By Wendell Krossa
(Note: A new extremist religion/ideology is taking hold in public consciousness across the world. This new religion has a grand myth or narrative with which it hopes to shape human consciousness and thereby enslave the human spirit. This religion exhibits many of the basic themes and drives of previous religious movements- an unchallengeable truth impervious to scientific fact, the demand for a strictly constrained and regulated lifestyle in accordance with the core beliefs, an orientation to fear as a basic motivation, and so on. The material below outlines some of the basic features of this new environmental religion and points to facts that counter its central themes.)
All of us inform our lives with stories and we live our lives as individual stories. Living a story is essential to what it means to be human. And various groups in our societies present us grander stories or narratives that powerfully influence our own personal adventures. Many of us live our lives in terms of some in-group story, whether it be religious, ideological, scientific or other.
Global warming alarmism is perhaps the most prominent public story being that is being embraced across the Earth today. While there has been some effort to place this story within the realm of science, at core it is just the latest version of the same old doom/salvation narratives held by our ancestors. Nonetheless, this story has successfully lodged itself in the public consciousness because it resonates with a number of widely accepted themes that have long been beaten into human consciousness. These would include:
Life and ecosystems are fragile (the “great planetary imperilment myth”, according to www.ecofascism.com ).
Life is heading for some soon-to-arrive calamity (this central apocalyptic theme with its related fear-mongering and despair has an especially long history in human story telling- see, for instance, Mircea Eliade’s History of Religious Ideas).
Human intervention in nature is mainly destructive (this is based on the belief that people are inherently bad) and therefore people need to be strictly regulated and constrained. They cannot be trusted. (This theme of pure nature as victim of evil humanity is perhaps one of the more central ideas to this great warming myth. Evil humanity is destroying pure and delicate nature which must be protected from such a greedy species). Life is static and unchanging, hence any change is evidence of decline and fragility. This distortion is most notable in pop ecology and its endless hysteria over any discovered changes in ecosystems.
Resources are scarce and life is stingy or strictly limited. Hence, severely curtailing consumption (which is essential to human progress) is the one and only way of salvation. Guilt and fear are the primary emotions that are manipulated here.
Various other related themes could be added here such as the primitive tribal view of ‘limited good’ which argues that because resources are limited if some take more than a “fair share” then others will suffer loss. Another theme supporting the alarmist climate warming story is plain old anti-capitalist ideology and the drive to halt economic growth. This anti-capitalist ideology fits well with the limited good or limited resources view of contemporary environmentalism. Many environmentalists view capitalism as built around what they believe to be the fallacy of unlimited resources and endless growth. They believe unfettered (free) capitalism will lead to the exhaustion of resources and breakdown of environmental systems. Wilfred Beckerman (A Poverty of Reason), Huber and Mills (Bottomless Well), and Julian Simon (Ultimate Resource), among others, all deal with this primitive and distorting view of limited resources.
Related to the concept of limits is the religious belief in the moral superiority of a low consumption lifestyle (Julian Simon, a rare voice on this issue, deals thoroughly with the importance of consumption and its benefits to all life in his book Ultimate Resource). This set of anti-economic development themes has coalesced in the crusade to enact centralized control and regulation to constrain and even stop economic growth, which makes it a crusade to halt human progress. The socialist element in this crusade is driven by the old collectivist urge to deny the value and freedom of the individual in favor of some greater good. Closely related to this anti-economic growth ideology is the pagan demonization of humanity along with the sacralization of nature as a greater good. In such nature worship, evil humanity is to be sacrificed on the altar of pure and pristine nature.
Julian Simon notes a variety of other elements in the outlook of the lead narrators of the alarmist story. He points to the arrogant debasement and dismissal of other human beings evident in the comments of leaders promoting the socialist/environmental tale. For instance, Paul Erhlich has said that giving people access to cheap, inexhaustible supplies of energy, “is like giving a machine gun to an idiot child” (Ultimate Resource, p.298). Another theologian of environmental apocalyptic, Garret Hardin, said, “People ask me- don’t you have faith in anything? And I always have the same answer…I have an unshakable faith in the unreliability of man” (p.299). Would he also categorize himself and his own views as unreliable?
And then there is the elitist selfishness of the people who want to conserve pristine nature for their own enjoyment to the exclusion of others. “When some famous conservationist tells us that there should be fewer people so that it is easier for him or her to find a deserted stretch of beach or mountain range or forest, she or he is simply saying…’I enjoy it, and I don’t want to share it’” (p.284). This call to save nature for me and my environmentally enlightened friends demands that others be eliminated. The obvious question that is begged here is who decides who should be removed so some may enjoy more untouched nature? Paul Watson of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society said, “The human population is the AIDs of the earth…(and) should be cut by 85%”. The rest should return to a primitive lifestyle and only a very small percentage should be allowed to reproduce (“Send in the assmonkeys”, National Post, May 15/07). Would those 85% cut include him and his family? And would the tiny percentage allowed to reproduce include him and his wife?
