Jackson Doughart
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Faith in Climate Change

Prince Arthur Herald, 02 October 2013

My Prince Arthur Herald colleague Will Cohen has offered a libertarian appeal to critics of man-made climate change. He argues that right-wingers need to get on board by accepting the Left’s ontological position on climate change, but should offer market-based solutions to the problem. Cohen ends his piece with a bold strategic prescription to conservatives:

Climate change doesn’t have to be an Achilles heel for the right, and there are market mechanisms that can be effectively used as a tool to fight climate change, but until the right begins to face up to the truth and engage in constructive discussions about how best to handle this issue market mechanisms will play a marginal role, to the detriment of the vast majority people whose future prosperity will be threatened by heavy handed statist policies that will be implemented instead.

This is a plausible, though awkwardly-stated argument, especially in light of an unstated premise of his position: since there will be government efforts to combat climate change in any event (perhaps owing to the broad consensus that such a change is in process), conservatives shouldn’t be left out of the process in determining what those policies might be; otherwise, the Left will win just by accepting the consensus, not by winning an economic argument. But I would like to focus on a recurring comment from his piece, namely his use of the term “denier” to describe those who disagree either that the world’s temperature is rising, or that man has anything to do with it.

One can’t know for sure whether Cohen is employing this term through conscious deliberation, or whether he’s just parroting what he hears from the Warmers. In either case, it’s a malicious slander, purposefully designed to shame people out of dissenting. “Denier” is meant to evoke a moral equivalence between disbelief in climate-change and disbelief in the Holocaust. Implication: People who don’t accept the their opinions are Nazis, or at least equal to them in opprobrious intent. This reductio ad hitlerum should be enough to discredit the use of such a word. Yet the underlying reliance of the Warmers on an unshakable faith in their position may be an even stronger reason for scepticism.

I will openly and straightforwardly admit that I have no idea whether the climate-change partisans are objectively correct in their claims. I don’t have adequate scientific literacy to judge the issue, and any attempts that I make to apprise myself of the details are hopelessly obstructed through the debater’s ideological brow-beating. The Warmers cite their scientists, the dissenters cite theirs. My illiteracy is important for this reason: if a scientist made a false claim in a journal article, I would most certainly be unable to detect it in the way that I could for a false claim in history, philosophy, or literature. And this process is made much worse by the fact that the arguments of dissenters are almost never actually met with reasoned responses from public defenders of the man-made global warming thesis. For them, it is enough to name call in the knowledge that history is on their side. So far as I’m concerned, the furthest I can honestly be is a climate-change agnostic.

If I were a betting man — and I am — I’d be willing to put a fair amount on the following claim: most of the people waving the doomsday flag on the climate-change issue are as ignorant as I am. As Camus said of communists, they convert first, then read the scriptures. Having rubbed along with many of these people on university campuses, I can tell you that conversation with them on the topic reveals almost instantly that their belief in climate change is a matter of faith. Just like believers in a religion, they have their arguments and evidence memorized for you until you probe for a bit longer, asking how they know what they claim to know. Then poof! The emperor has no clothes. Invariably, they fall back on either arguments from authority (“Such and such scientist says this”, though they haven’t read any of the scientists who disagree with the one they refer to) or to straightforward abuse: “Whose side are you on, anyway? Denier!”

Furthermore, the main fallback position for any Warmer who encounters resistance is that dissenters, even with scientific expertise, are in some way compromised by capitalist greed. But they ignore the extent to which partisans of the climate-change side are also enticed by profit. All of the big energy companies hire teams of people versed in Warmer lingo to help their public image, there is a huge sub-industry of “carbon credits” allowing corporations to go on polluting so long as they pay a penalty, and there even are entire university departments dedicated solely to environmentalism — which has now been corrupted to be a mere front for the faithful. As the old saying goes, it’s where the money is. Then there are the charlatans like Albert Gore and David Suzuki who never cease travelling around to promote themselves through environmentalist speaking engagements, while telling everyone else that if they don’t stop driving and flying we’ll all soon been flooded by seawater.

In the end, I’m not even sure that the real truth about climate change — whatever that may be — really has much influence on political argument or action on either side. Hence why I’m comfortable with my global-warming agnosticism. The ideological appeal of climate doomsdayism has always been its utility as a scare tactic: if people are frightened about global warming, they might accept state intervention in the economy to combat it when they otherwise wouldn’t. In the end, liberals want the state to do more, conservatives want the state to do less. Aside from the small number of people who really are invested in the issue for its own sake, the whole global warming debate is just a proxy for what the two sides would have been saying anyway. Cohen’s article is a good example of this.

Instead of saying that since climate change is inevitably true, conservatives should argue for market solutions to it, he could have just as easily said, “Because belief in climate change is widespread, conservatives should make free-market policy prescriptions that respond to this belief.” It wouldn’t change anything, except for the puerile name-calling, from which we should all be spared.

Jackson Doughart jdoughart (at) gmail (dot) com