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 George Reisman's Blog on Economics, Politics, Society, and Culture

March 2007  

This blog is a commentary on contemporary business, politics, economics, society, and culture, based on the values of Reason, Rational Self-Interest, and Laissez-Faire Capitalism. Its intellectual foundations are Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism and the theory of the Austrian and British Classical schools of economics as expressed in the writings of Mises, Böhm-Bawerk, Menger, Ricardo, Smith, James and John Stuart Mill, Bastiat, and Hazlitt, and in my own writings.

The contents of the blog are copyright © 2007 by George Reisman. All rights reserved. Permission is hereby granted to reproduce and distribute individual articles below electronically and/or in print, other than as part of a book. (Email notification is requested). All other rights reserved. George Reisman, Ph.D., is the author of Capitalism: A Treatise on Economics (Ottawa, Illinois: Jameson Books, 1996) and is Pepperdine University Professor Emeritus of Economics.

 

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Global Warming: Environmentalism’s
Threat of Hell on Earth

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.” 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.”

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.” 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 mid-latitude west-to-east winds, forming a uniform belt of particles encircling the northern hemisphere from 30° to 60° 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 70° 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 70° instead of 30°. 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.

Labels: environmentalism a reckless destrucive policy of global cooling, Environmentalism and impoverishment, rational global cooling

 

Monday, March 05, 2007

Global Warming Is Not a Threat But the Environmentalist Response to It Is

The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently released the summary of its latest, forthcoming report on global warming. It’s most trumpeted finding is that the existence of global warming is now “unequivocal.”

Although such anecdotal evidence as January’s
snowfall in Tucson, Arizona and freezing weather in Southern California and February’s more than 100-inch snowfall in upstate New York might suggest otherwise, global warming may indeed be a fact. It may also be a fact that it is a by-product of industrial civilization (despite, according to The New York Times of November 7, 2006, two ice ages having apparently occurred in the face of carbon levels in the atmosphere 16 times greater than that of today, millions of years before mankind’s appearance on earth).

If global warming and mankind’s responsibility for it really are facts, does anything automatically follow from them? Does it follow that there is a need to limit and/or reduce carbon emissions and the use of the fossil fuels—oil, coal, and natural gas—that gives rise to the emissions? The need for such limitation and/or rollback is the usual assumption.

Nevertheless, the truth is that nothing whatever follows from these facts. Before any implication for action can be present, additional information is required.

One essential piece of information is the comparative valuation attached to retaining industrial civilization versus avoiding global warming. If one values the benefits provided by industrial civilization above the avoidance of the losses alleged to result from global warming, it follows that nothing should be done to stop global warming that destroys or undermines industrial civilization. That is, it follows that global warming should simply be accepted as a byproduct of economic progress and that life should go on as normal in the face of it.

Modern, industrial civilization and its further development are values that we dare not sacrifice if we value our material well-being, our health, and our very lives. It is what has enabled billions more people to survive and to live longer and better. Here in the United States it has enabled the average person to live at a level far surpassing that of kings and emperors of a few generations ago.

The foundation of this civilization has been, and for the foreseeable future will continue to be, the use of fossil fuels.

Of course, there are projections of unlikely but nevertheless possible extreme global warming in the face of which conditions would be intolerable. To deal with such a possibility, it is necessary merely to find a different method of cooling the earth than that of curtailing the use of fossil fuels. Such methods are already at hand, as I will explain in an article that will appear shortly.

In fact, if it comes, global warming, in the projected likely range, will bring major benefits to much of the world. Central Canada and large portions of Siberia will become similar in climate to New England today. So too, perhaps, will portions of Greenland. The disappearance of Arctic ice in summer time, will shorten important shipping routes by thousands of miles. Growing seasons in the North Temperate Zone will be longer. Plant life in general will flourish because of the presence of more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Strangely, these facts are rarely mentioned. Instead, attention is devoted almost exclusively to the negatives associated with global warming, above all to the prospect of rising sea levels, which the report projects to be between 7 and 23 inches by the year 2100, a range, incidentally, that by itself does not entail major coastal flooding. (There are, however, projections of a rise in sea levels of 20 feet or more over the course of the remainder of the present millennium.)

Yes, rising sea levels may cause some islands and coastal areas to become submerged under water and require that large numbers of people settle in other areas. Surely, however, the course of a century, let alone a millennium, should provide ample opportunity for this to occur without any necessary loss of life.

Indeed, a very useful project for the UN’s panel to undertake in preparation for its next report would be a plan by which the portion of the world not threatened with rising sea levels would accept the people who are so threatened. In other words, instead of responding to global warming with government controls, in the form of limitations on the emission of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, an alternative response would be devised that would be a solution in terms of greater freedom of migration.

In addition, the process of adaptation here in the United States would be helped by making all areas determined to be likely victims of coastal flooding in the years ahead ineligible for any form of governmental aid, insurance, or disaster relief that is not already in force. Existing government guarantees should be phased out after a reasonable grace period. Such measures would spur relocation to safer areas in advance of any future flooding.

Emissions Caps Mean Impoverishment

The environmental movement does not value industrial civilization. It fears and hates it. Indeed, it does not value human life, which it regards merely as one of earth’s “biota,” of no greater value than any other life form, such as spotted owls or snail darters. To it, the loss of industrial civilization is of no great consequence. It is a boon.

But to everyone else, it would be an immeasurable catastrophe: the end of further economic progress and the onset of economic retrogression, with no necessary stopping point. Today’s already widespread economic stagnation is the faintest harbinger of the conditions that would follow.

A regime of limitations on the emission of greenhouse gases means that all technological advances requiring an increase in the total consumption of man-made power would be impossible to implement. At the same time, any increase in population would mean a reduction in the amount of man-made power available per capita. (Greater production of atomic power, which produces no emissions of any kind, would be an exception. But it is opposed by the environmentalists even more fiercely than is additional power derived from fossil fuels.)

To gauge the consequences, simply imagine such limits having been imposed a generation or two ago. If that had happened, where would the power have come from to produce and operate all of the new and additional products we take for granted that have appeared over these years? Products such as color television sets and commercial jets, computers and cell phones, CDs and DVDs, lasers and MRIs, satellites and space ships? Indeed, the increase in population that has taken place over this period would have sharply reduced the standard of living, because the latter would have been forced to rest on the foundation of the much lower per capita man-made power of an earlier generation.

Now add to this the effects of successive reductions in the production of man-made power compelled by the imposition of progressively lower ceilings on greenhouse-gas emissions, ceilings as low as 75 or even 40 percent of today’s levels. (These ceilings have been advocated by Britain’s Stern Report and by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel, respectively.) Inasmuch as these ceilings would be global ceilings, any increase in greenhouse-gas emissions taking place in countries such as China and India would be possible only at the expense of even further reductions in the United States, whose energy consumption is the envy of the world.

All of the rising clamor for energy caps is an invitation to the American people to put themselves in chains. It is an attempt to lure them along a path thousands of times more deadly than any military misadventure, and one from which escape might be impossible.

Already, led by French President Jacques Chirac, forces are gathering to make non-compliance with emissions caps an
international crime. Given such developments, it is absolutely vital that the United States never enter into any international treaty in which it agrees to caps on greenhouse-gas emissions.

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.

Labels: Environmentalism and impoverishment

 

 

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