Simon also notes the perverse orientation to death and destruction evident in the narration of leading environmentalists. Instead of focusing on things like planting and growth (human creativity, productivity, and inventiveness), environmentalists focus on destruction and death (the supposed loss of species and habitat, which has often been proven to have been based on false claims). While there are areas where loss and destruction are a genuine concern, too often the focus on relatively minor problem areas is extrapolated out to damn all human activity and engagement of nature. In this perverse view of human engagement of nature as harmful, harvesting of nature’s resources is not celebrated but damned as destructive. This is evident, for instance, in the environmental charge that using too much paper destroys forests. But people are not told that trees are planted and forests created in order to make paper. Or that only 5 percent of the world’s forests are required to meet humanity’s demands for wood and paper products (Bjorn Lomberg, The Skeptical Environmentalist, p.115).
With the dismal view of humanity and human activity as destructive is it any wonder that the environmental/socialist response is to advocate for the strict control and restraint of other people? This moralistic urge to tell others how to live their lives is based primarily on the moral and aesthetic preferences of the environmental extremists and not on any sound scientific reasoning. It is a primitive tribal urge to dominate and control others. It has no place in modern human society.
These basic themes and drives, along with others, shape the core of environmental mythology. And they distort the actual nature of life. But they have been effective in reinforcing the current global narrative of fear and despair. They affirm the basic outlook on life that is held by the narrators of this story, an outlook oriented to doom and destruction. To maintain this orientation to disaster the narrators of this story ignore the actual fundamental trends of life to focus too often on aberrations that confirm their addiction to despair (episodes of disease, disaster, and human fallibility).
Nonetheless, this story appeals to many people with its emphasis on looming disaster and promises of salvation. It stirs the urge to heroic action and sacrifice to save something.
But it is a pathological story that has inspired a severe case of denial and, at times, even lunacy among its advocates. The free private property economic system that people have devised over the past three centuries has produced a level of human well being that has never before been attained in the history of the world. Things have never before been so good. We are wealthier, healthier, we live longer with fewer diseases and disabilities, and we are cleaning up and improving our environments as never before. Yet these climate hysterians want to shut down this economic growth and insist on blaming it for all the ills still present in the world. Ills that should more correctly be blamed upon the excessive state interventionism that they advocate.
The promoters of this story of despair are perhaps the most dangerous people on earth. Their hysteria drives them to halt economic growth and development which will only endanger human life and progress as well as undermine our ability to protect the environment. For example, remember the anti-chemical hysteria stirred by Rachel Carson which led to the banning of DDT. That ban led to immeasurable human suffering and the unnecessary deaths of multiple millions of people in some of the poorest regions of the world (see DDT FAQ at JunkScience.com). It has significantly set back the development of regions like Africa.
Contrary to the environmental mythology, the actual story of life is rooted firmly and safely in the following facts:
Life is exceedingly durable and resilient. It possesses incredible self-buffering and self-regulating capacities such as protective and life-enhancing feedback mechanisms/loops. This is especially evident in relation to climate. The Earth has experienced repeated spells of cooling and warming over its history, going through climate changes more sudden and severe than those of today. Yet species have adapted to such changes and life has continued to thrive. Remember that polar bears have survived the repeated entire melting of Arctic ice.
Life has evidenced an amazing creative adaptability in progressing toward something better from the very beginning.
Intelligent human intervention has improved the state of nature and worked well to rescue it from its own dead ends (predation) and deformities (viral, natural disaster- see Craig Easterbrook’s A Moment on the Earth). This affirms the fundamental goodness of conscious humanity and humanity’s valuable contribution in bringing order to the randomness of nature (as Simon notes, we create more than we destroy).
Life has never known an original and static condition that can be called natural, but is ever-changing and often massively and rapidly.
Life encompasses a generous outpouring of energy and resources to be harvested and ‘wasted’ in creating more order, organization, and wealth (see Hard Green and Bottomless Well by Huber and Mills).
To properly comprehend the nature of life we need to look at the long term trends where we find no reason for fear or despair but rather much evidence for profound hope and optimism. Check the data sources listed at the end and see for yourself what the actual long term trends of life are about. And remember, it was the genius of researchers like Julian Simon to note the long term trends and not to focus on downturns, setbacks, and other aberrations to the fundamental trends of life.
