Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Global Warming Hysterics

The debate over global warming is an excellent example where the preconceived notions of those involved tends to have a profound influence on the conclusions they draw. For instances, it often frustrates me to see very intelligent people who have a free-market/libertarian perspective on economic issues vigorously challenge the possibility that global warming is happening and that humans are at least partly responsible. What is interesting is that this is exactly the conclusion you would expect them to have, based on their feelings about government regulations and capitalism. Because, let’s presume global warming is real, and is going to be as bad as some people say – this would potentially require a massive, coordinated international effort, with big government involvement and lots of restrictions and regulations on carbon emissions. Which is exactly what lassiez-faire advocates hate. So it’s very convenient to debunk global warming when it will challenge your worldview. On the other hand, there’s a bunch of people out there who love saying that human beings are messing up the planet, capitalism is awful, and who have long strived for more government controls. For these types of people, global warming is the perfect opportunity for them to take power away from the individuals and place it in the hands of governments and academics, who will solve our problems. In both cases, the perspective just reinforces their already-in-place worldview, which many believe in like a religion.

What’s frustrating about this is that it makes reasoned debate rather difficult. Skeptics don’t want to admit that global warming could be “real” because then the other side will say “gotcha! Now let’s talk about restrictions on free enterprise!”. And those with a more environmentalist bent don’t want to admit that there are fairly substantial uncertainties about what the actual costs of global warming will be, or what possible mitigation strategies will cost. It’s amusing that the cost estimates for avoiding global warming generally very nicely follow the ideological foundations of those creating the reports: those who believe strongly in global warming think mitigation will be relatively easy and inexpensive, while those who are more skeptical find that it will be difficult and expensive. Surprises? None. It’s like the “debate” over evolution – conservatives love to poke holes in the unknown aspects of evolution because if evolution is real, it will seriously challenge the basis of many of their beliefs.


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