear you! There is nothing wrong!”.

    Personally I think there is enough evidence that Global Warming is happening to say so with certainty. I think I differ from you and Francois in that I think that human action is at the least a major contributing factor. But as I said, taking that position does not mean that anything can even be done to reverse or stop it.

    I recognize that there is a big “pile on” with every special interest, both left and right, trying to take advantage for their own gain. So I look in disgust at those on the left that want to use this to regulate industry, or blame “capitalism” as equally at those on the right who want to corner the market on corn for bio fuels (with state help) or who deny it and talk of conspiracy simply because “the left” thinks its real.

  6. JonZor Says:

    Hope this post is still active.

    “In other words, the state and regulation is the cause of the problem, not the solution. The solution is less state regulation and less (or no) state interference.”

    I see your point that some state-sponsored regulations contribute to the problem here, especially in the case of the aforementioned farmers. However, I don’t see how truer free-market would function (where polluters have to pay the full price of their polluting and not pass it on to consumers). Without laws, regulations, and enforcement, how do you ensure that anybody actually adheres to the true free market?

    I’m not trying to attack, this is just something that I have always wondered about a libertarian worldview and would like some clarification. Or maybe, I just don’t believe in the general overall goodness of people. Or I believe in the lack thereof.


  7. “Without laws, regulations, and enforcement, how do you ensure that anybody actually adheres to the true free market?”

    Er, you do realize this is a Market Anarchist blog, right?

  8. JonZor Says:

    “Er, you do realize this is a Market Anarchist blog, right?”

    Oh, I fully do, which is why I ask the question. I know next to nothing about Market Anarchist theory, so I feel ignorant asking these questions, but I honestly am curious.

    If my question is not worth answering, that’s cool, but I would really like to understand.


  9. All I am saying is, you might want to inform yourself more before you start commenting on other people’s blogs, that’s all.

    Here is a good reference site I recommend (not surprisingly, since it’s mine): http://www.simplyanarchy.com


  10. As for your question, I’m afraid I can’t make heads or tails of it. There is no “true free market.” The market is the process by which people voluntarily exchange values, generally through very complex networks of production, but also through simple face-to-face exchange. The only “laws, regulations, and enforcement” needed are those of the individuals themselves.

  11. theconverted Says:

    JonZor,

    Think tort law with multiple competing courts and agencies to both protect and enforce orders.

    Google “Polycentric Law”.

    Essentially, without the state and its regulations to allow individuals and corporations, cooperative enterprises or partnership to externalize the costs of things like pollution or transport, they will need to, if they want to make money, either accept the cost and try to pass it on to the consumer, find ways to reduce cost, or get insured. If they damage someone they can sue and take it to an adjudication agency. The adjudication agencies makes profit by being the most fair and getting more customers, so it is their best interest to be impartial and fair. They will award damages to a plaintiff based on the amount of damages etc – as our civil courts do now. If they don’t like it, they go to another agency. Most agencies though, should rule about the same, based on torts a developing common law.

    I would recommend not only reading Francois link, but also Chaos Theory (warning PDF). It explains it quite well. For specifics, read the Rothbard article I linked to in the post.

  12. Ron Good Says:

    Mike: Thanks for the hat tip, and for picking up on why I posted the thing to my blog. You’re providing an able defense of a the anarchist position on this issue.

    But (for those who just can’t see a world without a *government*) I’d only add for now that even from the point of view of the minarchist theorists, the combination of market & “state” court would still provide better results than the current statist solutions when it comes to both preventing pollution and adapting to climactic changes–and, as it happens, that holds true whether the earth gets warmer or colder–or even if the temperature stays the same and the impacts of pollution take other forms (example: even if the temperature doesn’t change, a polluted lake is still polluted).

  13. dirk Says:

    The Converted said…”The climate crisis is caused by state interference and regulation and this should be the mantra of anarchist and libertarians when the subject comes up, rather than deny the problem even exists”….

    What,state interference and regulation created the crisis???that a jump in logic ,?????