For instance, Bjorn Lomberg gives the example of Professor David Pimentel of Cornell University who ignored the long term trend of improvement in treating tuberculosis and instead focused on a small reversal of this trend in the 1990s. Pimentel then tried to make the argument that TB was getting worse and extrapolated this out to a more general argument that all disease was getting worse (The Skeptical Environmentalist, p.21-26). Ignoring the long term trends to focus on aberrations will lead to such distorting conclusions about life and its fundamental features. This has been a repeated error of the climate hysterians.
The long term rise and progress of life is most evident in the history of humanity and the human engagement of life. Here we find millennia of evidence of creativity, adaptation, development, and progress in health, wealth, peace and order, and general living conditions. This is due to the fundamental human impulse to find and make something better. This basic human impulse has resulted in ongoing improvement to the state of the world. It is an impulse that operates best in a climate of freedom.
Julian Simon said that scares come and go. And it is entirely irresponsible and unscientific to react to each change in life (especially in climate) with schemes of massive government intervention and regulation. Policy choices that are enacted out of fear and that over-react with excessive regulation to prevent imagined catastrophes, such policy choices are detrimental to freedom and progress. History has shown that the state interventionist approach has been the most destructive response to human freedom and progress (note for instance, the devastating impact- on people and the environment- of last century’s grand experiment in socialist intervention and control).
We end up looking real silly when we blow our whole wad, for instance, on each shift in climate. And slowing economic growth will not stop the climate from changing anyway. It has been noted that if Kyoto were fully enacted the impact on climate would amount to a small fraction of one percent which is statistically insignificant and probably not even measurable. It would likely not slow climate change at all. Climate will continue to warm and cool as it has done repeatedly over Earth’s history (remember that just as recently the 1970s we were being warned of climate cooling disaster- that scare crusade was also fueled by an anti-capitalist or anti-industrial ideology).
Recent research now shows that since 1998 no further warming has occurred and this may signal the fact that we are already entering another cooling period (CCNet Dec.20/07). In response to these natural swings in climate it is wiser to promote further economic growth in order that our societies, with increasing wealth, may be able to better assist their populations in adapting to more climate change, whichever direction it takes.
But behind the proposed Salvationism of the global warming alarm story there exists the more fundamental assault on economic freedom and growth by people who want to control others and dictate to them how to live their lives. This drive to dominate is visible in the current widespread endeavor to regulate and constrain economic growth, and to redistribute wealth. It is just more of the same old socialist meddling that destroyed economies and environments across the earth in the last century.
I would suggest that this primitive drive to dominate and control others, to tell others how to live their lives, is one of the core drives behind the global warming alarmist narrative (and it is also behind contemporary Islamic extremist threats, as well as other forms of totalitarianism). It is a perverse drive of people who mistakenly believe that they have a final truth and want to convert all others who lack their level of enlightenment.
This drive to dominate and control assaults the most important human right of all- that of individual freedom. The right of individual freedom has been best stated in the libertarian ideal- that each person is free to live their life as they choose, as long as they grant the same freedom to all others.
Only individual freedom of this type can make a society truly human or humane. As Lanny Ebenstein said in his biography of Milton Friedman, “There is no good of society not found in the good of the individual, just as there is no society apart from the individuals who compose it. In Friedman’s, the libertarian, the classical liberal, and the utilitarian philosophies, all place the individual at the center of the universe and place the individual’s greatest good, happiness and freedom as the summum bonum or ultimate good” (p.141).
Ebenstein continues, noting that what motivated Friedman was his passion for individual human freedom. “Friedman’s philosophy, following the utilitarians, is individualism. ‘The heart of the liberal philosophy is a belief in the dignity of the individual’, Friedman writes. Friedman passionately believes that each individual has value. This is why he so strongly emphasizes human freedom. Only in a condition of freedom can each individual develop himself or herself to the fullest” (p.141). Where individual freedom is protected and promoted, there individuals reach their fullest potential. And this is the primary obligation of any state, to protect and promote individual freedom, not some collective good. When states forget the primacy of individual freedom and interfere to promote some imagined public welfare or greater good then individual freedom suffers. And, as Milton Freidman and others have argued, the promotion of individual freedom will result in the highest collective good in the end, anyway. The highest form of any greater good is the sum of free individual choices or free individual lives, diverse as they may be.
On any scale of human well being it is unacceptable for some people to coercively impose restrictions on other’s lives especially when that coercion is based on beliefs that are simply wrong about the real nature of life. This is an intolerable assault on individual freedom. The outcome of the domination impulse in modern society has been the endless crusade to enact new laws and regulations to cover every conceivable potential ill. This regulatory trend often unnecessarily hinders the freedom of others who will never contribute to any potential ill anyway. And more recently, this drive for regulation has been co-opted by those seeking to prevent economic growth by prohibiting the use of the energy that is vital to such growth. It is an endeavor to criminalize the very economic growth and development that is essential to all human progress and well being.