  14. What jump in logic? It’s a simple fact, not a jump in logic.

  15. theconverted Says:

    dirk,

    No not really. If you read the rest of the post and the Rothbard article I linked to, you should see it is a matter of history. From back in the mid 1800, when farmers were barred from suing factories polluting their crops, heavy industry have been able to externalize the costs of their pollution to the public – we can’t sue and take advantage of tort damages. A great deal of environmental legislation looks good on paper, but has loopholes and exemption that often allow all kinds of pollutions that would not have been produced had the industries been been held to account by tort.

    but don’t take my word for it. Read “The Conservative Nanny State” by Dean Baker. He is NOT a libertarian or anarchist, but he shows quite easily how most regulation – including environmental regulation – works in favour of these large corporations and actually allows them to pollute.

    After that we may disagree on the extent, but there will be no doubt as to the complicity of regulation and laws in this.

    But let me walk you through an example you can relate to that shows the complicity of the state and of regulations.

    One of the leading causes of global warming (and smog and general pollution) is car exhaust. Starting after WWII local councils and state\provincial government created zoning and building regulations to allow builders and developers to build more and cheaper housing.

    The builders, in order to make more money, pack the houses in more densely (while at the same time making the houses bigger). They get the councils to ok residential or business zoning in areas only, and pack the houses in. No public transit is run out or supported, because that cuts into profits. No mixed use is zoned (especially in the last 20 years) because that too is not as profitable as giant parking lots surrounded on 3 sides by big box stores. No sidewalks are built by developers in order again, to maximize profits.

    In the end we have far flung suburbs where walking is not only discouraged (no sidewalks) but is often impossible. To even do something simple as get a quart of milk, you must use a car. To go to work, you must use a car. People who previously could could live without a car at all, must own at least one.

    And now we live in a car culture, as Jane Jacobs has pointed out in many of her books.

    Look at Ontario – we live in suburbs created by municipal councils zoning and provincial regulations which favour money making for building developers rather than livability for people. And when the people complain and try to fight, the Ontario Municipal Board notoriously sides with the developers almost every time.

    We have regulations that create an artificial advantage for certain corporations that create a socially engineered lifestyle that creates the major global warming and pollution producing activities.

    Does that answer your question. Not such a jump when you look at it.

  16. dirk Says:

    And who controls the government??? Pollution etc is caused by industry and the institution of private property(capitalism).
    If ordinary people controlled thing communally ,do you really believe they would shit in their own water supply?

  17. theconverted Says:

    Now you are getting it dirk. I suspect you are more of a syndicalist, but close enough for me. I don’t agree with your assessment of private property, but hey…

    I would posit that even with private property, without government or the state to distort things and enforce ridiculous regulations that favour large corporations, corporations would be smaller and, in my opinion, be held to true liablity for their actions – pollute and you get sued, to the point where you could lose your company. So you would get insurance and insurance companies, not wanting to pay out, would ensure that you did nothing to cause pollution. In short, it would mean that the profit motive would kick in and it would be in a companies best interest to NOT pollute – by NOT polluting they would make more money.

    Interesting little twist, no? I think your communal system would work too, but I think turning the market to do this would be more efficient.

    “If ordinary people controlled thing communally ,do you really believe they would shit in their own water supply?”

    That’s pretty much the same thing I’m saying. I suspect, without state interference, there would be a lot more cooperative and partnerships and many more smaller companies – a highly decentralized market.

    Don’t mistake me, and some of the others that posted in this thread, as the cartoon version of “capitalists’ people seem to have in their head. I think you’d be surprised how much we have in common.

  18. Ron Good Says:

    dirk, with friendly respect:

    re If ordinary people controlled thing[s] communally ,do you really believe they would shit in their own water supply?”

    Some folks would, Dirk. All you get with communalism is the same folks you get when you don’t have it. Take it a step further: right now, in Canada, aren’t environmental legislation and, for that matter, water distribution itself (except at the bottled water level) communal already, which is to say, governmentally administered, subject to votes and plebescites, monitored and protected by provincial and federal agencies…

    I don’t think you can historically make any correlation between an increase in communalism and a decrease in pollution. However, I’m not sure it would be difficult to make an opposing case.