In recent years, the anti-capitalist narrators have focused their crusade to demonize capitalism in the anti-CO2 or anti-energy campaign and would love to halt it entirely or severely hamper its use with all sorts of regulations, bans and caps. But energy is the life blood of our economies (and remember that carbon is the very basis of all life). The extremists simply will not recognize that our free private property economic system has done more than any other system to lift people out of poverty and to consequently clean up and protect the environment (Indur Goklany’s The Improving State of the World presents evidence of the ‘environmental transition’ where increasing wealth via economic growth and development has resulted in an improved environment). Add to this the fact that scientific evidence has not yet established the linkage of CO2 to global warming. In fact, the evidence shows that CO2 increases follow warming periods.
In the grand narrative employed by those fighting capitalism there is also the continuing devaluation of people as essentially greedy and selfish. This disparagement of people is entirely wrong-headed. Our history proves that, to the contrary, we have steadily improved life. Our history shows that in net terms we are far more creators than destroyers. Central to a more accurate story of life must be the fact of the essential goodness of people and what Joseph Campbell calls the wonder of being human (The Power of Myth). This basic human goodness requires freedom from any constraining government intervention and regulation in order to reach its fullest potential.
I would add here that Milton Friedman countered the grand narrative of his time- that the supposed failures of capitalism required massive government intervention a la Keynes- with a dogged presentation of facts and eventually convinced people of the need to lessen government intervention. Many of his policy proposals to limit government have become conventional wisdom across the globe (see recent biography ‘Milton Friedman’ by Lanny Ebenstein). His policy proposals have done more to advance freedom than perhaps the work of any other individual over the past few centuries.
But admittedly, many devotees of the environmental religion and its doom narrative will not listen to scientific facts or scientific reason. They are enthralled to the grand Salvationist story they have created, a story that appeals to the basest drives in human psyches- fear of the future and change, the urge to convert and control others, guilt over consumption and the felt need to live simply, and hatred of an economic system that is built around consumption. All of these powerful themes reinforce the grand narrative and render scientific reason and fact of little value in the thinking of the committed devotee of the grand story.
In this current global warming hysteria we are observing the irresponsible terrorizing of public consciousness with an alarmist story of climate apocalyptic. Psychologists have even noted the increased levels of anxiety and fear over this climate alarmism (“Anxiety brings memories of nuclear threat”, National Post, Feb.10/07).
This incredible tale of looming disaster is being promoted to hinder and halt the very economic growth that will lift people out of poverty and enable them to properly adapt to whatever climate challenges the future will bring. But scaring people has always been an effective way to manipulate and control them. Once terrorized, people are all too willing to give up their freedom to those who promise to save them from whatever has been employed to terrorize them in the first place. This is why these climate hysterians, like Al Gore, are the most dangerous people on earth. They pose a threat to freedom that has potential to cause more damage to human progress than any other form of terrorism today.
After more than two centuries of theorizing, practical experimentation, and refinement we now know that the story of human and environmental success is built on such things as freedom of commerce and trade, private property rights, limited government, privatization, protected investment markets (good contract and other law), a scientific approach to problem solving, and modern technology, among other elements.
Understand well the global warming narrative that is being beaten into the public consciousness. Note its underlying themes and check them against the real story of life and humanity and what has worked best to advance life on earth. Some excellent sources of data are listed immediately below to aid in checking the fundamental trends of life and the true nature of life. These will help in the creation of a grand new story based on life as it actually exists and functions. This factually based story of life will unleash hope, human potential, and unlimited progress in all areas. It is a life-affirming and humanity-affirming narrative.
The real story of life assures us that we need not fear life or the future. It is critically important that we structure our life and beliefs around the authentic story of life. This will enable us to avoid unnecessary guilt or despair over life and prevent us from taking the wrong actions when engaging life (e.g. the unnecessary demonization and regulation of CO2, which is not a pollutant but is a nutrient of critical importance to life and progress). Embracing the wrong story can lead to much wasted time, resources, and effort. It can severely restrain human potential and progress.
Suggested reading: Julian Simon’s Ultimate Resource, Indur Goklany’s The Improving State of the World, Bjorn Lomberg’s Skeptical Environmentalist, Greg Easterbrook’s A Moment On The Earth, James Payne’s History of Force, Stephen LeBlanc’s Constant Battles, Alston Chase’s In A Dark Wood, and the CCNet archives online.
Wendell Krossa firstname.lastname@example.org