    I mean, I’m sure you’re posing democracy as a solution (because I absolutely am not saying you’re a totalitarian communalist), but we have all sorts of democracy already. We’ve actually had the power to vote on pretty much everything and anything we’ve wanted to for a century of more in North America. And we’ve been doing lots of voting. We’ve built governments, built parties, elected folks right and left, established priorities, had commissions, grass-roots uprisings and nationalization of companies and industries. We’ve got bureaucracies and town councils, zoning laws and environmental legislation. In other words, all democracy gets us is what we’ve got.

    On the other hand, if Joe Blow had real property rights, he could sue any company that so much as put a speck of crap on his land or in his water, in court, in front of a jury of peers capable of assessing tangible and punitive damages–just because he didn’t want it there. Right now all he gets to do is complain the to the gummint, the guys who set the “allowable” levels of pollution in the first place.


  19. This is exactly why the Republicans hate tort law. It is really not so much about a free market as access to lawyers for civil suits.
    ““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.”

  20. Werner Says:

    Hello Mike,

    I feel that it’s probably necessary to have a mixture of competing organizations to aid a more libertarian future. In particular syndicates would make sense for research organizations since the ‘natural’ degree of internal cooperation needed here would tend to “fit” in. For these competition within an overall [and genuinely] free market would tend to be along more intellectual lines like a collective chess game .. of sorts. At the “other” end, small enterprises would tend to focus on particular economic needs while cooperatives might be somewhere in between. Anyway I “borrowed” a portion of your original posting for a reference and quote within a recent short article on Shagya blog [which has also been reprinted over at Carnival of Anarchy]. Hope you didn’t mind.

  21. Ian Scott Says:

    “I am really at a loss trying to figure out why rational, brilliant and insightful anarchists and libertarians, who use history and reason to eloquently and forcefully argue economics and philosophy in favour of liberty, refuse to accept the science of anthropogenic global warming.”

    Well, I haven’t “refused” to accept it. I simply don’t “accept” anything as absolute fact unless I can prove it for myself. Yes, there are some things I “believe” based on the preponderance of evidence; at the same time with regard to Global Warming, there do appear to be “debate” on both sides.

    Why don’t you “accept” some of the legitimate scientists who have broken ranks with the “warmers” or who have never been a “warmer?”

    I would make a guess that a “reason” you have accepted the “warmers science” is that you have been motivated to believe what “warmers” have to say, and their rebuttals to others.

    I’ve read some of the debate on both sides, including the rebuttals and I’m just confused is all. What premises are to be believed? You are, if I may, accepting a premise and then whatever “debate” starts with the premise (whether that premise is that CO2 ’causes’ warming and others) fits into your belief about the future.

    I personally do believe that climate changes. I’m just not so sure about the primary and secondary causes, and what influences what.

    One “scientist” at a University in Ottawa the other day said something like, “Whoa! People! The sun is about to go into a cool down cycle, and we need to be worrying about another ‘little ice-age’ here.”

    I have to admit that premises in regard to climate change that start with sun cycles are very appealing to me. From historical perspectives and what is believed about the past on earth, it’s a “known.”

    As an aside, it’s amusing to me to talk with the same folk who live in Eastern North America, and in December 2006/January 2007 were all in a panic about “global warming” due to above normal averages in temps at the time have now regained some sanity and cast off the panic during a summer that so far has been pretty much “average” and at times, below “normal” for the area.

  22. theconverted Says:

    Ian,

    I can fully respect someone who at least tries to balance and see both sides and come down to some conclusions. But for the most part, my post isn’t aimed at them (or you I suppose) but at those, like George Riesman, Lew Rockwell who seem to reject Global Warming knee-jerk, merely because it is predominantly the left that supported it originally.

    They do not put up alternate scientific evidence, they resort to ideas that have been previously debunked (including your Sun cycles idea – if it were true, we should be in a cooling phase right now, but I digress), or resort to near paranoid conspiracy theories.

    I think, and I believe I have shown, that one can still accept global warming and not accept the proposed solutions. It is even possible to accept that global warming is real and created by human activity and still accept that nothing can be done – rather than fixing, we should be adjusting.

    A great many libertarians seem to deny climate change because they automatically assume that accepting it means accepting the government imposed solutions.

    I had no real opinion one way or the other 10 years ago. I came to my position because I have read a lot of the scientific evidence and arguments which were very compelling, based on the science. The counter arguments simply have not been compelling, have not stood up to scrutiny and have been easily debunked.

    I will happily change my mind if enough solid evidence countering anthropogenic global warming is produced. So far none has been. And I am joined in this not only by the vast majority of the scientists in the field, but by people like The Skeptics Society – they don’t believe anything. I would hope you would be willing to accept global warming , based on the evidence for it and the lack of evidence for the alternatives.

    James Leroy had a great piece a few months back that made the point that a lot of the non-governmental regulation ideas to fight global warming were good ideas to reduce costs anyway.

    Accepting that global warming is real does not imply accepting that must “do” what the mainstream environmentalists what. We may not be able to “do” anything at all.

  23. Ian Scott Says:

    “But for the most part, my post isn’t aimed at them (or you I suppose) but at those, like George Riesman, Lew Rockwell who seem to reject Global Warming knee-jerk, merely because it is predominantly the left that supported it originally.”

    Yes, I realized that but wanted to post my thoughts anyhow 🙂

    “A great many libertarians seem to deny climate change because they automatically assume that accepting it means accepting the government imposed solutions.”

    Agreed. A great many self-labelled libertarians write and do things that seem to me, quite contradictory to their premises – and I can’t figure that out.

    “debunked (including your Sun cycles idea – if it were true, we should be in a cooling phase right now, but I digress),”

    Well, maybe we are. I mean, this discussion about warming and cooling seems to use so much data – perhaps there is still data missing.

    Or perhaps we’re not “yet” at the cooling stage – it’s not like cycles are absolute as far as years, months, days and minutes go. They are general and approximate, as far as I can tell.

    Let’s be honest here: If it is true, that it appears that other planets in our solar system are or have been warming up as well as earth, surely no one is going to suggest that our atmosphere also has that sort of affect on the other planets.

    There is however something quite in common that all the planets share: a hot sun.

    Is there a link to this article by James Leroy that you referred to?

  24. theconverted Says:

    My understanding is that Neptune is actually cooling and the warming on Mars is part of its natural cycle due to atmospheric sand storms, not the sun.

    James Leroy Wilson’s article is here:

    http://independentcountry.blogspot.com/2007_02_01_archive.html

  25. Ian Scott Says:

    Mike,

    It’s this sort of thing that leads me to a position of not accepting the prevailing scientific opinion on anything as “Gospel.”

    http://www.thestar.com/sciencetech/article/246027

    What else might have been missed, miscalculated, misunderstood, or some other piece of information not even known yet that needs to be added to the data?

    I respect the apparent fact that prevailing opinion is toward “man made” global warming. But I also know that the opinion is just that: An opinion, and could be an incorrect one regardless of who or how many hold the opinion.

  26. theconverted Says:

    Well Ian, if you look at that data in context:

    http://climateprogress.org/2007/08/16/must-read-from-hansen-stop-the-madness-about-the-tiny-revision-in-nasas-temperature-data/

    You see that it has a 1\1000th of a degree change in the global temperatures.

    What else might have been miscalculated? I don’t know, but I’ll bet the numbers are being double checked. And that is a good thing. If more errors are discovered and this changes the outlook significantly, then I will happily change my mind, based on the facts. As, I suspect, will many of those scientists.

    That’s how science works.

    None of this however means its ok to consider AGW as a “socialist plot” or to, as my article strives to point out, confuse accepting the consensus on AGW as correct and accepting that one must have all the statist regulations and bans proposed. There is a libertarian position that can be taken without deying the still overwhelming science.

    Let’s put this into perspective – if a simple error in the fossil record was discovered that negated the wolf-to-whale speciation, does that mean that all of evolution is now false? No, it doesn’t, it merely means the picture is better.


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